Officially enrolled for Civil War duty in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania in August 1861, Company C of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, was more commonly known as the “Sunbury Guards.” A military unit which began as a small town militia and has, according to several historians, protected the United States of America in every major military engagement from the American Revolution to the present, the Sunbury Guards was the first of Northumberland’s militia units to respond to President Abraham Lincoln’s call on 15 April 1861 for 75,000 volunteers “to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union.”
Departing from Sunbury and its surrounding farmlands from 20-22 April 1861, the Sunbury Guards officially mustered into service at Camp Curtin, Harrisburg Dauphin County on 23 April as Company F, 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers under the leadership of Captain Charles J. Bruner and First Lieutenant John Peter Shindel Gobin. After completing their Three Months’ service, during which time they saw action at Falling Waters, Martinsburg and Bunker Hill, the Sunbury Guards were honorably discharged on 31 July 1861.
Many then promptly signed up again for additional duty, re-enrolling for three-year terms at Sunbury, Northumberland County on 19 August 1861. Mustering in from mid-August through early September at Camp Curtin under the leadership of now Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, the Sunbury Guards became Company C, the heart of a new state infantry regiment – the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Still known as the Sunbury Guards, they were awarded the honor of bearing and protecting the national and regimental colors for the 47th Pennsylvania.
On 2 September 1861, William Reese was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant. By 17 September, a total of 101 men had officially mustered in for service with Company C of the 47th Pennsylvania, according to Captain Gobin.
Among Company C’s ranks were both the youngest and oldest members of the regiment, John Boulton Young (aged 12) and Benjamin Walls (aged 65). In a letter home (sent around the same time as his update to the Sunbury American newspaper), Captain Gobin provided additional details regarding the regiment’s status:
We expect to leave tonight for Washington or Baltimore. Our company has been made the color company of the regiment, the letter being accorded to rotation used, C. It is the same as E in the 11th. Wm. M. Hendricks has been appointed Sergeant Major, so that Sunbury is pretty well represented in the regiment, having the Quartermaster, Sergeant Major and Color Company…. Boulton is lying by me as I write, just about going to sleep.
Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics during which time they were housed at the reportedly pleasant Camp Curtin No. 2 (located on the field next to the main camp), the men of Company C were then sent by train with their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to Washington, D.C. where, beginning 21 September, they were stationed roughly two miles from the White House at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown.
“It is a very fine location for a camp,” wrote Captain Gobin. “Good water is handy, while Rock Creek, which skirts one side of us, affords an excellent place for washing and bathing.”
Henry Wharton, a musician from C Company penned the following update for the Sunbury American on 22 September:
After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.
After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.
We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday [21 September 1861] without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on dis-covering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.
Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent man and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.
I am happy to inform you that our young townsman, Mr. William Hendricks, has received the appointment of Sergeant Major to our Regiment. He made his first appearance at guard mounting this morning; he looked well, done up his duties admirably, and, in time, will make an excellent officer. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.
Company C and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were formally mustered into the U.S. Army on 24 September in a ceremony filled with pomp and celebration. That same day, James VanDyke, Northumberland County’s ex-sheriff, was promoted from the ranks of Company C to serve with the regiment’s central command as Regimental Quartermaster.
On 27 September – a rainy day, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvania was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.
The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to General W. F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. 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 October 11, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a letter home in mid-October, Captain Gobin reported that the right wing of the 47th Pennsylvania (companies A, C, D, F and I) was ordered to picket duty after the left wing’s companies (B, G, K, E, and H) were forced to return to camp by Confederate troops:
I was ordered to take my company to Stewart’s house, drive the Rebels from it, and hold it at all hazards. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning, so waiting until it was just getting day, I marched 80 men up; but the Rebels had left after driving Capt. Kacy’s company [H] into the woods. I took possession of it, and stationed my men, and there we were for 24 hours with our hands on our rifles, and without closing an eye. I took ten men, and went out scouting within half a mile of the Rebels, but could not get a prisoner, and we did not dare fire on them first. Do not think I was rash, I merely obeyed orders, and had ten men with me who could whip a hundred; Brosius, Piers [sic], Harp and McEwen were among the number. Every man in the company wanted to go. The Rebels did not attack us, and if they had they would have met with a warm reception, as I had my men posted in such a manner that I could have whipped a regiment. My men were all ready and anxious for a “fight.”
In his own letter of this period (on 13 October to the Sunbury American), Henry Wharton described the typical duties of the 47th Pennsylvanians, 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….
Wharton also reported that all of the men were well; unfortunately, he was proven wrong.
A Sad, Unwanted Distinction
On 17 October 1861, death claimed the first member of the entire regiment – the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ little drummer boy, John Boulton Young. The pain of his loss was deeply and widely felt; “Boltie” had become a favorite not just among the men of his own C Company, but of the entire 47th. After contracting Variola (smallpox), he was initially treated in camp, but was shipped back to the Kalorama eruptive fever hospital in Georgetown when it became evident that he needed more intensive care than could be provided at the 47th’s regimental hospital in Virginia.
According to Lewis Schmidt, author of A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, Captain J. P. S. Gobin wrote to Boltie’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Young of Sunbury, “It is with the most profound feelings of sorrow I ever experienced that I am compelled to announce to you the death of our Pet, and your son, Boulton.” After receiving the news of Boltie’s death, Gobin said that he:
… immediately started for Georgetown, hoping the tidings would prove untrue. Alas! when I reached there I found that little form that I had so loved, prepared for the grave. Until a short time before he died the symptoms were very favorable, and every hope was entertained of his recovery… He was the life and light of our company, and his death has caused a blight and sadness to prevail, that only rude wheels of time can efface… Every attention was paid to him by the doctors and nurses, all being anxious to show their devotion to one so young. I have had him buried, and ordered a stone for his grave, and ere six months pass a handsome monument, the gift of Company C, will mark the spot where rests the idol of their hearts. I would have sent the body home but the nature of his disease prevented it. When we return, however, if we are so fortunate, the body will accompany us… Everything connected with Boulty shall by attended to, no matter what the cost is. His effects that can be safely sent home, together with his pay, will be forwarded to you.
According to Schmidt, Gobin added the following details in a separate letter to friends:
The doctor… told me it was the worst case he ever saw. It was the regular black, confluent small pox… I had him vaccinated at Harrisburg, but it would not take, and he must have got the disease from some of the old Rebel camps we visited, as their army is full of it. There is only one more case in our regiment, and he is off in the same hospital.
Boltie’s death even made the news nationally via Washington newspapers and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Just 13 years old when he died, John Boulton Young was initially interred at the Military Asylum Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Established in August 1861 on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home, the cemetery was easily seen from a neighboring cottage that was used by President Abraham Lincoln and his family as a place of respite.
In letters home later that month, Captain Gobin asked Sunbury residents to donate blankets for the Sunbury Guards:
The government has supplied them with one blanket apiece, which, as the cold weather approaches, is not sufficient…. Some of my men have none, two of them, Theodore Kiehl and Robert McNeal, having given theirs to our lamented drummer boy when he was taken sick… Each can give at least one blanket, (no matter what color, although we would prefer dark,) and never miss it, while it would add to the comfort of the soldiers tenfold. Very frequently while on picket duty their overcoats and blankets are both saturated by the rain. They must then wait until they can dry them by the fire before they can take their rest.
On Friday morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th participated in a Divisional Review, described by historian Lewis Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.”
In early November, Gobin observed that “the health of the Company and Regiment are in the best condition. No cases of small pox have appeared since the death of Boultie.” A few patients remained in the hospital with fever, including D. W. Kembel and another from Company C. Gobin reported that Kembel was “almost well.”
Half of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, including Company C, were next ordered to join parts of the 33rd Maine and 46th New York in extending the reach of their division’s picket lines, which they did successfully to “a half mile beyond Lewinsville,” according to Gobin.
In another letter home on 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed 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….
Then, on 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to historian Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges…. After the reviews and inspections, Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.”
As a reward for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ outstanding performance during this review and in preparation for the even bigger adventures yet to come, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan directed his staff to ensure that new Springfield rifles were obtained and distributed to every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Also according to Schmidt, during this time, Captain Gobin helped a number of Sunbury Guardsmen to send a total of $900 from their collective pay back home to their families and friends in Pennsylvania.The editors of the Sunbury American then announced the names of the family members and others who could expect to receive the sorely needed financial support from their boys in blue via a special notice in the newspaper’s 30 November 1861 edition.
Gobin, in a letter written sometime around Christmas 1861, then reported that Private John D. Colvin had been detailed to special duty with the signal corps in Washington, D.C. while Musician Henry D. Wharton, increasingly known to folks back home for his letters to the Sunbury American newspaper, had assumed additional responsibilities as a clerk assigned to the staff of Brigadier-General John M. Brannan at Brigade Headquarters. Wharton’s prose would continue to inspire newspaper readers for the duration of the war, and provided much needed news (and sometimes heartache) regarding the status of men who served with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Meanwhile, around this same time, Regimental Quartermaster James C. VanDyke, who was enjoying an approved furlough at home in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, was able to procure “various articles of comfort, for the inner as well as the outer man,” according to the 21 December 1861 edition of the Sunbury American. Upon his return to camp, many of the 47th Pennsylvanians of German heritage were pleasantly surprised to learn that the well-liked former sheriff of Sunbury had thoughtfully brought a sizable supply of sauerkraut with him. The German equivalent of “comfort food,” this favored treat warmed stomachs and lifted more than a few spirits that first cold winter away from loved ones.
William Reese was promoted from Second to First Lieutenant and First Sergeant Daniel Oyster advanced to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 14 January 1862. Two days later James VanDyke resigned his regimental commission.
Having been 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, they were sent by rail to Alexandria, and then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before they were marched off again 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, as the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began their boarding of 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.
Meanwhile, the body of John Boulton Young was being exhumed. Sent home to Sunbury on 28 January 1862, his remains were reinterred at the Sunbury Cemetery on Friday, 31 January 1862. Community leaders and local school children participated in the afternoon funeral procession, as did former soldiers who had completed their Three Months’ Service. His monument was inscribed with these words:
He has beaten his last retreat, and will sleep peacefully
until Reveille on resurrection morn….
In February 1862, Boltie’s former comrades arrived at Fort Taylor in Key West. On garrison duty, they drilled daily in military strategy, including heavy artillery tactics. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men mingled with locals while attending area church services.
But while there were pleasant moments, there was also more frustration and heartache – the time here for the 47th made more difficult by the presence of typhoid fever and other tropical diseases, as well as the always likely dysentery from soldiers living in close, unsanitary conditions. Private Lafayette K. Landon was discharged via Surgeon’s Certificate on 3 March.
Next ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina from mid-June through July, they camped near Fort Walker and then quartered in the Beaufort District, Department of the South. Frequently on hazardous picket detail north of their main camp, the soldiers 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.
On 26 August 1862, Private George C. Watson died at the regimental hospital at Fort Taylor in Key West, and was interred on the barracks grounds. The next day, Private William H. Brookins was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate.
On 30 September 1862, C Company and the 47th Pennsylvanians were sent back to Florida where they participated with other Union forces in the assault on and capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October. Under the command of Brigadier-General Brannan, the 1,500-plus Union force left their gunboat-escorted troop carriers at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek. With the 47th Pennsylvania on point and braving alligators, snakes and Rebel troops, the men pushed through 25 dense miles of forests and swampland in order to capture the bluff and pave the way for the Union’s occupation of Jacksonville, Florida.
From 21-23 October, Company C and the 47th engaged Confederate forces in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackey’s Point under the brigade command of 47th Pennsylvania founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, and regimental command of Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th led the way once again. This time, however, the Union’s luck ran out.
Bedeviled by snipers, the brigade faced massive resistance from an entrenched Confederate battery, as well as withering fire upon entering a cotton field. Those headed for the Frampton Plantation’s higher ground were pounded by Rebel artillery and infantry from the surrounding forests.
Undaunted, the Union forces charged into the fire, and forced the Rebels into a four-mile retreat to the Pocotaligo Bridge. At this juncture, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut but, after two hours of exchanging fire while attempting to take the ravine and bridge, the 47th ran low on ammunition, and withdrew to Mackey’s Point. Two officers and 18 enlisted men from the 47th were killed during the expedition, including Private Seth Deibert; two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded, including Privates Jeremiah Haas, Conrad Holman, Michael Larkins, Charles Leffer, Thomas Lothard, Timothy Matthias Snyder, and Peter Wolf.
Private George Horner survived his wounds and made it back to Fort Taylor only to die in the regimental hospital there on 21 October.
On 23 October 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South, General Ormsby M. Mitchel, who had succumbed to yellow fever 30 October. Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, was later named for him. The men of the 47th Pennsylvania were the soldiers given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.
C Company’s Sergeant Peter Haupt, who also survived being wounded at Pocotaligo, succumbed from the complications of traumatic tetanus on 14 November 1862. Private Warren McEwen was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate on 7 December.
Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. Captain Gobin and his C Company men joined with Companies A, B, 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 both for the number of men lost to disease – and because most of the soldiers from the 47th Pennsylvania chose to re-enlist when their original three-year terms of service expired.
Field Musician John H. Schooley was discharged on 6 April 1863 by order of the U.S. War Department.
On 20 May 1863, C Company Captain Gobin enrolled a teenage boy – Private Rafael Pérez, a native of Havana, Cuba who had emigrated to the United States with his father and settled in Key West sometime before 1860. Private Pérez would not remain with C Company for long – less than a month, in fact – but this was due to his apparent transport north by the regiment to C Company’s home base of Sunbury Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. While there, he re-enrolled for military service with the 36th Pennsylvania Militia, and helped to protect the Keystone State from invasion by General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops during the Emergency of 1863. Also enrolling with him were John and Edward Oyster, younger brothers of Daniel Oyster, one of Private Pérez’s former superior officers from the 47th Pennsylvania.
In July 1863, Private Samuel Billington, who had been wounded during the Battle of Pocotaligo, was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate. Private Freeman Haupt was discharged by General Order of the U.S. War Department on 21 December.
On 25 February 1864, the Sunbury Guards and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began a phase of service during which their regiment would make history. Boarding another steamer, the Charles Thomas, C Company and the 47th traveled from New Orleans to Algiers, Louisiana. Arriving on 28 February, they then moved by train to Brashear City before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th 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.
From 14-26 March, the 47th marched for the top of the L in the L-shaped state, passing through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington en route to Alexandria. On 8 April, they engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield).
Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down during the back-and-forth volley of fire. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, the uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded.
After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill. C Company’s Private Jeremiah Haas was one of the many killed that day; Private Thomas Lothard was one of the even larger number wounded. The next day, Sunbury Guardsman and 68-year-old Company C Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was wounded during the Battle of Pleasant Hill, as was Sergeant William Pyers.
The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had been ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner 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.
During this engagement, the 47th Pennsylvania also recaptured a Massachusetts artillery battery that had been lost during the earlier Confederate assault. While he was mounting the 47th Pennsylvania’s colors on one of the recaptured Massachusetts caissons, Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was shot in the left shoulder. As Walls fell, Sergeant William Pyers saved the American flag.
Both men survived their wounds and continued to fight on, but others from the 47th were less fortunate, including Private John C. Sterner (killed at Pleasant Hill), and Privates Cornelius Kramer, George Miller, and Thomas Nipple (wounded). In addition, the regiment nearly lost its second in command, Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander.
Others were captured, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war by Confederate forces until released during prisoner exchanges from July through November. The POWs from Company C who were captured during the fighting at Pleasant Hill included Privates Conrad Holman, Edward Matthews, Samuel Miller, and John W. McNew, who was wounded at Pleasant Hill before being taken prisoner. At least two members of the 47th died while in captivity while still others remain missing to this day.
On 11 April 1864, Private Jeremiah Gardner died in Philadelphia.
That same day, Major William S. Gausler was discharged, allegedly for cowardice; however, President Abraham Lincoln personally reversed the U.S. Adjutant General’s ruling against Gausler in October, allowing Gausler to resign with rank intact. On 15 April 1864, First Lieutenant William Reese was also similarly charged with cowardice and dismissed for his actions. He was forced to wait nearly a year for those charges to be overturned. His honor was restored on 18 February 1865 when the dismissal was revoked by the U.S. War Department and Office of the Adjutant General.
On 16 April 1864, 2nd Lieutenant Daniel Oyster was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant.
On 23 April, the 47th Pennsylvanians engaged in the fighting which ensued as part of their regiment’s effort to make the Cane River Crossing at Monett’s Ferry. From 30 April to 10 May, they then began construction of a timber dam across the Red River to enable Union gunboats to travel more easily navigate the river’s fluctuating river levels and rapids.
During this phase of service, Private Adam Maul was captured by Confederate forces (captured 3 May, released during the 22 July prisoner exchange). On 13 May, the regiment moved to Morganza, Louisiana.
Also during this time, according to Union Army death ledgers, Private James Kennedy, who initially survived a gunshot fracture of his arm, died from complications at the Union Army’s St. James General Hospital in New Orleans on 27 April 1864. C Company’s Henry Wharton reported the news via a letter home, which ran in the 18 June 1864 edition of the Sunbury American:
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.
In this same letter, which was penned by Henry Wharton on 29 May while the regiment was encamped at Morganza, Wharton noted that:
Company C, on last Saturday [21 May 1864] 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 satisfactorily and returned yesterday [28 May 1864] 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. The boys are well.
The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers then continued on with their march, finally reaching New Orleans on 20 June. Sergeant Peter Smelzer, one of the 47th Pennsylvania’s many Veteran Volunteers, was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate on 17 June 1864.
It was while stationed at New Orleans that Wharton, Gobin and their fellow C Company soldiers learned that their fight was still far from over as the regiment received new orders on the 4th of July.
An Encounter with Lincoln and Snicker’s Gap
Still able and willing to fight after their time in Bayou country, the soldiers of Company C and the men from the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies A, D, E, F, H, and I steamed aboard the McClellan beginning 7 July 1864. Private George Fritz was also discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate that same day.
Following their arrival in Virginia and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln on 12 July, they joined up with General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap in mid-July 1864. There, they fought in the Battle of Cool Spring and, once again, assisted in defending Washington, D.C. while also helping to drive Confederate troops from Maryland.
On 24 July, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin was promoted from leadership of the Sunbury Guards/Company C to the central regimental command staff at the rank of Major.
Private George W. Bortell (alternate spelling of surname: “Bortle”) died of heart disease-related asphyxia at the Union Army’s Mt. Pleasant General Hospital on 8 August 1864. Private George Kramer died aboard the Union transport ship, Mississippi, on 27 August 1864. Word was also received that month that Private J. S. Harte had died of disease-related complications at the Union’s Marine hospital in New Orleans.
Attached to the Middle Military Division, U.S. Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864, it was at this time and place, under the leadership of legendary Union General Philip H. Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, that the members of the 47th Pennsylvania would engage in their greatest moments of valor. Of the experience, Company C’s Samuel Pyers said it was “our hardest engagement.”
Records of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers confirm that the regiment was assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia in early August 1864, and engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a “mimic war” being waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early.
On 1 September 1864, First Lieutenant Daniel Oyster was promoted to the rank of Captain of the Sunbury Guards/Company C. William Hendricks was promoted from Second to First Lieutenant, Sergeant Christian S. Beard was promoted to Second Lieutenant, Sergeant William Fry was promoted to the rank of First Sergeant, and Corporal John Bartlow was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Private Timothy M. Snyder was also promoted to the rank of Corporal that same day.
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. On one of those days (5 September 1864), Captain Oyster and a subordinate, Private David Sloan, were wounded at Berryville, Virginia.
Color-Bearer Benjamin Walls, the oldest member of the entire regiment, was mustered out upon expiration of his three-year term of service on 18 September – despite his request that he continued to be allowed to continue his service to the nation. Privates D. W. and Isaac Kemble, David S. Beidler, R. W. Druckemiller, Charles Harp, John H. Heim, former POW Conrad Holman, George Miller, William Pfeil, William Plant, and Alex Ruffaner also mustered out the same day upon expiration of their service terms.
Valor and Persistence – Opequan and Fisher’s Hill
Inflicting heavy casualties during the Battle of Opequan (also known as “Third Winchester”) on 19 September 1864, Sheridan’s gallant blue jackets forced a stunning retreat of Jubal Early’s grays – first to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September) and then, following a successful early morning flanking attack, to Waynesboro. These impressive Union victories helped Abraham Lincoln secure his second term as President but, once again, there were casualties. Among others, Corporal Timothy M. Snyder suffered another wound – this time in the knee.
On 23-24 September Colonel Tilghman Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander mustered out upon expiration of their respective terms of service.
Battle of Cedar Creek – 19 October 1864
On 19 October 1864, Early’s Confederate forces briefly stunned the Union Army, launching a surprise attack at Cedar Creek, but Sheridan was able to rally his troops. Intense fighting raged for hours and ranged over a broad swath of Virginia farmland. Weakened by hunger wrought by the Union’s earlier destruction of crops, Early’s army gradually peeled off, one by one, to forage for food while Sheridan’s forces fought on, and won the day.
But it was another extremely costly engagement for Pennsylvania’s native sons. The 47th experienced a total of 176 casualties during the Cedar Creek encounter alone, including: Sunbury Guards’ Sergeant John Bartlow (killed at Cedar Creek 19 October), and Privates James Brown (a carpenter), Jasper B. Gardner (a conductor), George W. Keiser (an 18-year-old farmer), Theodore Kiehl, Joseph Smith, and John E. Will – all killed in action on 19 October.
Sergeant William Pyers, father of Company C Field Musician Samuel H. Pyers and the very same gallant Sunbury Guarsdsman wounded while protecting the colors at Pleasant Hill, also departed from the field of battle forever at Cedar Creek.
Corporal William F. Finck and Privates George P. Blain, Perry Colvin, Jesse Green, George D. John, Isaac Kramer, William Michael, Richard O’Rourke, Henry A. Shiffin, John Sunker, Joseph Walters, and David Weikle were all wounded in action, as was Captain Daniel Oyster, who sustained a gunshot wound to his other shoulder.
Private Charles F. Stewart was captured during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October, but was eventually released on 4 March 1865. Private Martin M. Berger was not as fortunate; he died less than three months later at the Confederate prison camp in Salisbury, North Carolina on 6 January 1865.
Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers mourned their dead and recuperated. On 1 November 1864, Corporal Samuel Y. Haupt, who had been wounded in the chin on 22 October 1862 during the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina, was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and Private John W. Sniteman was promoted to the rank of Corporal. The next day, Private Jacob C. Grubb died from the wounds he had sustained during the Battle of Cedar Creek.
And on 4 November 1864, Major John Peter Shindel Gobin, former Captain of Company C was again promoted up the ranks of the regimental command structure – this time to Lieutenant Colonel.
Stationed at Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December, Corporal Samuel Eyster was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and Private David Sloan to the rank of Corporal on 1 December, the same day on which Private Peter Swinehart died of wounds received 19 October at Cedar Creek. Private Alexander Given also succumbed from Cedar Creek wound-related complications that month.
Five days before Christmas, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered to march again – this time through a snowstorm for outpost duty at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia. The next day, Private Emanuel Beaver died from typhoid fever at the Union’s post hospital at Winchester.
1865 – 1866
Receiving his final promotion in January 1865, John Peter Shindel Gobin was now a Colonel. On 24 January, Private H. B. Robinson was discharged by order of the War Department.
Sadly, after fighting to stay alive as a POW until he was released 4 March 1865, Sergeant William Fry died at home in Sunbury on 28 March from the effects of his ordeal at Andersonville.
On 14 February and 13 April, respectively, Privates Jesse Green and Robert Horrel were discharged on Surgeon’s Certificates while Mark Shipman was promoted to the rank of Corporal and William F. Finck to the rank of Sergeant on 1 April.
Assigned first to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah in February, the men of the 47th were ordered back to Washington, D.C. 19 April to defend the nation’s capital again – this time following President Lincoln’s assassination.
Sunbury Guardsman Samuel H. Pyers was one of those given the high honor of protecting the late President’s funeral train, assigned to guard duty from Washington, D.C. to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Relay House in Maryland.
Letters home from several other members of the 47th confirm that at least part of the regiment was also assigned guard duty at the prison where the primary Lincoln assassination conspirators were held and tried.
Privates Michael Dorsing and Henry Seneff became Corporals on 22 April 1865. First Lieutenant William Hendricks resigned on 1 May, and on 19 May, Private George P. Blain mustered out of service.
While serving in Dwight’s Division, 2nd Brigade, U.S. Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, Company C and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May.
Captain Levi Stuber of Company I was also promoted to central regimental command at this time, and assumed the rank of Major. On 25 May 1865, Private William Kennedy died at the Union’s Mower General Hospital Philadelphia of phthisis, a general wasting away frequently linked to tuberculosis.
On their final swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June 1865 as part of the 3rd Brigade, Dwight’s Division, U.S. Department of the South, and at Charleston, South Carolina beginning in June. On 14 June Private Charles Leffer mustered out upon expiration of his term of service, as did Private George D. John (6 July).
Henry D. Wharton was promoted from service with Company C to Commissary Sergeant with central regimental command on 1 July 1865. Privates George R. Good and Stewart Kirk became Corporals that same day, and Lloyd G. John and David Snyder did so 1 August. Corporals John W. Sniteman and Benjamin F. Miller were also promoted – to the rank of Sergeant on 10 July and 1 August, respectively. Sergeant Samuel Y. Haupt became a First Sergeant, First Sergeant Jacob K. Keefer became a Second Lieutenant, and Second Lieutenant Christian S. Beard became a First Lieutenant – all on 5 July.
The 9 August 1865 edition of the New York Times provided an update regarding the Union Army’s occupation of Charleston, South Carolina. Major Stuber was one of the officers listed in this article, and was described as: “Assistant Provost-Marshal Maj. LEVI STUBER, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.”
Garrisoning the city with the 47th Pennsylvania were the members of the 165th New York Volunteers, companies of the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery, and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers. The first military unit assembled in the North comprised of black soldiers, the trailblazing 54th was renowned for its gallantry and celebrated in the 1989 movie, Glory, starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick.
On 18 August 1865, Private Isaac Kramer was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate; on 20 August, Private Emanuel Walters died at Charleston, South Carolina. On 13 April and 9 October, respectively, Privates David Naylor and Samuel M. Reigle were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates. Private William Michael mustered out upon expiration of his term of service (25 May), as did Private Michael Larkins and former POW Private Edward Matthews (1 October), Private Charles Ehrie (2 October), and Private David Snyder (5 October).
Finally, on Christmas Day, 1865, at Charleston, South Carolina, the men of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers began to be honorably mustered out. Some, like Private Pyers, were not mustered out until after the New Year but, eventually, they were all sent home by steamship to New York, and then via train to Philadelphia and Camp Caldwalader, where they were paid for their service and given discharge papers.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
2. Bell, Herbert C. History of Northumberland County. Chicago: Brown, Runk, & Co. Publishers: 1891.
3. 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.
4. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
5. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
6. Claims for Widow and Minor Pensions, in U.S. Civil War Widows’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
7. Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records (baptismal, marriage, death and burial records of various churches across Pennsylvania). Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
8. Interment Control Forms, in Record Group 92, U.S. Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92). College Park: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
9. Pennsylvania Veterans’ Burial Index Cards. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
10. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, in Records of the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
11. S. H. Pyers Was Drummer Boy in Civil War, in Lebanon Daily News. Lebanon: 16 July 1928.
12. Samuel Pyers at the Funeral of Abe Lincoln (Samuel Pyers’ obituary), in Lebanon Semi-Weekly News. Lebanon: 5 November 1931.
13. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
14. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C.: 1840-1940.
15. U.S. Veterans’ Schedule. Washington, D.C.: 1890.