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

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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 Freemen 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, 1864.

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.

According to military reports, the first two units of the regiment to arrive at Hilton Head—Companies E and H—disembarked on Sunday, June 22. After having spent four days aboard ship, these men quickly realized their initial accommodations would be far from plush. They were expected to sleep out in the open on the dock. The men from Companies, A, D, and F and B, C, and I arrived next, respectively disembarking from the “Emilene” and “Sea Lark” on Monday. They, too, all spent a restless night sleeping on the dock.

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

Finally, on Wednesday, June 25, at 2 p.m., the regiment was made whole again when the men from Companies G and K arrived on the “Ellen Benan.” The regiment was then marched to the rear of Fort Walker, where the 47th Pennsylvanians were ordered to pitch tents and organize their supplies.

* Note: Per an unspecified military report, Hilton Head was considered to be “a depot to receive army supplies . . . strongly fortified so as to command the channel, and [was] a good depot for troops, as they [could] be sent from there to almost any point needed in [that] part of the south.” Located on opposite sides of the channel from each other, Hilton Head and Port Royal were just fifteen miles upstream from Beaufort, South Carolina, which would ultimately become a long-term duty station for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Fort Walker, which was situated in Hilton Head’s northeast section, “was irregularly shaped in a form that could be roughly described as half an octagon facing the ocean, backed by a slightly larger rectangle, and with a triangle on the inland side,” according to historian Lewis Schmidt. “Located about 1200 feet north of the fort was a pier which extended at right angles from the beach for a distance of 1277 feet. Inland from the fort and pier were numerous auxiliary facilities such as quarters, guard house, stables, quartermaster, ice house, blacksmith, carpenter, post office, bakery, hotel, theatre, church, and numerous other buildings.”

Mitchelville, a village built to house numerous formerly enslaved men, women and children, was located just west of the fort. Facilities of the provost marshal, provost guard, and Union Army’s engineering department, as well as the 60,000-square foot Union Army Hospital at Hilton Head were located on South Carolina’s coastline, just south of the fort. 

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.

According to Schmidt, roughly two thousand people resided in Beaufort during this time—a “population which sometimes doubled in the summer months with the influx of wealthy planters.”

The town had been located on Port Royal Island on a slightly higher elevation than the surrounding areas, and on its eastern side was bounded by a channel which is now part of the Intracoastal Waterway connecting Port Royal and St. Helena Sound. There were many large and beautiful homes with large pillars and porches in the southern tradition, and numerous live oak trees scattered throughout the area…. The town was laid out in a rectangle, with streets of fine white sand, but without any sidewalks.”

But it is the first-hand impressions of Beaufort, penned to family and friends by members of the regiment shortly after their arrival, which still provide important insights into life in Union Army-occupied Beaufort during the summer of 1862. Second Lieutenant William Geety noted that every house was “built in from the street with a yard, shade trees and lots of flowers, and that “the Rebels left much behind” while Private Francis Gildner of Company I juxtaposed the hardships and horrors of war with the city’s elegance:

“This is a beautiful place and has good water, and no defects like Key West. The hospital is in a very large building, however when you come inside you come upon a terrible scene. Here are hundreds of army men who have been wounded in the legs, and many were shot in the breast and face. There is an arm or leg amputated daily. The health of the regiment is good, but we hope we do not stay here too long as this area is infested with millions of mosquitoes and sandflies whom plague us both day and night.”

Enslaved men and women on the grounds of Mrs. Barnwell’s home in Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1860 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Meanwhile, Private John Wantz of D Company dug deeper to produce an even more illuminating analysis:

“The city of Beaufort is, I suppose, one of the handsomest places in the United States. It was inhabited by only the rich, retired planters of the South and they spared no pains nor expense in making it beautiful with art, and nature could not develope [sic] itself more handsomely than it does here. The weather is pleasant the year round. The large shade trees cannot be surpassed for beauty. Their flower gardens are superb and there is not a single house but what is clustered around with orange, lemon, and fig trees; grapes they have in abundance, and in fact everything that the most fastidious could desire to make them happy and contented. They have all the different kind of vegetables that we are blessed with in the North and in much greater abundance. Everything tends to make a person happy and comfortable. Dull care is driven away by the sweet tones of the mocking bird, whose warble is continuously heard, and the air scented with the fragrance of the shrub and honeysuckle.

In time of peace, the question is who lives here? It is answered, ‘none but those who have obtained a fortune’, for a man of limited means could not. The work done here is by slaves, and a man of ordinary means would be obliged to put himself on equality with the negro, and I doubt if there is a man in the North would do so if he was to see the degraded, uneducated and deplorable looking set of negroes there is in this part of the country. They know of nothing but hard work upon the cotton, rice and corn plantations, and do not know why this war is, what was the cause of it, or anything about it, only that their masters were driven away by the soldiers and that some soldiers have driven other soldiers away. I never would have thought there was so much difference between the North and South if I had not seen it.”

By the second week of July, Union Army leaders issued orders directing part of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry to participate in an Expedition to Fenwick Island (July 9), followed by a Demonstration Against Pocotaligo (July 10). In response, the members of H Company marched to Port Royal Ferry, crossed the Coosaw River, and drove off Confederate soldiers who had set fire to the ferry house while out on picket duty. C Company Captain Gobin described the incident later in a letter, noting that “Two companies of our Regiment were thrown across under cover of a gunboat, drove in the rebel pickets, and penetrated into the country for about half a mile” while C Company Musician Wharton wrote:

“That portion of our regiment to whom was assigned picket duty, on the line nearest the enemy, have returned, being relieved by the 7th New Hampshire Volunteers. Our fellows report the duty pleasant, as it was amusing to see the Georgia sharpshooters trying to pop the pickets on post, forgetting that our Springfield rifles were of longer range than theirs, however they soon discovered it, as could be seen, by the way they jumped behind trees whenever our boys returned their fire. Before our party were relieved, two of three companies crossed the river to have some fun, the rebels not liking the appearance of our bright barrels, skedaddled, leaving our men nothing to do but to burn down the houses they had for protection, and the pay for their trouble amounted to a few red cotton overcoats.” 

Company Sergeant Reuben S. Gardner added even more details in his own letter to family, writing:

“So the other day we took a notion to turn the joke on them and we crossed over to this side and drove them off their posts and back several miles, and burnt four houses that were used by them to picket in. Our skirmishers had four shots at the rebels, but with what effect we don’t know as they soon got out of harm’s way. Companies H and B were all that crossed. The boys got so eager to follow up the rebels that they did not want to come back when ordered. Our force was too small to advance far, so we went back after doing all the damage we could to them. They fled in such a hurry as to leave three saddles, one double barreled [sic] shot gun, several overcoats, haversacks, canteens, &c., all of which our boys brought along as relics, that being the first of anything of that kind our regiment had. Now the boys want to cross every day; but the Colonel won’t allow them as it is beyond his orders to cross the river, and probably we would meet with a repulse, as the rebels have been in force on the opposite side since we drove them off. They are like a bee’s nest when stirred up. The day after we were over they fired more than a hundred shots at our boys. They returned some shots and only laughed at them. The distance across the river is some 800 to 1000 yards, and of course there can be but little damage done at that distance.”

Meanwhile, back at the regiment’s main camp, Regimental Order No. 160 was announced on July 10:

“I. The old officer of the day will be relieved by the new one at 9 AM at these headquarters.

II. The officer of the day will have charge of the camp and will be held responsible for the proper performance of the duties of the guard, the quietness of the camp and its cleanliness. The old guard under charge of its Captain will report to him immediately after breakfast for police purposes and he will have all rubbish and filth carried from the camp a sufficient distance and then have it buried or burned. He will visit the kitchens and quarters of every company accompanied by its commander immediately after he enters upon his duties and report the condition of the same to these headquarters.

III. The officer of the day will be held responsible for the calls of the hours of service and roll calls. One bugler will be detailed daily to report to him for that purpose.

IV. The attention of company commanders is called to article #28, paragraph #234, revised army regulations which requests all roll calls to be superintended by a commanding officer of the companies and Captains to report the absentees to the Colonel or the commanding officer.

V. Commanders of companies are imperatively directed to have the company quarters, kitches, &c., policed and cleaned immediately after breakfast.

VI. Morning reports of companies signed by the Captains and 1st Sergeants and all applications for special priviledges [sic] of soldiers must be handed to the Adjutant before 8 AM.

Col. Good”

The next day, the men of D Company were ordered to report to picket duty. On Saturday, July 12, Company H was sent out on skirmishing duty, as described by Second Lieutenant Geety:

“Five gunboats came up…Saturday and shelled the shore and crossed over and burned three shanties…. I had command of the right of the skirmish but did not get an opportunity to kill any secessionists. I got a secessionist cap box made in New York and the paper and case of a shell.”

On Sunday, Sergeant Reuben Gardner continued working on his letter to his father:

“We have been on picket now ten days [near the Port Royal Ferry and along the Broad River] and were to be relieved tomorrow; but for some cause are now to stay five days longer. The general rule is ten days; but always whip the horse that pulls the hardest. We are ten miles from camp, and are picketing around the west of the island, for 12 miles along the shore. Five companies of our regiment are out at a time. The rebel pickets are right opposite to us, across the river, and dozens of shots are exchanged every day; but without any effect on our side. The rebel’s [sic] guns fail to reach across. Our rifles will shoot across with a double charge, but we only fire at each other for fun. The 7th New Hampshire were on here before we came out and the rebels made them leave the line. They took advantage of that and crossed over and burnt a ferry house that stood on the end of the causeway on this side….

We have the greatest picket line here entirely. At low tide down along the beach at night you can’t hear thunder, by times, for the snapping of oysters, croaking of frogs, buzzing of mosquitoes, and the noise of a thousand other reptiles and varmints. It beats all I have heard since the commencement of the war. We have had a pretty good time out here on picket and good weather; but 15 days is a little too long to lie in the woods for my fancy….

* Note: Gardner apparently went on in this letter to express a virulent hatred of the formerly enslaved Black men, women, and children who were being employed by the Federal Government to cultivate and harvest the corn and cotton fields located near the regiment’s camp. But it is not clear if the ugliest parts of this letter were actually written by Gardner himself. According to Schmidt, Gardner’s correspondence was “one of the few anti-abolitionist letters uncovered in the correspondence of members of the regiment.” Printed “in a staunchly anti-abolitionist paper, the Perry County Democrat,” the original text of the letter may have been “embellished by the editor” to better align “with the paper’s views.”

Consequently, the managing editor of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story has made the decision not to include that portion of Gardner’s letter here as part of this article. Further research is being conducted in an effort to verify Schmidt’s analysis; if that research is able to be completed, the full text of the letter will be presented with its analysis under the “Letters Home” section of this website.

An Old Foe Resurfaces

Even though the change of scenery for the 47th Pennsylvanians appears to have done some good for morale since they were now being given more opportunities to interact with the enemy, the men were still finding that they were being dogged by their old foe—disease. During the month of July, the following members of the 47th were among those seeking 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).

In addition, Earnest Rodman (alternate spelling “Ruttman”) of B Company sustained a severe wound to his lower jaw when his rifle accidentally discharged while he was assigned to picket duty at Beaufort on July 15.

As a result, as hospitalizations and medical discharges from the regiment increased, leaders of the 47th Pennsylvania realized that new enlistees would be needed to stabilize the 47th’s rosters. So, Major William Gausler and Captain Henry S. Harte were sent home to Pennsylvania to announce and manage a recruiting drive. Both arrived in their respective communities of Allentown and Catasauqua on July 15, and remained at home until early November. New recruits were enticed by the following:

  • Enlistment Premium: $4
  • One Month’s Pay (in advance): $13
  • 25% of the Standard Bounty (in advance): $25
  • County Bounty: $50
  • Additional Bounty (paid at the end of the war or end of the soldier’s term of service): $75
  • Regular Monthly Pay: $13

Meanwhile, back in Beaufort, Special Order No. 57 was issued on July 16, directing that:

“The hours of drill specified in the order determining the hours of service must be attended to by all the commanding officers of companies not on special duty. Second, in addition to the established hours of service, commanders of companies will cause the chiefs of squads to drill the squads from 9:30 to 10 AM and from 2:30 to 3 PM under the supervision of a commanding officer. Third, there will be a daily drill for noncommissioned officers from 1 to 2 PM. All noncommissioned officers not on special duty or sick must attend these drills. The Sergeants will be drilled by a 1st Lieutenant who will be detailed for that purpose for one weekend; the Corporals by a 2nd Lieutenant who will be detailed in the same manner. They will assemble in front of the color line, under the shade trees, at the sound of the Sergeants call. Lt. Fuller and Lt. Dennig are hereby detailed for that purpose and they will report to these headquarters immediately after drills to report all absentees. Fourth, a roster of each squad with the name of its chief at the head will be furnished to these headquarters as soon as practicable. Col. Good”

As the month of July wound down and hot days tested the patience of 47th Pennsylvanians, tempers flared. On July 24, Private William Kirkpatrick of D Company lost his cool and told his superior, Sergeant Alex D. Wilson, to “go to hell” after Wilson ordered him to add axe-grinding to his duties. Four days later, Kirkpatrick was brought before a military tribunal for “conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.” Although he pleaded not guilty, he was convicted by the presiding officer, Captain Charles H. Yard, was sentenced to “close confinement for three days on a bread and water diet,” and was also required to forfeit a third of one month’s pay.

On July 29, Musician Daniel Fritz and Private Rudolph Fisher, both of Company K, were discharged on surgeons’ certificates of disability. Fritz, who had contracted typhoid fever and was also losing his eyesight, survived, but Fisher succumbed to his illness at a Union Army hospital in New York.

For much of July, 47th Pennsylvanians had been been assigned to picket duty at or near Port Royal Ferry; they would continue to perform similar duties in the same area throughout most of August as well. Company E would be assigned to “Barnwells” while men from Company D would be stationed near “Seabrook.”

August

As summer wore on, disease and injury continued to take out 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 (“Secession House”), 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; but, 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.

The sun was already beginning to set on his political career, however; 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.

Orders from on High

Directed by President Abraham Lincoln to participate in a parade to honor the late former President Martin Van Buren, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry turned out in full dress uniform on August 15 to listen to prayers and a eulogy. The regimental colors and officers’ sleeves subsequently remained covered with the appropriate designations of mourning for six months after the event. That same day, the regiment was also ordered to engage in enhanced bayonet drills per General Order No. 26.

Six days later, the 47th Pennsylvania lost its renowned Regimental Band when the ensemble (Pomp’s Cornet Band) was formally mustered out of service by the order of the U.S. Congress and U.S. War Department, which had deemed Union Army bands to be an unnecessary expense as the Civil War continued to rage.

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 action. 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

Design of the U.S. Army’s 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 carried by the regiment.

On September 1, a Monday, Wharton penned another letter to the Sunbury American, confirming that:

“The right wing of our regiment, Company C included, have been on picket for the last ten days, tomorrow they return, being relieved by the 8th Maine Volunteers. Our fellows have had a sorry time of it so far as the elements were concerned for it has done nothing but rain, rain, and to get a sight of the sun, in that time was really reviving … the continual change of apparel, when the wardrobe is not very extensive, made it rather inconvenient for them, and more than one in need for a change of flannel had to make a shift without it….

Picket duty here is different from that in Virginia. There 24 hours did the business for one company for ten days, while here 500 men, besides a battery are the quantity required for that length of time. A river divides our line from the rebels and shots are continually exchanged with them, none, however, doing much damage. Occasionally a secesh horseman has temerity enough to come within shooting distance of our Springfields, when he is accomodated [sic] with their merry barkings, but in an instant he skedaddles, and that in such a hurry that does no credit to Southern chivalry or one who is willing to die in the last ditch.”

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.

View the video related to this article.

 

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.

 

 

 

Late Winter through Early Spring 1862 (Florida): Serving as Soldiers and Surrogates for Family

Drummer Boy William Williamson, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company A, circa 1863 (public domain).

Arriving with March 1862’s winds of change in America were career advancements for members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry who were settling into life as soldiers on garrison duty in America’s Deep South during the Civil War. Among those receiving word that their lives would be changing even while continuing to serve with their regiment at Fort Taylor, Camp Brannan and other duty stations in Key West, Florida were several members of Company A: Jacob Beck, who was promoted from the rank of corporal to quartermaster sergeant; drummer boy William Williamson, who took on additional duties with the regimental commissary; Private John J. Jones, who was ordered to report for daily duties at the fort’s hospital; and Private Peter Lewis, who was ordered by Colonel Tilghman H. Good to assist First Lieutenant Washington H. R. Hangen with his added duties as Adjutant General of the Union Army brigade to which the 47th Pennsylvania had been attached.

Meanwhile, G Company Sergeant Charles A. Hackman was advanced to the rank of first sergeant (sergeant-major) while the regiment continued to add to its rosters with the enrollment of several new members, including Charles Martin, an immigrant from Kent, England who became a private with Company B.

And Major William H. Gausler, the regiment’s third-in-command, also assumed a heavier burden, having been appointed as Provost Marshal of Key West—a position which required him to oversee the city’s police operations and judicial affairs—duties which he performed from an office located at Hick’s Wharf in Key West.

Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company C, circa 1862 (public domain).

On Monday, March 10, the 97 members of F Company were marched from Camp Brannan to Fort Taylor, where they would live and work moving forward. The next day, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin of C Company penned a letter to Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin to inform him that:

“Gen. Brannan has appointed me Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Department of Key West, giving me Supervision of all law proceedings on the island. I have Samuel Haupt for my clerk, and it keeps us both busy. I have a splendid office in the barracks – everything nice as can be. It beats the one at home all to pieces…. The weather continues very warm.”

In fairly short order, though, a new hindrance—the lack of safe drinking water—gave renewed strength to the regiment’s old adversary—disease. This happened because soldiers at the fort were frequently required to rely on rainwater captured by above-ground cisterns—an unworkable situation both in terms of water quantity and quality. In response, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, the Union Army general in charge of all of the Key West-based regiments, ordered his subordinates to board schooners and sail for Havana, Cuba in mid-March in order to locate and purchase additional water supplies.

And, as if battling water shortages and disease were not enough, 47th Pennsylvanians were quickly learning that local flora and fauna would also prove to be a significant threat. According to H Company First Lieutenant William W. Geety, who penned a letter to his wife around this same time, the bite of just one six-inch-long centipede meant “certain death” for any Pennsylvanian not sharp-eyed enough to spot the insect and step away fast enough.

Rev. William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock, chaplain, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida, 1863 (courtesy of Robert Champlin, used with permission).

On Thursday, March 13, Regimental Chaplain William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock was in another contemplative mood, putting pen to paper to inform readers of Philadelphia’s The Press newspaper about what life was like as a Union soldier in America’s Deep South while also presenting his perspective on why the war was still being waged:

“In my former communication, I promised a more minute description of the beautiful island and city of Key West. I now do so; but cannot refrain, in the first place, from adverting to the glorious victories which have recently crowned our arms in the different divisions of the grand army of the Union. No wonder the whole country is wild with excitement and rejoicing. No wonder that cannons have been fired and bells tolled in every city, town, and hamlet, of the loyal States. For such successes and such victories as have recently crowned our flag with imperishable glory, are enough to thrill every fibre of the Republic and cause its great heart to beat with renewed life and activity. We have now passed the long line of checks and reverses and have made rapid advances on the broad, clear road that leads to complete and abiding triumph. Every true American breathes freer, walks firmer, and hopes brighter.

Whilst the year 1861 was one of trial, suffering, and discipline to the Government, it was to the rebel leaders, in a large measure, one of hope, of promise and success. But how different the opening of the year 1862! In the great cause of the Union, the bow of promise looms up on every side. There has been one continuous stream of success and victory.

To the rebel leaders all is discomfiture, disaster, and dismay. Every star of hope and promise has disappeared—defeat, ruin, and death, are closing around them on every side.

It is a marvelous [sic] fact in the history and warfare of the Anglo-Saxon race, that the side which suffers most grievously in the beginning is the side which triumphs most gloriously in the end. In not a single instance, during the last hundred years, has this rule varied. It was so in the ‘Old French War,’ when British arms sustained disaster after disaster, commencing with Braddock’s inglorious defeat, and running on through three campaigns, until the French had acquired possession of every foot of the disputed ground. But at Louisburg the tide turned, and Frontenac, and Ticonderoga, Niagara, and Quebec, soon drove the French from every standing place on the continent. A precisely similar experience attended the British operations in other quarters of the globe. Failure followed failure, but in due time gave place to a course of uninterrupted success by land and sea, such as has seldom fallen to the lot of any nation.

It was so in our Revolutionary war. The side beaten first was the side to win last. During the first twenty months of the war, up to the battle of Trenton, there was a continuous record of American discomfitures and retreats. In fact, there was little to lighten the dark page of that fierce struggle, until the battle of Saratoga and surrender of Burgoyne, the year afterward. Washington, and all the military chiefs of the Revolution, all through the first half of that military period, with all their lofty constancy, almost uniformly evince the painful consciousness of miscarriage and misfortune. The civilized world knows the grand success that at last crowned their efforts.

It was so in our last struggle with England. One of the first events of that war was the shameful surrender of Hull, at Detroit, by which the entire peninsula of Michigan passed into the hands of the enemy. He had been sent to invade and seize Upper Canada, but never was there a more ignominious failure. The first year’s land campaign, throughout, form the most discreditable chapter in our national annals. Yet the struggle, severe as it was, closed with the most memorable of all American victories at New Orleans, and has passed into history as a war completely successful for America.

However it be accounted for, the fact is undeniable, that, with the Anglo-Saxon family, opposite fates precide [sic] at the outset and upshot of their military undertakings; whilst success and victory invariably crown their close. The present wicked and lunatic rebellion is the last, but not the least illustration of this great fact. Much as I desire to elaborate this subject more fully, time and space both require me to leave it for the present, and give you as promised a brief description of

KEY WEST ISLAND AND CITY.

The island is six miles long and two miles broad, and nowhere more than twelve or fifteen feet above the sea level. It is of coral formation, and has a sandy, sterile soil, but in the few spots which are arable the vegetation is extremely rich. The greater part of it is covered with copsewood or low brushes. There are some vegetable gardens which produce through all the seasons, though less in winter than summer. The climate is well adapted for all kinds of tropical fruits. Cocoa nuts [sic], oranges, lemons, pomegranates, pine apples [sic], bananas, etc., are very abundant. There is an artificial salt pond on the island, 350 acres in extent. On the southwest point there is a lighthouse with a fixed light 70 feet above water.

Key West City, on the same island, is the capital of Monroe county, Florida, and the southernmost settlement belonging to the United States. It is situated in latitude 21 deg. 32 min. N., longitude 81 deg. 48 min. W., and has a population of about 3,000. It has a fine harbor, accessible through several channels by the largest vessels drawing twenty-four feet of water; being the key to the best entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, it is strongly fortified. The principal work of defence [sic] is Fort Taylor, built on an artificial island within the main entrance to the harbor. It is a first-class fort, intended to mount upwards of two hundred guns of the heaviest calibre, and is now in excellent state of defence [sic]. The barracks are large and commodious buildings, forming three sides of a quadrangle, the opening facing the sea. Near these barracks our regiment is now comfortably quartered, and the camp presents a most romantic and picturesque appearance.

The streets of the city are wide and clean; the houses are generally of white frame of the cottage style, are neat and mostly embosomed in shrubbery. The flowers and roses are seen blooming around almost every house during the whole year. There are Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, and Roman Catholic churches, a well arranged marine hospital 100 feet long by 45 feet wide, a customhouse, a court-house, and other public buildings. A large proportion of the population of Key West consists of natives or children of natives of the Bahama islands. These mostly sympathize with Secession, and had it not been for the prompt action of Captain, now Gen. Brannan, his handfull [sic] of men and the co operation [sic] of the loyal citizens, at the outbreak of the rebellion, the island and city with all the fortifications would have fallen into the hands of the rebels.

As a regiment, we have great reason to thank God for his watchful care over us, in sparing our lives. But with all, the unerring hand of death has not altogether left our ranks untouched. It is my painful duty to announce the death of three of our brethren-in-arms since we have pitched our tents in the sunny South.

Frederick Watt, Co. H, Captain Kacey’s, died in hospital February 13, of “brain fever,” contracted on board the Oriental. Aged 23 years. He enlisted in Perry county, Pennsylvania.

Andrew Bellisfield [sic], Co. A, Captain Graeffe’s, died in hospital of erysipelas. Aged 30 years. He was born, raised and enlisted In Northampton county, Pennsylvania.

Henry Beltz, Company B, Captain Rhoades [sic], died in hospital of typhoid fever. Aged 20 years. He was also a native of and enlisted in Northampton county, Pennsylvania.

Thus, three of our number have boon summoned from the field of strife and conflict, we trust, to the sweet fields and sunny banks of Canaan above.

They were buried with all the honors of war, and now sleep side by side, till the Resurrection morn. Although no kind father and mother, no affectionate sister and brother, were here to shed the tear of grief and sorrow over the graves of our departed brethren, yet there were few hearts in the ranks that were unmoved, and few cheeks that were dry, as we deposited their remains in the cold, silent earth.

Rest, soldiers, rest; your country comes,
With tender love and true,
Freely to deck your honored beds,
Her banner o’er its turf to spread,
And on your monuments to shed
Fond memory’s pearly dew.’

There are but few of our men now confined to the hospital, and these are doing very well.

Much yet remains to be said of our regiment, this post, etc., but as the mail will leave in a few moments by the Rhode Island, Captain Blanchard, I will close, promising to write again ere long.

‘In Peace or War, on land or sea,
Our flag, the aegis of the free,
Bright emblem of Columbia’s glory I
Shall tell to coming years the story,
How, stout of heart, and strong of hand,
The patriots of our native land
Bore it, the nation’s hope and life,
On tented field, ‘mid fearful strife,
Still on, till [sic] through the sulphurous [sic] cloud
It broke in triumph Treason’s shroud.'”

* Note: In point of fact, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had come together on the afternoon of February 13, 1862 for what would be the regiment’s first funeral at Key West—that of Private Frederick Watt, a 19-year-old Perry County laborer who had fallen ill with measles while sailing aboard the S.S. Oriental and had been confined to the post hospital at Fort Taylor since disembarking. Following his interment with full military honors in grave number 27 of the post cemetery, hospital clerks muddied the documentation surrounding Watt’s passing, noting his cause of death as both brain fever and typhoid pneumonia. Watt’s body was later disinterred, in 1927, as part of a mass relocation of Union soldiers’ remains from Fort Taylor to the Fort Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Florida, and was subsequently reburied at that national cemetery in section 18, grave number 92.

In contrast, Private Andrew Bellis (not “Bellisfield”), succumbed to complications from erysipelas, which developed after Bellis had been bitten by a scorpion. Laid to rest in grave number 26 of the post cemetery following funeral services officiated by A Company Captain Richard A. Graeffe, Private Bellis’s cause of death was confirmed by B Company Private Jacob Apple in a letter to his own (Apple’s) family. As happened with Private Watt, Private Bellis’s body was disinterred in 1927 as part of the mass relocation of Union soldier, and was subsequently reinterred in section 17, grave number 97 at the Fort Barrancas National Cemetery.

As with those privates who preceded him in death, Private Beltz was also laid to rest in the post cemetery. Initially interred there in grave number 181, his body was similarly disinterred in 1927 as part of the mass relocation of Union soldiers’ remains; tragically, though, his remains were among those of multiple members of the 47th Pennsylvania that were mishandled. Unable to be re-identified upon transfer to staff at the national cemetery, Private Beltz’s remains were carelessly consigned to one of 228 graves marked as “unknown”—the majority of which still have not been identified as the centenary of that grave relocation project approaches.

As for the Key West lighthouse mentioned by Rev. Rodrock in his letter, the structure had been forced to darken twice after its 1822 construction authorization by the U.S. Congress to protect ships navigating the dangerous Straits of Florida. Initially illuminated on December 17, 1825, it ceased operating in July 1836 when its tower was heavily damaged during the Second Seminole War. Repaired in 1846, it continued to operate until August 1861 when supporters of the Confederacy sabotaged it by removing the system’s reflector while also wrecking its central prism. Determined to fix the problem, Brigadier-General John M. Brannan sent a team of carpenters and guards to the lighthouse in April 1862, but the mission was aborted when technicians determined that the light could not be repaired with the limited tools they had available at that time. Out of service until it was repaired in 1866, the light finally began functioning again on April 15 of that year.

As illness continued to ravage the ranks of the 47th Pennsylvania throughout the late winter and early spring of 1862, Company A’s First Lieutenant James Meyers was subsequently hospitalized for two months while F Company’s Private John Weiss was ordered to convalesce in his quarters.

On Monday, March 17, Assistant Regimental Surgeon Jacob H. Scheetz was placed in command of the 47th Pennsylvania’s medical unit when the 47th’s Regimental Surgeon Elisha W. Baily was reassigned to detached duty. (Scheetz would continue to fulfill this role until September 1862 when he was placed in charge of the Union Army’s General Hospital in Beaufort, South Carolina, where the 47th Pennsylvania was stationed.)

Two days later, Northampton County Journal readers learned from that day’s edition of their newspaper that fourteen men from their community would be returning home, including A Company Privates Christian Haldeman and George Muller, residents of Easton who had been respectively employed as a laborer and hostler, Stockertown blacksmith Enos Unangst, and Monroe County’s William Pucker—all of whom had been honorably discharged on surgeons certificates of disability. (Muller was released due to a foot injury.)

On Sunday, March 23, Captain Gobin informed family and friends back in Sunbury that:

“Two batteries of field Artillery have been landed on the Island, and we are drilling our Regiment to the use of them. The men have been supplied with new clothing, brass shoulder scales to protect them from cavalry, and everything betokens a readiness on our part to join in the grand encircling of the monster Rebellion. The trees are still being cut down, while artillery roads, thirty feet wide, are being run from one part of the island to another, at different points. Our men have been working hard, but we daily expect 500 contrabands from Port Royal, when we will have easy times.”

All the while, the regiment’s most fearsome foe continued its scything of the ranks as E Company Private Amandus Long and 29-year-old Second Lieutenant Henry H. Bush of F Company lost their respective battles with typhoid fever.

Beloved by his F Company subordinates, Lieutenant Bush “had just been presented a sword by his company a few days before,” according to Schmidt, “and left a widow and two little children behind.” In reporting the death of the Catasauqua millwright, editors of the New Era confirmed that Bush had initially been laid to rest at the post cemetery:

“It becomes our sad duty to record the death of Lt. H. H. Bush, of Company F, 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. He died of Typhoid Fever on the 31st of March and was buried with Masonic and Military Honors in the soldiers burying ground near the barracks.”

The most enlightening glimpse into the funerary rituals of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, however, was Company Order Number 23:

“The Major commanding has the painful duty to announce to this command the death after a short illness of 2nd Lt. H. H. Bush of Company F stationed at this post. By his death the service has lost a good officer and efficient soldier. His remains will be buried at 5 PM (April 1). One half of company accompanied by subaltern will form escort. The usual badge of mourning will be worn by the officers of Company F for one month.”

* Note: Initially interred in grave number 3 of the post cemetery, Private Amandus Long was one of the 47th Pennsylvanians whose bodies were disinterred in 1927 as part of the mass relocation of Union soldiers’ remains from Fort Taylor to the Fort Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Florida. Tragically, his body was also among those that were mishandled. Unable to be reidentified upon transfer to the national cemetery, his remains were also carelessly consigned to one of 228 graves marked as “unknown.”

Unlike the remains of Private Long, however, those of Second Lieutenant Henry H. Bush were disinterred and brought back to the Keystone State at the request of his surviving family. Lieutenant Bush was then finally laid to rest at Catasauqua’s Fairview Cemetery.

The deaths of Beltz, Bush, Long, and so many other young men sorely tested the notion of 19th century Pennsylvanians that terminally ill loved ones “should die amidst family assembled around the deathbed,” according to American Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust, president emeritus of Harvard University and the author of This Republic of Suffering. Tradition had long dictated that “family members needed to witness a death in order to assess the state of the dying person’s soul” because the “critical last moments of life would epitomize his or her spiritual condition.”

“Kin would use their observations of the deathbed to evaluate the family’s chances for a reunion in heaven. A life was a narrative that could only be incomplete without this final chapter, without the life-defining last words.

Last words had always held a place of prominence in the Ars Moriendi [‘Good Death’] tradition. By the eighteenth century, ‘dying declarations’ had assumed—and still retain—explicit secular importance: a special evidentiary status excepting them from legal rules excluding hearsay. Final words were regarded as possessing an especially high truth status, both because it was believed that a dying person could no longer have any early motivation to lie and because those about to meet their Maker would not wish to expire bearing false witness…. Not only were last words important because of their assumed honesty, they also imposed a meaning on the life narrative they would conclude. At the same time that they exemplified a life, moreover, they communicated invaluable lessons or insights to those gathered around the deathbed. This educational function provided a critical means through which the deceased could continue to exist in the lives of the survivors. The teachings that last words imparted served as a lingering exhortation and a persisting tie between the living and the dead.”

But when members of the 47th Pennsylvania died far from home—as they were now doing at Fort Taylor in Florida—this immediate and long-lasting form of comfort and counsel was out of reach of the loving embrace of a dying soldier’s family and friends. And that, according to Faust, was utterly shocking and “unbearable to many nineteenth-century Americans left at home while their sons, husbands, and brothers died with their last words unrecorded or even unheard.”

As the war would continue to rage, according to Faust, a dying soldier’s regimental comrades would often become surrogates for far-away family, as would regimental and hospital chaplains, physicians, and army nurses, “struggling even amidst the chaos of the war to make it possible for men—and their loved ones—to believe they had died well. Spiritual wounds demanded attention as powerfully as did those of the flesh.”

Sadly, these realizations was being driven home to the members of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry time and again as the dawn of a second year of civil war loomed in America.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Faust, Drew G. The Civil War Soldier and the Art of Dying,” in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 3-38. Houston, Texas: Southern Historical Association (Rice University), 2001.

3. Florida’s Role in the Civil War: ‘Supplier of the Confederacy.” Tampa, Florida: Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida (College of Education), retrieved online January 15, 2020.

4. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

5. Johnson, Rossiter and John Howard Brown. The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Vol. 1, p. 419: Brannan, John Milton.” Boston, Massachusetts: The Biographical Society, 1904.

6. “Letter from Key West” (from “W. D. C. R., Chaplain, Forty-seventh Regiment, P. V.”; dated March 13, 1862). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Press, March 31, 1972 (front page).

7. Rodrock, William DeWitt Clinton and Julia (Weldy) Rodrock. Photographs, Correspondence, Sermons, etc., 1849-1900. St. Louis, Missouri: “William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock Collection” held by Robert Champlin.

8. Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

9. Sharp, Rebecca. Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (video). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, June 3, 2015.

10. Staubach, Lieutenant Colonel James C. Miami During the Civil War: 1861-65,” in Tequesta: The Journal of the Historical Association of Southern Florida, LIII, 31-62. Miami: Historical Museum of Southern Florida, 1993.

11. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.

 

 

His First Name was “Presto?” A Black History Month Mystery

Roster entry: Presto Garris,” Company F, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, Vol. 1, 1869 (public domain; double click to enlarge).

“Presto?” The first name stood out like a sore thumb on the roster of my great-grandfather’s Civil War regiment—one with a rank and file populated largely by soldiers with Germanic surnames: “Acher,” “Bachman,” “Bauer,” “Bauman,” “Burger,” “Dachrodt,” “Diehl,” “Eisenbraun,” “Eppler,” “Fritz,” “Grimm,” “Guth,” “Handwerk,” “Hertzog,” “Keiser,” “Knecht,” “Knorr,” “Koenig,” “Laub,” “Metzger,” “Münch,” “Rehrig,” “Reinert,” “Richter,” “Sauerwein,” “Schmidt,” “Schneider,” “Strauss,” “Ulrich,” “Volkenand,” “Wagner,” “Weiss,” and “Zeppenfeld.”

Many of their given or middle names were equally as Germanic—“Adolph,” “Bernhard,” “Gottlieb,” “Friedrich,” “Heinrich,” “Levi,” “Matthias,” “Reinhold,” “Tilghman,” “Tobias,” and “Werner.” In addition, one of the regiment’s component units—Company K—had even been founded by a German immigrant with the intent of creating “a new German company” staffed entirely by German-Americans who had been born in the Lehigh Valley, as well as recent émigrés from Germany.

So, “Presto” as a given name seemed like it warranted further investigation. Did the spelling of this soldier’s given name signal that he had emigrated from a different part of the world—possibly Italy? There was, after all, another member of the 47th Pennsylvania’s ranks with a seemingly Italian surname—Battaglia (later proven to be an immigrant of Switzerland). Plus, there were also multiple men with Irish surnames who had also enlisted with the 47th.

Or, maybe this soldier had been employed as a magician prior to enlisting in the military? (Probably not, but strange discoveries are surprisingly common with genealogical research.)

A more likely scenario? A harried Union Army clerk, in his haste to process new enlistees, simply omitted the “n” at the end of this soldier’s name—making him “Presto” for posterity’s sake rather than “Preston.”

I just had to know. Who was Presto?

Listing for “Presto Garris,” Company F, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866, Pennsylvania State Archives (public domain).

It turned out that this 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer wasn’t a magician, and he wasn’t an immigrant from Italy, but he was someone whose first and last names were badly mangled by multiple “mis-spellers” over decades of data entry.

Upon further investigation, it became clear that he was a formerly enslaved, 33-year-old black man who had enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on October 5, 1862 while the regiment was stationed near Beaufort, South Carolina—meaning that my great-grandfather’s regiment had become an integrated one at least three months before President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Totally “wowed” by this discovery, I searched for even more information about this very important enlisted man, but my quest wasn’t as easy as I hoped it would be because the regimental clerk who had entered “Presto” on the roster for Company F of the 47th Pennsylvania Regiment in the Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers had spelled his name incorrectly—an error that was then perpetuated by historian Samuel P. Bates in his History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5.

Possible name variants for an African American member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, U.S. Civil War General Pension Index Cards (National Archives, public domain).

Fortunately, this soldier’s listing in the U.S. Civil War General Pension Index Card system was slightly more helpful, providing multiple “alias” (alternate) spellings of his name: “Presto Garris,” “Bristor Geddes,” and “Bristor Gethers,” as well as a potential spelling for the name of his wife, “Rachel Gethers,” and a possible place of residency and year of death—1894—because his widow had filed for a U.S. Civil War Widow’s Pension from South Carolina on July 27, 1894.

Despite those hints, it took quite some time to pick up this soldier’s trail again. Eventually, though, that pension index card data helped me to find a Freedmen’s Bureau contract for him which confirmed that he had indeed settled in South Carolina post-war. Dated February 12, 1868, this document also confirmed that he had been signed to a contract with 14 other Freedmen by the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina office of the U.S. Freedmen’s Bureau to provide labor for the Whitehouse Plantation.

List showing “Brister Geddis,” et. al. on an 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau contract with the Whitehouse Plantation in South Carolina (public domain; double click to enlarge).

But, in another seemingly frustrating turn of events, that contract caused further confusion surrounding his name—this time spelling it as “Brister Geddis.” Fortunately, this new variant was repeated in the 1870 federal census—a sign that it was either the correct spelling or at least a closer approximation of how this soldier had pronounced his own name. Describing him as a 42-year-old black male residing in Beaufort, South Carolina, that same census also noted that he lived in Beaufort Township with his wife “Rachel,” a 24-year-old black woman (estimated birth year 1846), and son “Peter,” a 6-year-old black child, and confirmed that all three had been born in South Carolina. And that census record also noted that both “Brister” and “Rachel” were involved in farming land valued at $1,500.

Unfortunately, the 1880 federal census taker created still more confusion by illegibly writing the name as “Geddes, Brista” or “Geddis, Bristor”—and gave rise to two new puzzles by omitting son Peter’s name and also radically altering the estimated birth year of wife “Rachel”—changing it from 1846 to 1820 by stating that she was a 60-year-old who was four years older than her husband (rather than younger as she had reportedly been in 1870).

Even more frustrating? The special veterans’ census of 1890 altered the spelling of his name yet again—this time to “Brister Gedders.”

At that point, I made the decision to do everything humanly possible to right the wrong of this 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer’s forgotten military service by launching a GoFundMe campaign to support the purchase of this his full set of his military and pension records from the National Archives (as well as those of the other eight African American men who enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry).

If just three of you who regularly read the content on this website and follow our Facebook page donate $10 each to this campaign, we will be able to purchase the entire Compiled Military Service File for this forgotten member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and make it publicly available (free of charge) to other family history researchers and historians. If just four of you donate $20 each, we would also be able to purchase the entire Federal Military Pension Application File for that same soldier—a file that may very well contain critical vital statistics about this soldier’s birth, life and death, as well as vital statistics for his widow and son.

We might just even be able to determine when and where Brister/Bristor was buried and whether or not a gravestone marks his final resting place. If we find that no marker exists, or that the existing one has been damaged, or that the gravestone carver spelled his name incorrectly, we can then fix that wrong as well by asking the appropriate county, state and federal authorities to erect a suitable veteran’s headstone for him.

Please help us honor the military service of this unsung hero by making your donation today to our GoFundMe campaign, Honor 9 Black Soldiers of the American Civil War.”

With Sincere Gratitude,

Laurie Snyder, Managing Editor
47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers: 1861-5, Vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. “Garris, Presto,” in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

3. “Garris, Presto” (alias “Geddes, Bristor”, alias “Gethers, Bristor”), in U.S. Civil War General Pension Index, 1890-1894. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

4. “Roll of Co. F., 47th Regiment, Infantry,” in Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, in “Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives, retrieved online February 10, 2020.

 

Black History Month: An Early Encounter with the Evil of Slavery and a Celebration of Washington’s Birthday (February 1862)

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

“I was a servant until I was 13 years old and then my master put me into the field to make sugar and molasses. I tried to escape, but my master came on the ship and took me back.”

— Walter Bowten, a 27-year-old black man who requested help from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers after successfully escaping from slavery in February 1862

Attached to the command of Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan and assigned to garrison Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Florida in early February 1862, the members of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were soon brought face to face with the realities of life behind enemy lines in America’s Deep South as the United States was about to enter into the second year of its Civil War. Familiarized early on with the open, corrosive hatred of supporters of secession and the Confederacy, they also learned about the ugliest practices of slavery firsthand from a young man who had been whipped simply because his clothing had torn during a period of hard labor.

Taking turns with members of Brannan’s other regiments (the 90th and 91st New York Volunteers) in guarding roughly 200 to 300 blockade runners, gunboat operators and other Confederate prisoners, as well as 57 secessionists from Ship Island, the 47th Pennsylvanians also drilled daily in heavy artillery tactics, felled trees, helped to build new roads, and strengthened the fortifications in and around the Union Army’s presence in Key West.

* Note: Although several earlier historians have speculated that the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry was ordered to Florida because its members were incompetent militarily or because they were being punished for some unspecified wrongdoing, this belief is unfounded. Brigadier-General Brannan personally selected the 47th Pennsylvania to accompany him on what he knew would be a difficult mission—terminating Florida’s role as “the supplier of the Confederacy.” Florida’s livestock farmers were among the earliest to feed Confederate States Army troops, becoming one of the largest sources of cattle for CSA regiments, as well as suppliers of pork products while other food producers contributed fruit and fish. In addition, Florida was a major producer of American salt—a key ingredient critical to the preservation of food for CSA troops on the move.

Furthermore, President Abraham Lincoln and his generals realized that, if they were to prevent Europe from helping the Confederate States of America turn the tide of war in its favor by landing ammunition and food-laden ships on the coast of Florida, Union troops would need to capture and then maintain control of Florida’s coastal and interior waterways. So, they began to beef up the presence of Union Army and Navy forces at key locations around the state, including at Fort Taylor in Key West and Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, as well as via offshore shipping blockades; they then also increased the heavy artillery training of their fort-based troops to further persuade Confederate and European leaders that any attempted sea-based attack or supply delivery would be so costly that it would not be worth the risk.

As the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers settled in further to their new assignments, they also began to make their presence felt in another important way—by trooping regularly at the fort and through the town. On Friday, February 7 alone, the 47th Pennsylvanians marched behind their Regimental Band in three separate regimental parades, followed by an evening drill in front of their barracks.

To safeguard against potential misbehavior by soldiers stationed far from home, military discipline was also instilled and reinforced through a series of proclamations by superior officers at the brigade, regimental, or unit levels, such as General Order No. 2, which announced that water permits would be “issued to the quartermaster Sgt. of each company each evening at 6:45 for the succeeding day” due to a critical shortage of safe drinking water:

“A sufficient number of men will be detailed to carry water, but they will not be excused from other duty. No bathing will be allowed after 5:30 AM. The right wing of the regiment will bathe tomorrow morning from 5 to 5:30 AM. They will be in charge of a commanding officer of each company. The commanding officer will see that the men avail themselves of bathing as it is essential to the health and welfare of the regiment. All bathing in daytime is absolutely prohibited. Hours of service and roll call are: Reveille at daybreak; police immediately after; call for drill 5:30; recall 7; breakfast 7:15; surgeon’s call 7:45; guard mounting 9; call for drill 10; recall 11; dinner 12; 1st Sgt. call 1; call for drill 3:30; recall 5; dress parade 5:30; tattoo at 8; taps 8:30. These calls will be beat by the drum at the central guard quarters five minutes before the time stated.”

Captain Richard A. Graeffe, Company A, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (c. 1863, public domain).

Special Order No. 18 authorized Captain Richard Graeffe, the commanding officer of Company A, to direct two men to immediately report to the regiment’s master baker for extra duties as bakers’ helpers while General Order No. 3 directed the commanding officers of individual companies to ensure that their respective sergeants had enough time to complete their administrative duties before submitting their required reports to the brigade’s headquarters each morning by 10 a.m. (Regimental Order No. 2 was subsequently modified to reflect the rescheduling of tattoo and taps to 9 and 9:30 p.m., respectively.) Around this same time, Private Abraham N. Wolf was awarded a temporary boost in authority with his assignment as “boss carpenter”—an additional duty he would continue to perform until June 20.

Following an early inspection by their superiors on Sunday, February 9, many 47th Pennsylvanians walked into the main part of the city to attend church services. C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton described the experience a week later in another of his letters to the Sunbury American:

“With several members of our company I attended Episcopal Church last Sabbath—The church building is a large and beautiful one, and the people deserve great credit for erecting it. The Minister is a strong Union man, and it struck me, on last Sabbath, that he lost no opportunity of displaying his Union sentiments. Some time ago some members of the Church were very disloyal, and when the Minister read the prayer “to behold and bless Thy servant, the President of the United States, and all others in authority,” they would close the prayer book, and look daggers at him, wondering whom they should hang first – the Minister or Abe Lincoln. General Brannan (Captain at the time), hearing of it, put an end to this disrespect, made them take the oath of allegiance, and now they now can say ‘Amen’ as loud and as heartily as the best Union men on the island…. For the sake of the Church, I am happy to state that only a few of its members were weak enough to show their fondness for Jeff Davis—the rest of the members were very glad that Gen. Brannan took the matter in hand.

The population of the island is about four thousand, consisting of negroes, Spaniards, and a few whites. With the exception of five storekeepers, the occupation of its inhabitants is fishing, dealing in fruit and selling hot coffee and cool drinks. There are as many coffee and cool drink saloons here as there are Lager Bier saloons in the Everlasting State of Williamsport, and from that you can readily perceive there is no need of being thirsty. As for intoxicating drinks, they are prohibited—the island being under martial law it is impossible to get even a smell, and it is well that it is so, for in this climate there is no telling what amount of sickness its use might produce. The buildings used for stores are very large and airy, but I can assure you that in the stores of either Friling & Grant or E. Y. Bright & Son, there are more goods than in all the stores on this island put together. Oranges, coming from Cuba and Nassau islands, are very plenty, and can be bo’t [sic] at three for a sixpence; not such as you folks get at home, but real fresh, juicy fellows that melt in one’s mouth equal to the best ice cream made in H. B. Masser’s patent ice cream freezers. Fish are very plenty [sic], and can be bought cheap. Thanks to Sergeant Smelser [alternate spelling “Smeltzer”], our company is living high in the fish line. He is Company Quarter-Master Sergeant, and on every fish market morning, Peter is at the wharf, and there exchanges our surplus pork and beef for fish; so that the boys have a variety and are content.

Horse and cattle are very small. They come from Cuba. The horses are not near as big as Peter B. Masser’s black ponies, and I have seen at home two year old cattle larger than those they use here for beeves.

There is an article here, that I believe bothers the whole human race, and that is mosquitoes. Those on this island are not of the common kind, but regular tormentors. – Fix your net work as you may, you will receive their sting before morning. They are great on a serenade too, and if one is impolite enough to go to sleep as they are in the middle of a glee, the leader will give you a tickler with his sting that it is impossible to resist; but for my part, I can easily dispense with that kind of music, and often wish that they would favor some one else who can appreciate their talents better than I can.

The Fort on this island (Fort Taylor) is a very large one, and is now of the most importance to the Government. It is not near finished, but so much so that the rebels dare not venture within the range of its guns. – When finished it will have one hundred and eighty guns, and with those on the embankment on the moat, fronting the town, it will have two hundred and seventy five. Some time since the fort came within an ace of being taken by the rebels, but Capt. Brannan saved it be stratagem. Men were working at the fort, so, to prevent suspicion, the Captain every morning would march a guard from the garrison to the fort, and in that manner before the rebels were aware of it, he had full possession of it. Mulraner, formerly a Sergeant of the Captain’s, who became rich in the rum business, hoisted a secesh flag on his hotel, and sent an impudent note to the Captain requesting him to honor the seven stars by firing a salute from the fort. The reply was that if the rag was not taken down on the return of the messenger, the Commander would open the guns of the fort on the town, and send Mulraner and his friends to Tortugas to work in the hot sand and give them time to repent of their folly, preparatory to dangling at the end of a rope. The flag was taken down — Mulraner vamoosed [sic] the ranch, and is now in command of a company of rebels somewhere near Pensacola. It is tho’t [sic] that when Gen. Brannan arrives Mulraner’s property, which is valuable, will be confiscated.

There are a large number of men-of-war here, and every day more are added to their number. Fifty-seven prisoners were brought in during the last week from Ship Island, besides two prizes, one loaded with turpentine, and the other with arms and machinery that were on the road to New Orleans, for a large steamer that is building there for use of the rebels.

You need not be surprised to here [sic] of an expedition being sent out from here – everything looks like it – so many vessels in port, more expected and troops arriving every day. There are three regiments here now, the 90th and 91st New York, and our own, besides the Regulars in the fort. If we do go, there will have to be a strong force left behind; for, in my opinion, the most of the Union men here are as treacherous as the men who use the stiletto to stab a friend, at night, from behind.

With the exception of fish and fruit, everything they use comes from the North. They would starve if it were not for the ‘mud ills,’ and yet they would try to break up the Government that protects them. Lumber is worth one hundred dollars per thousand feet. Carpenters’ wages are three dollars per day but I think they would starve at that, as I see no employment for them. The boys are very well, and are enjoying themselves with the sea bathing. We have received the American and Gazette three times since our arrival, and they are very welcome visitors, much more so than were the morning papers in Virginia. It is very strange we receive no letters; if the ‘folks at home’ knew how anxious we are to get them they would be a little more punctual.”

Following completion that same Sunday (February 9) of the brigade’s dress parade, which began at 5:30 p.m., B Company Lieutenant Allen G. Balliet marched roughly 40 members of the 47th Pennsylvania to Key West’s Methodist Church for evening services during which a sermon was delivered by the 91st New York Volunteers’ regimental chaplain. That same day, H Company Captain James Kacy issued Company Order No. 7:

“Sgt. R. S. Gardner will have under his command tents #1 and 2 and will be held personally responsible for the clean up of the men in person, clothing, arms, accoutrements, and quarters. Sgt. James Hahn will have under him tents #3 and 4 and be held responsible the same as #1 and 2. Sgt. Lynch will have under his control tents #5 and 6 and will be likewise held responsible. The Sgts. Gardner, Hahn and Lynch will have the men of the company on the parade ground at 5:30 AM and when one of them is on guard, the other two will attend to this drill duty and divide the squad between their respective commands.”

As the days of February rolled by, the commanding officers of the 47th Pennsylvania made a concerted effort to stabilize the living arrangements for their subordinates, housing the bulk of their men in military barracks southeast of Palm Avenue and White Street at Peary Court on the eastern side of Key West. Lodged in three buildings on the northeast side and three buildings on the southwest side of the Union Army’s parade grounds were the regiment’s field and staff officers, as well as the entire membership of the Regimental Band. Additionally, two 125-foot by 20-foot buildings accommodated a portion of enlisted members of the 47th Pennsylvania with the remainder housed in adjacent military tents—effective Tuesday, February 18. Known as Sibley tents, these were large, round, canvas structures which were 12 feet tall by 18 feet in diameter, supported by center poles and warmed by central fireplaces. Housing 16 to 19 men each, seven tents each were erected by the 47th Pennsylvania’s ten companies. One tent per company was placed at the head of each company’s “street” to house that company’s officers with the other six tents per company allotted to the enlisted men, each of whom who were arranged on the inside “like the spokes of a wheel,” according to Schmidt, “with their feet to the fireplace.”

According to Regimental Chaplain William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock, “The barracks were large and commodious two story [sic] buildings forming three sides of a quadrangle, the opening toward the sea.” Also located in this section of the city were the army’s hospital and cemetery.

As Henry Wharton indicated in his letter (above), serving with the 47th Pennsylvania under Brannan were the 90th New York, which was commanded by Colonel Joseph S. Morgan and which would later fight alongside the 47th Pennsylvania during the Union’s 1864 Red River Campaign across Louisiana and 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign across Virginia, and the 91st New York, commanded by Colonel J. Van Sandt. In addition, five companies of U.S. Army “regulars” also called Fort Taylor home at this time. (The 7th New Hampshire, which was stationed at Fort Jefferson in Florida’s Dry Tortugas, would be brought into closer proximity with the 47th Pennsylvania a few months later when Brannan and his men were ordered to move to South Carolina.)

There were also a significant number of enslaved and formerly enslaved men, women and children in the region. According to Schmidt:

“There was a slave camp about one mile from the military camps, where 150 Blacks were engaged in manufacturing salt; it was reported that 50,000 bushels of salt were made on the island each year by solar evaporation…. The manufacture of salt was terminated later in 1862, and was not restarted until 1854, to prevent any salt from the facility finding its way into the Confederacy….

Another building of note on the island of Key West during the war was the ‘slave barracoons’, used to house Blacks taken from captured slavery vessels, and described as being a long low building about 300 feet by 30 feet. Lt. Geety reported that there were 1500 slaves there at one time, and 400 died in four months [sic] time; a rate per day that the 90th New York Regiment would approach in August-September as a result of a Yellow Fever epidemic, during which time the barracoons, located at Whitehead’s Point in the southernmost area of Key West would be converted into a temporary hospital.”

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

On Friday, February 14, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers made their presence known once again to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. Two days later, their commanding officers insisted that they get better acquainted with the residents of their new community by attending services at local churches. That same Sunday evening, a young black man named Walter Bowten entered the camp to request protection. Provided food and a tobacco-filled pipe, he was also given a regimental uniform to replace his tattered, soiled clothing. His mind at greater ease, he then explained that he had escaped slavery from Providence Island, and recounted his life experience to one of the regiment’s bilingual members, who documented the man’s story in German. The following translation was provided by regimental historian Lewis Schmidt:

“My name is Walter Bowten and I was born in 1835. My parents were born slaves but they worked to free themselves. I was a servant until I was 13 years old and then my master put me into the field to make sugar and molasses. I tried to escape, but my master came on the ship and took me back…. Where my master lives is not much of a place, it is only one island where tangerines, oranges, lemons and coconuts grow. I do not have a cent of money from my master and would rather be with the white folks than with a mulatto. I had to work every day from morning until night, and on Sunday we had to work until 8 in the morning. We had two changes of clothing, one for work and one change for good, and when the clothing was torn, our master would threaten and whip us. Our master would not let us go to the soldiers and said he would shoot us, but we came away anyway.”

Regrettably, the attempts of the 47th Pennsylvanians to protect Bowten were thwarted the next day by other soldiers at the fort who seized Bowten while the 47th Pennsylvania was marching in another of its regimental parades. Bowten was subsequently ordered to be held at the fort, according to Schmidt, “until a ship which had gone to Havana for a load of sugar would return.”

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

On Friday, February 21, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched, for the first time in Key West, in a dress parade that was observed by Brigadier-General Brannan, who had just arrived at Fort Taylor that day. Brannan later took the time to ride his horse along the various “company streets” of the 47th Pennsylvania’s encampment, “tipping his hat” as he passed his cheering subordinates, according to Schmidt.

Another brigade parade was then held at 10 a.m. the next day—Washington’s Birthday—a day of great joy that began with prayer and a reading of President George Washington’s farewell address

“Friends and Fellow Citizens,

The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference of what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety, and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government in the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many hours it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefitting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rival ships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings [sic] which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof of how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the Union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisors, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till charged by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot directly be overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true, and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing it and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less for to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice toward all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distance period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges toward another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation to another produces a variety of evils.
Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gliding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils? Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation an excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old an affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, 1793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied to that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probably that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

United States
19th September, 1796

Geo. Washington”

Professor Thomas Coates, the “Father of Band Music in America,” led the Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry from August 1861 to September 1862 (public domain).

The parade then began on Washington’s birthday, 1862 with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and the other units commanded by Brannan marching through Key West to the home of a Union-supporting judge who was known for proudly flying the American flag. Stopping behind its Regimental Band as it struck up “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry then marched to Fort Taylor, where its members witnessed the firing of a national, 34-gun salute by the fort’s artillery guns, followed by a salute fired by the guns of the man-of-war, Pensacola.

The celebration continued well into the evening, as brigade members were treated to a formal band concert and formal address by C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin. Brigade members then competed against one another in foot, wheelbarrow and sack races, as well as a pig chase. C Company Colonel Jacob K. Keefer came in second in that foot race while C Company Private P. M. Randall somehow managed to take second in the sack race after falling down near the end and rolling across the finish line.

Joseph Eugene Walter, cornetist, Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1861.

On Monday, February 24 and Wednesday, February 26, the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band again performed in concert with the band giving “a ball for the officers, which was “numerously attended by the Knights of the spur and tinsel,” according to Wharton, who also noted the unfortunate circumstance that “there were only enough ladies in attendance to form six setts.”

On Friday, February 28, the entire regiment reported for an 8 a.m. inspection in response to Regimental Order No. 39, which had been issued by the commanding officers of the 47th Pennsylvania per Brigadier-General Brannan’s General Order No. 5. The regiment also received the following additional instruction via Brannan’s General Order No. 11:

“I. Officers and soldiers are required to live within the limits of their respective commands and on no account to sleep out thereof without special permission of the Brigadier General commanding. No non-commissioned officers or soldier will be allowed in the town without a written pass from his commanding officer. Non-commissioned officers furnished with permits from their commanding officers will be allowed in town. But the provost guard has strict orders to arrest any Private who on any pretext is found in town after the tattoo beating [the signal from regimental musicians that lights should be extinguished and all loud talking or other noise should cease within 15 minutes when Taps will be played] except by special permit from headquarters.

II. The attention of commissioned officers is specially directed to article 29, paragraph 237 to 257 relating to: Honor to be paid by the troops. Any non-commissioned officer or soldier when approaching a commanding officer will invariably salute, if armed by touching his musket at the position of shoulder arms, if unarmed by raising the outer hand horizontally to his cap peak. Should the officer address him he will stand in the respectful position of attention until the officer shall have concluded. On an officer entering the quarters of any party of non-commissioned officers, the senior officer will call the party to attention; and on his approaching any party of men commanded by a non-commissioned officer they will immediately be called to attention and if armed brought to the position of shoulder arms. Should an officer approach any soldier or party of soldiers sitting or lying down they will immediately rise and remain in the position of attention until he shall have passed…. A sentry on post on the approach of an officer will first halt, second face outward from his post, third come to the position of shoulder arms. Should the officer prove to be a general or field officer he will further come to the position of present arms and so remain at the requisite salute until the officers shall have passed his post. The sentry on the guard room door of all guards will turn out his guard at the approach of the general commanding, the field officer of the day, and all armed parties. Regimental guards will further turn out to the commanding officer of their respective regiments….

III. No officer or soldier on guard duty will leave his guard room on any business whatever without being fully equipped. Neither will any soldier be permitted to leave the camp or station of his regiment or company unless properly dressed in accordance with the regulations of that headquarters.

IV. Public property is on no account to be used otherwise then in the service of the government nor will any soldier be permitted to act as an officer’s servant unless he be duly mustered as such.

… VII. All communications for these headquarters are invariably to be made through the chief of staff, signed by Gen. Brannan.”

This last day of February 1862 also brought a brief change for C Company 1st Lt. William Reese, a 32-year-old former Juniata County shoemaker, who was temporarily transferred to the staff of the Chief of Topographical Engineers of Brannan’s 3rd Brigade—a position he held until March 25, 1862.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2.Florida’s Role in the Civil War: ‘Supplier of the Confederacy.” Tampa, Florida: Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida (College of Education), retrieved online January 15, 2020.

3. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

4. Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

5. President George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796), in Our Documents.” Washington, DC: U.S. National Archives, et. al., retrieved online January 18, 2020.

6. United States War Department (multiple contributors). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Series I, Vol. VI. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.

7. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.

 

January-Early February 1862: New Year, New Civil War Mission — A Pennsylvania Regiment Heads for Florida

Unknown regiment, Camp Griffin, Virginia, Fall 1861 (public domain, U.S. Library of Congress).

“He was the light and life of our company, and his death has caused a blight and sadness to prevail, that only the rude wheels of time can efface….” — Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin to the parents of drummer boy John Boulton Young, mid-October, 1861

“I passed the night in ‘watching,’ but somewhat differently from the watch meetings at home. I spent from 8 to 12 at night on the outposts, and we were in expectation of an attack all the time…. At 12, I was relieved and moved with my men back to the main reserve where we built a huge fire, and six to eight officers of us gathered around the fire and spent the time in telling yarns, cracking jokes.” — Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin to his own parents in a letter penned on New Year’s Day, 1862

“Will write again if I am spared to do so.” — G Company Sergeant John Gross Helfrich to his parents in a letter penned on January 12, 1862

 

As America’s Civil War dragged on, the contemplation of life’s biggest questions became an increasing preoccupation for more than a few members of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Initially elated by their August 1861 enrollment for service in the fight to preserve their nation’s Union, many were propelled heart and headlong into a valley of grief just weeks later by the untimely deaths of John Boulton Young and Alfred Eisenbraun, two of the regiment’s beloved drummer boys.

Their equilibrium was gradually restored by their work as Union Army soldiers, however, and their spirits were raised further by the approaching Christmas season—largely thanks to surprise shipments by families and friends of “care packages” stuffed with favored foods and other items of comfort. Naturally, though, many members of the regiment began ruminating again as the New Year’s Eve of 1861 gave way to the New Year’s Day of 1862—as shown by this January 1, 1862 letter written to family by C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin:

“I went on picket yesterday morning, and was relieved this morning. So the entire programme [sic] of the departure of the old and advent of the New Year was open to me. I passed the night in ‘watching,’ but somewhat differently from the watch meetings at home. I spent from 8 to 12 at night on the outposts, and we were in expectation of an attack all the time. This kept me constantly in the line, among the men preparing for an attack. At 12, I was relieved and moved with my men back to the main reserve where we built a huge fire, and six to eight officers of us gathered around the fire and spent the time in telling yarns, cracking jokes. Officers from the 7th Maine, 49th & 53d New York were present. Occasionally a shot or two would bring us all to our feet, but as all would be quiet again down we would go into the fire again. About four oclock [sic] this morning, I spread my blanket on the ground, and with a stone for a pillow, slept peaceably my first sleep for 1862. I got to Camp about 9 a.m. and found your letters awaiting me.

…. I would like to have been at home on Christmas, and had set my heart upon going, but somehow or other Col Good and Gen Brannen [sic] both do not want me to leave at present. The fact is we are daily expecting an engagement and they seem to think my company will not do as well as they expect it to unless I am there. I have the crack company in the Regiment. Yesterday was muster day and Sam Miller received the premium for having the cleanest arms in the Regiment….

…. I will make a desperate effort to spend my birthday at home. Mother if I get there I want you to cook a dish of schnitz und knep [sic]. I have been wishing for them all day. Yesterday I went into a house on the line and bought a mince pie and cup of coffee of a girl there. They were first rate, but Mother could beat them.”

* Note: Schnitz und knepp, which translates from the Pennsylvania German to English as “apples and buttons,” was a traditional fall recipe for Pennsylvania Dutch families during the 1800s, and remains so today. Made in a large kettle with dried apples, ham, and dumplings, and flavored with brown sugar and other seasonings, its aroma, taste, and warmth have long come together to create the very definition of “comfort food” on the chilly fall days of the Great Keystone State.

“I had not intended mentioning the following but for fear some of the boys may and an incorrect story gets out, I will tell you the other night while on picket, Mark Shipman fired upon one man crawling up to him, or he supposed he was. Sergeant Piers [sic] and I went out to the line to see the cause of the report, and someone attempted to shoot at us, but his cap snapped. The fellow made tracks in a hurry before we could catch him, but I think he got badly frightened anyhow. You do not say anything about this and do not be alarmed as he could not hit us. It was too dark. And if he had fired, or his gun gone off, we could have shot him, by the flash. We have not lost a man on picket in our entire division.

…. The wind is blowing a perfect hurricane around the house. I have my house papered all over now, and I tell you it is the best this side of Gen Smiths head quarters [sic]. Jake Keaffer [sic] just came in. He was on picket with me last night and tried for about two hours to catch some guinea hens for a New Year dinner. They were too wild for him and so he filled his haversack with potatoes out of a hole he found. He wont [sic] starve in this country. Remember me to all friends and all write soon.

Then, barely a week into the New Year, the regiment’s most persistent and dangerous foe to date resumed its assault, claiming H Company Private Jacob S. R. Gardner as one of the first of what would be a stunning number of casualties for the 47th Pennsylvania in 1862. Unable to withstand the “one-two punch” he absorbed from contracting measles after having just survived a battle with Variola (smallpox), the former Perry County laborer died on January 8. His brothers, Sergeant Reuben Shatto Gardner and Corporal John A. Gardner, who had both been serving side-by-side with him in H Company, saw to the shipping arrangements which sent Jacob’s body back home for interment at the Newport Cemetery in Newport, Pennsylvania, but they did not accompany the transport. Instead, they tamped down their grief and returned to duty—a difficult act that would continue to be repeated by numerous other heartbroken brothers for years to come across a bitterly divided United States.

Meanwhile, at dawn on the same day of Private Gardner’s passing, the bulk of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry had just begun to carry out the latest directive from superior officers. Marching from Camp Griffin toward the Army of the Potomac’s central commandthe headquarters of Brigadier-General William F. (“Baldy”) Smith, the 47th Pennsylvanians met up with six additional Union infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment, and a ten-piece artillery unit. Moving on as part of this larger force, they continued on to Lewinsville, where they picked up the support of an additional 233 Union wagons.

Heading out again, they trekked on for eight miles until reaching Peacock Hill, where they chased off a significantly smaller group of Confederate States Army troops from picket duty, and then proceeded to remove 200 bushels of corn and 30 loads of hay.

Sergeant-Major William M. Hendricks, central regimental command, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (c. 1863, public domain).

In his subsequent recap of the event, Sergeant-Major William M. Hendricks noted, “We just marched up to a corn crib, and off went the roof, and the wagons were backed up and filled.” The 47th Pennsylvanians were back in camp that same day by 4 p.m.

According to Gobin in his own letter home, which was penned on the same day of the expedition:

“Yesterday our division of about ten thousand men went out to Hunters Mill, and got 252 wagon loads of forage. We drove in the Rebel pickets and waited a long time for them to come at us, but they did not show themselves. The march was a hard one. I was very tired, but one nights [sic] sleep, and all as sound as ever.”

On Friday, January 10, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were informed that they had performed their duties so admirably up to this point that they had been chosen by Union Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan to join a new expedition under his leadership. Shortly thereafter, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began packing up their regiment’s tents, Springfield rifles, ammunition, cooking utensils, and other equipment critical to any Union Army unit on the move.

Excerpt of letter from Sergeant John Helfrich, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, January 12, 1862 (used with permission from Colin Colfield).

In the midst of all of this, G Company Sergeant John Helfrich carved time out to pen the following letter:

“Camp Griffin,
Jan. 12th 1862

Dear Parents,

I will again address you, in order to inform you of my getting along, and at the same time I will remark that this will to all probability be the last letter that I may be able to write, while at this place, as we have orders to leave at almost any moment. The place of our destination I can not [sic] name for certain, however, it is rumored that we would go to Florida.

While I am writing, I am informed that we will first go either to Baltimore or Anapolis [sic], and there join the fleet just about being fitted out for some southern seaport. Our going is a certainty, as Gen. Brannan, has gone to either of the above named places to make the necessary arrangements, preparatory to our going.

Yesterday, (Saturday) our regiment was paid for the preceeding [sic] two month service. The monthly wages of a sergeant is seventeen and those of a private thirteen, dollars.

Our company has first passed through the usual Sunday morning inspection, when each man is [to] have a suit of clean clothes in his knapsack, and must also have his arms, and accoutrements, in perfect good condition. This inspection, greatly promotes the healthy, as well as the good appearances of the soldier, and in fact is indispensable.

Our company is in excellent health not a man is at present in the hospital. The health of the regt. has always been pretty good during the first four month [sic] we are now in service, which is verified by the fact that there occurred but seven cases that proved fatal, out of our nine hundred men, and we can not [sic] find language to express our thanks to the Great giver of this our greatest and blessing, that a mortal being can enjoy, and it is our prayer that He may continue to bless us in the future.

I would very much like to see my friends and relations first before we go, but time, and circumstances, will not permit me to do so. I hope however that the time may soon be at hand, when peace may again be restored to our former blessed land, and when those who are now separated from their Parents and friends, fighting for their country, cause and honor, may again be permitted to return home, and enter the circle of their Parents, families, and friends, left and home in peace and prosperity.

Enclosed find ten dollars of my wages. I would send you more, but perhaps I may need it myself, from this until next payday. I must now close by saying that I am well, hoping that you and all the rest of the family are enjoying the same. Remember me kindly to all my friends at home and abroad.

A friendly goodby [sic] to you all.

Your son,

John G. Helfrich

Will write again soon if I am spared to do so.

J. G. Helfrich”

The City of Richmond, a sidewheel steamer which transported Union troops during the Civil War (Maine, c. late 1860s, public domain).

Lined up and ready to move out early on the morning of Wednesday, January 22, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers “gave three cheers for Camp Griffin” after listening to the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band play “Auld Lang Syne,” according to regimental historian Lewis Schmidt. Marching forth at 8:30 a.m., the men of B Company brought up the rear as the regiment slogged through snow and deep mud for three miles in order to reach the Vienna railroad depot in Falls Church, Virginia. Arriving at 9:30 a.m., they boarded a train and departed at 11 for Alexandria, Virginia where, a half hour later, they marched behind their band to the strains of “Yankee Doodle.”

Arriving at the docks nearby, they quickly began loading their equipment on the City of Richmond, a steamship which ultimately transported them along the Potomac River to the Washington Arsenal, where they disembarked sometime around 4 p.m. Marched from the arsenal area’s docks to the munitions storage area, regimental leaders replenished the ammunition supplies of the regiment, one company at a time—a process which took roughly two hours. They were then marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Naval Academy Barracks and temporary hospital, Annapolis, Maryland (c. 1861-1865, public domain).

The next day (January 23), the 47th Pennsylvanians reloaded their equipment onto and then boarded a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad train. Departing for Annapolis, Maryland at 2 p.m., they arrived around 10 p.m., were assigned quarters in barracks at the U.S. Naval Academy, and turned in for the night. They then spent that Friday through Monday (January 24-27) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the 210-foot steamship S.S. Oriental. Those preparations ceased on Monday, January 27, at 10 a.m., however, in order to make time for a very public dismissal of one member of the regiment—Private James C. Robinson—who was dishonorably discharged from the 47th Pennsylvania (effective on that same date). According to regimental historian Schmidt and letters home from members of the regiment:

“The regiment was formed and instructed by Lt. Col. Alexander ‘that we were about drumming out a member who had behaved himself unlike a soldier.’ …. The prisoner, Pvt. James C. Robinson of Company I, was a 36 year old miner from Allentown who had been ‘disgracefully discharged’ by order of the War Department. Pvt. Robinson was marched out with martial music playing and a guard of nine men, two men on each side and five behind him at charge bayonets. The music then struck up with ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as the procession was marched up and down in front of the regiment, and Pvt. Robinson was marched out of the yard.”

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were transported to Florida aboard the steamship S.S. Oriental in January 1862 (public domain).

Reloading then resumed and, that same afternoon (January 27), the enlisted members of the 47th Regiment, Volunteer Infantry began to board the Oriental, followed by their superior officers. Ferried to that Philadelphia-built steamship by smaller steamers, they sailed away for America’s Deep South at 4 p.m., per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas. Their ship, which was captained by Benjamin F. Tuzo, was rocked by rough seas for much of their trip; consequently, many members of the regiment suffered from intense seasickness—particularly as the Oriental made its way down the stormy coast of the Carolinas and passed the Bahamas and Great Abaco Island.

On February 2, Regimental Chaplain William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock gathered his flock together for Sunday services, which began with the tolling of the ship’s bell at 11 a.m., a selection of hymns performed by the Regimental Band, and an opening prayer and scripture reading by Rodrock. Following the regiment’s singing of “From All That Dwell Below the Skies” (accompanied by the band to the music of “Old Hundred”), Rodrock presented that week’s sermon, which was based on the Bible’s “Acts of the Apostles,” chapter 17, verse 23. The service then closed with the singing of “Lord Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing” and the Doxology, followed by Rodrock’s benediction.

That day and the next, the men’s spirits were boosted further by the sight of dolphins swimming alongside the Oriental.

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

Arriving in the waters off Key West, Florida at 8 p.m. on Monday, February 3, the 47th Pennsylvanians were forced to endure a waiting game aboard ship until a pilot could be brought aboard to bring the ship into a safe place in the harbor—a process the pilot began at 7 a.m. the next morning.

According to Schmidt, “The deck was crowded with the regiment’s men, with the band playing as they passed some of the men-at-war…. Arriving in the harbor at 8 AM, the bands playing ‘national songs’ and numerous onlookers, including many ‘colored women,’ along the shore watching the ship sail into port.”

“After disembarking at 9 AM on the dock about one mile west of Fort Taylor, the regiment marched down the main street of the city in their regular order of column of divisions, and stacked their weapons, waiting until the unit would be notified where to make camp…. At 12 in the afternoon, the men were ordered to fall in and stand to attention, and with their 23 member band playing and the ladies of Key West waving their handkerchiefs, and with quite a crowd of followers, the 1000 men marched to their new camp ‘one fourth mile out of the city, near the beach,’ across from the barracks of the 90th New York Regiment.”

Led to the area of Key West that is now known as Palm and White streets, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were, in fact, initially housed just 350 feet from the ocean—a locale which may sound breathtakingly luxurious to the modern day reader until one realizes that the 47th Pennsylvanians’ first nights were “spent in blankets on the beach, with knapsacks for pillows”—a vexing, sandy state of affairs which persisted until their tents were unloaded and assembled on Thursday, February 6.

Even so, the members of the regiment still managed to make an early, favorable impression on Key West residents, including a New York Herald reporter who “commented on the fact that the 47th was equipped with the best weapons available, and was the best looking Volunteer Regiment he had ever seen.’’

Adjutant and 1st Lieutenant Washington H. R. Hangen (c. 1862-1864, public domain).

This was in very large part due to the leadership of Colonel Tilghman H. Good, the founder and commanding officer of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, who had been placed in charge not just of the 47th Pennsylvania, but of all of the men who had been assigned to serve under Brannan in Key West, including two volunteer regiments from New York and U.S. Army artillery units. Good would continue to perform this role until Brannan was able to reach Florida and assume command of his brigade. The 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Adjutant Washington H. R. Hangen was then also appointed as Adjutant General for Brannan’s brigade.

And those tents which took so long to be delivered and assembled? They were officially designated as “Camp Brannan” in honor of the brigadier-general who had requested that the 47th Pennsylvania be assigned to his command.

* NOTE: Three months after dropping the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers off in Key West, the steamship Oriental ran aground and sank north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Its boiler may still be seen from shore while walking along the beach at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Faust, Drew G. “The Civil War soldier and the art of dying,” in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 3-38. Houston, Texas: Southern Historical Association (Rice University), 2001.

3. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

4. Helfrich, John G. Personal Letters, 1862. Mesa, Arizona: Personal Collection of Colin Cofield.

5. Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

6. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.

 

 

December 1861: A Young Regiment’s First Christmas and New Year’s Day Away from Home

First State Color, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (issued 20 September 1861, retired 11 May 1865).

Barely four months old when December 1861 arrived, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry continued its occupation of Virginia—just one of the many Union regiments attached to the Army of the Potomac charged with defending the nation’s capital from potential invasion by Confederate States Army troops during the first year of America’s Civil War. Encamped at Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen during late September and early October, the 47th Pennsylvania had spent a significant portion of its time reinforcing and expanding upon the basic training in Hardee’s light infantry tactics that it had received upon its muster at Camp Curtin.

On one typical day—Friday, October 4—the regiment drilled from just after reveille until roughly 7 a.m., repeated the drill between 10 and 11 a.m. and then again between 2 and 3 p.m., and then marched in a formal regimental parade from 5 to 6 p.m. Two days later, the regiment demonstrated its readiness yet again when its members were formally inspected by senior officers of its brigade. At midnight the next day—Monday, October 7—the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was ordered to engage the enemy.

Following behind the 79th New York Volunteers and trailed by the 33rd and 49th New York, as well as a Union cavalry unit and three Union artillery batteries, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched away from Camp Advance at 3 a.m.—excited to do more than mere drilling. Before they could reach their intended destination, however, the 79th New York Volunteers ran smack into Confederate skirmishers three miles outside of Lewinsville.

As battle lines began to form, the 47th Pennsylvania was ordered to move to the front and both sides of the road to shield the brigade’s other units. Initially stationed at the front, the 47th Pennsylvania’s F Company and A Company were shifted to protective positions at the brigade’s left and right, respectively, and Company D and Company I were then shifted to protect the brigade’s front. Advancing in this formation up and down three miles of the undulating, forested Virginia countryside, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers pushed the Confederate troops back toward Prospect Hill, where they stopped and held their brigade’s position for the remainder of the day and night.

Forming a new battle line the next morning at 8 a.m., the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were assigned, again, to guard both sides of their brigade. When neighboring Confederate troops failed to attack by 10 a.m., they were ordered to begin fortifying their brigade’s position, and proceeded to carve out a five-mile road and fell a substantial number of trees in order to construct earthen breastworks in front of the brigade’s artillery batteries. They were also assigned to dig holes to create rifle pits for brigade snipers—work which continued until they were relieved by a regiment from Vermont at sundown. Allowed to sleep until daylight via a procedure known as “laying on their arms,” they essentially held their rifles while napping lightly.

Unknown regiment, Camp Griffin, Virginia, fall 1861 (public domain, U.S. Library of Congress).

Ordered on toward Manassas Gap early that same week, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were next stationed between Lewinsville and Falls Church as part of this mission. Moving back and forth around this area, they reached as far as the Leesburg Turnpike, which was roughly two miles from the Chain Bridge they had first crossed when entering Virginia in September. Moving out again the next day, the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing (Companies A, C, D, F, and I) were ordered to head for a new camp site in Fairfax County, Virginia. Marching to a site two miles outside of Falls Church, they began pitching regimental tents at “Camp Big Chestnut”—so named due to the looming presence of a large chestnut tree located there. This encampment would ultimately come to be known as Camp Griffin.

Meanwhile, the men from H Company and other units of the 47th Pennsylvania’s left wing were ordered out on a new, five-mile expedition. During this time, a six-man detail from H Company, commanded by Lieutenant William W. Geety, was sent out on reconnaissance toward the Richmond Turnpike, but nearly met with disaster when Confederate cavalry approached within 300 feet of that detail’s position around midnight. Fortunately, this detachment was saved by a thick fog which descended and obscured its position from the enemy’s view.

On Thursday, October 10, Geety’s party was joined by the regiment’s third-in-command, Major William H. Gausler, who ordered Geety to perform further reconnaissance. Spotting enemy pickets a quarter mile away from the main encampment of the 47th Pennsylvania’s expedition, Geety promptly returned to Gausler to report his findings. Men from G Company were then placed on picket duty, which they performed until they were relieved at 1 a.m. the next day.

According to regimental historian, Lewis Schmidt, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, the 47th Pennsylvania’s founder and commanding officer, reported to his superiors “that the work associated with being out on advanced picket duty was very difficult, and that the enemy pickets at times were too close to his camp, which gave his troops constant unrest.” Further adding to their stress, they were forced to wait so long for their tents to be brought from their former encampment that they ended up having to pitch those tents “during constant alarms from the enemy pickets.”

They’d barely finished when the rains came. Geety later reported that they’d endured such a hard downpour that he’d “slept in a puddle all night”; those of his subordinates who weren’t sent out on picket duty again spent the next two days trying unsuccessfully to dry their clothes.

Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, Co. C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1862 (public domain).

Many hours were, in fact, passed in similarly miserable conditions—so much so that camp life became a test of endurance. According to Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, the commanding officer of the 47th Pennsylvania’s C Company, Friday, November 29 was “the most disagreeable time we have yet experienced.” Assigned to picket duty, he had been ordered to march his subordinates out and position them away from camp some distance in order to head off potential enemy attacks on the Army of the Potomac’s massive encampment by Confederate troops stationed in their vicinity.

“It rained hard all day and night, and was very cold. I had command of the first relief, which went to the special reserve at 12 midnight. By that time most of us were wet through, so I took possession of a minister’s house, near by, where I quartered my men until morning.”

Additional letters written by other 47th Pennsylvanians around this same time evoke similar shivers of empathy, transporting present day readers back in time and into the muddy shoes and heavy, sodden uniforms of the cold, sniffling soldiers who wearily set pen to paper once they were finally permitted to crawl back into their dry tents at camp.

Consequently, disease became an even more formidable foe than the Confederate States Army—and a fearsome one at that, scything multiple members of the regiment from its ranks, including two drummer boys, aged thirteen and fifteen, and a seasoned sergeant within days of each of their respective hospitalizations, followed by Daniel Foose, a 19-year-old private from Perry County’s H Company who was felled by typhoid or bilious fever; David Losch, a 22-year-old Allentown native and private from I Company; Daniel Biceline, a 23-year-old H Company private also felled by typhoid; and Private William Young of G Company.

Easing their distress somewhat was the long overdue news that members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry would finally be paid for the first time since enrolling for service. When the money arrived, many members of the regiment began transferring what they could home to parents and wives. C Company men sent $900 to their loved ones in Sunbury while those from Company A and Company D sent a whopping $2,500 and $2,000, respectively, to Northampton and Perry counties.

Additionally, the regiment was still stationed close enough to Pennsylvania that a significant number of 47th Pennsylvanians were able to personally return to their hometowns on brief furloughs while others were buoyed by family members who had the means to travel to their Virginia encampment for short visits.

Christmas

Quartermaster James C. VanDyke procured a holiday surprise for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (Sunbury American, 21 December 1861, public domain).

As a result, it was with a mixture of heavy hearts and hope that members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry welcomed the dawn of Christmas Day in 1861.

Among those making the time more bearable for his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians was former Northumberland County sheriff James VanDyke who, according to the December 21 edition of the Sunbury American, “came home on a short visit and returned to Camp Griffin 47th Regiment … taking with him three or four large boxes filled with various articles of comfort, for the inner as well as the outer man….”

The newspaper also included this important detail:

“Among the edibles, was a barrel of ‘sour krout,’ presented by William I. Greenough, Esq.”

In addition to being a beloved taste of home for the often hungry members of the regiment, the sauerkraut likely also served an important cultural function for the numerous German-Americans and German immigrants who had enrolled with the 47th. When paired with pork and eaten on New Year’s Day as part of an annual tradition, sauerkraut has been said to attract prosperity for the remainder of the year because it is made from green cabbage (green being the color of money) while eating pork ensures progress and good luck because pigs “root forward” with their snouts rather than backward with their feet as chickens do, according to a 2015 article by Billy Penn News.

Pvt. Abraham Nicholas Wolf, Company B, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1861 (public domain).

Food and other “articles of comfort” were, in fact, on the minds of pretty much all members of the regiment as they were about to spend their first Christmas and New Year’s holidays away from loved ones. While penning a letter to his family during regimental church services on Sunday, December 29, Private Abraham N. Wolf told his wife, Sarah, that the Regimental Band was playing a hymn as he wrote to her.

Noting that he’d received the gift box she’d sent him, Wolf’s joy was child-like when he added that “everything was in it yet what you said was in it and it came on the second day of Christmas.” Just that morning, he’d fried “fried some of the sausages” that she’d sent him “and took some sausages along for dinner” later because he’d been scheduled for duty—chopping wood for the regiment—“and they tasted pretty good to me for it was something new to me for it was from home.” And then he added that the day before:

“… the chicken cooked for dinner and so we had a good dinner for it was the best dinner that I had since I left home. And this morning I ate the last part of the chickens but I have some of your molasses candy yet which you sent to me. And I have the big cake yet. And that pocket handkerchief which your mother sent to me I got too.”

Their joy and respite were brief, however; by mid-January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were on the move again. When they finally stopped and were able to take in their new surroundings, they would suddenly gain an entirely different perspective on the meaning of “far from the comforts of home.”

 

For more Christmas and New Year’s-related content, please check out this sampling of our prior posts on 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story:

To see an image and read more of Abraham Wolf’s letter, read the article, 1861: Abraham Nicholas Wolf Jr. to Sarah (Trexler) Wolf,” by Spared and Shared.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

3. Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

4. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.

 

 

A Nation Comes Together, Time and Again, to Give Thanks

Samuel Adams (John Singleton Copley, circa 1772, public domain).

Well before the outbreak of America’s devastating Civil War, the concept of Thanksgiving was on the minds of the nation’s founding fathers. Among those who grasped the importance of inspiring shared feelings of unity and gratitude between residents of the United States was Samuel Adams, who drafted the nation’s first Thanksgiving proclamation, which was then officially issued by the Continental Congress on 1 November 1777:

“FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth ‘in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.’

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.”

Nearly twelve years later, on 3 October 1789, President George Washington also urged Americans to come together to express their gratitude, and proclaimed that that year’s celebration would be held on 26 November:

“By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war — for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

Thanksgiving, November 1863 (Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, 5 December 1863, public domain).

Nearly three quarters of a century later, Pennsylvania’s Civil War governor, Andrew Gregg Curtin, urged his fellow Keystone State residents to pray that God would “bestow upon our Civil Rulers, wisdom and earnestness in council and upon our military leaders zeal and vigor in action, that the fires of rebellion may be quenched, that we, being armed with His defense, may be preserved from all perils, and that hereafter our people living in peace and quietness, may, from generation to generation, reap the abundant fruits of His mercy; and with joy and thankfulness praise and magnify His holy name.”

A year later, President Abraham Lincoln penned the following words as part of his own sobering, yet hopeful proclamation:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

So, with our common heritage in mind, and as an expression of deep gratitude for the ongoing support of our many wonderful readers and volunteers who have helped us build a loyal following for 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story, we present this collection of links to our most popular Thanksgiving-related content. With our best wishes from “our house” to yours, wherever you reside in this our United States of America, may you have a peaceful, bountiful and joyous holiday season. And in the New Year to come, may we all, finally, embrace the belief that one’s ability to show kindness and compassion in the face of adversity is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Thanksgiving Post Collection — 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story

 

Sources:

1. Basler, Roy P., editor, et. al. Collected works, Vol. 6. The Abraham Lincoln Association/Springfield, Illinois. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953.

2. Curtin, Andrew Gregg. Proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving – 1862,” in Pennsylvania Archives: Fourth Series, Vol. VIII: “Papers of the Governors, 1858-1871,” Samuel Hazard, John Blair Lynn, William Henry Egle, et. al., editors. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1902.

3. Snyder Family Recipes: Turkey, Filling and Gravy (Thanksgiving and Christmas),” in 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Snyder Family Archives: © 2017-present. All rights reserved.

4. Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1863: A primary source by Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Nast.” New York, New York: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of History, retrieved online 1 November 2017.

5. Thanksgiving Proclamation 1777 By the Continental Congress: The First National Thanksgiving Proclamation.” Plymouth, Massachusetts: Pilgrim Hall Museum, retrieved online 4 November 2019.

6.Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789,” in “Education — Primary Sources.” Mount Vernon, Virginia: George Washington’s Mount Vernon, retrieved online 4 November 2019.

7. Wharton, Henry D. Letter from the Sunbury Guards: Key West, Fla., 23 August 1863 (Henry Wharton’s Thanksgiving Update, 1863). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 5 September 1863.

 

October 1861: Drummer Boys, Disease, and Death

U.S. Soldiers’ Asylum Home Cemetery, Washington, D.C., circa 1861 (public domain).

“[T]he impact and meaning of the war’s casualties were not simply a consequence of scale, of the sheer numbers of Union and Confederate soldiers who died. Death’s significance for the Civil War generation derived as well from the way it violated prevailing assumptions about life’s proper end — about who should die, when and where, and under what circumstances.”

— Drew Gilpin Faust, Ph.D., President Emeritus and the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor, Harvard University and author, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War

 

Less than a month after leaving the great Keystone State for the Eastern Theater of America’s shattering Civil War, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry encountered their most fearsome foe — the one they would consistently find the most difficult to defeat throughout the long war — disease.

It was an enemy, in fact, that turned out to be the deadliest not just for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, but for the entire Union Army as it fought to preserve the nation’s Union while ending the practice of slavery across the United States. Per The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, sixty-two percent of all Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War were felled by disease, rather than by the shrapnel-spewing blasts of Confederate cannon or the accurately targeted minié balls of CSA rifles.

Surprising as this may seem to this century’s students of American History, it shouldn’t be, according to infectious disease specialist Jeffrey S. Sartin, M.D.:

“The American Civil War represents a landmark in military and medical history as the last large-scale conflict fought without knowledge of the germ theory of disease. Unsound hygiene, dietary deficiencies, and battle wounds set the stage for epidemic infection, while inadequate information about disease causation greatly hampered disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Pneumonia, typhoid, diarrhea/dysentery, and malaria were the predominant illnesses. Altogether, two-thirds of the approximately 660,000 deaths of soldiers were caused by uncontrolled infectious diseases, and epidemics played a major role in halting several major campaigns. These delays, coming at a crucial point early in the war, prolonged the fighting by as much as 2 years.”

With respect to the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, the two diseases which wreaked such devastating havoc early on were Variola (smallpox) and typhoid fever.

Variola

A transmission electron micrograph of an 1849 strain of Variola shows several smallpox virions. Note the “dumbbell-shaped” structure. Located inside the virion, this is the viral core, and contains the DNA of the virus (Temple University, public domain via Wikipedia).

Variola, more commonly known as “smallpox,” was an acute infectious disease that, even in the mildest of cases in 1861, was highly contagious. Notable for the high fever it caused, it also produced individual, boil-like eruptions across the human body. Known as “pocks,” these eruptions would quickly become fluid-filled pustules — even with the weakest strains of the disease — that would, if sufferers survived, eventually burst, leaving them badly scarred.

If, however, the soldier contracted the most virulent form of the disease — Variola confluens — as happened with at least one member of the 47th Pennsylvania — the suffering and likelihood of death was much, much greater. Far more severe than the strain that would have typically sickened the average child or adult during the mid-1800s, Variola confluens produced patches of pustules, rather than individual pocks. Forming on the face in such large swaths, the skin of the soldier who had been unfortunate to contract this strain of the disease would have appeared to have been burned or blistered. In addition to the horrific facial disfigurement, that soldier would also likely have experienced hair loss, severe pain and damage to his mucous membranes, mouth, throat, and eyes as the fever ravaged his body and continued to climb. If the disease devolved into the hemorrhagic phase prior to his death, the pocks on his face and mucous membranes would then also have begun to bleed.

Most likely exposed to the disease sometime while they were encamped in Virginia with their regiment, the first of the 47th Pennsylvanians to contract Variola would not initially have noticed any symptoms during this disease’s ten to fourteen-day incubation period. The first symptoms they would have experienced would have been due to rigor (sudden chills as the onset of fever began, alternating with shivering and sweating). As this primary fever increased, their temperatures would have risen to 103° or 104° Fahrenheit or higher over a two-day period, quickening the pulse and causing intense thirst, headache, constipation, vomiting, and back pain. As their conditions worsened, they might also have experienced convulsions and/or a redness on their abdomens or inner thighs — markings which might have appeared to be a rash of some sort or the beginnings of scarlet fever, but which were, in fact, a series of small, flat, circular spots on the body caused by bleeding under the skin and known as “petechiae.”

It would only have been on roughly the third day, post-incubation period, that these same men would have noticed that their faces were erupting with boils, but even then, they might have missed this sign because such pocks typically appeared as a single patch of redness on the sufferer’s forehead, near the roots of the hair. Within hours of this first eruption, however, the soldiers would most certainly have realized that something was wrong as they began scratching to relieve the itching on patches that had spread across their faces and bodies — particularly when the pocks began to fill with fluid and swelled to pea-sized bumps.

Likely sent to the regiment’s hospital sometime around this time, these 47th Pennsylvanians would have been transferred to the eruptive fever hospital on the Kalorama Heights in Georgetown before the week was out because, by day eight or nine, their skin would have become inflamed and swollen as the fluid in the pocks changed from clear to yellow, began to smell, and spread to their mouths, throats, noses, and eyes, putting their breathing and vision at risk. Increasingly hoarse, despite the increase in saliva they were experiencing, their bodies would then also have been overtaken by secondary fever, followed possibly by delirium and then coma.

If they somehow managed to survive until the disease’s latter phase, the pustules would have eventually dried up (typically on the twelfth day, post-incubation); if they didn’t, death most likely would have ensued due to myocardial insufficiency caused by the weakening of their heart muscles.

Typhoid Fever

An image of Salmonella typhi, the bacteria which cause typhoid fever (U.S. Armed Forces. Institute of Pathology, public domain).

Often confused with the insect-borne typhus fever, typhoid fever is caused by bacteria. Poorly understood well into and beyond the mid-19th century, despite having sickened countless numbers of individuals since the time of Hippocrates, according to American University historian Thomas V. DiBacco, typhoid fever’s method of transmission remained unidentified until 1856. That year, it finally dawned on scientists that fecal matter contaminated with Salmonella typhosa, one of the strains of bacteria now known to cause food poisoning, was at the root of the “persistently high fever, rash, generalized pains, headache and severe abdominal discomfort,” and intestinal bleeding of the patients physicians were failing to save.

Spread by the unsanitary conditions so common to the close living quarters shared by America’s Civil War-era soldiers, as well as by their respective regimental company cooks who were often forced to prepare meals with unclean hands when their regiments stopped briefly during long marches, the typhoid fever-causing Salmonella typhosa bacterium would typically enter a soldier’s body “through food, milk or water contaminated by a carrier,” but might also have been contracted just as easily via a bite from one of the many flies swarming around a regiment’s latrine facilities or horses.

And, because the “worst manifestations” of the disease did not appear until two or three weeks into an individual’s illness, according to DiBacco, typhoid fever was able to spread like wildfire not just during its incubation period, but even when soldiers were aware that others within their respective companies were ill because “typhoid victims were disposed to think the malady less serious as time went by.”

It is this latter fact alone that, perhaps, explains why outbreaks of typhoid fever continued to plague the 47th Pennsylvania throughout the duration of the war when Variola did not.

The First ”Men” to Die

Court House, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1851 (James Fuller Queen, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The first “man” to die from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was John Boulton Young, a 13-year-old drummer boy who was known affectionately as “Boulty” (alternatively, “Boltie”). A member of the regiment’s C Company, he served under Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, but was known to, and beloved by, the majority of the roughly one thousand men who served with the 47th.

Born on 25 September 1848 in Sunbury, Pennsylvania as the second oldest son of Pennsylvania natives, Michael A. and Elizabeth (Boulton) Young, Boulty was still in school at the time of his enlistment for Civil War military service in his hometown on 19 August 1861. He clearly lied about his age on military paperwork that day, indicating that he was 14, rather than 12 — a fiction which was maintained by Gobin and his fellow C Company officers throughout the boy’s tenure of service.

* Note: According to historians at the American Battlefield Trust, “For most of the war, the minimum enlistment age in the North was legally held at 18 for soldiers and 16 for musicians, although younger men could enlist at the permission of their parents until 1862. In the South, the age limit for soldiers stayed at 18 until 1864 when it was legally dropped to 17.”

Just four feet tall at the time of his official muster in at the rank of Musician (drummer boy) at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg on 2 September, Boulty was so small that his superiors needed to customize both his uniform and his drum to make it easier for him to function as a member of the 47th Pennsylvania.

The Kalorama Eruptive Fever Hospital (also known as the Anthony Holmead House in Georgetown, D.C. after it was destroyed in a Christmas Eve fire in 1865 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

After completing basic training and traveling by train with his regiment to the Washington, D.C. area in mid-September, Boulty subsequently endured several long marches, including at least one undertaken in a driving rain. By late September or early October of 1861, Boulty had contracted such a challenging case of Variola (smallpox) that regimental surgeons ordered his superiors to ship him from Virginia, where the 47th Pennsylvania was encamped as part of the Army of the Potomac, to the eruptive fever hospital on the Kalorama Heights in Georgetown, District of Columbia.

Diagnosed by the physicians there with Variola confluens, the most virulent form of the disease, he died at that hospital on 17 October 1861. His body was then quickly prepared and transported for burial. Initially interred in Washington, D.C. at the Soldiers’ Asylum Cemetery (now known the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home Cemetery), his remains were disinterred in early 1862, and returned to Pennsylvania for reburial at Penn’s Cemetery in his hometown of Sunbury.

To learn more about Boulty’s life before and during the Civil War, as well as what happened to the surviving members of his family, read his biographical sketch, The First “Man” to Die: Drummer Boy John Boulton Young.

Alfred Eisenbraun

Allentown, circa 1840 (public domain).

The second “man” from the 47th Pennsylvania to die was also a drummer boy — 15-year-old Alfred Eisenbraun, who served with the regiment’s B Company. A native of Allentown, Pennsylvania who was born in June of 1846, he was a son of Johann Daniel Eisenbraun, a noted Frakturist and tombstone carver who had emigrated from Württemberg, Germany to the United States in 1820, and Lehigh County, Pennsylvania native Margaret (Troxell) Eisenbraun.

Unlike “Boulty,” however, Alfred Eisenbraun had already left his studies behind, and had joined his community’s local workforce in order to help support his family. Employed as a “tobacco stripper,” he separated tobacco leaves from their stems before stacking those leaves in piles for the creation of cigars or chewable tobacco. As he did this, he likely would have been “breathing foul air, in rooms bare and cold or suffocatingly hot”, possibly “in a damp basement, musty with mould [sic] or lurking miasma,” according to Clare de Graffenried, a 19th-century U.S. Bureau of Labor employee who researched and wrote extensively about child labor.

So, it comes as no surprise that a boy in Eisenbraun’s situation would have viewed service with the military as a vast improvement over his existing job — especially if the pay was higher — which it most certainly was. Just barely 15 when he enrolled for Civil War service in his hometown on 20 August 1861, Eisenbraun officially mustered in at the rank of Musician (drummer boy) with the 47th Pennsylvania’s Company B at Camp Curtin on 30 August. Military records at the time described him as being 5’5″ tall with black hair, black eyes and a dark complexion. His commanding officer was Captain Emmanuel P. Rhoads.

Like Boulty, Eisenbraun completed basic training, traveled by train with his regiment to the Washington, D.C. area in mid-September, and then endured several long marches, including the same one that was undertaken in a driving rain. And, like Boulty, Eisenbraun also fell ill in late September or early October.

The Union Hotel in Georgetown, District of Columbia became one of the U.S. Army’s general hospitals during the American Civil War (image circa 1861-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

But unlike Boulty, Eisenbraun was felled by typhoid fever. According to regimental historian Lewis Schmidt, the teen “had been sick almost from the time the regiment left Camp Curtin” in mid-September. After initially receiving treatment from regimental physicians through at least mid-October, he was sent back to the Washington, D.C. area to receive more advanced care. Per Schmidt, two of Eisenbraun’s fellow B Company members “visited Alfred at the fort on the 21st … and found him getting better, pleased to see them, and happy to engage in some conversation.”

But on Thursday morning, 24 October, after Captain Rhoads headed over to the fort’s hospital nearby, he was informed that Eisenbraun “and all the other sick men had been moved to the General Hospital in Georgetown.” Assuming that Eisenbraun’s condition had improved, since he’d apparently been deemed well enough to travel, Rhoads returned to his camp site, confident that he’d see the boy again — but he was wrong.

Eisenbraun, it turned out, had been transported to the former Union Hotel in Georgetown, which had been converted into one of the U.S. Army’s general hospitals. He died there from typhoid fever on 26 October 1861. Like Boulty, he was laid to rest at the Soldiers’ Asylum Cemetery in Washington, D.C.; unlike Boulty, however, his remains were never brought home.

To learn more about Alfred’s life before and during the Civil War, read his biographical sketch, Alfred Eisenbraun, Drummer Boy – The Regiment’s Second “Man” to Die.

The Third to Die: Sergeant Franklin M. Holt

Court House, Amherst, New Hampshire, circa 1858 (public domain).

Franklin M. Holt had already distinguished himself before becoming the first “true man” from the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters to die. The regiment’s third fatality, he was also one of a handful of non-Pennsylvanians serving with this all-volunteer Pennsylvania regiment.

Born in New Hampshire in 1838, Frank Holt was a son of Cambridge, Massachusetts native, Edwin Holt, and Mont Vernon, New Hampshire native, Susan (Marden) Holt. A farmer like his father, he left his home state sometime around the summer of 1860, and took a job as a “map agent” in Monmouth County, New Jersey. But by the spring of 1861, he had relocated again, and had adopted the Perry County, Pennsylvania community of New Bloomfield as his new hometown.

That same spring, when President Abraham Lincoln issued his call for 75,000 volunteers to help defend the nation’s capital following the fall of Fort Sumter to troops of the Confederate States Army, Holt enrolled with Company D of the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry, completing his Three Months’ Service from 20 April to 26 July 1861 under the leadership of Henry D. Woodruff.

Realizing that the fight to preserve America’s Union was far from over, Holt re-enlisted in the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry’s D Company, which was also commanded by Captain Woodruff. Following his re-enrollment on 20 August in Bloomfield, he then re-mustered at Camp Curtin on 31 August at the rank of sergeant and, like drummer boys John Boulton Young and Alfred Eisenbraun, completed basic training before traveling with the regiment to the Washington, D.C. area for service with the Army of the Potomac.

Enduring a climate of torrential rain and pervasive, persistent dampness during his early days of service, Holt ultimately also fell ill with Variola (smallpox) and, like drummer boy Young who had also contracted the disease, he was transported to the eruptive fever hospital on the Kalorama Heights in Georgetown, District of Columbia, where he was treated by at least one of the same physicians who treated Boulty. Despite having apparently been diagnosed with a less severe form of the disease (according to military records which noted that Holt was sickened by Variola rather than the Variola confluens that felled Boulty), Sergeant Holt died at Kalorama on 28 October 1861.

“Kind, gentlemanly courteous, and honest in all his transactions,” according to the New Bloomfield Democrat, Holt had also “won for himself the esteem of all who knew him” prior to his untimely death. Like the two young drummer boys before him, he too was buried quickly at the Soldiers’ Asylum Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Although his remains were also never returned home, Holt was ultimately honored by members of his family, who erected a cenotaph in his honor at the Meadow View Cemetery in Amherst, New Hampshire.

To learn more about Frank’s life before and during the Civil War, read his biographical sketch, Holt, Franklin M. (Sergeant).

To learn more about Civil War Medicine, in general, as well as the battle wounds and illnesses most commonly experienced by members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, please visit the Medical section of this website.

 

Sources:

1. Affleck, M.D., J. O. Smallpox,” in “1902 Encyclopedia.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th and 10th editions (online), 2005-2019.

2. Alfred Eisenbraun (obituary). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh Register, 30 October 1861.

3. Alfred Eisenbraun (obituary), in “Gestörben.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, 6 November 1861.

4. Allen Eisenbraun (death notice), in “Deaths of Soldiers.” Washington, D.C.: The Evening Star, 28 October 1861.

5. Barker, M.D., Lewellys Franklin. Monographic Medicine, Vol. II: The Clinical Diagnosis of Internal Diseases,” p. 431 (“Variola confluens”). New York, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1916.

6. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

7. Burial Ledgers (Eisenbraun, Alfred; Holt, Franklin M.; Young, J. Bolton), in Records of The National Cemetery Administration and U.S. Departments of Defense and Army (Quartermaster General), 1861. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

8. Casualties and Costs of the Civil War.” New York, New York: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

9. Civil War General Index Cards (Eisenbraun, Alfred and Eisenbrown, Allen), in Records of the U.S. Department of the Army. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and Fold3: 1861.

10. Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865 (Eisenbraun, Alfred; Holt, Franklin M.; Young, J. Bolton). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

11. “Death of a Young Soldier” (obituary of John Boulton Young). Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania: Star of the North, Wednesday, 30 October 1861 (reprinted from the Sunbury Gazette).

12. “Deaths of Soldiers” (death notice for John Boulton Young). Washington, D.C.: The National Republican, 18 October 1861.

13. de Graffenried, Clare. “Child Labor,” in Publications of the American Economic Association, Vol. 5, No. 2. New York, New York: March 1890 (accessed 22 March 2016).

14. DiBacco, Thomas V. When Typhoid Was Dreaded.” Washington, D.C.: The Washington Post, 25 January 1994.

15. “The Drummer Boy’s Monument” (monument erected to John Boulton Young). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 6 February 1864.

16. Fabian, Monroe H. John Daniel Eisenbrown, in “Pennsylvania Folklife Book 62,” in Pennsylvania Folklife Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 2. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: 1975.

17. Faust, Drew G. The Civil War soldier and the art of dying,” in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 3-38. Houston, Texas: Southern Historical Association (Rice University), 2001.

18. Holt Eulogy. New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania: New Bloomfield Democrat, 1861.

19. Inkrote, Cindy. “Civil War drummer boy was different kind of hero.” Sunbury, Pennsylvania: The Daily Item, 4 October 2009.

20. Letters of John Peter Shindel Gobin, 1861-1900. Various Collections (descendants of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, et. al.).

21. “Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865: 47th Regiment” (Companies B, C, and D) in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

22. Sartin, M.D., Jeffrey S. Infectious diseases during the Civil War: The triumph of the ‘Third Army,’ in Clinical Infectious Diseases, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 580-584. Cary, North Carolina: Oxford University Press, April 1993.

23. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

24. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania (Allentown and Sunbury, Pennsylvania; Amherst, New Hampshire; Monmouth, New Jersey): 1840-1930.

25. U.S. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, 1861 (Eisenbraun/Eisenbraum, Alfred; Holt, Franklin/Frank M; Young, J. Bolton/Jno. B.). Washington, D.C.: United States Army and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

 

Sheridan’s Tide-Turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The Battle of Cedar Creek and Its Aftermath (Virginia, October-December 1864)

Alfred Waud’s sketch, Surprise at Cedar Creek, captured the flanking attack on the rear of Union Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th Corps by Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate army, and the resistance by Emory’s troops from their Union rifle-pit positions, 19 October 1864 (public domain).

Sheridan having driven the enemy out of the valley, and taken the productions of the valley so that instead of going there for supplies the enemy would have to bring his provisions with him if he again entered it, recommended a reduction of his own force, the surplus to be sent where it could be of more use. I approved of his suggestion, and ordered him to send Wright’s corps back to the James River. I further directed him to repair the railroad up the Shenandoah Valley towards the advanced position which we would hold with a small force. The troops were to be sent to Washington by way of Culpeper, in order to watch the east side of the Blue Ridge, and prevent the enemy from getting into the rear of Sheridan while he was still doing his work of destruction.

The valley was so very important, however, to the Confederate army that, contrary to our expectations, they determined to make one more strike, and save it if possible before the supplies should all be destroyed.

– President Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

 

Those were the thoughts of President Ulysses S. Grant in 1885 as he recalled his days of strategic planning as head of the Union Army during America’s fateful Fall of 1864. Having just described how one of his leading commanding officers, Major-General Philip H. Sheridan, had won the Battles of Berryville, Opequan and Fisher’s Hill that September, he began to set the stage for his retelling of what would be one of the bloodiest and most important moments of the U.S. Civil War – the Battle of Cedar Creek.

Reinforcements had been sent to [Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal] Early, and this before any of our troops had been withdrawn. Early prepared to strike Sheridan at Harrisonburg; but the latter had not remained there.

On the 6th of October Sheridan commenced retiring down the valley, taking or destroying all the food and forage and driving the cattle before him, Early following. At Fisher’s Hill Sheridan turned his cavalry back on that of Early, which, under the lead of Rosser, was pursuing closely, and routed it most completely, capturing eleven guns and a large number of prisoners. Sheridan lost only about sixty men. His cavalry pursued the enemy back some twenty-five miles.

Custer’s Division Retiring from Mount Jackson, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 7 July 1864 (Alfred Waud, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Recalling the Fall 1864 movements of his troops from the vantage point of his own memoirs (penned in 1888), Sheridan noted that on 6 October 1864:

The cavalry as it retired was stretched across the country from the Blue Ridge to the eastern slope of the Alleghanies [sic], with orders to drive off all stock and destroy all supplies as it moved northward. The infantry proceeded [sic] the cavalry, passing down the Valley pike, and as we marched along the many columns of smoke from burning stacks, and mills filled with grain, indicated that the adjacent country was fast losing the features which hitherto had made it a great magazine of stores for the Confederate armies.

During the 6th and 7th of October, the enemy’s horse followed us up, though at a respectful distance. This cavalry was now under command of General T. W. Rosser, who on October 5 had joined Early with an additional brigade from Richmond. As we proceeded the Confederates gained confidence, probably on account of the reputation with which its new commander had been heralded, and on the third day’s march had the temerity to annoy my rear guard considerably. Tired of these annoyances, I concluded to open the enemy’s eyes in earnest, so that night I told Torbert I expected him to give Rosser a drubbing next morning or get whipped himself, and that the infantry would be halted until the affair was over; I also informed him that I proposed to ride out to Round Top Mountain to see the fight. When I decided to have Rosser chastised, Merritt was encamped at the foot of Round Top, an elevation just north of Tom’s Brook, and Custer some six miles farther north and west, near Tumbling Run. In the night Custer was ordered to retrace his steps before daylight by the Back road, which is parallel to and about three miles from the Valley pike, and attack the enemy at Tom’s Brook crossing, while Merritt’s instructions were to assail him on the Valley pike in concert with Custer. About 7 in the morning, Custer’s division encountered Rosser himself with three brigades, and while the stirring sounds of the resulting artillery duel were reverberating through the valley Merritt moved briskly to the front and fell upon Generals Lomax and Johnson on the Valley pike. Merritt, by extending his right, quickly established connection with Custer, and the two divisions move forward together under Torbert’s direction, with a determination to inflict on the enemy the sharp and summary punishment his rashness had invited.

The engagement soon became general across the valley, both sides fighting mainly mounted. For about two hours the contending lines struggled with each other along Tom’s Brook, the charges and counter charges at many points being plainly visible from the summit of Round Top, where I had my headquarters for the time.

The open country permitting a sabre fight, both sides seemed bent on using that arm. In the centre [sic] the Confederates maintained their position with much stubbornness, and for a time seemed to have recovered their former spirit, but at last they began to give way on both flanks, and as these receded, Merritt and Custer went at the wavering ranks in a charge along the whole front. The result was a general smash-up of the entire Confederate line, the retreat quickly degenerating into a rout the like of which was never before seen. For twenty-six miles this wild stampede kept up, with our troopers close at the enemy’s heels; and the ludicrous incidents of the chase never ceased to be amusing topics around the camp-fires of Merritt and Custer. In the fight and pursuit Torbert took eleven pieces of artillery, with their caissons, all the wagons and ambulances the enemy had on the ground, and three hundred prisoners….

After this catastrophe, Early reported to General Lee that his cavalry was so badly demoralized that it should be dismounted; and the citizens of the valley, intensely disgusted with the boasting and swaggering that had characterized the arrival of the ‘Laurel Brigade’ in that section, baptized the action (known to us as Tom’s Brook) the ‘Woodstock Races,’ and never tired of poking fun at General Rosser about his precipitate and inglorious fight.

On the 10th my army, resuming its retrograde movement, crossed to the north side of Cedar Creek. The work of repairing the Manassas Gap branch of the Orange and Alexandria railroad had been begun some days before, out from Washington, and, anticipating that it would be in readiness to transport troops by the time they could reach Piedmont, I directed the Sixth Corps to continue its march toward Front Royal, expecting to return to the Army of the Potomac by that line. By the 12th, however, my views regarding the reconstruction of this railroad began to prevail, and the work on it was discontinued. The Sixth Corps, therefore, abandoned that route, and moved toward Ashby’s Gap with the purpose of marching direct to Washington, but on the 13th I recalled it to Cedar Creek, in consequence of the arrival of the enemy’s infantry at Fisher’s Hill, and the receipt, the night before, of the following despatch [sic], which again opened the question of an advance on Gordonsville and Charlottesville:

‘(Cipher.)
WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 12, 1864, 12 M.
MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN:

Lieutenant-General Grant wishes a position taken far enough south to serve as a base for further operations upon Gordonsville and Charlottesville. It must be strongly fortified and provisioned. Some point in the vicinity of Manassas Gap would seem best suited for all purposes. Colonel Alexander, of the Engineers, will be sent to consult with you as soon as you connect with General Augur.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General.’

As it was well known in Washington that the views expressed in the above despatch [sic] were counter to my convictions, I was the next day required by the following telegram from Secretary Stanton to repair to that city:

‘WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 13, 1864.
MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN
(through General Augur):

If you can come here, a consultation on several points is extremely desirable. I propose to visit General Grant, and would like to see you first.

EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War’

I got all ready to comply with the terms of Secretary Stanton’s despatch [sic], but in the meantime the enemy appeared in my front in force, with infantry and cavalry, and attacked Colonel Thoburn, who had been pushed out toward Strasburg from Crook’s command, and also Custer’s division of cavalry on the Back road. As afterward appeared, this attack was made in the belief that all of my troops but Crook’s had gone to Petersburg. From this demonstration there ensued near Hupp’s Hill a bitter skirmish between Kershaw and Thoburn, and the latter was finally compelled to withdraw to the north bank of Cedar Creek. Custer gained better results, however, on the Back road, with his usual dash driving the enemy’s cavalry away from his front, Merritt’s division then joining him and remaining on the right.

In 1883, Union Army veterans gathered for a reunion at Belle Grove House, the site of former Major-General Philip H. Sheridan’s headquarters in the lead-up to the 19 October 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek Virginia (U.S. National Park Service, public domain).

The day’s events pointing to a probability that the enemy intended to resume the offensive, to anticipate such a contingency I ordered the Sixth Corps to return from its march toward Ashby’s Gap. It reached me by noon of the 14th, and went into position to the right and rear of the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers], which held a line along the north bank of Cedar Creek, west of the Valley pike. Crook was posted on the left of the Nineteenth Corps and east of the Valley pike, with Thoburn’s division advanced to a round hill, which commanded the junction of Cedar Creek and the Shenandoah River, while Torbert retained both Merritt and Custer on the right of the Sixth Corps, and at the same time covered with Powell the roads toward Front Royal. My headquarters were at the Belle Grove House, which was to the west of the pike and in rear of the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers]. It was my intention to attack the enemy as soon as the Sixth Corps reached me, but General Early having learned from his demonstration that I had not detached as largely as his previous information had led him to believe, on the night of the 13th withdrew to Fisher’s Hill; so, concluding that he could not do us serious hurt from there, I changed my mind as to attacking, deciding to defer such action till I could get to Washington, and come to some definite understanding about my future operations.

Grant, discovering that his directive to Sheridan “to halt, and improve the opportunity it afforded by the enemy’s having been sufficiently weakened, to move back again and cut the James River Canal and Virginia Central Railroad” had been disrupted by Union Major-General Henry W. Halleck’s interference in the transmittal of those orders to Sheridan, promptly reached out to Sheridan to clarify his thinking:

[W]hen Sheridan received what purported to be a statement of what I wanted him to do it was something entirely different. Halleck informed Sheridan that it was my wish for him to hold a forward position as a base from which to act against Charlottesville and Gordonsville; that he should fortify this position and provision it.

Sheridan objected to this most decidedly; and I was impelled to telegraph him, on the 14th as follows:

‘City Point, Va.,
October 14, 1864, 12:30 P.M.

MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN,
Cedar Creek, Va.

What I want is for you to threaten the Virginia Central Railroad and canal in the manner your judgment tells you is best, holding yourself ready to advance, if the enemy draw off their forces. If you make the enemy hold a force equal to your own for the protection of those thoroughfares, it will accomplish nearly as much as the destruction. If you cannot do this, then the next best thing to do is to send here all the force you can. I deem a good cavalry force necessary for your offensive, as well as defensive operations. You need not therefore send here more than one division of cavalry.

U.S. GRANT,
Lieutenant General’

Sheridan having been summoned to Washington City, started on the 15th leaving Wright in command. His army was then at Cedar Creek, some twenty miles south of Winchester.

The next morning [16 October 1864], while at Front Royal, Sheridan received a dispatch from Wright, saying that a dispatch from Longstreet to Early had been intercepted. It directed the latter to be ready to move and to crush Sheridan as soon as he, Longstreet, arrived. On the receipt of this news Sheridan ordered the cavalry up the valley to join Wright.

Meanwhile, Sheridan directed “all of the cavalry under General Torbert to accompany” him to Front Royal on 15 October, “again intending to push it thence through Chester Gap to the Virginia Central railroad at Charlottesville, to destroy the bridge over the Rivanna River, while I passed through Manassas Gap to Rectortown, and thence by rail to Washington.”

On my arrival with the cavalry near Front Royal on the 16th, I halted at the house of Mrs. Richards, on the north bank of the river, and there received the following despatch [sic] and inclosure [sic] from General Wright, who had been left in command at Cedar Creek:

‘HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION,
OCTOBER 16, 1864.

GENERAL:

I enclose you despatch [sic] which explains itself. If the enemy should be strongly re-enforced in cavalry, he might, by turning our right, give us a great deal of trouble. I shall hold on here until the enemy’s movements are developed, and shall only fear an attack on my right, which I shall make every preparation for guarding against and resisting.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H.
G. WRIGHT, Major-General Commanding. 

MAJOR-GENERAL P. H. SHERIDAN,
Commanding Middle Military Division.

[INCLOSURE.]

TO LIEUTENANT-GENERAL EARLY:

Be ready to move as soon as my forces join you, and we will crush Sheridan.

LONGSTREET, Lieutenant-General.’

The message from Longstreet had been taken down as it was being flagged from the Confederate signal-station on Three Top Mountain, and afterward translated by our signal officers, who knew the Confederate signal code. I first thought it a ruse, and hardly worth attention, but on reflection deemed it best to be on the safe side, so I abandoned the cavalry raid toward Charlottesville, in order to give General Wright the entire strength of the army, for it did not seem wise to reduce his numbers while reinforcement for the enemy might be near, and especially when such pregnant messages were reaching Early from one of the ablest of the Confederate generals. Therefore I sent the following note to General Wright:

‘HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION,
Front Royal, October 16, 1864.

GENERAL:

The cavalry is all ordered back to you; make your position strong. If Longstreet’s despatch [sic] is true, he is under the impression that we have largely detached. I will go over to Augur, and may get additional news. Close in Colonel Powell, who will be at this point. If the enemy should make an advance, I know you will defeat him. Look well to your ground and be well prepared. Get up everything that can be spared. I will bring up all I can, and will be up on Tuesday, if not sooner.

P. H. SHERIDAN, Major-General.

MAJOR-GENERAL H. G. WRIGHT,
Commanding Sixth Army Corps.’

U.S. Army Major-General Philip H. Sheridan’s horse, Rienzi, was also known as “Winchester.” The famed steed is shown here in Washington, D.C. post-Civil War (Smithsonian Institute, public domain).

At 5 o’clock on the evening of the 16th I telegraphed General Halleck from Rectortown, giving him the information which had come to me from Wright, asking if anything corroborative of it had been received from General Grant, and also saying that I would like to see Halleck; the telegram ending with the question: ‘Is it best for me to go to see you?’ Next morning I sent back to Wright all the cavalry except one regiment, which escorted me through Manassas Gap to the terminus of the railroad from Washington. I had with me Lieutenant-Colonel James W. Forsyth, chief-of-staff, and three of my aides, Major George A. Forsyth, Captain Joseph O’Keefe, and Captain Michael V. Sheridan. I rode my black horse, Rienzi, and the others their own respective mounts.

Before leaving Cedar Creek I had fixed the route of my return to be by rail from Washington to Martinsburg, and thence by horseback to Winchester and Cedar Creek, and had ordered three hundred cavalry to Martinsburg to escort me from that point to the front. At Rectortown I met General Augur, who had brought a force out from Washington to reconstruct and protect the line of railroad, and through him received the following reply from General Halleck:

‘HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES,
WASHINGTON, D.C., OCTOBER, 16, 1864.

TO MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN,
Rectortown, Va.

General Grant says that Longstreet brought with him no troops from Richmond, but I have very little confidence in the information collected at his headquarters. If you can leave your command with safety, come to Washington, as I wish to give you the views of the authorities here.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General, Chief-of-Staff.’

In consequence of the Longstreet despatch [sic], I felt a concern about my absence which I could hardly repress, but after duly considering what Halleck said, and believing that Longstreet could not unite with Early before I got back, and that even if he did Wright would be able to cope with them both, I and my staff, with our horses, took the cars for Washington, where we arrived on the morning of the 17th at about 8 o’clock. I proceeded at an early hour to the War Department, and as soon as I met Secretary Stanton, asked him for a special train to be ready at 12 o’clock to take me to Martinsburg, saying that in view of existing conditions I must get back to my army as quickly as possible. He at once gave the order for the train, and then the Secretary, Halleck, and I proceeded to hold a consultation in regard to my operating east of the Blue Ridge. The upshot was that my views against such a plan were practically agreed to, and two engineer officers were designated to return with me for the purpose of reporting on a defensive line in the valley that could be held while the bulk of my troops were being detached to Petersburg. Colonel Alexander and Colonel Thom, both of the Engineer Corps, reported to accompany me, and at 12 o’clock we took the train.

We arrived about dark at Martinsburg, and there found the escort of three hundred men which I had ordered before leaving Cedar Creek. We spent that night at Martinsburg, and early next morning mounted and started up the Valley pike for Winchester, leaving Captain Sheridan behind to conduct to the army the Commissioners whom the State of New York had sent down to receive the vote of her troops in the coming Presidential election. Colonel Alexander … and Colonel Thom … were both unaccustomed to riding [and] we had to go slowly, losing so much time, in fact, that we did not reach Winchester till between 3 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon, though the distance is but twenty-eight miles. As soon as we arrived at Colonel Edwards’s headquarters in the town, where I intended stopping for the night, I sent a courier to the front to bring me a report of the condition of affairs, and then took Colonel Alexander out on the heights about Winchester, in order that he might overlook the country, and make up his mind as to the utility of fortifying there. By the time we had completed out survey it was dark, and just as we reached Colonel Edwards’s house on our return a courier came in from Cedar Creek bringing word that everything was all right, that the enemy was quiet at Fisher’s Hill, and that a brigade of Grover’s division was to make a reconnaissance in the morning, the 19th, so about 10 o’clock I went to bed greatly relieved, and expecting to rejoin my headquarters at my leisure next day.

According to Grant, however, the intelligence provided to Sheridan was seriously flawed:

On the 18th of October Early was ready to move, and during the night succeeded in getting his troops in the rear of our left flank, which fled precipitately and in great confusion down the valley, losing eighteen pieces of artillery and a thousand or more prisoners [Battle of Cedar Creek]. The right under General Getty maintained a firm and steady front, falling back to Middletown where it took a position and made a stand. The cavalry went to the rear, seized the roads leading to Winchester and held them for the use of our troops in falling back, General Wright having ordered a retreat back to that place.

Sheridan having left Washington on the 18th, reached Winchester that night. The following morning he started to join his command. He had scarcely got out of town, when he met his men returning, in panic from the front and also heard heavy firing to the south. He immediately ordered the cavalry at Winchester to be deployed across the valley to stop the stragglers. Leaving members of his staff to take care of Winchester and the public property there, he set out with a small escort directly for the scene of the battle. As he met the fugitives he ordered them to turn back, reminding them that they were going the wrong way. His presence soon restored confidence. Finding themselves worse frightened than hurt the men did halt and turn back. Many of those who had run ten miles got back in time to redeem their reputation as gallant soldiers before night.

Still not provided with adequate intelligence by his staff by the following morning, Sheridan began his day at a leisurely pace, clearly unaware of the potential disaster in the making:

Toward 6 o’clock the morning of the 19th, the officer on picket duty at Winchester came to my room, I being yet in bed, and reported artillery firing from the direction of Cedar Creek. I asked him if the firing was continuous or only desultory, to which he replied that it was not a sustained fire, but rather irregular and fitful. I remarked: ‘It’s all right; Grover has gone out this morning to make a reconnaissance, and he is merely feeling the enemy.’ I tried to go to sleep again, but grew so restless that I could not, and soon got up and dressed myself. A little later the picket officer came back and reported that the firing, which could be distinctly heard from his line on the heights outside of Winchester, was still going on. I asked him if it sounded like a battle, and as he again said that it did not, I still inferred that the cannonading was caused by Grover’s division banging away at the enemy simply to find out what he was up to. However, I went down-stairs and requested that breakfast be hurried up, and at the same time ordered the horses to be saddled and in readiness, for I concluded to go to the front before any further examinations were made in regard to the defensive line.

We mounted our horses between half-past 8 and 9, and as we were proceeding up the street which leads directly through Winchester, from the Logan residence, where Edwards was quartered, to the Valley pike, I noticed that there were many women at the windows and doors of the houses, who kept shaking their skirts at us and who were otherwise markedly insolent in their demeanor, but supposing this conduct to be instigated by their well-known and perhaps natural prejudices, I ascribed to it no unusual significance. On reaching the edge of town I halted a moment, and there heard quite distinctly the sound of artillery firing in an unceasing roar. Concluding from this that a battle was in progress, I now felt confident that the women along the street had received intelligence from the battlefield by the ‘grape-vine telegraph,’ and were in raptures over some good news, while I as yet was utterly ignorant of the actual situation. Moving on, I put my head down toward the pommel of my saddle and listened intently, trying to locate and interpret the sound, continuing in this position till we had crossed Mill Creek, about half a mile from Winchester. The result of my efforts in the interval was the conviction that the travel of the sound was increasing too rapidly to be accounted for by my own rate of motion, and that therefore my army must be falling back.

At Mill Creek my escort fell in behind, and we were going ahead at a regular pace, when, just as we made the crest of the rise beyond the stream, there burst upon our view the appalling spectacle of a panic-stricken army – hundreds of slightly wounded men, throngs of others unhurt but utterly demoralized, and baggage-wagons by the score, all pressing to the rear in hopeless confusion, telling only too plainly that a disaster had occurred at the front. On accosting some of the fugitives, they assured me that the army was broken up, in full retreat, and that all was lost; all this with a manner true to that peculiar indifference that takes possession of panic-stricken men. I was greatly disturbed by the sight, but at once sent word to Colonel Edwards, commanding the brigade in Winchester, to stretch his troops across the valley, near Mill Creek, and stop all fugitives, directing also that the transportation be passed through and parked on the north side of the town.

As I continued at a walk a few hundred yards farther, thinking all the time of Longstreet’s telegram to Early, ‘Be ready when I join you, and we will crush Sheridan,’ I was fixing in my mind what I should do. My first thought was to stop the army in the suburbs of Winchester as it came back, form a new line, and fight there; but as the situation was more maturely considered a better conception prevailed. I was sure the troops had confidence in me, for heretofore we had been successful; and as at other times they had seen me present at the slightest sign of trouble or distress, I felt that I ought to try now to restore their broken ranks, or, failing in that, to share their fate because of what they had done hitherto.

About this time Colonel Wood, my chief commissary, arrived from the front and gave me fuller intelligence, reporting that everything was gone, my headquarters captured, and the troops dispersed. When I heard this I took two of my aides-de-camp, Major George A. Forsyth and Captain Joseph O’Keefe, and with twenty men from the escort started for the front, at the same time directing Colonel James W. Forsyth and Colonels Alexander and Thom to remain behind and do what they could to stop the runaways.

For a short distance I traveled on the road, but soon found it so blocked with wagons and wounded men that my progress was impeded, and I was forced to take to the adjoining fields to make haste. When most of the wagons and wounded were past I returned to the road, which was thickly lined with unhurt men, who, having got far enough to the rear to be out of danger, had halted without any organization, and begun cooking coffee, but when they saw me they abandoned their coffee, threw up their hats, shouldered their muskets, and as I passed along turned to follow with enthusiasm and cheers. To acknowledge this exhibition of feeling I took off my hat, and with Forsyth and O’Keefe rode some distance in advance of my escort, while every mounted officer who saw me galloped out on either side of the pike to tell the men at a distance that I had come back. In this way the news was spread to the stragglers off the road, when they, too, turned their faces to the front and marched toward the enemy, changing in a moment from the depths of depression to the extreme of enthusiasm. I already knew that even in the ordinary condition of mind enthusiasm is a potent element with soldiers, but what I saw that day convinced me that if it can be excited from a state of despondency its power is almost irresistible. I said nothing except to remark, as I rode among those on the road: ‘If I had been with you this morning this disaster would not have happened. We must face the other way; we will go back and recover our camp.’

My first halt was made just north of Newtown, where I met a chaplain digging his heels into the sides of his jaded horse, and making for the rear with all possible speed. I drew up for an instant, and inquired of him how matters were going at the front. He replied, ‘Everything is lost; but all will be right when you get there’; yet notwithstanding this expression of confidence in me, the parson at once resumed his breathless pace to the rear. At Newtown I was obliged to make a circuit to the left, to get round the village. I could not pass through it, the streets were so crowded, but meeting on this detour Major McKinley, of Crook’s staff, he spread the news of my return through the motley throng there.

According to Grant, “When Sheridan got to the front he found Getty and Custer still holding their ground firmly between the Confederates and our retreating troops.”

Everything in the rear was now ordered up. Sheridan at once proceeded to intrench [sic] his position; and he awaited an assault from the enemy. This was made with vigor, and was directed principally against Emory’s corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers], which had sustained the principal loss in the first attack. By one o’clock the attack was repulsed. Early was so badly damaged that he seemed disinclined to make another attack, but went to work to intrench [sic] himself with a view to holding the position he had already gained….

Union General Phil Sheridan’s ride to the front, 19 October 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 5 November 1864, Library of Congress, public domain).

What Sheridan encountered as he approached Newtown and the Valley pike from the south made him urge Rienzi on:

I saw about three-fourths of a mile west of the pike a body of troops, which proved to be Rickett’s and Wheaton’s divisions of the Sixth Corps, and then learned that the Nineteenth Corps [to which the 47th Pennsylvania had been assigned] had halted a little to the right and rear of these; but I did not stop, desiring to get to the extreme front. Continuing on parallel with the pike, about midway between Newtown and Middletown I crossed to the west of it, and a little later came up in rear of Getty’s division of the Sixth Corps. When I arrived, this division and the cavalry were the only troops in the presence of and resisting the enemy; they were apparently acting as a rear guard at a point about three miles north of the line we held at Cedar Creek when the battle began. General Torbert was the first officer to meet me, saying as he rode up, ‘My God! I am glad you’ve come.’ Getty’s division, when I found it, was about a mile north of Middleton, posted on the reverse slope of some slightly rising ground, holding a barricade made with fence-rails, and skirmishing slightly with the enemy’s pickets. Jumping my horse over the line of rails, I rode to the crest of the elevation, and there taking off my hat, the men rose up from behind their barricade with cheers of recognition. An officer of the Vermont brigade, Colonel A. S. Tracy, rode out to the front, and joining me, informed me that General Louis A. Grant was in command there, the regular division commander General Getty, having taken charge of the Sixth Corps in place of Ricketts, wounded early in the action, while temporarily commanding the corps. I then turned back to the rear of Getty’s division, and as I came behind it, a line of regimental flags rose up out of the ground, as it seemed, to welcome me. They were mostly the colors of Crook’s troops, who had been stampeded and scattered in the surprise of the morning. The color-bearers, having withstood the panic, had formed behind the troops of Getty. The line with the colors was largely composed of officers, among whom I recognized Colonel R. B. Hayes, since president of the United States, one of the brigade commanders. At the close of this incident I crossed the little narrow valley, or depression, in rear of Getty’s line, and dismounting on the opposite crest, established that point as my headquarters. In a few minutes some of my staff joined me, and the first directions I gave were to have the Nineteenth Corps [to which the 47th Pennsylvania was attached] and the two divisions of Wright’s corps brought to the front, so they could be formed on Getty’s division prolonged to the right; for I had already decided to attack the enemy from that line as soon as I could get matters in shape to take the offensive. Crook met me at this time, and strongly favored my idea of attacking, but said, however, that most of his troops were gone. General Wright came up a little later, when I saw that he was wounded, a ball having grazed the point of his chin so as to draw the blood plentifully.

Wright gave me a hurried account of the day’s events, and when told that we would fight the enemy on the line which Getty and the cavalry were holding, and that he must go himself and send all his staff to bring up the troops, he zealously fell in with the scheme; and it was then that the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] and two divisions of the Sixth were ordered to the front from where they had been halted to the right and rear of Getty.

After this conversation I rode to the east of the Valley pike and to the left of Getty’s division, to a point from which I could obtain a good view of the front, in the mean time [sic] sending Major Forsyth to communicate with Colonel Lowell (who occupied a position close in toward the suburbs of Middletown and directly in front of Getty’s left) to learn whether he could hold on there. Lowell replied that he could. I then ordered Custer’s division back to the right flank, and returning to the place where my headquarters had been established I met near them Rickett’s division under General Kiefer and General Frank Wheaton’s division, both marching to the front. When the men of these divisions saw me they began cheering and took up the double quick to the front, while I turned back toward Getty’s line to point out where these returning troops should be place. Having done this, I ordered General Wright to resume command of the Sixth Corps, and Getty, who was temporarily in charge of it, to take command of his own division. A little later the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] came up and was posted between the right of the Sixth Corps and Middle Marsh Brook.

Sheridan Rallying His Troops, Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

All this had consumed a great deal of time, and I concluded to visit again the point to the east of the Valley pike, from where I had first observed the enemy, to see what he was doing. Arrived there, I could plainly seem him getting ready for attack, and Major Forsyth now suggested that it would be well to ride along the line of battle before the enemy assailed us, for although the troops had learned of my return, but few of them had seen me. Following his suggestion I started in behind the men, but when a few paces had been taken I crossed to the front and, hat in hand, passed along the entire length of the infantry line; and it is from this circumstance that many of the officers and men who then received me with such heartiness have since supposed that that was my first appearance on the field. But at least two hours had elapsed since I reached the ground, for it was after mid-day when this incident of riding down the front took place, and I arrived not later, certainly, than half-past 10 o’clock.

After re-arranging the line and preparing to attack I returned again to observe the Confederates, who shortly began to advance on us. The attacking columns did not cover my entire front, and it appeared that their onset would be mainly directed against the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania], so, fearing that they might be too strong for Emory on account of his depleted condition (many of his men not having had time to get up from the rear), and Getty’s division being free from assault, I transferred a part of it from the extreme left to the support of the Nineteenth Corps. The assault was quickly repulsed by Emory, however, and as the enemy fell back Getty’s troops were returned to their original place. This repulse of the Confederates made me feel pretty safe from further  offensive operations on their part, and I now decided to suspend the fighting till my thin ranks were further strengthened by the men who were continually coming up from the rear, and particularly till Crook’s troops could be assembled on the extreme left.

In consequence of the despatch [sic] already mentioned, ‘Be ready when I join you, and we will crush Sheridan,’ since learned to have been fictitious, I had been supposing all day that Longstreet’s troops were present, but as no definite intelligence on this point had been gathered, I concluded, in the lull that now occurred, to ascertain something positive regarding Longstreet; and Merritt having been transferred to our left in the morning, I directed him to attack an exposed battery then at the edge of Middletown, and capture some prisoners. Merritt soon did this work effectually, concealing his intention till his troops got close in to the enemy, and then by a quick dash gobbling up a number of Confederates. When the prisoners were brought in, I learned from them that the only troops of Longstreet’s in the fight were of Kershaw’s division, which had rejoined Early at Brown’s Gap in the latter part of September, and that the rest of Longstreet’s corps was not on the field. The receipt of this information entirely cleared the way for me to take the offensive, but on the heels of it came information that Longstreet was marching by the Front Royal pike to strike my rear at Winchester, driving Powell’s cavalry in as he advanced. This renewed my uneasiness, and caused me to delay the general attack till after assurances  came from Powell, denying utterly the reports as to Longstreet, and confirming the statements of the prisoners.

Launching another advance sometime mid-afternoon during which Sheridan “sent his cavalry by both flanks, and they penetrated to the enemy’s rear,” Grant added:

The contest was close for a time, but at length the left of the enemy broke, and disintegration along the whole line soon followed. Early tried to rally his men, but they were followed so closely that they had to give way very quickly every time they attempted to make a stand. Our cavalry, having pushed on and got in the rear of the Confederates, captured twenty-four pieces of artillery, besides retaking what had been lost in the morning. This victory pretty much closed the campaign in the Valley of Virginia. All the Confederate troops were sent back to Richmond with the exception of one division of infantry and a little cavalry. Wright’s corps was ordered back to the Army of the Potomac, and two other divisions were withdrawn from the valley. Early had lost more men in killed, wounded and captured in the valley than Sheridan had commanded from first to last.

Battlefields of Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek, Virginia (U.S. Engineers’ Map, Lieutenant-Colonel G. L. Gillespie, 1873, public domain).

Sheridan recalled this phase of the battle as follows:

Between half-past 3 and 4 o’clock, I was ready to assail, and decided to do so by advancing my infantry line in a swinging movement, so as to gain the Valley pike with my right between Middletown and the Belle Grove House; and when the order was passed along, the men pushed steadily forward with enthusiasm and confidence. General Early’s troops extended some little distance beyond our right, and when my flank neared the overlapping enemy, he turned on it, with the effect of causing a momentary confusion, but General McMillan [and his troops, which included the 47th Pennsylvania] quickly realizing the danger, broke the Confederates at the re-entering angle by a counter charge with his brigade, doing his work so well that the enemy’s flanking troops were cut off from their main body and left to shift for themselves. Custer, who was just then moving in from the west side of Middle Marsh Brook, followed McMillan’s timely blow with a charge of cavalry…. [T]he troops broken by McMillan had gained some little distance to their rear, but Custer’s troopers sweeping across the Middletown meadows and down toward Cedar Creek, took many of them prisoners before they could reach the stream….

My whole line as far as the eye could see was now driving everything before it, from behind trees, stone walls, and all such sheltering obstacles, so I rode toward the left to ascertain how matters were getting on there. As I passed along behind the advancing troops, first General Grover, and then Colonel Mackenzie, rode up to welcome me. Both were severely wounded, and I told them to leave the field, but they implored permission to remain till success was certain. When I reached the Valley pike Crook had reorganized his men, and as I desired that they should take part in the fight, for they were the very same troops that had turned Early’s flank at the Opequon and at Fisher’s Hill, I ordered them to be pushed forward; and the alacrity and celerity with which they moved on Middletown demonstrated that their ill-fortune of the morning had not sprung from lack of valor.

Meanwhile Lowell’s brigade of cavalry, which, it will be remembered, had been holding on, dismounted, just north of Middletown ever since the time I arrived from Winchester, fell to the rear for the purpose of getting their led horses. A momentary panic was created in the nearest brigade of infantry by this withdrawal of Lowell, but as soon as his men were mounted they charged the enemy clear up to the stone walls in the edge of Middletown; at sight of this the infantry brigade renewed its attack, and the enemy’s right gave way. The accomplished Lowell received his death-wound in this courageous charge.

All our troops were now moving on the retreating Confederates, and as I rode to the front Colonel Gibbs, who succeeded Lowell, made ready for another mounted charge, but I checked him from pressing the enemy’s right, in the hope that the swinging attack from my right would throw most of the Confederates to the east of the Valley pike, and hence off their line of retreat through Strasburg to Fisher’s Hill. The eagerness of the men soon frustrated this anticipation, however, the left insisting on keeping pace with the centre [sic] and right, and all pushing ahead till we regained our old camps at Cedar Creek. Beyond Cedar Creek, at Strasburg, the pike makes a sharp turn to the west toward Fisher’s Hill, and here Merritt uniting with Custer, they together fell on the flank of the retreating columns, taking many prisoners, wagons, and guns, among the prisoners being Major-General Ramseur, who, mortally wounded, died the next day.

On 22 October 1864, President Abraham Lincoln wrote this letter congratulating Major-General Philip Sheridan for his recent victory at Cedar Creek (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

When the news of the victory was received, General Grant directed a salute of one hundred shotted [sic] guns to be fired into Petersburg, and the President at once thanked the army in an autograph letter [which simply stated]:

‘Executive Mansion
Washington, Oct. 22, 1864

Major General Sheridan

With great pleasure I tender to you and your brave army, the thanks of the Nation, and my own personal admiration and gratitude, for the months operations in the Shenandoah Valley, and especially for the splendid work of Oct. 19, 1864.

Your Obt. Servt.
Abraham Lincoln’

Several weeks later, President Lincoln then promoted Sheridan to the rank of Major-General with the U.S. Army.

I received notice of this in a special letter from the Secretary of War, saying, ‘that for the personal gallantry, military skill, and just confidence in the courage and patriotism of your troops, displayed by you on the 19th day of October at Cedar Run, whereby, under the blessing of Providence, your routed army was reorganized, a great National disaster averted, and a brilliant victory achieved over the rebels for the third time in pitched battle within thirty days, Philip H. Sheridan is appointed a major-general in the United States Army.’

The direct result of the battle was the recapture of all the artillery, transportation, and camp equipage we had lost, and in addition twenty-four pieces of the enemy’s artillery, twelve hundred prisoners, and a number of battle-flags. But more still flowed from this victory, succeeding as it did the disaster of the morning, for the re-occupation of our old camps at once re-established a morale which for some hours had been greatly endangered by ill-fortune.

It was not till after the battle that I learned fully what had taken place before my arrival, and then found that the enemy, having gathered all the strength he could through the return of convalescents and other absentees, had moved quietly from Fisher’s Hill, in the night of the 18th and early on the morning of the 19th, to surprise my army, which, it should be remembered, was posted on the north bank of Cedar Creek, Crook holding on the left of the Valley pike, with Thoburn’s division advanced toward the creek, and Duval’s (under Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes) and Kitching’s provisional divisions to the north and rear of Thoburn. The Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] was on the right of Crook, extending in a semi-circular line from the pike nearly to Meadow Brook, while the Sixth Corps lay to the west of the book in readiness to be used as a movable column. Merritt’s division was to the right and rear of the Sixth Corps, and about a mile and a half west of Merritt was Custer covering the fords of Cedar Creek as far west as the Middle road.

General Early’s plan was for one column under General Gordon, consisting of three divisions of infantry (Gordon’s, Ramseur’s, and Pegram’s), and Payne’s brigade of cavalry, to cross the Shenandoah River directly east of the Confederate works at Fisher’s Hill, march around the northerly face of the Massanutten Mountain, and again cross the Shenandoah at Bowman’s and McInturff’s fords. Payne’s task was to capture me at the Belle Grove House. General Early himself, with Kershaw’s and Wharton’s divisions, was to move through Strasburg, Kershaw, accompanied by Early, to cross Cedar Creek at Roberts’s ford and connect with Gordon, while Wharton was to continue on the Valley pike to Hupp’s Hill and join the left of Kershaw, when the crossing of the Valley pike over Cedar Creek became free.

Lomax’s cavalry, then in the Luray Valley, was ordered to join the right of Gordon on the field of battle, while Rosser was to carry the crossing of Cedar Creek on the Back road and attack Custer. Early’s conceptions were carried through in the darkness with little accident or delay, Kershaw opening the fight by a furious attack on Thoburn’s division, while at dawn and in a dense fog Gordon struck Crook’s extreme left, surprising his pickets, and bursting into his camp with such suddenness as to stampede Crook’s men. Gordon directing his march on my headquarters (the Belle Grove House), successfully turned our position as he gained the Valley pike, and General Wright was thus forced to order the withdrawal of the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] from its post at the Cedar Creek crossing, and this enabled Wharton to get over the stream there unmolested and join Kershaw early in the action.

After Crook’s troops had been driven from their camps, General Wright endeavored to form a line with the Sixth Corps to hold the Valley pike to the left of the Nineteenth [including the 47th Pennsylvania], but failing in this he ordered the withdrawal of the latter corps, Ricketts, temporarily commanding the Sixth Corps, checking Gordon till Emory [and his troops, including the 47th Pennsylvania] had retired. As already stated, Wharton was thus permitted to cross Cedar Creek on the pike, and now that Early had a continuous line, he pressed his advantage so vigorously that the whole Union army was soon driven from its camps in more or less disorder; and though much disjointed resistance was displayed, it may be said that no systematic stand was made until Getty’s division, aided by Torbert’s  cavalry, which Wright had ordered to the left early in the action, took up the ground where, on arriving from Winchester, I found them.

When I left my command on the 16th, little did I anticipate that anything like this would happen. Indeed, I felt satisfied that Early was, of himself, too weak to take the offensive, and although I doubted the Longstreet despatch [sic], yet I was confident that, even should it prove true, I could get back before the junction could be made, and at the worst I felt certain that my army was equal to confronting the forces of Longstreet and Early combined. Still, the surprise of the morning might have befallen me as well as the general on whom it did descend, and though it is possible that this could have been precluded  had Powell’s cavalry been closed in, as suggested in my despatch [sic] from Front Royal, yet the enemy’s desperation might have prompted some other clever and ingenious scheme for relieving his fallen fortunes in the Shenandoah Valley.

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers – Valor and Unprecedented Loss

Headstone of Sergeant William Pyers, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Co. C, Winchester National Cemetery, Virginia; he was killed in the fighting at the Cooley Farm during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (courtesy of Randy Fletcher, 2014).

Two days after the last shot was fired during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, Henry Wharton recapped the valor and horror of the day for his hometown newspaper – the Sunbury American:

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
NEAR MIDDLETOWN, Va., Oct 21, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

On Wednesday morning, October 19, at 4 o’clock, the rebels under Early made an attack and by a flank movement nearly undone the glorious work and victories achieved during the last month. Early’s forces were reported, the evening previous to the attack, to have left Fisher’s Hill and were moving up the valley towards Staunton. The report cause less vigilance on the part of some one in command, and at the hour mentioned the Johnneys [sic] came on the left flank of the 8th corps, taking them by surprise, and pouring in such a deadly fire that they were forced to leave their breastworks. The 19th corps was ordered to their support that they (the 8th) might form their broken ranks, which they did, but the terrific fire of the enemy forced them back, and as they were unsupported, they fell from line to line, pouring into the rebel ranks the deadliest fire, until they fell back to 6th corps, who had just come up. The fighting then was desperate, but by some means our flanks were exposed, and our forces fell back 1 mile east of Middletown. Here our men made a decided stand and held their position.

Up to this time we had lost twenty-two pieces of artillery, a portion of our wagon train, ambulances and a number of prisoners. At this critical moment Gen Sheridan who had been on to Washington, arrived. – His presence was received by the troops with cheers that made the valley ring. Gen Custer was so elated that he dismounted and embraced his beloved commander. A General rode up to Sheridan and said, ‘Sir, we are badly whipped, but the boys are not, and to-night they will encamp on their old ground,’ and turned his horse and rode in front of the entire line. When he reviewed his troops and had matters fixed to suit himself, orders was [sic] given to charge. This was done and with such impetuosity that the Johnnies could not stand it, and then commenced the tallest running that has yet been done on the sacred soil by any of the chivalry. Our infantry followed in pursuit across Cedar Creek to Strasburg, when they halted, the cavalry, however, following up the retreat to Harrisonburg, and perhaps further for aught I know to the contrary. We recaptured all our guns, besides twenty-six pieces of the enemy, that they had just brought from Richmond. We re-captured our wagons with one hundred and fifty of theirs, any quantity of small arms and four thousand prisoners. The road to Strasburg showed plainly their eagerness to escape. – Ambulances, caissons, torn horses, small arms, &c., filled the road. The retreat of Early, at Winchester, was a big thing on ice; but this beats anything I ever saw and is beyond my powers of description. It was a great and glorious victory, and shows what confidence the men have in that great little man, Major-General Phil Sheridan.

This victory was, to us, of company C, dearly bought, and will bring with it sorrow to more than one in Sunbury. It is my painful duty to inform you of the news [sic] and I will now give you our loss in killed wounded and missing.

KILLED.
Sergeant William Pyers,
“                   John Bartlow,
Privates – Theodore Kiehl, Jasper Gardner, John E. Will, James Brown, George Keiser.

WOUNDED.
Captain D. Oyster, right arm.
Bellas Rodrigue, slight.
Joseph Walters, slight.
George Blain, thigh.
Jacob Grubb, two wounds in leg.
Jesse G. Green, two wounds in leg.
David Weikel, arm and side.
William Michaels, wrist.
Alex. Given, abdomen.
Richard O’Rourke, face and shoulder.
John Lunken, nose.
Perry Colvin, twice in head, slight.
George Hepler, slight, head.
H.
Keiser, thumb.
P.
Swinehart, side.
William Finck, leg.

Pennsylvania Monument, Salisbury National Cemetery, site of the former Confederate prison camp where so many 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers died from starvation or disease, and were buried in unmarked mass graves (Section C, North side elevation looking south, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

MISSING.
1st Sergeant William Fry, prisoner.
Martin Berger, prisoner.
George D. John.
Isaac Kramer, prisoner.
* B. A. Shiffer,        “ [prisoner].
Joseph Smith,       “ [prisoner].
John W. Firth, lately released from Tyler, Texas.

The loss in the 47th Reg’t. was one hundred and seventy-one (171) killed, wounded and missing. The wounded are getting along well, and I am assured by the Surgeons that none of them are dangerous. – The rest of the boys are well. Please remember me to friends.

Yours, Fraternally,
H.
D. W.

* Mr. Shiffer [sic, alternate spelling: “Shiffin”] has since written a letter to this place, stating that he was at Baltimore, and was wounded in the thigh. – ED.

In subsequent days and weeks, regimental rosters were revised again and again, as Wharton and other clerks added more men to the list of those who had been killed in action, confirmed the Confederate prison camp locations of the 47th Pennsylvanians who had been captured in battle, and changed the status of the most gravely wounded to “deceased.” By the time the tallies were finally completed, it was clear that the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had sustained a grievous casualty rate equal to roughly two of its ten companies.

  • Acker, Joseph (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Andrews, Valentine (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Bachman, Charles (Sergeant, Company B; wounded; survived)
  • Baldwin, Isaac (Corporal, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Bartholomew, John (Private, Company I; killed in action)
  • Beavers, Henry (Private, Company E; captured and held as a POW at a Confederate prison camp until his release 8 March 1865; discharged 14 June 1865 by General Order)
  • Berger, Martin M. (Private, Company C; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died 6 January 1865)
  • Becher, John (Private, Company G; killed in action)
  • Berksheimer, Marcus (Private, Company E; killed in action)
  • Berliner, Lewis (Private, Company K; killed in action)
  • Bower, Lewis (Private, Company A; died at a Confederate prison camp 1 March 1865)
  • Bower, Thomas J. (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Bridinger/Birdinger, Samuel E. (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Burger, William (Sergeant; Company K; suffered a compression of the brain after being struck in the head by shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell or musket ball; died at the Union Army’s Satterlee General Hospital in Philadelphia 5 November 1864)
  • Burke, Andrew (Private, Company E; initially reported as killed in action, was determined to have sustained gunshot wounds to the head and upper right arm; died from battle wound-related complications 23 December 1864 at the Union Army hospital at Frederick, Maryland)
  • Cope, Peter (Private, Company K; although the Union Army’s Registers of Deaths of Volunteer Soldiers stated that Private Peter Cope of K Company was killed in action during the Battle of Cedar Creek, historian Samuel P. Bates indicated that this soldier was discharged 22 June 1865 by General Order of the U.S. War Department)
  • Crawford, Daniel S. (Private, Company A; severely wounded in the right leg; discharged 31 May 1864 on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability, following earlier amputation of leg)
  • Darrohn, John A. (Corporal, Company B; wounded 4 October 1864 in the lead-up to the Battle of Cedar Creek; died from wound-related complications at the Union Army’s hospital at Winchester, Virginia 12 November 1864)
  • Detweiler, Charles (Private, Company A; wounded in action; died at a Union Army hospital in Philadelphia from battle wound-related complications 12 February 1865)
  • Egolf, John (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Eichman, William Henry (Corporal, Company E; wounded and captured by Confederate forces; held as a POW until his release 11 May 1865; discharged 1 June 1865 per General Order)
  • Fegely, Harrison (Private, Company K; wounded; transferred 17 January 1865 to Company E, 21st Regiment, 1st Battalion, Veteran Reserve Corps)
  • Fetherolf, David K. (1st Lieutenant, Company K; wounded; discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 17 November 1864; died at home 19 August 1865)
  • Foreman, Henry (Private, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Frack, Joseph (Private, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Fraunfelder, Levi (Private, Company A; captured and held at a Confederate POW camp until his release 1 February 1865)
  • Fry, William (1st Sergeant, Company C; captured and held as a POW at the notorious Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia; released 4 March 1865, but died at home due to disease-related complications 28 March 1865)
  • Gatence, Lawrence (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Geho, Addison Kaiser (Private, Company F; killed in action)
  • Geidner, Evan (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Geiger, Harrison (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Gildner/Guildner, Francis (Private, Company I; killed in action)
  • Given, Alexander (Private, Company C; wounded in the abdomen and/or the left knee joint; died from battle wound-related complications 1 December 1864 at the Union Army’s Jarvis General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland)
  • Goebel, John Joseph (Captain, Company G; sustained gunshot wound to his left hip which fractured the neck and head of his left femur; died from a battle wound-related complication – irritative fever – at the Union Army hospital at Winchester, Virginia 5 November 1864)
  • Golio, Reuben (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Grader, Rainey (Private, Company F; killed in action)
  • Grubb, Jacob C. (Private, Company C; sustained two gunshot wounds to his leg(s); died from battle wound-related complications at the Union Army hospital in Winchester, Virginia 9 November1864)
  • Haggerty, Peter Jacob (Private, Company E; captured and held as a POW at a Confederate prison camp until his release 1 March 1865; discharged by General Order 29 June 1865
  • Haltiman, Peter H. (Private, Company B; wounded; died at Baltimore, Maryland 20 November 1864 from battle wound-related complications – possibly paemia/septicemia)
  • Hahn, George (Corporal, Company E; wounded in action; survived)
  • Harper, Edward (Corporal, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Heenan, Michael (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Hochstetter, Jacob C. (Private, Company H; captured and held as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being transferred to the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he was held as a POW until his release)
  • Huff, James (Corporal, Company A; captured and held as POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from starvation 5 March 1865)
  • Jones, Harrison (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Klotz, Moses F. (Private, Company K; sustained fatal head wound in combat)
  • Knauss, Allen (Corporal, Company I; wounded; discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 7 September 1865)
  • Knauss, Charles Henry (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Kolb, Hiram (Private, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Kramer, Allen (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Kramer, Henry H. (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Kramer, Isaac (Private, Company C; wounded in action and captured by Confederate forces; held as a POW until his release; discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 18 August 1865)
  • Koch, Ambrose (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Kunker, John (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Landis, William (Private, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Lasker, Julius (Private, Company G; killed in action)
  • Liddick I, John (Private, Company H; wounded; died from battle wound-related complications 8 November 1864 at a Union Army hospital in Baltimore, Maryland)
  • Lunken, John (Private, Company C; alternate surname spelling: “Sunker”; wounded in action in the nose; survived)
  • Lutz, James (Private, Company I; declared missing in action and supposed dead, then declared killed in action)
  • Martin, William (Private, Company I; wounded; survived)
  • Mayers, William H. (Sergeant, Company I; wounded; survived)
  • McCalla, Daniel (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • McIntire, John (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Menner, Edward (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Metcalf, Isaac (Private, Company F; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from disease-related complications 25 December 1864)
  • Michael, Charles H. (Private, Company F; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from starvation 11 December 1864)
  • Miller, Joseph (Private, Company A; captured and held at a Confederate POW camp until his release 12 April 1865)
  • Miller, Thomas (Corporal, Company B; wounded in action; died from battle wound-related complications at the Union Army hospital at Winchester, Virginia 25 October 1864)
  • Minnich, Edwin G. (Captain, Company B; killed in action)
  • Moll, William (Private, Company F; wounded; survived)
  • Moser, Franklin (Private, Company E; wounded; declared missing in action and supposed dead)
  • Moser, Owen (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Moyer I, William H. (Private, Company F; captured by Confederate forces during or after the Battle of Cedar Creek; died from starvation 22 January 1865 while being held as POW at the Confederate prison camp at Florence, South Carolina)
  • Newhard, Allen (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Ochs, Jacob (Private, Company E; wounded in the foot; discharged from Baltimore on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 19 June 1865)
  • Oyster, Daniel (Captain, Company C; sustained severe gunshot wound to right shoulder; survived)
  • Parks, Francis A. (Sergeant, Company E; killed in action)
  • Peterson, John (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Powell, Jr., Daniel (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Remaly, Samuel (Private, Company A; wounded in action; survived)
  • Repsher, Joseph (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Rhoads, Franklin (Private, Company B; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from disease-related complications 15 November 1864; buried in an unmarked trench grave 22 November 1864)
  • Rupley, John (Corporal, Company H; wounded; survived)
  • Sailor, Cyrus James (Private, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Sandt, Amandus (Corporal, Company A; shot in the hip; survived after being left to die by Confederate troops who had captured his brother, Edwin, who had stayed behind Union lines to care for him)
  • Sandt, Edwin (Private, Company A; narrowly avoided being shot thanks to a cartridge box which blocked a bullet’s path; captured behind Union lines by advancing Confederate forces while caring for his brother, Amandus, who had been shot in the hip; held initially as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being transferred to the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina; survived and returned to serve with regiment)
  • Scherer, August (Private, Company B; sustained gunshot wound to right thigh; died from battle wound-related complications at Newton University General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland 28 October 1864)
  • Schimpf, John (Private, Company B; killed in action)
  • Schlagle, Henry J. (Private, Company I; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from catarrh and starvation on 27 or 28 December 1864)
  • Schneck, Lewis (Private, Company K; killed in action)
  • Scott, Frederick J. (Corporal, Company E; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Danville, Virginia, where he died 23 February 1865)
  • Shaffer, Stephen (Private, Company H; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died 8 January 1865)
  • Shapley, Henry (Private, Company H; captured and held as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being transferred to the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from starvation and harsh treatment 10 December 1864)
  • Shelley, Joseph (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Shiffin, Henry (Private, Company C; wounded in action; survived, and transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps February 1865)
  • Small, Jerome (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Smith, Joseph (Private, Company C; although Henry Wharton indicated this soldier was captured and held as a prisoner of war, other records show he was killed in action)
  • Smith, Joseph (Private, Company H; died from disease-related complications at a Union Army hospital near Cedar Creek, Virginia 11 November 1864)
  • Stephens, Joseph (Private, Company I; killed in action)
  • Strauss, James (Corporal, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Stuart, Charles F. (Private, Company C; captured and held as a POW at a Confederate prison camp until his release 4 March 1865)
  • Swinehart, Peter (Private, Company C; wounded in the side; died from battle wound-related complications 1 December 1864)
  • Tagg, James (Private, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Tice, James (Private, Company B; killed in action)
  • Walk, Josiah (Private, Company F; wounded; survived)
  • Werkheiser, Lewis (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Zellner, Benjamin F. (Private, Company K; shot in the leg and sustained bayonet wound; survived; also survived previous wounds sustained at the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, 9 April 1864, as well as his capture and confinement as a POW following that battle at both the Confederate prison camps at Tyler, Texas and Andersonville, Georgia)
  • Ziegler, Thomas (Private, Company I; sustained gunshot wound to the left leg; survived)

The Battle’s Impact on the Overall Prosecution of the War

Reporting on the battle two weeks later in its 5 November 1864 edition, Harper’s Weekly described Sheridan’s leadership in glowing terms:

PHIL SHERIDAN RIDING TO THE FRONT.

The victory gained at Cedar Creek that day [19 October 1864] surpassed in interest the victory gained precisely one month earlier at Winchester. It was a victory following upon the heels of apparent reverse, and therefore reflecting peculiar credit on the brave commander to whose timely arrival upon the field the final success of the day must be attributed.

The General was at Winchester in the early morning when the enemy attacked – fifteen miles distant from the field of operations. General Wright was in command. The enemy had approached under cover of a heavy fog, and flanking the extreme right of the Federal line, held by Crook’s Corps, and attacking in the centre [sic], had thrown the entire line into confusion, and driven it for several miles. The stragglers to the rear were fearfully numerous, and the enemy was pushing on, turning against the Federals a score of guns already captured from them.

This was the situation a little before noon when Sheridan came on the field, rising, says one of his staff, so that the devil himself could not have kept up. A staff-officer meeting him pronounced the situation of the army to be ‘awful.’

‘Pshaw,’ said Sheridan, ‘it’s nothing of the sort. It’s all right, or we’ll fix it right!’

Sheridan hastened to his cavalry on the extreme left. Galloping past the batteries,’ says the World correspondent, ‘to the extreme left of the line held by the cavalry, he rode to the front, took off his hat and waved it, while a cheer went up from the ranks not less hearty and enthusiastic than that which greeted him after the battle of Winchester. Generals rode out to meet him, officers waved their swords, men threw up their hats in an extremity of glee. General Custer, discovering Sheridan at the moment he arrived, rode up to him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek. Waiting for no other parley than simply to exchange greeting, and to say, ‘This retreat must be stopped!’ Sheridan broke loose and began galloping down the lines, along the whole front of the army. Every where [sic] the enthusiasm caused by his appearance was the same.’

The line was speedily reformed; provost marshals brought in stragglers by the scores; the retreating army turned its face to the foe. An attack just about to be made was repulsed, and the tide of battle turned. Then Sheridan’s time was come. A cavalry charge was ordered against right and left flank of the enemy, and then a grand advance of the three infantry corps from left to right on the Enemy’s centre [sic]. ‘On through Middletown,’ says the correspondent above quoted, ‘and beyond, the enemy hurried, and the Army of the Shenandoah pursued. The roar of musketry now had a gleeful, dancing sound. The guns fired shafted salutes of victory. Custer and Merritt, charging in on right and left, doubled up the flanks of the foe, taking prisoners, slashing, killing, driving as they went. The march of the infantry was more majestic and more terrible. The lines of the foe swayed and broke before it every where [sic]. Beyond Middletown, on the battle-field fought over in the morning, their columns were completely overthrown and disorganized [sic]. They fled along the pike and over the fields like sheep.’

Thus on through Strasburg with two brigades of cavalry at their heels. Two thousand prisoners were gathered together, though there was not a sufficient guard to send them all to the rear. The guns lost in the morning were recaptured, and as many more taken, making fifty in all, and, according to Sheridan’s report, the enemy reached Mount Jackson without an organized regiment.

The scene at Sheridan’s head-quarters at night after the battle was wildly exciting. ‘General Custer arrived about 9 o’clock. The first thing he did was to hug General Sheridan with all his might, lifting him in the air, whirling him around and around, with the shout: ‘By ___, we’ve cleaned them out and got the guns!’ Catching sight of General Torbert, Custer went through the same proceeding with him, until Torbert was forced to cry out: ‘There, there, old fellow, don’t capture me!’

Sheridan’s ride to the front, October 19, 1864 will go down in history as one of the most important and exciting events which have ever given interest to a battle scene; and to this event will be attributed the victory of the day. Says General Grant, ‘Turning what bid fair to be a disaster into a glorious victory stamps Sheridan what I have always thought him, one of the ablest of Generals.’

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were also later recognized for their service that costly but important day, commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” on 19 October 1864.

Fisher’s Hill, Virginia, c. 1892 (William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Co., U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

As Sheridan looked back on his 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign from the vantage point of his 1888 memoirs, he also described the aftermath of Cedar Creek post-battle:

Early’s broken army practically made no halt in its retreat after the battle of Cedar  Creek until it reached New Market, though at Fisher’s Hill was left a small rear-guard of cavalry, which hastily decamped, however, when charged by Gibbs’s brigade on the morning of the 20th. Between the date of his signal defeat and the 11th of November, the enemy’s scattered forces had sufficiently reorganized to permit his again making a reconnaissance in the valley as far north as Cedar Creek, my army having meanwhile withdrawn to Kernstown, where it had been finally decided that a defensive line should be held to enable me to detach troops to General Grant, and where, by reconstructing the Winchester and Potomac railroad from Stephenson’s depot to Harper’s Ferry, my command might be more readily supplied. Early’s reconnaissance north of Cedar Creek ended in a rapid withdrawal of his infantry after feeling my front, and with the usual ill-fortune to his cavalry; Merritt and Custer driving Rosser and Lomax with ease across Cedar Creek and on the Middle and Back roads, while Powell’s cavalry struck McCausland near Stony Point, and after capturing two pieces of artillery and about three hundred officers and men, chased him into the Luray Valley.

Early got back to New Market on the 14th of November, and, from lack of subsistence, being unable to continue demonstrations to prevent my reinforcement of General Grant, began himself to detach to General Lee by returning Kershaw’s division to Petersburg, as was definitely ascertained by Torbert in a reconnaissance to Mount Jackson. At this time General Grant wished me to send him the Sixth Corps … but when I informed him that … Early still retained four divisions of infantry and one of cavalry, it was decided, on my suggestion, to let the Sixth Corps remain till the season should be a little further advanced, which the inclemency of the weather would preclude infantry campaigning. These conditions came about early in December….

Ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers spent much of November and December trying to heal minds as well as bodies. Five days before Christmas of 1864, they trudged through a snowstorm in order to reach their new home – Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia – where they were assigned to outpost and railroad guard duties.

Attached to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah in February 1865, they then moved back to Washington, D.C. via Winchester and Kernstown, setting the stage once again for the 47th Pennsylvanians to play a role in one of the most pivotal moments in American history.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Battle of Cedar Creek, in CWSAC Battle Summaries. Washington, D.C.: Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (CWSAC), The American Battlefield Protection Program, retrieved online 1 September 2016.

3. Bluhm, Jr., Raymond K. Shenandoah Valley Campaign: March-November 1864. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army.

4. Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. New York, New York: C. L. Webster, 1885.

5. Irwin, Richard B. History of the Nineteenth Army Corps. New York, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892.

6. Mahon, Michael G. The Shenandoah Valley 1861-1865: The Destruction of the Granary of the Confederacy. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1999.

7. Phil Sheridan Riding to the Front. New York, New York: Harper’s Weekly, 5 November 1864.

8. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, in Records of the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office (Record Group 94). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1861-1865.

9. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

10. Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign, in Shenandoah at War. New Market, Virginia: Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, retrieved online 1 September 2016.

11. Sheridan, Philip Henry. Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army in Two Volumes, Vol. II. New York, New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1888.

12. Snyder, Laurie. From Louisiana to Virginia (1864): The Battle of Snicker’s Gap and Service with the Army of the Shenandoah, and Sheridan’s Tide-Turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The September Battles (Virginia, July-September 1864), in 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Retrieved online 10 September 2017.

13. The Battle of Cedar Creek, in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service, retrieved online 1 September 2017.

14. U.S. Civil War Veterans’, Widows’ and Orphans’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

15. Wert, Jeffry D. From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1997.

16. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1864.

17. Whitehorn, Joseph W. A. The Battle of Cedar Creek. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army, Center of Military History, 1992.

 

Sheridan’s Tide-Turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The September Battles (Virginia, July-September, 1864)

Shenandoah Valley from Maryland Heights (Alfred R. Waud, 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain). For Waud’s own description of this work, click here.

By 1864, Federal control of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was viewed as necessary to a Union victory because of the Valley’s configuration and its economic potential to the Confederate war effort. The Valley’s alignment from southwest to northeast made it an excellent Confederate avenue of approach, threatening Federal resources in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and of course, Washington, D.C., itself. The excellent road system, including the hard-surface Valley Pike (US 11), allowed rapid movement into vulnerable Federal areas…. The area had continued to produce a large portion of the food required by Lee’s army in eastern Virginia as well as that needed in other parts of the Confederacy. Unfettered access to the Valley put the produce of nearby parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania within Confederate reach as well. – Joseph Whitehorne, The Battle of Cedar Creek

 

Following Washington, D.C.’s close brush 11-12 July 1864 with Lieutenant-General Jubal Early’s advancing Confederate army, that army’s 30 July burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant’s consequent Summer 1864 shakeup of top military leaders, which included his appointment of Major-General Philip H. Sheridan as head of the U.S. Middle Military Division and its Army of the Shenandoah, the stage was set for the Civil War’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign – a series of battles which tipped the scales of victory sharply in favor of the Federal Government during the Fall of 1864, and ensured the reelection of Abraham Lincoln to his final, fatal term as President of the United States of America.

Among the players in this intense drama were Confederate army leaders described by historian Jeffry Wert as “some of the finest combat commanders in Virginia.” Their Union opponents were equally impressive. According to Wert:

Union authorities, finally, had brought to the Shenandoah Valley a command – in strength, leadership and combat prowess – worthy of the strategic value of the region. The Army of the Shenandoah exceeded, in numbers alone, any previous Union force in the Valley. Sheridan would begin the forthcoming campaign with nearly 35,000 infantry and artillery effectives and 8,000 cavalry. If the separate Military District of Harpers Ferry, commanded by Brigadier General John D. Stevenson, numbering nearly 5,000, were included, Sheridan had, at hand, approximately 48,000 troops. His Middle Military Division also embraced the nearly 29,000 troops in the Department of Washington, the 2,700 soldiers in the Department of the Susquehanna and the approximately 5,900 Federals in the Middle Department.

Even more striking was the Federal Government’s charge to those Union troops. On 5 August 1864, Grant wrote to Sheridan, urging:

In pushing up the Shenandoah Valley, where it is expected you will have to go first or last, it is desirable that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return. Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command; such as cannot be consumed, destroy. It is not desirable that the buildings should be destroyed – they should rather be protected; but the people should be informed that, so long as an army can subsist among them, recurrence of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them at all hazards.

Bear in mind, the object is to drive the enemy south…. Make your own arrangements for supplies of all kinds, giving regular vouchers for such as may be taken from loyal citizens in the country through which you march.

The day after Grant penned that directive – 6 August 1864 – the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry crossed over the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Still attached to Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th U.S. Army Corps (the corps to which they had been attached in Louisiana), the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were preceded and followed, respectively, by troops commanded by Brigadier-Generals George R. Crook and John B. Ricketts.

Note: On 7 July 1864, while stationed in New Orleans, the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry was temporarily separated into two detachments when the soldiers assigned to the regiment’s Companies B, G and K were ordered to remain behind in Louisiana to await transportation north following the end of the Union’s Red River Campaign while the men from Companies A, C, D, F, H, and I steamed aboard the McClellan for the Washington, D.C. area. That group of 47th infantrymen then had a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln at Fort Stevens (situated just outside of the nation’s capital) on 12 July, and joined in fighting in and around Snicker’s Gap, Virginia (also known as the Battle of Cool Spring) in mid-July under the command of Union Major-General David Hunter and Brigadier-General William Emory. Both detachments from the 47th Pennsylvania were ultimately reunited on 2 August at Monocacy, Virginia, and were then ordered on to Harper’s Ferry and Halltown, Virginia.

Halltown Ridge, looking west with “old ruin of 123 on left. Colored people’s shanty right,” where Union troops entrenched after Major-General Philip Sheridan took command of the Middle Military Division, 7 August 1864 (photo and caption: Thomas Dwight Biscoe, 2 August 1884, courtesy of Southern Methodist University).

Ordered to march next for Halltown, Virginia, the 47th Pennsylvanians were, upon arrival, assigned to defensive duties. Union Major-General David Hunter “took up his position covering Halltown and proceeded to strengthen its entrenchments,” according to historian Richard Irwin, while “Crook’s left rested on the Shenandoah, Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] extended the line to the turnpike road, and Wright carried it to the Potomac.”

According to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, as Sheridan was bolstering Union positions in Virginia, Lieutenant-General Jubal Early was reinforcing his Confederate positions with the Confederate States of America troops under his command:

Early deployed his forces to defend the approaches to Winchester, while Sheridan moved his army, now 50,000 strong, south via Berryville with the goal of cutting the Valley Turnpike. On August 11, Confederate cavalry and infantry turned back Union cavalry at Double Toll Gate in sporadic, day-long fighting, preventing this maneuver.

Robert E. Lee sent reinforcements under the overall command of Gen. Richard Anderson to join Early. On August 16, Union cavalry encountered this force advancing through Front Royal, and in a sharp engagement at Guard Hill, Gen. George A. Custer’s brigade captured more than 300 Confederates.

Sheridan had been ordered to move cautiously and avoid a defeat, particularly if Early were reinforced. Uncertain of Early’s and Anderson’s combined strength, Sheridan withdrew to a defensive line near Charles Town to cover the Potomac River crossings and Harpers Ferry. Early’s forces routed the Union rear guard at Abrams Creek at Winchester on August 17 and pressed north on the Valley Turnpike to Bunker Hill. Judging Sheridan’s performance thus far, General Early considered him a timid commander.

On August 21, Early and Anderson launched a converging attack against Sheridan. As Early struck the main body of Union infantry at Cameron’s Depot, Anderson moved north from Berryville against Sheridan’s cavalry at Summit Point. Results of the fighting were inconclusive, but Sheridan continued to withdraw. The next day, Early advanced boldly on Charles Town, panicking a portion of the retreating Union army, but by late afternoon, Sheridan had retreated into formidable entrenchments at Halltown, south of Harpers Ferry, where he was beyond attack.

Early then attempted another incursion into Maryland, hoping by this maneuver to maintain the initiative. On August 25, two divisions of Sheridan’s cavalry intercepted Early’s advance, but the Confederate infantry drove them back to the Potomac. Early’s intentions were revealed, however, and on August 26, Sheridan’s infantry attacked and overran a portion of the Confederate entrenchments at Halltown, forcing Anderson and Kershaw to withdraw to Stephenson’s Depot. Early abandoned his raid and returned south, establishing a defensive line on the west bank of Opequon Creek* from Bunker Hill to Stephenson’s Depot.

On August 29, Union cavalry forded the Opequon at Smithfield Crossing but were swiftly driven back across the creek by Confederate infantry. Union infantry of the VI Corps then advanced and regained the line of the Opequon. This was one more in a series of thrusts and parries that characterized this phase of the campaign, known to the soldiers as the “mimic war.”

Regimental records confirm back-and-forth movements by the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers during this “mimic war” with a fair degree of confusion regarding dates of departure and arrival at various camp sites. According to historian Lewis Schmidt, “On Wednesday [10 August], the regiment marched from Halltown, as Company K recorded it ‘left Halltown and marched to Middletown and back to Halltown and skirmished.’”  On the 11th, “the 47th left its bivouac near Berryville and marched to Middletown where it arrived the next day,” and remained there for several weeks before returning to Halltown where, according to Schmidt, “it arrived on August 20.”

The clerks from C Company, however, noted that the regiment left Middletown for Winchester, departing on Monday, 15 August and arriving the next day. By Wednesday, they then recorded the 47th as heading for Berryville.

In a letter home to the Sunbury American newspaper, 47th Pennsylvanian Henry D. Wharton provided a more detailed chronology, while also offering vital insights into what life was like for Virginians trapped between opposing armies – and what it had been like for members of his regiment who had been held as prisoners of war (POWs):

20 August 1864
Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
CAMP NEAR CHARLESTON, VA.   }
August 20, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT : –

Since I wrote to you last, we have had weary marches and travelled many miles after the Johnnies, but as yet have not met them in a regular battle. Since the 10th of this month, Gen. Sheridan has done his best to catch and whip the rebels, but their fleetness and the peculiarity of the country, in the way of mountains and gaps, is such that he is now no nearer that object than when our march commenced. Our cavalry drove the reel videttes often while on our march towards Winchester, and every day, in skirmishes, compelled the graybacks to run for safety. Early was forced to retreat to the mountains beyond Strasburg, where he threw up intrenchments [sic], hoping to draw our army into a trap, but our commander knowing the position he held, and the almost impossibility of driving the enemy from the gap, did not advance further than Cedar creek with the main army, and then sent the cavalry to commence operations, by trying to draw him out into an open field and fair fight. This they accomplished on last Tuesday [16 August] having as Gen. Sheridan reports ‘a brilliant affair,’ in which the rebels lost severely in killed, wounded and prisoners. In this fight the rebs crossed a stream and made a charge; they were repulsed and in recrossing, besides the killed, many were taken prisoners, the cavalry boys saying ‘come back, or we will shoot. This command was readily obeyed, the Johnnies thinking like Capt. Scott’s coon, ‘not to shoot and they would knock under.’ The enemy were forced back to Front Royal, when they were reinforced by two Divisions of Longstreet’s corps, from Richmond. Our force then fell back to the creek, when a sharp artillery duel came off. Not making anything out of this, Sheridan fell further back, trying to coax the enemy from his earthenworks and the stronghold of the mountain. This, the Confed leaders would not accept, so Sheridan moved part of his forces back to Winchester, then to Berryville, keeping, however, his army so fixed that there could be no danger of surprise, and finally to this camp, two miles from Charlestown, where every preparation is made for a fight, and the great wish now is that the rebel horde will make their appearance in force, so that the strife may end in the valley, and that we may so effectually use them up that there will be an end to the raids into Pennsylvania and Maryland.

On our route from Berryville to Middletown, we passed a farm house, on the porch of which, were three gaily dressed young ladies. They laughed and chatted with the boys, offering them water, and made themselves generally agreeable. Not suspecting anything wrong, the most of our corps passed by, when a little brother allowed ‘there was some soldiers in the house.’ The Provost Marshal thought it advisable to examine the premises, and by so doing found concealed under beds, three rebel officers and seven privates. These gentlemen were at work threshing grain, and our skirmishers coming on them so quickly they could not get away, so they sought the house for shelter thinking by this ruse of the young ladies donning their ‘best bib and tucker,’ they could elude the vigilance of the Yanks and escape. They were mistaken and ere you get this, these chivalrous gentlemen will be in durance vile, guarded by Uncle Abe’s pets.

Charlestown is not the place it was three years ago, when we were encamped there as three months men. Then business was brisk, stores filled with goods and open to purchasers, the streets crowded with men, and the open windows showed the faces of many beautiful women, some of whom wore smiles and appeared happy, while others played the part of the virago and spat at our boys as they passed on the side walk. Now misery and want are visible, stores closed, signs displaced, streets deserted, buildings burned and everything indicates that these once happy people, what are left, are brought to poverty, if not starvation. Winchester has been a right smart place, having all the modern improvements, such as gas, water works, &c. The buildings are really fine and the streets well paved. It is situated in a splendid valley and must have been a place of considerable business. But like its sister, Charlestown, war and battle has had effect on it; and now it is but a ‘deserted village.’

A cavalry train was attacked at Berrysville [sic], a few days ago, by Moseby’s [sic] men, just as they were coming out of the park. The guard (hundred day men) were surprised and fled, leaving arms, &c., in the confusion. The wagons, about fifty, were burned and two hundred mules captured. A scouting of cavalry hearing the firing, immediately started to the rescue, and arrived in time only to give chase to the guerrillas who were notified of the whereabouts of the train by a citizen; who, for his part was hung as a spy. This spy made a speech acknowledging his guilt, giving his reasons for the act, and then most pittifully [sic] begged for his life. It was all of no avail, for the facts were so positive that hesitance to carry out the sentence would have been criminal. He had been under arrest twice before, but managed to escape. This time he was caught in citizens [sic] dress, having been but a short time before seen a rebel uniform, in fact, about the time the train was attacked. Papers were found on him addressed to Longstreet, giving a particular account of our forces, the amount of infantry, artillery and cavalry, and, besides, he was identified by an Adjutant, whom he, the spy, had stood guard over while he was in Libby prison. He had the spiritual advice of three Chaplains, and was baptized shortly before his execution.

Several promotions have been made lately in the 47th Pa.Vols., the most prominent of which is Capt. J. P. S. Gobin, to that of Major. This appointment is well deserved and is the unanimous choice of the Regiment. The members of Co. C., for their own good, are opposed to losing their Captain; but for his advancement are well pleased, and consider what is their loss is gain to the regiment.

The members of Co. C., that were taken prisoners in the battle on the Red river, have been paroled or exchanged, with the exception of John C. Sterner, and are now at their homes on furlough or in hospitals at New Orleans. While at Tyler, Texas, [Camp Ford] they were vaccinated or innoculated [sic], with impure matter which impregnated their blood and now they are afflicted with ulcerated limbs and sore eyes. The fiends, pretending to give these men a preventive for small pox, filled their systems with a loathsome disease that will cling through life. Is not this an inhuman act? Samuel Miller is in the hospital at New Orleans.

An attack is hourly expected. Our forces are in position ready to receive the enemy. If a battle comes off, and I am lucky, I will send you particulars. The boys are well. With respects to all in the office, yourself and friends, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H.D.W.

“On Wednesday [31 August], correspondence and a regimental return indicated the 47th was located near Charlestown,” according to Schmidt, and “the 47th was paid this date by a Major Eaton. Various members of the band were paid by the 47th’s Council of Administration effective through this date, generally for a three to four month period. The men and accounts are as follows: Anthony B. Bush, $157.50; Eugene Walters [sic] and John Rupp, each $100; David Gackenback [sic], $52.50 Henry Kern and George Frederick, each $60; Henry Tool [sic], $30; and Lewis Sponheimer, Harrison Handwerk, Edwin Dreisbach, Daniel Dachradt [sic] and William Heckman, each $16.”

A Busy First Week of September – The Battle of Berryville, Virginia

During the opening days of September 1864, the sparring between Union and Confederate forces continued, and the regimental command of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers was reshuffled yet again.

Among those moving up the ranks on 1 September 1864 were regimental Sergeant Major William M. Hendricks, who advanced to 1st Lieutenant with the regiment’s central command staff; E Company Private Washington Scott Johnston, who was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant and transferred to the regiment’s central command staff; B Company’s Charles H. Martin, who advanced from Private to Sergeant Major; C Company 1st Lieutenant Daniel Oyster, who was commissioned as Captain, and placed in command of his unit; C Company’s 1st Sergeant Christian S. Beard, Sergeant William Fry, Corporal John Bartlow, and Private Timothy Matthias Snyder who advanced, respectively, to the ranks of 2nd Lieutenant, 1st Sergeant, Sergeant, and Corporal; and F Company’s 1st Sergeant William Hiram Bartholomew, who was advanced to the rank of 1st Lieutenant within his unit.

“Personnel records for the period” also showed that “many members of the regiment were due the 4th installment of their $402 bounty,” according to Schmidt:

The records of Privates Tilghman Ritz and Lewis Seip of Company B include, ‘due $6 increased pay for months of May-June’ as the pay rates for Privates were increased from $13 to $16 per month; records of Pvt. Charles Schaeffer of Company E list ‘stoppage for trans $10.80’; remarks in the records of Pvt. Christian Smith of Company G include ‘C.P.M.G.O. due $6 increased pay for May-June’; and Pvt. Daniel Kochendorfer of Company H ‘1st install bounty due $50’….

“Berryville from the West. Blue Ridge on the Horizon,” according to T. D. Biscoe, who photographed the Berryville Pike on 1 August 1884 – two decades after the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in this vicinity (photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University).

Marching from Halltown during the opening days of September 1864, Sheridan’s troops arrived at Berryville on Saturday, 3 September. Meanwhile, that same day according to Schmidt, the 47th Pennsylvania’s “Company I reported that it [also had] left camp near Charlestown and marched to Berryville.”

Before they could even put their tents in place, however, a portion of Sheridan’s troops were forced to repel an attack by Major-General Joseph B. Kershaw’s division of Confederate States of America troops on a Union grouping led by Brigadier-General George Crook. Motivated by CSA Lieutenant-General Early’s orders to move additional Confederate troops into the area, the attack was led by CSA Major-General Richard H. Anderson. According to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation:

On September 2-3, Averell’s cavalry division rode south from Martinsburg and struck the Confederate left flank at Bunker Hill, defeating the Confederate cavalry but being driven back by infantry. Meanwhile, Sheridan concentrated his infantry near Berryville. On the afternoon of September 3, Anderson’s command encountered and attacked elements of Crook’s corps (Army of West Virginia) at Berryville but was repulsed. Early brought his entire army up on the 4th, but found Sheridan’s position at Berryville too strongly entrenched to attack. Early again withdrew to the Opequon line.

On 5 September 1864, Captain Daniel Oyster of the 47th Pennsylvania was wounded in action in the left shoulder in a post-battle skirmish. Two days later, C Company scribe Wharton provided the following details about the Battle of Berryville and its aftermath:

7 September 1864
Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
NEAR BERRYVILLE, VA.,    }
September 7, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

For several days after the army had advanced up this valley, the men were busily engaged in building intrenchments [sic] and fortifying their position, two miles west of Charlestown. During the entire night and the whole next day were the boys at work with the shovel and pick, carrying rails, &c., building breastworks for the protection of the regiment, and scarcely was the job finished, the bright spade put aside, when ‘fall in’ was heard, and the 47th was moved to another place to build other earthworks. – This they done [sic] cheerfully, knowing the work was necessary; and that it was for their own protection. The position held by our army, at that point, was excellent, and so well arranged was [sic] our defences, that an attack made on us by the enemy would have been disastrous to him, and added another list to the name of Union victories. The enemy knew this, and after finding out Sheridan’s strength fell back towards Winchester, keeping his head quarters [sic] at Bunker Hill. Our forces on last Saturday morning [3 September], then broke up camp, following them to within one mile of this place, where we found signs of the Johnnies. The 8th corps, Gen. Crooks [sic], commanding, was, in the advance who rested in line of battle, with arms stacked, for a couple of hours, while pickets were being posted. After the pickets had been established this command went into camp, and had just finished pitching their tents, which was about four o’clock P.M., when heavy skirmishing was heard on the picket line. The whole command was rapidly turned out and formed, and moved to the support of the pickets, who had been driven from behind some intrenchments [sic], which they had occupied.

From the correspondent of the Baltimore American, I learn the following facts of the fight:

The 36th Ohio and 9th Virginia were formed, and charged the enemy, driving then out of the entrenchments. A desperate struggle now ensued, the rebels being determined, if possible, to regain possession of these entrenchments. With this object in view they massed full two divisions of their command and hurled them with their accustomed ferocity against our gallant little band, who were supported by both Thoburn’s and Duvall’s division. They were handsomely repulsed every time they changed, the conflict lasting long after the sun had sent, and artillery firing being kept up until 9 o’clock.

Our loss was about three hundred killed and wounded that of the enemy, from good information, was at least one-third greater, besides fifty prisoners and a stand of colors.

While the fight was going on, the 6th and 19th corps were pushed forward and took up several lines, but not being needed, did not share in the punishment given the rebels. On the next day, Sabbata [sic], the pickets had hard work and done a great deal of firing with the enemy. A member of Company C., to which I belong, told me he fired fifty-three rounds at them. What punishment was inflicted I cannot tell you, on the part of the Johnies sic], but to our men, I know it was small; two men of the 47th wounded by the same ball, and they slightly.

On Monday [5 September] the 47th was out on a reconnoisance [sic]. Four companies were in advance as skirmishers, who soon were received by a shower of bullets from the graybacks. This did not, in the least deter them, for they gave as good as they got, and with the regiment pushed on driving the enemy before them. The main portion of the regiment dare not fire, for if they did, the shooting of our own men who have been the consequence, so they stood the whizzing of bullets about their ears, as well as could be expected, under the circumstances. In this work two members of Co., C., were wounded. David Sloan, flesh wound in right arm from a minnie ball, and Benjamin McKillips in right hand. These wounds are slight, but at the present time somewhat painful, not so much so, however, as to prevent them enjoying that great luxury of a soldier – sleep. Capt. Oyster was struck by a ball, staggering him, but otherwise doing no injury. In his being hit there is a circumstance connected, that I cannot help but giving you, even you may put it down as a fish story, though for the truth the whole company will vouch. The ball struck him on the back of his shoulder, made a hole in his vest and shirt and none in the coat. Two members of Co. K., were wounded – one of them has since died.

The whole army have [sic] been busily engaged in digging intrenchments [sic], and throwing up breastworks, and now occupy a very strong position. Whether there will be an engagement here, or what the movements are to be, I can form no opinion, for if there was a General ever kept his thoughts, Sheridan is the one, and it is an impossibility to find out anything until it is completed. For material to write on, one is continued to his own Brigade, and there is so much sameness in that, that it would be but a repetition to send it to you. If I were to take down the ‘thousand and one’ rumors that daily come into camp, I could fill columns of the American, weekly, but as I prefer facts, I hope you will be satisfied if I send you news semi-occasionally.

I wrote to you a few days ago of the promotions in Company C, but for fear they did not reach you, I send them again: Daniel Oyster, Captain; William M. Hendricks, 1st Lieutenant; and Christian S. Beard, 2nd Lieutenant. They are well liked, and in their new positions give satisfaction. With the exception of the wounded, the boys are well, perfectly contented with their lot, only that they have a great hankering for the greenbacks that is [sic] due to them. Those, it is said, will be forthcoming in a few days. With respects to yourself, family and old friends, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H.
D. W.

* Note: According to reports by the regiment, as well as members of the 29th Maine Volunteers, the 47th Pennsylvania incurred a total of eight casualties – seven who were wounded (including Private David Sloan of C Company), and one – Private George Kilmore, of K Company, who died the same day of the battle (5 September) from the gunshot wound to his abdomen. When he started the day, he had had just two weeks left to serve on his three-year service term.

With respect to Captain Oyster’s gunshot wound (usually noted on Civil War medical records as Vulnus Sclopet), Wharton was somewhat off in his assessment. Oyster required medical attention after being struck in the left shoulder and, although he recuperated and returned to lead his unit once again before the month was out, that shoulder wound and another suffered later prompted him to seek less strenuous employment after the war.

Winchester, Virginia (c. 1862, U.S. Army, public domain).

Records completed by Company B personnel immediately after the Battle of Berryville documented the 47th Pennsylvania’s continued skirmishes with the enemy – this time at Winchester on Wednesday, 7 September. According to Schmidt, around this same time, “Regimental Order #58, at camp near Berryville, detailed five men to daily duty with the ambulance corps. They were to report to Surgeon John Homans,” who “was not with the 47th.” Three days later, an additional five men were shifted to the ambulance corps via Regimental Order No. 59.

On 11 September, a Sunday, additional personnel changes were made when F Company’s 2nd Lieutenant Augustus Eagle resigned his commission, and Private Benjamin F. Bush was promoted to the rank of Corporal – and then, within a week, to Sergeant.

The grueling marches by the regiment in hot weather and continued close living in frequently unsanitary conditions also continued to thin the 47th’s ranks as men were felled by everything from dysentery to sunstroke. On 15 September, B Company Private Jacob Apple died from apoplexy at the 47th Pennsylvania’s regimental hospital at Berryville, Virginia; his death was certified by the 47th’s Assistant Surgeon, William F. Reiber, M.D.

Also during this time, according to Schmidt, regimental founder and commanding officer Colonel Tilghman H. Good began sending multiple letters from his headquarters near Berryville, Virginia to his superiors in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, requesting promotions for additional members of the 47th Pennsylvania not only as a reward for the dedication and valor his men had repeatedly displayed in combat, but because of the planned departures by more than two hundred members of the regiment (the equivalent of more than two full companies) upon the 18 September 1864 expiration of their respective terms of service. Among those scheduled to depart were: Colonel Good and his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George Warren Alexander, on 23-24 September, as well as these men from:

  • Regimental Command: Regimental Surgeon and Assistant Surgeon, Elisha W. Baily, M.D. and Jacob H. Scheetz, M.D. (23 September 1864);
  • Regimental Band: Bandmaster and A Company Private Anton B. Bush (via a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability), and Musician and G Company Private Frederick L. Jacobs;
  • Company A: Captain Richard A. Graeffe, 1st Lieutenant James F. Meyers, Sergeant Bernard Brahler, Corporal Frederick Kageley, Private John Alder (teamster), and Privates Daniel Battaglia, William Borman, Samuel Danner, Lewis Gebhart, John Hawk, Joseph Kline, Mahlon and Owen Laub, Moritz Lazius, Peter Lewis, Frederick E. Meyers, Stephen I. Schmidt, Fred Sheniger, Andrew Thoman, Joseph A. Tice, Stephen Walter, and Charles Weidnecht;
  • Company B: Captain Emmanuel (E. P.) Rhoads, 2nd Lieutenant Allen G. Balliet, Private Henry A. Haltiman (who later re-enlisted with the regiment), Sergeant Oliver Hiskey, and Privates Henry Bergenstock, Alexander Blumer, Frederick Bohlen, Ephraim Clader, Edward Denhard, Peter Ferber, William Gangwere, Levi Knerr, Levi Martin, Luther Mennig, Casper Schreiner, Aaron Serfass, Charles W. Siegfeld, Charles Trexler, Christian Ungerer, William J. Weiss, Harrison and William Wieand, Abraham N. Wolf, and Franklin Young;
  • Company C: Privates David S. Beidler, R. W. Druckemiller, Charles Harp, Conrad P. Holman, David W. and Isaac Kemble, George Miller, William Pfeil, William Plant, Alexander M. Ruffaner, Christian Schall, Isaac Snyder, Ephraim Thatcher, James and Samuel Whistler, Theodore Woodbridge, and Henry W. Wolf;
  • Company D: Captain Henry Durant Woodruff, 1st Lieutenant Samuel S. Auchmuty, Sergeants Henry Heikel and Alexander David Wilson, Corporals Samuel A. M. Reed and Cornelius Stewart Baskins, and Privates George A. Berrier, Jacob Charles, William Collins, William Henry Coulter, George Washington Dill, George Washington Jury, Hugh O’Neil, George H. Rigler, William Sheaffer, William D. Stites, Wilson Tagg, and John Wantz;
  • Company E: Captain Charles Hickman Yard, 1st Lieutenant Lawrence Bonstine, 2nd Lieutenant William H. Wyker, Sergeants Owen H. Weida and William R. Cahill, Corporal Thomas Lowery, Field Musician William Wilhelm (drummer boy), Privates John Bruch, Andrew Bucher, John Callahan, Jeremiah Cooper, Charles Dewey, John Dingler, William Ditterline, Henry Duffin, Adam P. Heckman, Samuel T. Hudson, Abraham Jacobus, William M. James, George W. Lantz, Henry Miller, Granville Moore, Richard Shelling, George W. Snyder, Joseph A. Tice, John Tidaboch, Theodore Troxell, and George Vogel;
  • Company F: Captain Henry Samuel Harte, Sergeants William H. Glace, John W. Heberling, Albert H. McHose, Corporal James E. Patterson, Field Musician David Tombler, Privates David Andrews, Abraham Bander, Faustin Boyer, Augustus Engle, Orlando Fuller, Joseph Geiger, Thomas B. Glick, John F. Haldeman, Joseph Heckman, Osman Houser, Henry Hummel, William Jordan, Owen Kern, George King, Nicholas Kuhn, William Kuntz, Joel Laudenschlager, Peter S. Levan, John Lucky, Albert J. Newhard, William Offhouse, Thomas B. Rhoads, Francis Roth, Llewellyn J. Schleppy, Gottlieb Schrum, Robert M. Sheats, Nicholas Smith, James Allen Trexler, John P. Weaver, and Gilbert Whiteman;
  • Company G: 1st Sergeant D. K. Diefenderfer, Corporals Solomon Becker, Horatio Nelson Coffin, Reily M. Fornwald, William Hausler, and Allen Wolf, Field Musician William N. Smith, Privates Jacob H. Bowman, Lewis Dennis, Timothy Donahue, Ferdinand Fisher, Preston B. Good, Cornelius Heist, George T. Henry, Franklin Hoffert, Lewis Keiper, George Knauss, Orlando G. Miller, Barney Montague, George Reber, Francis Schmetzer, Frederick Weisbach, and Engelbert Zander;
  • Company H: Captain James Kacy; Sergeants James F. Naylor, Robert H. Nelson and John P. Rupley, Corporal, John Kitner, Field Musician Allen McCabe, Privates Augustus Bupp, John A. Durham, Thomas J. Haney, Isaac P. Henderson, Michael Horting, William C. Hutcheson, Adam, Louden, Walter C. Miller, Samuel M. Raudibaugh, David Thompson, Benjamin Thornton, and George W. Zinn;
  • Company I: 2nd Lieutenant James Stuber, Corporals Francis S. Daeufer, John William Henry Diehl, Tilghman W. Fatzinger, Henry Miller and Daniel H. Nunnemacher, Privates Theodore Baker, Willoughby Fenstermaker, Allen P. Gilbert, Charles Gross, William F. Henry, Charles Kaucher, Edwin H. Keiper, Xaver Kraff, Ogdon Lewis, Peter Lynd, Aaron McHose, Gottlieb Schweitzer, William Smith, John L. Transue, John Troxell, Daniel Vansickle, Samuel W. Weirbach, Henry W. Wieser, and Nathaniel Xander; and
  • Company K: Sergeants Peter Reinmiller and Conrad J. Volkenand, Corporals Lewis Benner, and George Knuck, Privates Valentine Amend, Martin Bornschier, Charles B. Fisher, Charles Heiney, Jacob Kingsley, John Koldhoff, Anthony Krauss, Samuel Madder, John Schimpf, John Scholl, and Christopher Ulrich.

Despite his expired term of service, Colonel Good remained in Virginia through September, helping to train and advise the replacement leaders of his regiment until finally opting in October 1864 to return home to the Keystone State. Meanwhile, as this loss of “institutional memory” from the Union was taking place, Confederate troops were on the move again. Per Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation records:

On September 15, Anderson left the Winchester area to return to Lee’s army and by the 18th had reached the Virginia Piedmont. Early spread out his remaining divisions from Winchester to Martinsburg, where he once more cut the B&O Railroad. When Sheridan learned of Anderson’s departure and the raid on Martinsburg, he determined to attack at once while the Confederate army was scattered….

By Saturday, 17 September 1864, Early had positioned his Confederate troops in a looming line from Winchester to Martinsburg, and the Opequon Creek was just two days away from becoming more than an obscure squiggly line on the future road maps of Virginia.

The Battle of Opequan* Begins

Major-General Philip Sheridan, U.S. Army (c. 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

As rifles and cannon cooled following the Battle of Berryville, troops on both sides of the conflict tended to their wounded at the end of the first week of September 1864 while their respective commanding officers resumed their strategic planning. According to Union Major-General Philip H. Sheridan:

Word to the effect that some of [Confederate Lieutenant-General] Early’s troops were under orders to return to Petersburg, and would start back at the first favorable opportunity, had been communicated to me already from many sources, but we had not been able to ascertain the date for their departure. Now that they had actually started, I decided to wait before offering battle until Kershaw had gone so far as to preclude his return, feeling confident that my prudence would be justified by the improved chances of victory; and then, besides, Mr. Stanton kept reminding me that positive success was necessary to counteract the political dissatisfaction existing in some of the Northern States. This course was advised and approved by General Grant, but even with his powerful backing it was difficult to resist the persistent pressure of those whose judgment, warped by their interests in the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, was often confused and misled by stories of scouts (sent out from Washington), averring that Kershaw and Fitzhugh Lee had returned to Petersburg, Breckenridge to southwestern Virginia, and at one time even maintaining that Early’s whole army was east of the Blue Ridge, and its commander himself at Gordonsville.

During the activity prevailing in my army … the infantry was quiet, with the exception of Getty’s division, which made a reconnaissance to the Opequon, and developed a heavy force of the enemy at Edwards’s Corners. The cavalry, however, was employed a good deal … skirmishing – heavily at times – to maintain a space about six miles in width between the hostile lines, for I wished to control this ground so that when I was released from the instructions of August 12 I could move my men into position for attack without the knowledge of Early….

It was the evening of the 16th of September that I received from Miss Wright* positive information that Kershaw was in march toward Front Royal on his way by Chester Gap to Richmond. Concluding that this was my opportunity, I at once resolved to throw my whole force into Newtown the next day, but a despatch [sic] from General Grant directing me to meet him at Charlestown … caused me to defer action until I should see him. In our resulting interview … I went over the situation very thoroughly, and pointed out with so much confidence the chances of a complete victory should I throw my army across the Valley pike near Newtown that he fell in with the plan at once, authorized me to renew the offensive, and to attack Early as soon as I deemed it most propitious to do so; and although before leaving City Point he had outlined certain operations for my army, yet he neither discussed nor disclosed his plans, my knowledge of the situation striking him as being so much more accurate than his own.

* NoteThe Battle of Opequan is also often referred to as “Third Winchester” or the “Battle of Winchester.” Spelling variants of “Opequan” and “Opequon” are used throughout this article and the website for 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story because battle reports penned by Union and Confederate commanders frequently presented the creek and battle name as “Opequan” while the spelling employed by the publishers of the various memoirs penned by Union Army leaders following the war was “Opequon.” (The spelling used by present-day Virginians is also “Opequon.”)

As the Battle of Opequan began, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was led by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, and attached to the U.S. Army’s 19th Corps commanded by Brigadier-General William H. Emory – as part of that corps’ 2nd Brigade, which was led by Brigadier-General James W. McMillan. This brigade also included the 12th Connecticut, 160th New York, and 8th Vermont volunteer armies.

Per his Personal Memoirs penned in 1888, former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant recalled that, as General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army in 1864, he set off for Virginia on 15 September to offer guidance to Major-General Philip H. Sheridan:

My purpose was to have him attack Early, or drive him out of the valley and destroy that source of supplies for Lee’s army. I knew it was impossible for me to get orders through Washington to Sheridan to make a move, because they would be stopped there and such orders as Halleck’s caution (and that of the Secretary of War) … would be given instead, and would, no doubt, be contradictory to mine. I therefore, without stopping at Washington, went directly through to Charlestown, some ten miles above Harpers Ferry, and waited there to see General Sheridan, having sent a courier in advance to inform him where to meet me.

When Sheridan arrived I asked him if he had a map showing the positions of his army and that of the enemy. He at once drew one out of his side pocket, showing all roads and streams, and the camps of the two armies. He said that if he had permission he would move so and so (pointing out how) against the Confederates, and that he could ‘whip them.’ Before starting I had drawn up a plan of campaign for Sheridan, which I had brought with me; but, seeing that he was so clear and so positive in his views and so confident of success, I said nothing about this and did not take it out of my pocket.

Sheridan’s wagon trains were kept at Harper’s Ferry, where all of his stores were. By keeping the teams at that place, their forage did not have to be hauled to them. As supplies of ammunition, provisions and rations for the men were wanted, trains would be made up to deliver the stores to the commissaries and quartermasters encamped at Winchester. Knowing that he, in making preparations to move at a given day, would have to bring up wagon trains from Harpers’ Ferry, I asked him if he could be ready to get off by the following Tuesday. This was on Friday. ‘O yes,’ he said, he ‘could be off before daylight on Monday.’ I told him then to make the attack at that time and according to his own plan; and I immediately started to return to the army about Richmond. After visiting Baltimore and Burlington, New Jersey, I arrived at City Point on the 19th.

Regarding Sheridan’s aforementioned comments regarding “Miss Wright,” Rebecca McPherson Wright was a Quaker who taught at a private school in Winchester, Virginia during the early years of the Civil War. Described by Sheridan in his 1888 memoir as “faithful and loyal to the Government,” she risked her life to covertly provide accurate, critically important information to Union military leaders regarding the location, number and fitness of Confederate troops in the vicinity of Winchester, and was later rewarded with a position with the U.S. Treasury Department in recognition of her fidelity and valor.

Following his meeting with Grant, Sheridan returned to his headquarters in order to begin moving his troops “toward Newtown,” but halted those preparations upon notification that members of Early’s infantry were marching on Martinsburg:

This considerably altered the states of affairs, and I now decided to change my plan and attack at once the two divisions remaining about Winchester and Stephenson’s depot, and later, the two sent to Martinsburg; the disjointed state of the enemy giving me the opportunity to take him in detail, unless the Martinsburg column should be returned by forced marches.

While General Early was in the telegraph office at Martinsburg on the morning of the 18th, he learned of Grant’s visit to me; and anticipating activity by reason of this circumstance, he promptly proceeded to withdraw so as to get the two divisions within supporting distance of Ramseur’s, which lay across the Berryville pike about two miles east of Winchester, between Abraham’s Creek and Red Bun Run, so by the night of the 18th Wharton’s division, under Breckenridge, was at Stephenson’s depot, Rodes near there, and Gordon’s at Bunker Hill. At daylight of the 19th these positions of the Confederate infantry still obtained, with the cavalry of Lomax, Jackson, and Johnson on the right of Ramseur, while to the left and rear of the enemy’s general line was Fitzhugh Lee, covering from Stephenson’s depot west across the Valley pike to Apple-pie Ridge.

Opequon Crossing, c. 1930s (courtesy of Southern Methodist University).

The Opequon Creek “flow[ed] at the foot of a broad and thickly wooded gorge, with high and steep banks” during September of 1864, according to historian Richard B. Irwin. Travelers along the roughly three-mile route to Winchester on the Berryville Road would move from ravine “to the level of rolling plain,” encountering “high ground … covered with large oaks, pines and undergrowth,” which was “intersected by many brooks,” the largest of which was the Red Bud Run, and “a still larger stream, called Abraham’s Creek,” which “after pursuing a nearly parallel course on the south side of the defile, crosses the road not far from the ford” before emptying into the Opequon.

The Union cavalry had maintained control of the six miles east of the Opequan, and at 2 AM Monday, the 19th, Sheridan set his forces in motion. The route was through Berryville, across the Opequan and on to Winchester. The 6th Corps led off, followed by its wagon train, then the 19th Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania], and finally the Army of West Virginia bringing up the rear. Unfortunately, east of the Opequan, the 6th and 19th Corps became entangled, and the 19th Corps halted to let the 6th Corps pass, hopelessly stringing out the Union troops which were separated by the wagon train. Eventually the 19th Corps moved into the woods on either side of the road and managed to get by the train, but it took six hours to travel the 3 miles in crossing the Opequan, and form a line of battle between the creek and Winchester at 11:40 a.m. This same confusion along the route of the march, caused the artillery to be delayed. As a result, the Confederate forces of Gen. Early had time to reach and consolidate in preparation for the impending engagement.

Sheridan, recalled a later departure time, noting:

My army moved at 3 o’clock that morning. The plan was for Torbert to advance with Merritt’s division of cavalry from Summit Point, carry the crossings of the Opequon at Stevens’s and Lock’s fords, and form a junction near Stephenson’s depot, with Averell, who was to move south from Darksville by the Valley pike. Meanwhile, Wilson was to strike up the Berryville pike, carry the Berryville crossing of the Opequon, charge through the gorge or cañon on the road west of the stream, and occupy the open ground at the head of this defile. Wilson’s attack was to be supported by the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, which were ordered to the Berryville crossing, and as the cavalry gained the open ground beyond the open gorge, the two infantry corps, under command of General Wright, were expected to press on after and occupy Wilson’s ground, who was then to shift to the south bank of Abraham’s creek and cover my left; Crook’s two divisions, having to march from Summit Point, were to follow the Sixth and Nineteenth corps to the Opequon, and should they arrive before the action began, they were to be held in reserve till the proper moment came, and then, as a turning-column, be thrown over toward the Valley pike, south of Winchester.”

Battle of Opequan (aka Third Winchester), Virginia, 19 September 1864 (public domain).

By dawn on 19 September, the brigade from Wilson’s division headed by McIntosh had succeeded in compelling Confederate pickets to flee their Berryville positions with “Wilson following rapidly through the gorge with the rest of the division, debouched from its western extremity with such suddenness as to capture as to capture a small earthwork in front of General Ramseur’s main line.” Although “the Confederate infantry, on recovering from its astonishment, tried hard to dislodge them,” they were unable to do so, according to Sheridan. Wilson’s Union troops were then reinforced by the U.S. 6th Army.

I followed Wilson to select the ground on which to form the infantry. The Sixth Corps began to arrive about 8 o’clock, and taking up the line Wilson had been holding, just beyond the head of the narrow ravine, the cavalry was transferred to the south side of Abraham’s Creek.

The Confederate line lay along some elevated ground about two miles east of Winchester, and extended from Abraham’s Creek north across the Berryville pike, the left being hidden in the heavy timber on Red Bud Run. Between this line and mine, especially on my right, clumps of woods and patches of underbrush occurred here and there, but the undulating ground consisted mainly of open fields, many of which were covered with standing corn that had already ripened.

“The 6th Corps formed across the Berryville Road” while the “19th Corps prolonged the line to the Red Bud on the right with the troops of the Second Division.” According to Irwin, the:

First Division’s First and Second Brigades, under Beal and McMillan, formed in the rear of the Second Division and on the right flank. Beal’s First Brigade was on the right of the division’s position, and McMillan’s Second Brigade deployed on the left and rear of Beal; in order of the 47th Pennsylvania, 8th Vermont, 160th New York, and 12th Connecticut, with five companies of the 47th Pennsylvania deployed to cover the whole right flank of his brigade and to move forward with it by the flank left in front. By this time, the Army of West Virginia had crossed the ford and was massed on the left of the west bank.

While the ground in front of the 6th Corps was for the most part open, the 19th Corps found itself in a dense wood, restricting its vision of both the enemy and its own forces.

“Much time was lost in getting all of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps through the narrow defile,” Sheridan observed, adding that, because Grover’s division was “greatly delayed there by a train of ammunition wagons … it was not until late in the forenoon that the troops intended for the attack could be got into line ready to advance.” As a result:

General Early was not slow to avail himself of the advantages thus offered him, and my chances of striking him in detail were growing less every moment, for Gordon and Rodes were hurrying their divisions from Stephenson’s depot across-country on a line that would place Gordon in the woods south of Red Bud Run, and bring Rodes into the interval between Gordon and Ramseur.

When the two corps had all got through the cañon they were formed with Getty’s division of the Sixth to the left of the Berryville pike, Rickett’s division to the right of the pike, and Russell’s division in reserve in rear of the other two. Grover’s division of the Nineteenth Corps came next on the right of Rickett’s, with Dwight to its rear in reserve, while Crook was to begin massing near the Opequon crossing about the time Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers]  were ready to attack.

Victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces, Battle of Opequan, 19 September 1864 (Kurz & Allison, c. 1893, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

More than a quarter of a century after the clash, Irwin conjured the spirit of the battle’s beginning:

About a quarter before twelve o’clock, at the sound of Sheridan’s bugle, repeated from corps, division, and brigade headquarters, the whole line moved forward with great spirit, and instantly became engaged. Wilson pushed back Lomax, Wright drove in Ramseur, while Emory, advancing his infantry [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers] rapidly through the wood, where he was unable to use his artillery, attacked Gordon with great vigor. Birge, charging with bayonets fixed, fell upon the brigade of Evans, forming the extreme left of Gordon, and without a halt drove it in confusion through the wood and across the open ground beyond to the support of Braxton’s artillery, posted by Gordon to secure his flank on the Red Bud road. In this brilliant charge, led by Birge in person, his lines naturally became disordered…. 

Sharpe, advancing simultaneously on Birge’s left, tried in vain to keep the alignment with Ricketts and with Birge…. At first the order of battle formed a right angle with the road, but the bend once reached, in the effort to keep closed upon it, at every step Ricketts was taking ground more and more to the left, while the point of direction for Birge, and equally for Sharpe, was the enemy in their front, standing almost in the exact prolongation of the defile, from which line, still plainly marked by Ash Hollow, the road … was steadily diverging.

As the battle continued to unfold, the disorganization affected the lines on both sides of the conflict. According to Irwin:

The 19th Corps Second Division was initially successful, but in its charge became disorganized; and the troops on the left in following the less obstructed area of the road which veared [sic] slightly left, soon opened up a gap on their right; while the remainder of the Union forces were moving straight ahead as they engaged the Confederates. This gap eventually reached 400 yards in width, an opportunity the Confederates soon exploited. Fortunately the Confederates were soon themselves disorganized by their advance, and encountering fresh Union troops on their right flank were halted. The Confederate attack on the right flank also achieved initial success, until halted by Beal’s first brigade.

McMillan had been ordered to move forward at the same time as Beal, and to form on his left. The five companies of the 47th Pennsylvania that had been detached to form a skirmish line on the Red Bud Run to cover McMillan’s right flank, had some how [sic] lost their way on the broken ground among the thickets, and, not finding them in place, McMillan had been obliged to send the remaining companies of the same regiment to do the same duty, and brought the rest of the brigade to the front to restore the line. The line then charged and drove the Confederates back beyond the positions where their attack had started. The initial engagement had lasted barely an hour, and by 1 PM was over. The right flank of the 19th Corps was held by the 47th Pennsylvania and 30th Massachusetts.

According to Sheridan:

Just before noon the line of Getty, Ricketts, and Grover moved forward, and as we advanced, the Confederates, covered by some heavy woods on their right, slight underbrush and corn-fields along their centre [sic], and a large body of timber on their left along the Red Bud, opened fire from their whole front. We gained considerable ground at first, especially on our left but the desperate resistance which the right met with demonstrated that the time we had unavoidably lost in the morning had been of incalculable value to Early, for it was evident that he had been enabled already to so far concentrate his troops as to have the different divisions of his army in a connected line of battle in good shape to resist.

Getty and Ricketts made some progress toward Winchester in connection with Wilson’s cavalry…. Grover in a few minutes broke up Evans’s brigade of Gordon’s division, but his pursuit of Evans destroyed the continuity of my general line, and increased an interval that had already been made by the deflection of Ricketts to the left, in obedience to instructions that had been given him to guide his division on the Berryville pike. As the line pressed forward, Ricketts observed this widening interval and endeavored to fill it with the small brigade of Colonel Keifer, but at this juncture both Gordon and Rodes struck the weak spot where the right of the Sixth Corps and the left of the Nineteenth should have been in conjunction, and succeeded in checking my advance by driving back a part of Ricketts’s division, and the most of Grover’s. As these troops were retiring I ordered Russell’s reserve division to be put into action, and just as the flank of the enemy’s troops in pursuit of Grover was presented, Upton’s brigade, led in person by both Russell and Upton, struck it in a charge so vigorous as to drive the Confederates back … to their original ground.

The success of Russell enabled me to re-establish the right of my line some little distance in advance of the position from which it started in the early morning, and behind Russell’s division (now commanded by Upton) the broken regiments of Ricketts’s division were rallied. Dwight’s division was then brought up on the right, and Grover’s men formed behind it….

No news of Torbert’s progress came … so … I directed Crook to take post on the right of the Nineteenth Corps and, when the action was renewed, to push his command forward as a turning-column in conjunction with Emory. After some delay … Crook got his men up, and posting Colonel Thoburn’s division on the prolongation of the Nineteenth Corps, he formed Colonel Duval’s division to the right of Thoburn. Here I joined Crook, informing him that … Torbert was driving the enemy in confusion along the Martinsburg pike toward Winchester; at the same time I directed him to attack the moment all of Duval’s men were in line. Wright was introduced to advance in concert with Crook, by swinging Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania and his other 19th Corps’ troops] and the right of the Sixth Corps to the left together in a half-wheel. Then leaving Crook, I rode along the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, the open ground over which they were passing affording a rare opportunity to witness the precision with which the attack was taken up from right to left. Crook’s success began the moment he started to turn the enemy’s left…

Both Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] and Wright took up the fight as ordered…. [A]s I reached the Nineteenth Corps the enemy was contesting the ground in its front with great obstinacy; but Emory’s dogged persistence was at length rewarded with success, just as Crook’s command emerged from the morass of the Red Bud Run, and swept around Gordon, toward the right of Breckenridge….”

As “Early tried hard to stem the tide” of the multi-pronged Union assault, “Torbert’s cavalry began passing around his left flank, and as Crook, Emory, and Wright attacked in front, panic took possession of the enemy, his troops, now fugitives and stragglers, seeking escape into and through Winchester,” according to Sheridan.

When this second break occurred, the Sixth and Nineteenth corps were moved over toward the Millwood pike to help Wilson on the left, but the day was so far spent that they could render him no assistance.” The battle winding down, Sheridan headed for Winchester to begin writing his report to Grant.

According to Irwin, although the heat of battle had cooled by 1 p.m., troop movements had continued on both sides throughout the afternoon until “Crook, with a sudden … effective half-wheel to the left, fell vigorously upon Gordon, and Torbert coming on with great impetuosity … the weight was heaviyer than the attenuated lines of Breckinridge and Gordon Could bear.” As a result, “Early saw his whole left wing give back in disorder, and as Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] and Wright pressed hard, Rodes and Ramseur gave way, and the battle was over.”

Early vainly endeavored to reconstruct his shattered lines [near Winchester]. About five o’clock Torbert and Crook, fairly at right angles to the first line of battle, covered Winchester on the north from the rocky ledges that lie to the eastward of the town…. Thence Wright extended the line at right angles with Crook and parallel with the valley road, while Sheridan drew out Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] … and sent him to extend Wright’s line to the south….

Sheridan, mindful that his men had been on their feet since two o’clock in the morning … made no attempt to send his infantry after the flying enemy….

Sheridan … openly rejoiced, and catching the enthusiasm of their leader, his men went wild with excitement when, accompanied by his corps commanders, Wright and Emory and Crook, Sheridan rode down the front of his lines. Then went up a mighty cheer that gave new life to the wounded and consoled the last moments of the dying….

When the President heard the news his first act was to write with his own hand a warm message of congratulation, and this he followed up by making Sheridan a brigadier-general in the regular army, and assigning him permanently to the high command he had been exercising under temporary orders.

Summing up the battle for Lincoln and Grant, Sheridan reported:

My losses in the Battle of Opequon were heavy, amounting to about 4,500 killed, wounded and missing. Among the killed was General Russell, commanding a division, and the wounded included Generals Upton, McIntosh and Chapman, and Colonels Duval and Sharpe. The Confederate loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners equaled about mine. General Rodes being of the killed, while Generals Fitzhugh Lee and York were severely wounded.

We captured five pieces of artillery and nine battle flags. The restoration of the lower valley – from the Potomac to Strasburg – to the control of the Union forces caused great rejoicing in the North, and relieved the Administration from further solicitude for the safety of the Maryland and Pennsylvania borders. The President’s appreciation of the victory was expressed in a despatch [sic] so like Mr. Lincoln I give a fac-simile [sic] of it to the reader. This he supplemented by promoting me to the grade of brigadier-general in the regular army, and assigning me to the permanent command of the Middle Military Department, and following that came warm congratulations from Mr. Stanton and from Generals Grant, Sherman and Meade.

“The losses of the Army of the Shenandoah, according to the revised statements compiled in the War Department, were 5018, including 697 killed, 3983 wounded, 338 missing,” per revised estimates by Irwin. “Of the three infantry corps, the 19th, though in numbers smaller than the 6th, suffered the heaviest loss, the aggregate being 2074 [314 killed, 1554 wounded, 206 missing]. Conversely, Early “lost nearly 4000 in all, including about 200 prisoners; or as other sources reported, anywhere from 5500 to 6850 killed, wounded, and missing or captured.”

Despite the significant number of killed, wounded and missing on both sides of the conflict, casualties within the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were surprisingly low. Private Thomas Steffen of Company B was killed in action while F Company Private William H. Jackson’s cause of death was somewhat less clear; he was reported in Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5 as having died on the same day on which the battle took place.

Among the wounded were C Company Corporal Timothy Matthias Snyder, who was wounded slightly in the knee, and Privates William Adams (E Company), Charles Pfeiffer (B Company), who lost the forefinger of his right hand, J. D. Raubenold (B Company), and Edward Smith (E Company).

As he penned his memoir in 1885 during the final days of his life, President Ulysses S. Grant again made clear the significance of the Battle of Opequan:

Sheridan moved at the time he had fixed upon. He met Early at the crossing of Opequon Creek [September 19], and won a most decisive victory – one which electrified the country. Early had invited this attack himself by his bad generalship and made the victory easy. He had sent G. T. Anderson’s division east of the Blue Ridge [to Lee] before I [Grant] went to Harpers Ferry and about the time I arrived there he started with two other divisions (leaving but two in their camps) to march to Martinsburg for the purpose of destroying the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at that point. Early here learned that I had been with Sheridan and, supposing there was some movement on foot, started back as soon as he got the information. But his forces were separated and … he was very badly defeated. He fell back to Fisher’s Hill, Sheridan following.

Battle of Winchester, 19 September 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 8 October 1864, public domain). Also known as the “Battle of Opequan” or “Third Winchester.”

In its 8 October 1864 edition, Harper’s Weekly recapped the battle as follows:

The engraving on page 644 illustrates one of the most spirited actions, and certainly the most imposing spectacle of the war. It will be remembered that Sheridan, after having got the Sixth Corps across the Opequan, was compelled to wait  full two hours for the arrival of the Nineteenth, and as a consequence of this to form an entirely new plan of battle in the face of an enemy already prepared and in line. At first the advantage appeared to rest with Early, whose fierce cannonade broke Sheridan’s first line, and threatened to disturb his second. But this state of affairs changed as soon as the Federal artillery got in position. The line of battle was reformed, and the conflict opened in terrible earnest. The two opposing armies were are some points not more than two hundred yards apart. The slaughter is described to have been truly awful; but the advantage rested now with Sheridan’s advancing columns. At a critical point in the fight the cavalry bugle was heard above the din of the strife and the shouts of the contending armies; then followed the charge, led by such soldiers as Merritt and Custer and Torbert, upon the enemy’s right. This decided the fortunes of the day. The movement was in accordance with Sheridan’s deep laid plan, and besides being the most magnificent of spectacles was also a most wonderful success. ‘The stubborn columns of Early’s command,’ says the Tribune correspondent, ‘were forced to give way, and break before the fierce onslaught which our cavalry made upon them, who, with sabre in hand, rode them down, cutting them right and left, capturing 721 privates and non-commissioned officers, with nine battle-flags and two guns.’ Thus was fought and won the battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864. [Also known as the Battle of Opequan.]

Outcome and Immediate Aftermath of the Battle of Opequan (Third Winchester)

According to historian Richard Bluhm, during the “severe fighting” in and around the Opequon Creek on 19 September, the Union’s:

VI Corps troops pushed Ramseur and Rodes back while XIX Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers] attacked Gordon’s position on the rebel left. As the two Union corps advanced, a gap opened between them. Two Confederate brigades charged into it and threatened to collapse the entire Union right until a counterattack by Russell’s division restored the Union line. Meanwhile, Sheridan, concerned how Torbert was faring at Stephenson’s Depot, redirected Crook to move his command to the Union right, toward Gordon’s rebel lines. North of Winchester, Wharton’s [Confederate] infantry temporarily held its position until Averell’s [Union] cavalry outflanked it, forcing the rebels back. Breckinridge [and his Confederate troops] retired toward Winchester with the Union cavalry in pursuit, but, near the town, Wharton’s two brigades counterattacked and stalled Torbert’s [Union] advance.

About the same time, Sheridan ordered a final coordinated thrust against the Confederate line, which was now bent into an L-shaped formation to the north and east of Winchester. Crook’s [Union] troops hit Gordon’s left flank and turned into it, sending the Confederate division reeling back, while Wright and Emory also brought their corps[including the 47th Pennsylvania] into action. Merritt’s and Averell’s Federal divisions made a classic cavalry charge into the Confederates’ far left flank, breaking the infantry lines. The combination of assaults shattered Early’s [Confederate] position and forced his army south in an orderly retreat out of Winchester. Sheridan’s [Union] infantry stopped on the south edge of the town while Union cavalry continued to pursue the Confederates to Kernstown. Early ended his retreat at a strong position on Fisher’s Hill about twenty miles away.

Sheridan continued his offensive against Early the next day At dawn, 20 September, his army moved south toward Fisher’s Hill. Crook received orders to make a concealed march the next day to hidden positions west of Fisher’s Hill and then make an assault on 22 September. Meanwhile, Sheridan sent Torbert east around Massanutten Mountain into the Luray Valley with a reinforced cavalry division. He was to cross back into the Valley some thirty miles south at New Market to cut off Early’s retreat.

Convinced that Early was finally beaten, Grant wanted Sheridan to move against the rail junction at Charlottesville, but Sheridan balked. He was almost one hundred miles from the closest Union supply depot, and foraging efforts in the picked over Valley could not support his army. He suggested destroying crops, barns, and other supplies in the Shenandoah Valley and then withdrawing with his army northward. With Grant’s approval, Sheridan sent Union cavalry as far south as Waynesboro to cut the railroads, burn grain and woolen mills, and seize or destroy crops and livestock….

The Battle of Fisher’s Hill

Fisher’s Hill, Virginia, c. 1892 (William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Co., U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Per Irwin, the military value of Fisher’s Hill, Virginia “resided mainly in the fact that between the peaks of Masanutten and the North Mountains the jaws of the valley were contracted to a width of not more than four miles. The right flank of this shortened front rests securely upon the north fork of the Shenandoah, where it winds about the base of Three Top Mountain before bending widely toward the east to join the south fork and form the Shenandoah River. Across the front, among rocks, between steep and broken cliffs, winds the brawling brook called Tumbling Run, and above it, from its southern edge, rises the rugged crag called Fisher’s Hill.”

Forward the Skirmishers: On the Advance to Fisher’s Hill (Alfred Waud, 22 September 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

It was in and around this high ground that Confederate Lieutenant Jubal Early chose to regroup following his defeat on 19 September 1864 during the Battle of Opequan. But Sheridan and his Union troops were not about to let that happen. According to Irwin:

On the morning of the 20th of September Sheridan set out to follow Early, and in the afternoon took up a position before Strasburg, the Sixth Corps on the right, Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] on the left, and Crook behind Cedar Creek in support. The next morning the 21st, Sheridan pushed and followed Early’s skirmishers over the high hill that stands between Strasburg and Fisher’s Hill, overlooking both, drove them behind the defences [sic] of Fisher’s Hill, and took up a position covering the front from the banks of the North Fork on the left, where Emory’s left rested lightly, to the crown of the hill just mentioned, which commanded the approach by what is called the back road, or Cedar Creek grade, and was but slightly commanded by Fisher’s Hill itself. This strong vantage-ground Wright wrested from the enemy after a struggle, and felling the trees for protection and for range, planted his batteries there. The ground was very difficult, broken and rocky, and to hold it the Sixth Corps had to be drawn toward the right, while Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], following the movement, in the dark hours of the early morning of the 22d of September, extended his front so as to cover the ground thus given up by Wright.

Sheridan now thought of nothing short of the capture of Early’s army. Torbert was to drive the Confederate cavalry through the Luray, and thence, crossing the Massanutten range, was to lay hold of the valley pike at New Market, and plant himself firmly in Early’s rear on his only line of retreat. Crook, by a wide sweep to the right, his march hidden by the hills and woods, was to gain the back road, so as to come up secretly on Early’s left flank and rear, and the first sounds of battle … were to serve as a signal for Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] to fall on with everything they had.

Battlefields of Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek, Virginia (U.S. Engineers’ Map, Lt. Col. G. L. Gillespie, 1873, public domain).

During the forenoon of the 22d, Grover held the left of the position of the Nineteenth Corps, his division formed in two lines in the order of Macauley, Birge; Shunk, Molineaux. Dwight, in the order of Beal, McMillan [including the 47th Pennsylvania], held the right, and connected with Wheaton. In taking ground toward the right … this line had become too extended, and, as it was necessary that the left of the skirmishers, at least, should rest upon the river, Grover shortened his front by moving forward Foster with the 128th and Lewis with the 176th New York to drive in the enemy’s skirmishers opposite, and to occupy the ground that they had been holding. This was handsomely done under cover of a brisk shelling from Taft’s and Bradbury’s guns. As on the rest of the line, the whole front of the corps was covered as usual by hasty entrenchments. In the afternoon Ricketts moved far to the right, and seized a wooded knoll commanding Ramseur’s position on Fisher’s Hill. In preparation for the attack Sheridan gave Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] the ground on the left of the railway, and Wright that beyond it, and Molineaux moved forward to lead the advance of Grover. The sun was low when the noise of battle was heard far away on the right. This was Crook, sweeping everything before him as he charged suddenly out of the forest full upon the left flank and rear of Lomax and Ramseur, taking the whole Confederate line completely in reverse. The surprise was absolute. Instantly Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] took up the movement, and, inspired by the presence and the impetuous commands of Sheridan, descended rapidly the steep and broken sides of the ravine, at the bottom of which lies Tumbling Run, and then rather scrambling than charging up the rocky and almost inaccessible sides of Fisher’s Hill, swarmed over the strong entrenchments, line after line, and planting their colors upon the parapets, saw the whole army of Early in disorderly flight. Foremost to mount the parapet was Entwistle with his company of the 176th New York…. Crook, but almost at the same instant Wilson, gallantly leading the 28th Iowa, planted the colors of his regiment in the works…. [T]he Confederates … abandoned sixteen pieces of artillery where they stood. Early was unable to arrest the retreat of his army until he found himself near Edenburg, four miles beyond Woodstock.

Sheridan’s loss in this battle was 52 killed, 457 wounded, 19 missing, in all, 528…. Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] accounts for 15 killed, 86 wounded, 13 missing, together 114…. Early reports his loss in the infantry and artillery alone as 30 killed, 210 wounded, 995 missing, total 1,235; but Sheridan claims 1,100 prisoners….

[Sheridan] without a halt … pushed forward his whole organization, each regiment or brigade nearly in the order in which it chanced to file into the road. Devin’s cavalry brigade trod closely on the heels of what was left of Lomax, and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], whose line had crossed the valley road, pushed up it as fast as the men could move over the ground. Wright moved in close support of Emory and personally directed the operations of both corps, the Nineteenth as well as the Sixth. So fast did the infantry march that it was 10 o’clock at night before Devin, from his place in line on the right of the Sixth Corps, was able to take the road abreast with the Nineteenth, and broad daylight before his or any other horsemen passed the hardy yet toil-worn soldiers of Molineaux, who were left all night to lead the swift pursuit…. About half-past eight the head of the column first came in contact with the rear-guard of the enemy, but this was soon driven in, and no further resistance was offered until about an hour later, at the crossing of a creek near Woodstock, a brisk fire of musketry, aided by two guns in the road, was opened on Molineaux’s front, but was quickly silenced. At dawn on the 23d of September Sheridan went into bivouac covering Woodstock, and let the infantry rest until early in the afternoon, when he again took up the pursuit with Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], leaving Crook to care for the dead and wounded. Early fell back to Mount Jackson, and was preparing to make a stand when Averell coming up, he and Devin made so vigorous a demonstration with the cavalry alone that Early thought it best to continue his retreat beyond the North Fork to Rude’s Hill, which stands between Mount Jackson and New Market.

Sheridan advanced to Mount Jackson on the morning of the 24th of September, and before nightfall had concentrated his whole army there. He was moving his cavalry to envelop both of Early’s flanks and the infantry, Wright leading, to attack in front. However, Early did not wait for this, but retreated rapidly in order of battle, pursued by Sheridan in the same order, that is by the right of the regiments with an attempt at deploying intervals through New Market and six miles beyond to a point where a country road diverges through Keezletown and Cross Keys to Port Republic, at the head of the South Fork. Here both armies halted face to face, Sheridan for the night; but Early, as soon as it was fairly dark, fell back about five miles on the Port Republic road, and again halted at a point about fourteen miles short of that town.

Early’s object in quitting the main valley road, which would have conducted him to Harrisonburg, covering Staunton, was to receive once more the reinforcements that Lee, at the first tidings from Winchester, had again hurried forward under Kershaw. On the 25th of September, therefore, Early retreated through Port Republic toward Brown’s Gap, where Kershaw, marching from Culpeper through Swift Run Gap, joined him on the 26th. Here also Early’s cavalry rejoined him, Wickham from the Luray valley, and Lomax, pressed by Powell, from Harrisonburg.

Sheridan, keeping to the main road, advanced to Harrisonburg with Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], leaving Crook to hold the fork of the roads where Early had turned off. At Harrisonburg Torbert rejoined with Merritt and Wilson. Then Sheridan sent Torbert with Wilson and Lowell by Staunton to Waynesboro, where, before quitting the valley by Rockfish Gap, the main road, as well as the railway to Charlottesville, crosses the affluent of the Shenandoah known as the South River. To divert attention from this raid Sheridan reinforced Devin, who, in the absence of Torbert’s main body, had been following and observing Early near Port Republic without other cavalry support, and thus Merritt presently ran into Kershaw marching to join Early at Brown’s Gap. Early, having gone as far as he wished, turned upon Merritt and drove him across the South Fork, but just then getting the first inkling of Torbert’s movements, divined their purpose … [and] marched with all speed, in compact order and with the greatest watchfulness in every direction, on Rockfish Gap. But Torbert, having a good start, won the race, and … caused [Early] to draw off.

Sheridan … had gone nearly as far as he intended, but as he meant presently to begin with his cavalry above Staunton the work of destroying the value of the whole valley to the Confederate army, on the 29th he ordered Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] to Mount Crawford to support Torbert in this work…. Sheridan … propose to bring the Valley campaign to an end with the destruction of the crops, and then to move with his main force to join Grant on the James. Grant, at once agreeing to this, directed Sheridan to keep Crook in the valley and to transfer the rest of his force to the armies before Richmond.

In 1888, Sheridan recalled this critical period in the Union Army’s history:

The night of the 19th of September I gave orders for following Early up the valley next morning – the pursuit to begin at daybreak – and in obedience to these directions Torbert moved Averell out on the Back road leading to Cedar Creek and Merritt up the Valley pike toward Strasburg, while Wilson was directed on Front Royal by way of Stevensburg. Merritt’s division was followed by the infantry Emory’s [including the 47th Pennsylvania] and Wright’s columns marching abreast in the open country to the right and left of the pike, and Crook’s immediately behind them. The enemy having kept up his retreat at night, presented no opposition whatever until the cavalry discovered him posted at Fisher’s Hill, on the first defensive line where he could hope to make any serious resistance. No effort was made to dislodge him, and later in the day, after Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] came up, Torbert shifted Merritt over toward the Back road till [sic] he rejoined Averell. As Merritt moved to the right, the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] crossed Cedar Creek and took up the ground the cavalry was vacating, Wright posting his own corps to the west of the Valley pike overlooking Strasburg, and Emory’s [including the 47th Pennsylvania] on his left so as to extend almost to the road leading from Strasburg to Front Royal. Crook, as he came up the same evening, went into position in some heavy timber on the north bank of the Cedar Creek.

A reconnoissance [sic] made pending these movements convinced me that the enemy’s position at Fisher’s Hill was so strong that a direct assault would entail unnecessary destruction of life, and, besides, be of doubtful result. At the point where Early’s troops were in position, between the Massanutten range and Little North Mountain, the valley is only about three and a half miles wide. All along the precipitous bluff which overhangs Tumbling Run on the south side, a heavy line of earthworks had been constructed when Early retreated to this point in August, and these were now being strengthened so as to make them almost impregnable; in fact, so secure did Early consider himself that, for convenience, his ammunition chests were taken from the caissons and placed behind the breastworks. Wharton, now in command of Breckenridge’s division … held the right of this line, with Gordon next him; Pegram, commanding Ramseur’s old division, joined Gordon. Ramseur with Rodes’s division, was on Pegram’s left, while Lomax’s cavalry, now serving as foot-troops, extended the line to the Back road. Fitzhugh Lee being wounded, his cavalry, under General Wickham, was sent to Milford to prevent Fisher’s Hill from being turned through the Luray Valley.

In consequence of the enemy’s being so well protected from a direct assault, I resolved on the night of the 20th to use again a turning-column against his left, as had been done on the 19th at Opequan.  To this end I resolved to move Crook, unperceived if possible, over to the eastern face of Little North Mountain, whence he could strike the left and rear of the Confederate line, and as he broke it up, I could support him by a left half-wheel of my whole line of battle. The execution of this plan would require perfect secrecy, however, for the enemy from his signal-station on Three Top could plainly see every movement of our troops in daylight. Hence, to escape such observation, I marched Crook during the night of the 20th into some heavy timber north of Cedar Creek, where he lay concealed all day of the 21st. This same day Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] were moved up closer to the Confederate works, and the Sixth Corps, after a severe fight, in which Ricketts’s and Getty were engaged, took up some high ground on the right of the Manassas Gap railroad in plain view of the Confederate works, and confronting a commanding point where much of Early’s artillery was massed. Soon after General Wright had established this line I rode with him along it to the westward, and finding that the enemy was still holding an elevated position further to our right, on the north side of Tumbling Run, I directed this also to be occupied. Wright soon carried the point, which gave us an unobstructed view of the enemy’s works and offered good ground for our artillery. It also enabled me to move the whole of the Sixth Corps to the front till its line was within about seven hundred yards of the enemy’s works; the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania], on the morning of the 22d, covering the ground vacated by the Sixth by moving to the front and extending to the right, but still keeping its reserves on the railroad.

In the darkness of the night of the 21st, Crook was brought across Cedar Creek and hidden in a clump of Timber behind Hupp’s Hill till daylight of the 22d, when, under cover of the intervening woods and ravines, he was marched beyond the right of the Sixth Corps and again concealed not far from the Back road. After Crook had got into this last position, Ricketts’s division was pushed out until it confronted the left of the enemy’s infantry, the rest of the Sixth Corps extending from Ricketts’s left to the Manassas Gap railroad, while the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] filled in the space between the left of the Sixth and the North Fork of the Shenandoah….

While Ricketts was occupying the enemy’s attention, Crook, again moving unobserved into the dense timber on the eastern face of the Little North Mountain, conducted his command south in two parallel columns until he gained the rear of the enemy’s works, when, marching his divisions by the left flank, he led them in an easterly direction down the mountain-side. As he emerged from the timber near the base of the mountain, the Confederates discovered him … and opened with their batteries, but it was too late – they having few troops at hand to confront the turning-column. Loudly cheering, Crook’s men quickly crossed the broken stretch in rear of the enemy’s left, producing confusion and consternation at every step.

About a mile from the mountain’s base, Crook’s left was joined by Ricketts, who in proper time had begun to swing his division into action, and the two commands moved along in rear of the works so rapidly that, with but slight resistance, the Confederates abandoned the guns massed near the centre [sic]. The swinging movement of Ricketts was taken up successively from right to left throughout my line, and in a few minutes the enemy was thoroughly routed, the action, though brief, being none the less decisive. Lomax’s dismounted cavalry gave way first, but was shortly followed by all the Confederate infantry in an indescribable panic, precipitated doubtless by fears of being caught and captured in the pocket formed by Tumbling Run and the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The stampede was complete, the enemy leaving the field without semblance of organization, abandoning nearly all his artillery and such other property as was in the works, and the rout extending through the fields and over the woods toward Woodstock, Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] in hot pursuit.

Midway between Fisher’s Hill and Woodstock there is some high ground, where at night-fall a small squad endeavored to stay with us two pieces of artillery, but this attempt at resistance proved fruitless, and notwithstanding the darkness, the guns were soon captured. The chase was then taken up by Devin’s brigade as soon as it could be passed to the front, and continued till after daylight the next morning, but the delays incident to a night pursuit made it impossible for Devin to do more than pick up stragglers….

The battle of Fisher’s Hill was, in a measure, a part of the battle of Opequon; that is to say, it was an incident of the pursuit resulting from that action. In many ways, however, it was much more satisfactory, and particularly so because the plan arranged on the evening of the 20th was carried out to the very letter by Generals Wright, Crook, and Emory, not only in all their preliminary manoeuvres [sic], but also during the fight itself. The only drawback was with the cavalry, and to this day I have been unable to account satisfactorily for Torbert’s failure….

We reached Woodstock early on the morning of the 23d, and halted there some little time to let the troops recover their organization, which had been broken in the night march they had just made. When the commands had closed up we pushed on toward Edinburg, in the hope of making more captures at Narrow Passage Creek; but the Confederates, too fleet for us, got away; so General Wright halted the infantry not far from Edinburg, till rations could be brought for the men. Meanwhile I, having remained at Woodstock, sent Devin’s brigade to press the enemy … and if possible prevent him from halting long enough to reorganize. Notwithstanding Devin’s efforts the Confederates managed to assemble a considerable force to resist him, and being too weak for the rear-guard, he awaited the arrival of Averell, who … would be hurried to the front with all possible despatch [sic]…. It turned out, however, that he was not near by [sic] at all, and … without good reason he had refrained from taking any part whatever in pursuing the enemy in the flight from Fisher’s Hill, and in fact had gone into camp and and left to the infantry the work of pursuit….

The failure of Averell to press the enemy the evening of the 23d gave early time to collect his scattered forces and take up a position on the east side of the North Fork of the Shenandoah, his left resting on the west side of that stream at Rude’s Hill, a commanding point about two miles south of Mt. Jackson. Along this line he had constructed some slight works during the night, and at daylight on the 24th I moved the Sixth and Nineteenth corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] through Mt. Jackson to attack him, sending Powell’s division to pass around his left flank, toward Timberville, and Devin’s brigade across the North Fork, to move along the base of Peaked Ridge and attack his right. The country was entirely open, and none of these manoeuvres [sic] could be executed without being observed, so as soon as my advance began, the enemy rapidly retreated in line of battle up the valley through New Market, closely followed by Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], their artillery on the pike and their columns on its right and left. Both sides moved with celerity, the Confederates stimulated by the desire to escape, and our men animated by the prospect of wholly destroying Early’s army. The stern-chase continued for about thirteen miles, our infantry often coming within range, yet whenever we began to deploy, the Confederates increased the distance between us by resorting to a double quick, evading battle with admirable tact. While all this was going on, the open country permitted us a rare and brilliant site, the bright sun gleaming from the arms and trappings of the thousands of pursuers and pursued.

Near New Market, as a last effort to hold the enemy, I pushed Devlin’s cavalry – comprising about five hundred men – with two guns right up on Early’s lines, in the hope that the tempting opportunity given him to capture the guns would stay his retreat long enough to let my infantry deploy within range, but he refused the bait, and … continued on with little loss and in pretty good order….

Some six miles south of [New Market] Early left the Valley Pike and took the road to Keezletown, a move due … mainly [to] the fact that the Keezletown road ran immediately along the base of Peaked Mountain – a rugged ridge affording protection to Early’s right flank – and led in a direction facilitating his junction with Kershaw, who had been ordered back to him from Culpeper the day after the battle of Opequon. The chase was kept up on the Keezletown road till darkness overtook us, when my weary troops were permitted to go into camp; and as soon as the enemy discovered by our fires that the pursuit had stopped, he also bivouacked some five miles farther south toward Port Republic.

The next morning Early was joined by Lomax’s cavalry from Harrisonburg, Wickham’s and Payne’s brigades of cavalry also uniting with him from the Luray Valley. His whole army then fell back to the mouth of Brown’s Gap to await Kershaw’s division and Cutshaw’s artillery….

By the morning of the 25th the main body of the enemy had disappeared entirely from my front, and the capture of some small squads of Confederates in the neighboring hills furnished us the only incidents of the day….

Picking up prisoners here and there, my troops resumed their march directly south on the Valley pike, and when the Sixth and Nineteenth corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] reached Harrisonburg they went into camp, Powell in the meanwhile pushing on to Mt. Crawford, and Crook taking up a position in our rear at the junction of Keezletown road and the Valley pike. Late in the afternoon Torbert’s cavalry came in from New Market.

The succeeding day I sent Merritt to Port Republic to occupy the enemy’s attention, while Torbert, with Wilson’s division and the regular brigade, was ordered to Staunton, whence he was to proceed to Waynesboro and blow up the railroad bridge. Having done this, Torbert, as he returned, was to drive off whatever cattle he could find, destroy all forage and breadstuffs, and burn the mills. He took possession of Waynesboro in due time, but had succeeded in only partially demolishing the railroad bridge when, attacked by Pegram’s division of infantry and Wickham’s cavalry, he was compelled to fall back to Staunton. From the latter place he retired to Bridgewater and Spring Hill, on the way, however, fully executing his instructions regarding the destruction of supplies.”

Meanwhile, added Sheridan, “Merritt had occupied Port Republic, but he happened to get there the very day that Kershaw’s division was marching from Swift Run Gap to join Early”:

Kershaw’s four infantry brigades attacked at once, and Merritt, forced out of Port Republic, fell back toward Cross Keys … I ordered the infantry there, but Torbert’s attack at Waynesboro had alarmed Early, and … he drew all his forces in toward Rock-fish Gap. This enabled me to re-establish Merritt at Port Republic, send the Sixth and Nineteenth corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] to the neighborhood of Mt. Crawford to await the return of Torbert, and to post Crook at Harrisonburg; these dispositions practically obtained till the 6th of October, I holding a line across the valley from Port Republic along North River by Mt. Crawford to the Back road near the mouth of Briery Branch Gap….

Grant, once again via his own personal memoirs, reiterated the significance of Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley victories:

The valley is narrow at that point [Fisher’s Hill], and Early made another stand there, which extended across. But Sheridan turned both his flanks and again sent him speeding up the valley, following in hot pursuit. The pursuit was continued up the valley to Mount Jackson and New Market. Sheridan captured eleven hundred prisoners and sixteen guns. The houses which he passed all along the route were found to be filled with Early’s wounded, and the country swarmed with his deserters. Finally, on the 25th, Early turned from the valley eastward, leaving Sheridan at Harrisonburg in undisputed possession.

Now one of the main objects of the expedition began to be accomplished. Sheridan went to work with his command, gathering in the crops, cattle, and everything in the upper part of the valley required by our troops, and especially taking what might be of use to the enemy. What he could not take away he destroyed, so that the enemy would not be invited to come back there. I congratulated Sheridan upon his recent great victory and had a salute of a hundred guns fired in honor of it, the guns being aimed at the enemy around Petersburg. I also notified the other commanders throughout the country, who also fired salutes in honor of the victory.

Private Jacob M. Kerkendall, Company E, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers was one of the Union soldiers who were wounded in action during the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, Virginia.

Through the Eyes of a 47th Pennsylvanian

Corporal Timothy Snyder’s Knee Wound Described by Henry D. Wharton, 47th Pennsylvania (September 1864, Sunbury American, public domain).

In a letter home to the Sunbury American newspaper later that month, 47th Pennsylvanian Henry D. Wharton recapped his regiment’s recent combat experiences:

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
HARRISONBURG, Va., Sept, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

As there has been no train going back to Harper’s Ferry, and our long and hurried chase after the Johnnies, I have not been able to send you any account of our great and glorious victories. We have, this morning, a breathing spell, so I will profit by it and give you a short history of our doings.

On Monday, Sept. 19, we broke camp at two o’clock in the morning, and moved in the direction of Winchester. The 19th corps marched slowly for an hour when they stopped for two hours. Hearing heavy firing they moved on crossed the Opequan creek, and pushed forward quickly, eager to join in any fun going on in front. This sport was found three miles east of Winchester, where the 6th and artillery were engaged with the enemy. The two Divisions of the 19th with the 8th were thrown in line of battle, ready for the work before them. Keeping in this line for about thirty minutes, under the artillery of the rebels, who were engaged in a nice little duel with our own, an advance was ordered. Our men moved forward as if on parade, and were soon hid in a thick woods, were the rebels were massed to receive them. Then the murderous work commenced. For twenty minutes a continual roar of musketry was heard, reports of artillery shook the earth and the air seemed filed with the whiz of shells and bullets, commingled with the cheers of the men engaged in deadly strife, when a portion of our centre [sic] broke and fell back from the woods into the field from which they started. Matters at this moment looked dark and a retreat seemed on the tapis, but not so, a defiant cheer arose above the din of battle, and the 1st Division of the 19th and parts of the 6th stopped the graybacks in their advance. The party who broke, now rallied, and our whole force was hurled against the foe, driving them from every position they held, finally forcing them into a disgraceful retreat, chasing horse, foot and dragoon twenty-two miles to Fisher’s Hill, back of Strausburg [sic]. The enemy left so hurriedly that twenty-five hundred wounded fell into our hands, besides their dead. We captured over four thousand prisoners, five pieces of artillery, any quantity of small arms, and fifteen battle flags. The loss of their General officers shows how severely they were punished. Generals Rhodes, Gordon, Ramseur and Wharton were killed, and Generals Bradley T. Johnson, Yorke and Godwin wounded. The total rebel loss in killed, wounded and captured, was between eight and nine thousand. You may rely on the amount of prisoners – for I saw the most of them – at one place in Winchester twenty-five hundred, and of squads brought in during the fight, I counted from two hundred down to as low numbers as one Colonel. – Our loss was severe, but not one-fourth that of the enemy, as we lost no prisoners and retained possession of our wounded. I crossed over a part of the battle-field, and found a sickening sight. Dead and dying covered the ground, wounded men gasping for breath and others crying for water. These were mostly rebels, (our own having been cared for,) but were now being attended to by our nurses, and would have been before, only that they, (the rebels) were further on in the battle field than our men. The rebels fled so precipitately, that not to be deterred to their flight, they cut their accoutrements from their waists and shoulders, and threw away their guns, leaving all in the field. – Dead bodies were to be seen into the very town of Winchester, and on the outskirts, I saw one, breathing his last, who had been shot behind a stone fence, while trying to do the same trick to one of our own boys. On the route through Newtown, Middleton and the whole way to Cedar creek, evidence of their flight was seen. Dead horses, burned caissons, wagons, ambulances and the destruction of arms. All these things were by the road side and in the fields, showing how hard pushed Early was in his flight.

The 1st Division of the 6th corps, in the death of General Russell, lost a capable officer, and his loss is regretted by all who were under his command.

On Tuesday night our forces reached Strasburg, or rather on the hills, of the Winchester side. The next day we advanced about one mile, and occupied the day in shelling the woods, to find out the position of the enemy. This was accomplished, and that night a portion of the army moved toward Fisher’s Hill, which was occupied by the enemy. The next morning, Thursday, our entire army was formed in line, and assigned positions. Skirmish lines, with their supports, were thrown out who gradually drove them from the many lines, they established during the day. Our artillery were engaged most of the day in shelling their lines and trying to get an answer from their batteries. This was done about two o’clock, when they fired at our skirmish line, as they made a general advance. Then commenced a heavy artillery fight, during which our lines steadily drove that of the rebels back. The Johnnies were driven from line to line, until finally they broke and fled in worse confusion than they did at Winchester, our boys after them, yelling, the rebels leaving behind all the artillery they had in position, which our fellows took and used on them as they disgracefully retreated. Our boys followed them at double-quick about four miles, in the greatest glee, forgetting all fatigue in their triumph, nor thinking of danger, when, under cover of darkness, the rebels fired four shots of artillery loaded with shell right in their front, and from musketry on either side. The damage down was slight, only wounding some three or four, but for the moment caused confusion, but Sheridan who is always in front, shouted never mind one gun after so glorious a victory; give them a yell you can frighten them with that,’ which the boys did, and then continued on to Woodstock, where they had to stop for rest and rations. The gun used by the rebels in this cowardly attack was captured by our men on the spot.

Our stay at Woodstock was a short one, for we immediately pushed on after the flying foe, they only stopping occasionally to impede our progress, that they might get off their train. The people by the way, told us such a retreat was never heard of. Cavalry, Artillery, Infantry, and waggon [sic] trains all mixed up – each one trying to be foremost. They say their Army is completely demoralized, and the people were anxious for peace. A woman told some of us that the retreating soldiers swore they would fight no more. General Early, at New Market, cried when he could no more rally his men, that he might make a final stand to retrieve his lost fortune.

Of the amount of prisoners captured I cannot give you a correct amount. It can safely be put down at eight hundred. We captured nineteen pieces of artillery, two battle flags, and of small arms I will make no attempt to guess, only I can tell you that they were more numerously scattered than on the way to Winchester. At all the towns we passed, Edensburg, Mt. Jackson, New Market and Harrisonburg, there are two or three hospitals, filled with wounded, injured in these late battles.

The 47th was in the midst of these fights, yet she has almost escaped unharmed. The casualties were one killed and ten wounded, none dangerously. Of the wounded one was Timothy Snyder, slight in knee, from Co. C. Please inform friends of our safety, that all are well and in the best possible humor over last week’s glorious work.

Early by some means got the remains of his army through Thornton’s Gap, near New Market, and are supposed to be going toward Gordonville. What steps General Sheridan will take for their pursuit is not known. The distance we have pursued the rebels is sixty-five miles, this with the amount of captures, killed and wounded, I have no doubt you will consider a pretty good six day’s work. With respects to friends, yourself and family, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H.
D. W.

 

Next: The Battle of Cedar Creek

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Battle of Berryville, in CWSAC Battle Summaries. Washington, D.C.: Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (CWSAC), The American Battlefield Protection Program, retrieved online 1 September 2016.

3. Bluhm, Jr., Raymond K. Shenandoah Valley Campaign: March-November 1864. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army.

4. Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. New York, New York: C. L. Webster, 1885.

5. Irwin, Richard B. History of the Nineteenth Army Corps. New York, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892.

6. Mahon, Michael G. The Shenandoah Valley 1861-1865: The Destruction of the Granary of the Confederacy. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1999.

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15. Whitehorne, Joseph W. A. The Battle of Cedar Creek. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army, Center of Military History, 1992.