Roster: Company B, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers
History of Company B
The initial recruitment for members to fill Company B of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania—the city in which the 47th’s founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, would later go on to serve three terms as mayor. Following the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, many of Company B’s earliest recruits entered the fray as members of Allentown’s famed Allen Rifles. Responding to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers, they joined with the Jordan Artillerists, and marched off to help defend the nation’s capital as Company I of the 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry.
After completing their Three Months’ Service with the 1st Pennsylvania, many reenlisted from Allentown in September of that same year to form Company B of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. This newly formed company was led by Emanuel P. Rhoads, grandson of Peter Rhoads, Jr., former president of the Northampton Bank. Often referred to as “E. P.,” Rhoads had performed his own Three Months’ Service as a First Lieutenant with the Allen Rifles. After mustering out at Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Rhoads reenlisted again with Company B of the 47th Pennsylvania.
According to A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, authored by Lewis Schmidt, Rhoads was promoted to the rank of Captain on 30 August 1861, and the members of Company B were mustered into the 47th on the final two days of August 1861 at Harrisburg’s Camp Curtin, a large staging area for Union troop formation and training.
Company B was one of the first two of four companies from the city of Allentown in total to muster in for duty with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Company I was the second.
Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics, the 47th Pennsylvanians headed for Washington, D.C. Stationed about two miles from the White House, they made their new home at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown, beginning 21 September. Henry D. Wharton, a Musician with the regiment’s C Company, penned the following update for the Sunbury American newspaper on 22 September:
After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.
After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.
We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday [21 September 1861] without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on dis-covering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.
Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent man and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.
…. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.
On 24 September, the men of Company B became part of the federal military service, mustering in with great pomp and gravity to the U.S. Army with their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Three days later, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Brigadier-General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvania was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.
The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated close to the headquarters of Brigadier-General William Farrar Smith (also known as “Baldy”), and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac (“Mr. Lincoln’s Army”). Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.
Once again, Company C Musician Henry Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:
On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….
We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….
There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [sic], a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….
Sometime during this phase of duty, as part of the 3rd Brigade, the 47th Pennsylvanians were moved to a site they initially christened “Camp Big Chestnut” for the large chestnut tree located within their lodging’s boundaries. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.
On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. Also around this time, companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left-wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops. In his letter of 13 October, Henry Wharton described their duties, as well as their new home:
The location of our camp is fine and the scenery would be splendid if the view was not obstructed by heavy thickets of pine and innumerable chesnut [sic] trees. The country around us is excellent for the Rebel scouts to display their bravery; that is, to lurk in the dense woods and pick off one of our unsuspecting pickets. Last night, however, they (the Rebels) calculated wide of their mark; some of the New York 33d boys were out on picket; some fourteen or fifteen shots were exchanged, when our side succeeded in bringing to the dust, (or rather mud,) an officer and two privates of the enemy’s mounted pickets. The officer was shot by a Lieutenant in Company H [?], of the 33d.
Our own boys have seen hard service since we have been on the ‘sacred soil.’ One day and night on picket, next day working on entrenchments at the Fort, (Ethan Allen.) another on guard, next on march and so on continually, but the hardest was on picket from last Thursday morning ‘till Saturday morning – all the time four miles from camp, and both of the nights the rain poured in torrents, so much so that their clothes were completely saturated with the rain. They stood it nobly – not one complaining; but from the size of their haversacks on their return, it is no wonder that they were satisfied and are so eager to go again tomorrow. I heard one of them say ‘there was such nice cabbage, sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, &c., out where their duty called them, and then there was a likelihood of a Rebel sheep or young porker advancing over our lines and then he could take them as ‘contraband’ and have them for his own use.’ When they were out they saw about a dozen of the Rebel cavalry and would have had a bout with them, had it not been for…unlucky circumstance – one of the men caught the hammer of his rifle in the strap of his knapsack and caused his gun to fire; the Rebels heard the report and scampered in quick time….
On Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by Schmidt as “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” Four days later, Company B’s drummer boy, Alfred Eisenbraun, was dead—the second “man” from the regiment to die since the 47th Pennsylvania’s formation. (The first was another drummer boy, John Boulton Young of C Company, who was felled by smallpox at the Kalorama eruptive fever hospital in Georgetown on 17 October.)
A former tobacco stripper and son of a Frakturist-tombstone carver, 15-year-old Musician Eisenbraun had been shipped back to Georgetown on 22 or 23 October with other ailing members of his regiment after he had contracted typhoid fever in late September or early October. He died there at the army’s general hospital at Georgetown’s Union Hotel on Saturday, 26 October, and was laid to rest at the Military Asylum Cemetery (now the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home Cemetery) in Washington, D.C.
In late October 1861, according to Schmidt, the men from Companies B, G and H woke at 3 a.m., assembled a day’s worth of rations, marched four miles from camp, and took over picket duties from the 49th New York:
Company B was stationed in the vicinity of a Mrs. Jackson’s house, with Capt. Kacy’s Company H on guard around the house. The men of Company B had erected a hut made of fence rails gathered around an oak tree, in front of which was the house and property, including a persimmon tree whose fruit supplied them with a snack. Behind the house was the woods were the Rebels had been fired on last Wednesday morning while they were chopping wood there.
In his letter of 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed still more details about life at Camp Griffin:
This morning our brigade was out for inspection; arms, accoutrements [sic], clothing, knapsacks, etc, all were out through a thorough examination, and if I must say it myself, our company stood best, A No. 1, for cleanliness. We have a new commander to our Brigade, Brigadier General Brannen [sic], of the U.S. Army, and if looks are any criterion, I think he is a strict disciplinarian and one who will be as able to get his men out of danger as he is willing to lead them to battle….
The boys have plenty of work to do, such as piquet [sic] duty, standing guard, wood-chopping, police duty and day drill; but then they have the most substantial food; our rations consist of fresh beef (three times a week) pickled pork, pickled beef, smoked pork, fresh bread, daily, which is baked by our own bakers, the Quartermaster having procured portable ovens for that purpose, potatoes, split peas, beans, occasionally molasses and plenty of good coffee, so you see Uncle Sam supplies us plentifully….
A few nights ago our Company was out on piquet [sic]; it was a terrible night, raining very hard the whole night, and what made it worse, the boys had to stand well to their work and dare not leave to look for shelter. Some of them consider they are well paid for their exposure, as they captured two ancient muskets belonging to Secessia. One of them is of English manufacture, and the other has the Virginia militia mark on it. They are both in a dilapidated condition, but the boys hold them in high estimation as they are trophies from the enemy, and besides they were taken from the house of Mrs. Stewart, sister to the rebel Jackson who assassinated the lamented Ellsworth at Alexandria. The honorable lady, Mrs. Stewart, is now a prisoner at Washington and her house is the headquarters of the command of the piquets [sic]….
Since the success of the secret expedition, we have all kinds of rumors in camp. One is that our Brigade will be sent to the relief of Gen. Sherman, in South Carolina. The boys all desire it and the news in the ‘Press’ is correct, that a large force is to be sent there, I think their wish will be gratified….
On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by the regiment’s founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.” As a reward—and in preparation for bigger things to come, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan obtained new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.
The guard duties in rainy weather and frequent marches, however, gradually began to wear the men down; a number of 47th Pennsylvanians fell ill with fever. Several contracted Variola (smallpox), which was also sickening Confederate troops stationed nearby. Sent back to Union Army hospitals in Washington, D.C., at least two members of the regiment died there while receiving treatment.
Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862, marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church. Sent by rail to Alexandria, they then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before they were marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.
According to Schmidt and letters home from members of the regiment, those preparations ceased on Monday, 27 January, at 10 a.m. when:
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.
Reloading then resumed. By that afternoon, when the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers. The officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. 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.
The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West in February, and were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, they introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men attended to their spiritual needs by participating in services at local churches.
While stationed in Key West, the men of the 47th drilled in heavy artillery and other tactics—often as much as eight hours per day. They also felled trees, built roads and strengthened the installation’s fortifications.
Their time was made more difficult by the prevalence of disease. Many of the 47th’s men lost their lives to typhoid and other tropical diseases, or to dysentery and other ailments spread from soldier to soldier by poor sanitary conditions. Private Solomon Diehl of Company B was one of those struck down in this manner.
Next ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina from mid-June through July, they camped near Fort Walker before relocating to the Beaufort District, Department of the South, roughly 35 miles away. Frequently assigned to hazardous picket detail north of their main camp, which put them at increased risk from enemy sniper fire, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania became known for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing,” and “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan,” according to historian Samuel P. Bates.
Detachments from the regiment were also assigned to the Expedition to Fenwick Island (9 July) and the Demonstration against Pocotaligo (10 July).
On 30 September the 47th was sent on a return expedition to Florida where B Company participated with its regiment and other Union forces from 1 to 3 October in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff. Led by Brigadier-General Brannan, the 1,500-plus Union force disembarked from gunboat-escorted troop carriers at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek. With the 47th Pennsylvania in the lead and braving alligators, skirmishing Confederates and killer snakes, the brigade negotiated 25 miles of thickly forested swamps in order to capture the bluff and pave the way for the Union’s occupation of Jacksonville, Florida.
Integration of the Regiment
On 5 and 15 October 1862, respectively, the 47th Pennsylvania made history as it became an integrated regiment, adding to its muster rolls a Black teen and several young to middle-aged Black men who had endured plantation enslavement in Beaufort, South Carolina:
- Just 16 years old at the time of his enlistment, Abraham Jassum joined the 47th Pennsylvania from a recruiting depot on 5 October 1862. Military records indicate that he mustered in as “negro undercook” with Company F at Beaufort, South Carolina. Military records described him as being 5 feet 6 inches tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and stated that his occupation prior to enlistment was “Cook.” Records also indicate that he continued to serve with F Company until he mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 when his three-year term of enlistment expired.
- Also signing up as an Under Cook that day at the Beaufort recruiting depot was 33-year-old Bristor Gethers. Although his muster roll entry and entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File in the Pennsylvania State Archives listed him as “Presto Gettes,” his U.S. Civil War Pension Index listing spelled his name as “Bristor Gethers” and his wife’s name as “Rachel Gethers.” This index also includes the aliases of “Presto Garris” and “Bristor Geddes.” He was described on military records as being 5 feet 5 inches tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and as having been employed as a fireman. He mustered in as “Negro under cook” with Company F on 5 October 1862, and mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service. Federal records indicate that he and his wife applied for his Civil War Pension from South Carolina.
- Also attached initially to Company F upon his 15 October 1862 enrollment with the 47th Pennsylvania, 22-year-old Edward Jassum was assigned kitchen duties. Records indicate that he was officially mustered into military service at the rank of Under Cook with the 47th Pennsylvania at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and then transferred to Company H on 11 October 1864. Like Abraham Jassum, Edward Jassum also continued to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers until being honorably discharged on 14 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service.
More men of color would continue to be added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.
Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina
From 21-23 October, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackay’s Point under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again. This time, however, their luck would run out. Their brigade was bedeviled by snipers and faced massive resistance from an entrenched Confederate battery, which opened fire on the Union troops as they headed through an open cotton field. Those trying to reach the higher ground of the Frampton Plantation were pounded by Confederate artillery and infantry hidden in the surrounding forests.
Charging into the fire, Union forces fought the Confederates where they found them, pushing them into a four-mile retreat to the Pocotaligo Bridge. At this juncture, the 47th then relieved the 7th Connecticut, but after two hours of exchanging fire while attempting, unsuccessfully, to take the ravine and bridge, the men of the 47th were forced by their dwindling ammunition to withdraw to Mackay’s Point.
Losses for the 47th Pennsylvania at Pocotaligo were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died; another two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded, including Privates Martin W. Leisenring and Obadiah Pfeiffer. Several resting places for 47th soldiers remain unidentified, their locations lost to sloppy Army or hospital records management, or because one comrade was forced to hastily bury or leave behind the body of another while dodging fire or retreating.
On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania headed back to Hilton Head, where members of the regiment were assigned to serve on the honor guard during the funeral of General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South.
Mitchel, who had died of yellow fever at the Union Army’s hospital at Hilton Head on 30 October, had initially gained fame in 1846 as an astronomer at the University of Cincinnati, following his discovery of The Mountains of Mitchel on Mars.
The town of Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s self-governed community created after the Civil War, was also named for him.
Members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were awarded the high honor of firing the salute over the grave of the departed general.
On 1 November 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania helped another Black man escape from slavery near Beaufort when they added 30-year-old Thomas Haywood to the kitchen staff of Company H. Described as a 5 feet 4 inch-tall laborer with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, he was officially mustered in as an Under Cook at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and served until the expiration of his own three-year term of service on 31 October 1865.
Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 for the men of the 47th Pennsylvania was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. Captain Rhoads and his B Company men joined with Companies A, C, E, G, and I in duties at Key West’s Fort Taylor while the soldiers from Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.
It was a noteworthy year not just for the casualties incurred on duty or wrought by disease—but for the clear commitment of the men of the 47th to preserving the Union. Many chose to reenlist when their terms of service expired, opting to finish the fight rather than returning home to families and friends.
In early January 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was ordered to expand the Union’s reach even further by sending part of the regiment north to retake possession of Fort Myers, a federal installation that had been abandoned in 1858 following the U.S. government’s third war with the Seminole Indians. Per orders issued earlier in 1864 by General D. P. Woodbury, Commanding Officer, U.S. Department of the Gulf, District of Key West and the Tortugas, that the fort be used to facilitate the Union’s Gulf Coast blockade, Captain Richard Graeffe and a group of men from Company A were assigned to special duty, charged with expanding the fort and conducting raids on area cattle herds to provide food for the growing Union troop presence. Graeffe and his men subsequently turned the fort into both their base of operations and a shelter for pro-Union supporters, escaped slaves, Confederate Army deserters, and others fleeing Rebel troops.
Meanwhile, all of the other companies of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry had already begun preparing for the regiment’s history-making journey to Louisiana. Boarding yet another steamer—the Charles Thomas—on 25 February 1864, the men from Companies B, C, D, I, and K of the 47th Pennsylvania headed for Algiers, Louisiana (across the river from New Orleans), followed on 1 March by other members of the regiment from Companies E, F, G, and H who had been stationed at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Upon the second group’s arrival, the now almost fully reunited regiment moved by train on 28 February to Brashear City before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, and became the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks.
Red River Campaign
From 14-26 March, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania headed for Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana (near the top of the “L” of this L-shaped state). As they progressed, they made their way through New Iberia, Vermilionville, Opelousas, and Washington. Often short on food and water during their long, hard trek through enemy territory, they finally arrived at their destination in early April.
From 4-5 April 1864, the regiment added to its roster of young Black soldiers when Aaron, James, and John Bullard, Samuel Jones, and Hamilton Blanchard (also known as John Hamilton) enrolled for service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers at Natchitoches. According to their respective entries in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives and on regimental muster rolls, the men would be officially mustered in for duty when the regiment reached a safer base of Union operations. Several of their entries noted that they were assigned the rank of “(Colored) Cook” while others were given the rank of “Under Cook.”
Moving on within a few days, they made camp briefly at Pleasant Hill during the evening of 7 April. The next day (8 April 1864), they engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads, also known as the Battle of Mansfield, losing 60 of their friends to fierce gun and cannon fire. In the confusion, others were reported as killed in action, but survived.
The fighting waned only when darkness fell, and as the uninjured collapsed in exhaustion beside their gravely wounded or dead comrades. After midnight, they and their fellow surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.
The next day (9 April), the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.
On that day, now known as the Battle of Pleasant Hill, the 47th nearly lost its second-in-command, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, who had been severely wounded in both legs. In addition, 68-year-old Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls of Company C was wounded while trying to mount the regimental colors on a caisson that had been recaptured from Confederate troops, as was Sergeant William Pyers of the same company, who had picked up the American flag when Walls fell, preventing it from falling into enemy hands.
In B Company, John Fries and Tilghman H. Reinsmith were wounded; Edward Fink was killed. Others, who had been captured, were marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas (the largest Confederate prison west of the Mississippi), where they would be held as prisoners of war (POWs) until released during prisoner exchanges in July, August, September, or November. Sadly, at least two members of the 47th died while in captivity there while still others remain missing to this day, possibly having been hastily interred on or between battlefields—or in unmarked prison graves.
Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th Pennsylvanians fell back to Grand Ecore, where they remained for a total of eleven days (through 22 April 1864). After engaging in the hard labor of strengthening regimental and brigade fortifications, they then moved back to Natchitoches Parish on 22 April, arriving in Cloutierville at 10 p.m. that night after completing a 45-mile march. En route, the Union forces were attacked again—this time in the rear, but they were able to end the encounter fairly quickly and continue on.
The next morning (23 April 1864), episodic skirmishing quickly roared into the flames of a robust fight. As part of the advance party led by Brigadier-General William Emory, the 47th Pennsylvanians took on Brigadier-General Hamilton P. Bee’s Confederate Cavalry in the Battle of Cane River (also known as “the Affair at Monett’s Ferry” or the “Cane River Crossing”).
Responding to a barrage from the Confederate artillery’s 20-pound Parrott guns and raking fire from enemy troops situated near a bayou and on a bluff, Emory directed one of his brigades to keep Bee’s Confederates busy while sending the other two brigades to find a safe spot where his Union troops could ford the Cane River. As part of the “beekeepers,” the 47th Pennsylvanians supported Emory’s artillery.
Meanwhile, other Emory troops found and worked their way across the Cane River, attacked Bee’s flank, and forced a Rebel retreat. That Union brigade then erected a series of pontoon bridges, enabling the 47th and other remaining Union troops to make the Cane River Crossing by the next day. As the Confederates retreated, they torched their own food stores, as well as the cotton supplies of their fellow southerners.
In a letter penned from Morganza, Louisiana on 29 May, Henry Wharton described what had happened to the 47th Pennsylvanians during and immediately after making camp at Grand Ecore:
Our sojourn at Grand Ecore was for eleven days, during which time our position was well fortified by entrenchments for a length of five miles, made of heavy logs, five feet high and six feet wide, filled in with dirt. In front of this, trees were felled for a distance of two hundred yards, so that if the enemy attacked we had an open space before us which would enable our forces to repel them and follow if necessary. But our labor seemed to the men as useless, for on the morning of 22d April, the army abandoned these works and started for Alexandria. From our scouts it was ascertained that the enemy had passed some miles to our left with the intention of making a stand against our right at Bayou Cane, where there is a high bluff and dense woods, and at the same attack Smith’s forces who were bringing up the rear. This first day was a hard one on the boys, for by ten o’clock at night they made Cloutierville, a distance of forty-five miles. On that day the rear was attacked which caused our forces to reverse their front and form in line of battle, expecting too, to go back to the relief of Smith, but he needed no assistance, sending word to the front that he had ‘whipped them, and could do it again.’ It was well that Banks made so long a march on that day, for on the next we found the enemy prepared to carry out their design of attacking us front and rear. Skirmishing commenced early in the morning and as our columns advanced he fell back towards the bayou, when we soon discovered the position of their batteries on the bluff. There was then an artillery duel by the smaller pieces, and some sharp fighting by the cavalry, when the ‘mule battery,’ twenty pound Parrott guns, opened a heavy fire, which soon dislodged them, forcing the chivalry to flee in a manner not at all suitable to their boasted courage. Before this one cavalry, the 3d Brigade of the 1st Div., and Birges’ brigade of the second, had crossed the bayou and were doing good service, which, with the other work, made the enemy show their heels. The 3d brigade done some daring deeds in this fight, as also did the cavalry. In one instance the 3d charged up a hill almost perpendicular, driving the enemy back by the bayonet without firing a gun. The woods on this bluff was so thick that the cavalry had to dismount and fight on foot. During the whole of the day, our brigade, the 2d was supporting artillery, under fire all the time, and could not give Mr. Reb a return shot.
While we were fighting in front, Smith was engaged some miles in the rear, but he done his part well and drove them back. The rebel commanders thought by attacking us in the rear, and having a large face on the bluffs, they would be able to capture our train and take us all prisoners, but in this they were mistaken, for our march was so rapid that we were on them before they had thrown up the necessary earthworks. Besides they underrated the amount of our artillery, calculating from the number engaged at Pleasant Hill. The rebel prisoners say it ‘seems as though the Yankees manufacture, on short notice, artillery to order, and the men are furnished with wings when they wish to make a certain point.
The damage done to the Confederate cause by the burning of cotton was immense. On the night of the 22d our route was lighted up for miles and millions of dollars worth of this production was destroyed. This loss will be felt more by Davis & Co., than several defeats in this region, for the basis of the loan in England was on the cotton of Western Louisiana.
After the rebels had fled from the bluff the negro troops put down the pontoons, and by ten that night we were six miles beyond the bayou safely encamped. The next morning we moved forward and in two days were in Alexandria. Johnnys followed Smith’s forces, keeping out of range of his guns, except when he had gained the eminence across the bayou, when he punished them (the rebs) severely.
Having finally reached Alexandria on 26 April, they learned they would remain at their latest new camp for at least two weeks. Placed temporarily under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey, they were assigned yet again to the hard labor of fortification work, helping to erect “Bailey’s Dam,” a timber structure that enabled Union gunboats to more easily make their way back down the Red River. According to Wharton:
We were at Alexandria seventeen days, during which time the men were kept busy at throwing up earthworks, foraging and three times went out some distance to meet the enemy, but they did not make their appearance in numbers large enough for an engagement. The water in the Red river had fallen so much that it prevented the gunboats from operating with us, and kept our transports from supplying the troops with rations, (and you know soldiers, like other people, will eat) so Banks was compelled to relinquish his designs on Shreveport and fall back to the Mississippi. To do this a large dam had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river. After a great deal labor this was accomplished and by the morning of May 13th the last one was through the shute [sic], when we bade adieu to Alexandria, marching through the town with banners flying and keeping step to the music of ‘Rally around the flag,’ and ‘When this cruel war is over.’ The next morning, at our camping place, the fleet of boats passed us, when we were informed that Alexandria had been destroyed by fire – the act of a dissatisfied citizen and several negroes. Incendiary acts were strictly forbidden in a general order the day before we left the place, and a cavalry guard was left in the rear to see the order enforced. After marching a few miles skirmishing commenced in front between the cavalry and the enemy in riflepits [sic] on the bank of the river, but they were easily driven away. When we came up we discovered their pits and places where there had been batteries planted. At this point the John Warren, and unarmed transport, on which were sick soldiers and women, was fired into and sunk, killing many and those that were not drowned taken prisoners. A tin-clad gunboat was destroyed at the same place, by which we lost a large mail. Many letters and directed envelopes were found on the bank – thrown there after the contents had been read by the unprincipled scoundrels. The inhumanity of Guerrilla bands in this department is beyond belief, and if one did not know the truth of it or saw some of their barbarities, he would write it down as the story of a ‘reliable gentleman’ or as told by an ‘intelligent contraband.’ Not satisfied with his murderous intent on unarmed transports he fires into the Hospital steamer Laurel Hill, with four hundred sick on board. This boat had the usual hospital signal floating fore and aft, yet, notwithstanding all this, and the customs of war, they fired on them, proving by this act that they are more hardened than the Indians on the frontier.
On Sunday, May 15, we left the river road and took a short route through the woods, saving considerable distance. The windings of Red river are so numerous that it resembles the tape-worm railroad wherewith the politicians frightened the dear people during the administration of Ritner and Stevens. – We stopped several hours in the woods to leave cavalry pass, when we moved forward and by four o’clock emerged into a large open plain where we formed in line of battle, expecting a regular engagement. The enemy, however, retired and we advanced ‘till dark, when the forces halted for the night, with orders to rest on their arms. – ‘Twas here that Banks rode through our regiment, amidst the cheers of the boys, and gave the pleasant news that Grant had defeated Lee.
Having entered Avoyelles Parish, they “rested on their arms” for the night, half-dozing without pitching their tents, but with their rifles right beside them. They were now positioned just outside of Marksville, Louisiana on the eve of the 16 May 1864 Battle of Mansura, which unfolded as follows, according to Wharton:
Early next morning we marched through Marksville into a prairie nine miles long and six wide where every preparation was made for a fight. The whole of our force was formed in line, in support of artillery in front, who commenced operations on the enemy driving him gradually from the prairie into the woods. As the enemy retreated before the heavy fire of our artillery, the infantry advanced in line until they reached Mousoula [sic], where they formed in column, taking the whole field in an attempt to flank the enemy, but their running qualities were so good that we were foiled. The maneuvring [sic] of the troops was handsomely done, and the movements was [sic] one of the finest things of the war. The fight of artillery was a steady one of five miles. The enemy merely stood that they might cover the retreat of their infantry and train under cover of their artillery. Our loss was slight. Of the rebels we could not ascertain correctly, but learned from citizens who had secreted themselves during the fight, that they had many killed and wounded, who threw them into wagons, promiscuously, and drove them off so that we could not learn their casualties. The next day we moved to Simmsport [sic] on the Achafalaya [sic] river, where a bridge was made by putting the transports side by side, which enabled the troops and train to pass safely over. – The day before we crossed the rebels attacked Smith, thinking it was but the rear guard, in which they, the graybacks, were awfully cut up, and four hundred prisoners fell into our hands. Our loss in killed and wounded was ninety. This fight was the last one of the expedition. The whole of the force is safe on the Mississippi, gunboats, transports and trains. The 16th and 17th have gone to their old commands.
It is amusing to read the statements of correspondents to papers North, concerning our movements and the losses of our army. I have it from the best source that the Federal loss from Franklin to Mansfield, and from their [sic] to this point does not exceed thirty-five hundred in killed, wounded and missing, while that of the rebels is over eight thousand.*
After the surviving members of the 47th made their way through Simmesport and into the Atchafalaya Basin, they moved on to Morganza, where they made camp again. According to Wharton, the members of Company C were sent on a special mission which took them on an intense 120-mile journey:
Company C, on last Saturday was detailed by the General in command of the Division to take one hundred and eighty-seven prisoners (rebs) to New Orleans. This they done [sic] satisfactorily and returned yesterday to their regiment, ready for duty. While in the City some of the boys made Captain Gobin quite a handsome present, to show their appreciation of him as an officer gentleman.
Wharton also provided the following update regarding Company C, which had rejoined the bulk of the 47th Pennsylvania on 28 May 1864:
The boys are well. James Kennedy who was wounded at Pleasant Hill, died at New Orleans hospital a few days ago. His friends in the company were pleased to learn that Dr. Dodge of Sunbury, now of the U.S. Steamer Octorora, was with him in his last moments, and ministered to his wants. The Doctor was one of the Surgeons from the Navy who volunteered when our wounded was sent to New Orleans.
While encamped at Morganza, the nine formerly enslaved Black men who had enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania in Beaufort (1862) and Natchitoches, Louisiana (April 1864) were officially mustered into the regiment between 20-24 June 1864. The regiment then moved on once again, and arrived in New Orleans in late June.
During this same period of service, Private Charles Schwenk of Company B died on 20 June at a Union Army hospital in Baton Rouge.
As they did during their tour through the Carolinas and Florida, the men of the 47th had battled the elements and disease, as well as the Confederate Army, in order to survive and continue to defend their nation. But the Red River Campaign’s most senior leader, Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks, would not. Removed from command amid the controversy regarding the Union Army’s successes and failures, he was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. He later redeemed himself by spending much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for the people of Louisiana.
Snicker’s Gap and the Battle of Cool Spring
Undaunted by their travails in Bayou country, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued their fight to preserve the Union during the summer of 1864. After receiving orders on the 4th of July to return to the East Coast, they did so in two stages.
Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed for the Washington, D.C. area aboard the McClellan beginning 7 July while the men from Companies B, G and K remained behind on detached duty and to await transportation. Led by F Company Captain Henry S. Harte, they finally sailed away at the end of the month aboard the Blackstone, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.
Due to the delay, the boys from B Company missed out on a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, and also missed the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.
* Note: Private Josiah Brader of Company B was taken ill by typhoid, and died on 9 July after surviving Union Major-General Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign across Louisiana, and Joseph Smith, who had been left behind in Louisiana to convalesce as his regiment was shipped north, died in New Orleans on 2 September.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864, it was in Virginia at this time in history that the now full-strength 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would engage in their greatest moments of valor.
Records of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers confirm that the regiment was assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia in early August 1864, and engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a “mimic war” being waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early.
From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in the Battle of Berryville, and engaged in related post-battle skirmishes with the enemy over subsequent days.
Inflicting heavy casualties during the Battle of Opequan (also known as “Third Winchester”) on 19 September, Sheridan’s gallant men forced a stunning retreat of Jubal Early’s Confederates—first to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September) and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack. Their victories helped Abraham Lincoln win a second term as President.
On 23-24 September 1864, Colonel Tilghman Good and Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander mustered out upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately for the 47th, they were replaced by others equally beloved for their temperament and front line experience.
Sheridan’s Army also began the first Union “scorched earth” campaign during this period, starving Confederate forces and their supporters into submission by destroying Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed by many today as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the turning of the war further in favor of the Union. Early’s men, successful in many prior engagements but now weakened by hunger, strayed from battlefields in increasing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864.
From a military standpoint, it was an impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles—all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to Bates:
When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – “Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’”
The Union’s counterattack pounded Early’s forces so far into submission that the men of the 47th would later be 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” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:
When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.
But, through it all, the casualty rates for the 47th continued to climb. Captain Edwin G. Minnich and Privates John Schimpf, Thomas Steffen, and James Tice of Company B were among those killed in action while Corporal August C. Scherer and others died later from their battle wounds. Charles Bachman, Harrison Geiger, Allen L. Kramer, and Henry H. Kramer were among those who survived their wounds, but Private Franklin Rhoads reportedly succumbed to disease after being captured and transported from the Cedar Creek battlefield area to the Confederate Army’s notorious Salisbury, North Carolina prison camp. He was just 18 years old.
Given a slight respite after Cedar Creek, the men of the 47th were quartered at the Union’s Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December before receiving orders to assume outpost duty at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia just five days before Christmas.
By February of 1865, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah.
By 19 April, the regiment was back in Washington, D.C., ordered there to defend the nation’s capital again—this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. While serving in the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps (Dwight’s Division), the 47th also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May. Captain Levi Stuber of Company I was also promoted to the rank of Major with the regimental command staff during this time.
Letters home during this period and interviews conducted in later years with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania confirm that at least one member of the 47th was given the honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while still others were assigned to guard duties at the prison where the alleged Lincoln assassination conspirators were held during the early days of their confinement.
Taking one final swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June as part of the Department of the South’s 3rd Brigade (Dwight’s Division) and at Charleston beginning in June.
Duties during this time were Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including rebuilding railroads and other key aspects of the region’s infrastructure that had been damaged or destroyed during the long war.
Finally, on Christmas Day in 1865, the majority of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Company B began to be mustered out, a process which continued through early January 1866.
Following a stormy voyage north to New York City and a train trip to Philadelphia, the now very experienced and very weary 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers received their final discharge papers at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, and were returned to the arms of their loved ones and neighbors.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
2. Burial Ledgers, in Record Group 15, The National Cemetery Administration, and Record Group 92, U.S. Departments of Defense and Army (Quartermaster General). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1861-1865.
3. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1861-1865.
4. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
5. Claims for Widow and Minor Pensions, in U.S. Civil War Widows’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
6. “Florida’s Role in the Civil War,” in Florida Memory. Tallahassee, Florida: State Archives of Florida.
7. Interment Control Forms, in Record Group 92, U.S. Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92). College Park, Maryland: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
8. Pennsylvania Veterans’ Burial Index Cards. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
9. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, U.S. Adjutant General’s Office. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1861-1865.
10. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
11. Stegall, Joel T. “Salisbury Prison: North Carolina’s Andersonville.” Fayetteville, North Carolina: North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, 13 September 2018.
12. “Tamiami Trail Modifications: Next Steps,” in Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Washington, D.C. and Everglades National Park, Florida: U.S. National Park Service, 2010.
13. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.