The Oyster Clan — A Captain and Brothers Courageous

Captain Daniel Oyster, Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, circa 1864 (public domain).

“Capt. Oyster was struck by a ball, staggering him, but otherwise doing no injury. In his being hit there is a circumstance connected, that I cannot help but giving you, even you may put it down as a fish story, though for the truth the whole company will vouch. The ball struck him on the back of his shoulder, made a hole in his vest and shirt and none in the coat.”—Henry D. Wharton, Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, in a letter to the Oyster brothers’ hometown newspaper (Sunbury American, 7 September 1864)

The Oyster boys of Sunbury, Pennsylvania were not only 19th-century blood brothers, they were brothers-in-arms and true comrades to each other and their fellow Union Army soldiers during the American Civil War.

Formative Years

Born on 17 March 1835 in Sunbury, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, Daniel Oyster was a son of Pennsylvania natives Edward and Catharine (Wagner) Oyster and the eldest of four brothers. He and his three younger brothers—George, John Shindle and Edward Whitman—all served in the military during the American Civil War. His brother, George, served with him in Company F of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers; his brother, John, served with him in Company C of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Edward, however, went his own way, as he would often do throughout his life, ultimately choosing to serve in the cavalry.

In 1840, Daniel Oyster resided in Sunbury with his parents and older sister, Mary Elizabeth (born sometime around 1833), and younger brother George (born on 9 July 1837). According to the federal census that year, their father held a position in the manufacturing/trade industry. Two years later, their father ran for, and won, the position of Register, Recorder and Clerk of Northumberland County; he then went on to serve as Clerk of that county’s Orphans’ Court during the early and middle years of the decade.

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

In 1845, the elder Edward Oyster put his name forward for the position of County Register and Recorder, but opted to withdraw after the fourth ballot at the Democratic Convention when it became evident that another candidate had garnered more supporting delegates. In 1847, he was appointed Secretary of the Democratic Convention’s Standing Committee, and also served as one of two convention delegates from Sunbury. (Silas H. Engel was the other.) In 1848, an edition of the Sunbury American newspaper noted that Edward Oyster continued to serve as Clerk of the Northumberland County Orphans’ Court that year and that his superior was John Pursel (the man who had garnered the most delegates at the 1845 Democratic Convention when Edward Oyster had entered and then withdrawn his name from consideration).

By 1850, Oyster siblings Daniel, Mary Elizabeth and George were still living in Sunbury with their parents. Land-related notices in the Sunbury American newspapers documented the family’s home as being located in Upper Augusta Township. Also residing in the home at this time were siblings John Shindle Oyster (born in 1844), Edward Whitman Oyster (born in 1846), and Susanna Oyster (born in October 1849), as well as the siblings’ paternal grandmother, Catharine Oyster.

Sadly, their baby sister, Susanna, appears not to have survived childhood, passing away a few years after the family had experienced an earlier, equally unexpected crisis—the death in Sunbury of family patriarch, Edward Oyster, who passed away on 11 October 1850. The 12 October 1850 edition of the Sunbury American newspaper reported his passing as follows:

In this place, yesterday morning, Edward Oyster, Esq., late Recorder & c., of this county, aged about 45 years.

A far more pleasant change to the clan’s family tree occurred on 31 December 1857 when George Oyster became the first of the children to marry—to Phoebe Ann Clement. Before the year was out, Mary Elizabeth Oyster also wed, marrying Jacob Wilvert at the Zion Lutheran Church in Sunbury on 26 August 1858.

At the dawn of the Civil War, Daniel Oyster was still single—and employed as a machinist, according to an accounting of his life which would run in Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star more than six decades later. Per the federal census of 1860, he still resided in Sunbury with his mother and brothers, George, John and Edward Oyster. While Daniel, John and George worked as laborers to support their widowed mother, their sister, Mary, also remained close, residing nearby with her carpenter husband, Jacob Wilvert.

Civil War Military Service

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

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

But clouds of worry would soon appear over their happy homes, community and nation as injudicious leaders of southern states became increasingly enthralled with the idea of secession. Beginning with South Carolina on 20 December 1861, one state after another fell away like dominoes—Mississippi (9 January 1861), Florida and Alabama (10-11 January), Georgia (19 January), Louisiana (26 January), and Texas (1 February). Just over two months later Fort Sumter, an important federal installation in South Carolina, was surrendered to Confederate forces.

In response, Daniel Oyster and his younger brother, George, became two of the earliest men in their community and state to answer President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help defend the nation’s capital following the fort’s fall. They enrolled for military service at Sunbury, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. and mustered in for duty at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 23 April 1861 with Company F, 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry—Daniel as a Corporal and George as a Private.

This public domain illustration is an excerpt from a larger montage of images from the Battle of Falling Waters, Virginia which ran in the 27 edition of Harper's Weekly. "Council of War" depicts "Generals Williams, Cadwallader, Keim, Nagle, Wynkoop, and Colonels Thomas and Longnecker" strategizing on the eve of battle.

Excerpt from montage of Battle of Falling Waters images (Harper’s Weekly, 27 July 1861, public domain). “Council of War” depicts Generals Williams, Cadwalader, Keim, Nagle, Wynkoop, and Colonels Thomas and Longnecker strategizing on the eve of battle.”

On 2 July 1861, the Sunbury Guards engaged in intense fighting during the Battle of Falling Waters, the first Civil War battle in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. (A second battle with a different military configuration occurred there in 1863.) Also known as the Battle of Hainesville or Hoke’s Run, this first Battle of Falling Waters helped pave the way for the Confederate Army victory at Manassas later that month.

In a letter home to the Sunbury American on 3 July 1861, Corporal Henry D. Wharton, who served in F Company with the Oyster brothers, chronicled the experience of his fellow Guardsmen at Falling Waters:

Our boys, Sunbury Guards, were in the hottest of the fight, they being in the centre, and strange to say no one was killed, and but one slightly wounded. The name of the wounded man is Christ Shall, from Cincinnati. I was at the Hospital assisting, when he came in, after the wound was dressed, he turned to me and said, “Harry, where is my gun, I must go help the boys fight it out,” and he went, and after returning helped Bill Christ to kill two…. That is what I call cool and shows considerable bravery.

The 11th Pennsylvania also saw action at Martinsburg and Bunker Hill, and were heralded for their valor. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin proudly labeled the regiment “the Bloody Eleventh.” The 24 August 1861 edition of the Sunbury American recapped the Three Months’ Service duties of the Sunbury Guards as follows:

April 21.- Went from Sunbury to Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, and encamped there.
23.- Were sworn into service.
May 4- Left Camp Curtin for West Chester at 11 o’clock. Arrived in Camp Wayne about 8 o’clock.
27- Left West Chester at 5 o’clock, went through Philadelphia to North East, Md, arrived about 5 o’clock in the evening.
June 9.- Went from North East to Havre de Grace.
12.- Went from Havre de Grace to Chambersburg.
17- Went from Chambersburg to Hagerstown.
18- Went from Hagerstown to Williamsport in the morning, and returned to Hagerstown in the evening.
29.- Went from Hagerstown to Downsville.
July 1- Went from Downsville to Williamsport.
2.- Left Williamsport for Martinsburg – Met the enemy at Hoke’s Run. Had an engagement, in which 1 was killed and 9 wounded in the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment, 1 killed and 7 wounded in the 1st Wisconsin Regiment, and 1 of McMullin’s Rangers killed and 1 wounded. Encamped about 1 mile from the battlefield.
2.- West to Martinsburg and encamped there.
4.- West to Williamsport. Guarding the baggage wagons.
5.- Returned to camp at Martinsburg, with provisions.
12.- A flag was presented to the 11th Regiment, by the ladies of Martinsburg.
15.- Went from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill.
17.- Went from Bunker Hill to Charleston.
21- Went from Charleston to the heights west of Harper’s Ferry.
24- Went across the river to Sandy Hook.
26- Went from Sandy Hook to Baltimore.
27- Went from Baltimore to Harrisburg.

Following their honorable completion of their Three Months’ Service, the Oyster brothers mustered out with their regiment on 1 August 1861.

On 3 August 1861, the Sunbury American described the town’s welcome home for its boys in blue:

RECEPTION OF THE VOLUNTEERS.
Saturday last was a great day in Sunbury. The “Sunbury Guards” had been expected on their return home about the middle of the week, and preparations were made to give them a suitable reception. On Friday a dispatch was received that the Company would return in a special train that evening, but it was not until an hour past midnight that the train came in sight, containing six or seven companies of the 11th Regiment, among them the “Sunbury Guards.” The Muncy company also remained over night. The depot platform, notwithstanding the late hour, was crowded and remained until the booming cannon had ceased, and the bonfires had burned out. The boys were all apparently well, except one, David Druckemiller, whose declining health should have prevented his entering into service. His case excited much sympathy as he was carried home in a blanket, but we are pleased to hear that he is improving.

On the following day, Saturday, Market Square was crowded with our citizens and people from the vicinity. A platform had been erected in front of the Court House, and long tables set under the shade of the trees in the Square. The citizens had provided in abundance, and the volunteers, after marching through the streets, preceded by Grant’s Cornet Band, seated themselves at the tables. The ladies were busily engaged as waiters, and never were waiters more faithful and attentive. After dinner a meeting was organized by appointing the following officers:-

President – FRED’K. LAZARUS, Esq.
Vice Presidents – Hon. George Weiser, Jacob Bright, Daniel Beckley, Francis Bucher, D.W. Shindel, Benj. Zetelmoyer, Ira T. Clement, James Covert, James Bright, P.B. Masser, Wm. I. Greenough, Benjamin Hendricks, E.W. Bright, Sr., S.B. Boyer, Simon Snyder, Charles Pleasants, Peter Lazarus, and Samuel Gobin.

Secretaries – H.B. Masser, John Youngman, Geo. Rohrbach, and Henry Donnel.

Hon. Alexander Jordan made the opening speech, which was well delivered and in excellent taste. He referred to the war, and the duty of every patriot in sustaining the Government in its prosecution. He congratulated the “Sunbury Guards” upon their gallant conduct in remaining over their time, and their courage in battle. Lieut. J. P. S. Gobin was then called for. The call was unexpected, but he responded in a neat speech, acknowledging, in behalf of the Company, the high compliment and honors paid to them by their friends, relatives and neighbors. After which the Rev. Mr. Rizer, of this place, Chaplain of Col. Cameron’s Regiment, appeared on the platform, and delivered an eloquent and patriotic speech. During all this time, table after table was filled, so that perhaps no less than four or five hundred men, women and children were entertained during the afternoon, while the provisions and fragments left, would have served to feed several more companies.

A Desire to Finish the Fight

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

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

After the last strains of celebratory music and laughter died out, Daniel Oyster re-upped for a full, three-year tour of duty, re-enrolling at Sunbury on 19 August 1861 and mustering in again at Camp Curtin on 2 September 1861 as a First Sergeant with Company C of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. As with Company F of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company C of the 47th Pennsylvania was made up largely of men from Sunbury and its surrounding farms and smaller communities in Northumberland County. Consequently, the men of Company C of the 47th were also often referred to as the “Sunbury Guards.”

Military records at the time of Daniel Oyster’s re-enlistment described him as a being a 26-year-old boatman residing in Northumberland County who was 5’8-1/2” tall with light hair, gray eyes and a light complexion.

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), Sergeant Daniel Oyster and his fellow C Company men were then sent by train with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to Washington, D.C. where they were stationed roughly two miles from the White House at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 21 September. “It is a very fine location for a camp,” wrote Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, C Company’s commanding officer. “Good water is handy, while Rock Creek, which skirts one side of us, affords an excellent place for washing and bathing.”

On 22 September, Company C Musician Henry D. Wharton penned the following update for their hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American:

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.

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

On 24 September 1861, Sergeant Daniel Oyster and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers officially mustered in with the U.S. Army. Three days later, on September 27, a rainy, drill-free day which permitted many of the men to read or write letters home, the 47th Pennsylvanians were assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Brigadier-General Ingalls Isaac Stevens. By that afternoon, they were on the move again, headed for the Potomac River’s eastern side where, upon arriving at Camp Lyon in Maryland, they were ordered to march double-quick over a chain bridge and off toward Falls Church, Virginia.

Arriving at Camp Advance at dusk, the men pitched their tents in a deep ravine about two miles from the bridge they had just crossed, near a new federal military facility under construction (Fort Ethan Allen), which was also located near the headquarters of Brigadier-General William Farrar Smith (nicknamed “Baldy”), the commander of the Union’s massive Army of the Potomac (“Mr. Lincoln’s Army”). Armed with Mississippi rifles supplied by the Keystone State, their job was to help defend the nation’s capital.

On 11 October, after having been ordered with the 3rd Brigade to “Camp Big Chestnut” (so named because of a prominently located chestnut tree and later renamed as Camp Griffin), the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In another 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.

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

On 21 October, Sergeant Daniel Oyster participated in a planning meeting with his superior officers, Captain Gobin and Second Lieutenant William Reese, and fellow Sunbury Guardsmen Henry D. Wharton, Benjamin Walls, Robert McNeal, William M. Hendricks, and Peter Haupt to draft a resolution expressing the regiment’s bereavement following the death of the 47th Pennsylvania’s beloved, 13-year-old drummer boy, John Boulton Young, who had died from Variola (smallpox) at the Union Army’s hospital in Georgetown. Once completed, the resolution was sent to their hometown newspaper, the Sunbury Gazette, for publication in its 26 October 1861 edition.

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.” 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.

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

On 21 November, the 47th participated in another morning divisional headquarters review—one overseen by the regiment’s commanding officer—Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to 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, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan ordered that new Springfield rifles be obtained and distributed to every infantryman serving with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

1862

With the New Year, came new responsibilities. William Reese was promoted from Second to First Lieutenant and First Sergeant Daniel Oyster was awarded the rank of Second Lieutenant on 14 January 1862—a promotion that was made retroactive to 13 December 1861, according to historian Samuel P. Bates. The members of the regiment were quite pleased by Oyster’s promotion; one soldier recounted their celebration in a letter home:

At dress parade, the promotion of Sgt. Daniel Oyster to 2nd Lieutenant was announced, and after his Company C marched to their quarters, ‘three hearty cheers were given that anyone might be proud of, for honest ‘Old Mose’.

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

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. Daniel Oyster and his fellow officers were among the last to board. Then, 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.

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

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

In early February 1862, Second Lieutenant Daniel Oyster and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians arrived at Fort Taylor in Key West. On 14 February, they made their presence known to area residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That weekend, a number of the men also mingled with residents as they attended local church services.

On garrison duty, they drilled daily in military strategy, including heavy artillery tactics. Their time was 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 and the poor quality of water available to them. Several men were discharged on surgeons’ certificates; still others died and were hastily interred with military honors at the post cemetery.

But there were lighter moments as well. According to a letter penned by Henry Wharton on 27 February 1862, the regiment commemorated the birthday of former U.S. President George Washington with a parade, a special ceremony involving the reading of Washington’s farewell address to the nation (first delivered in 1796), the firing of cannon at the fort, and a sack race and other games on 22 February. The festivities resumed two days later when the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band hosted an officers’ ball at which “all parties enjoyed themselves, for three o’clock of the morning sounded on their ears before any motion was made to move homewards.” This was then followed by a concert by the Regimental Band on Wednesday evening, 26 February.

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

Next ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina from mid-June through July, they initially camped near Fort Walker before moving roughly 35 miles to the south, where they were quartered in the Beaufort District, Department of the South. Frequently assigned to hazardous picket detail north of their main camp, which put them at increased risk of sniper fire, 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.

Around this same time, detachments from the regiment were assigned to the Expedition to Fenwick Island (9 July) and the Demonstration against Pocotaligo (10 July).

Also during that summer and fall of 1862, the spirit of national service was stirring back home in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Daniel Oyster’s brother, George, left his job as a saddler in Sunbury, Pennsylvania to re-up for military service, re-enrolling at Sunbury on 12 September, and mustering in as a Corporal with Company D of the 3rd Pennsylvania Infantry Militia. His brother, John Shindel Oyster, also joined in this enrollment, mustering in as a Private with the same company and regiment. Both mustered out only two weeks later on 25 September 1862.

Illustration of the Union Navy's base of operations, Mayport Mills, circa 1862 (public domain).

Union Navy base of operations, Mayport Mills, circa 1862 (public domain).

Just five days later, on 30 September 1862 in the Deep South, C Company and the 47th Pennsylvania 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.

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

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. In his report on the matter, filed from Mount Pleasant Landing, Florida on 2 October 1862, Colonel Tilghman H. Good described the Union Army’s assault on Saint John’s Bluff:

In accordance with orders received I landed my regiment on the bank of Buckhorn Creek at 7 o’clock yesterday morning. After landing I moved forward in the direction of Parkers plantation, about 1 mile, being then within about 14 miles of said plantation. Here I halted to await the arrival of the Seventh Connecticut Regiment. I advanced two companies of skirmishers toward the house, with instructions to halt in case of meeting any of the enemy and report the fact to me. After they had advanced about three-quarters of a mile they halted and reported some of the enemy ahead. I immediately went forward to the line and saw some 5 or 6 mounted men about 700 or 800 yards ahead. I then ascended a tree, so that I might have a distinct view of the house and from this elevated position I distinctly saw one company of infantry of infantry close by the house, which I supposed to number about 30 or 40 men, and also some 60 or 70 mounted men. After waiting for the arrival of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers until 10 o’clock, and it not appearing, I dispatched a squad of men back to the landing for a 6-pounder field howitzer which had been kindly offered to my service by Lieutenant Boutelle, of the Paul Jones. This howitzer had been stationed on a flat-boat to protect our landing. The party, however, did not arrive with the piece until 12 o’clock, in consequence of the difficulty of dragging it through the swamp. Being anxious to have as little delay as possible, I did not await the arrival of the howitzer, but at 11 a.m. moved forward, and as I advanced the enemy fled.

After reaching the house I awaited the arrival of the Seventh Connecticut and the howitzer. After they arrived I moved forward to the head of Mount Pleasant Creek to a bridge, at which place I arrived at 2 p.m. Here I found the bridge destroyed, but which I had repaired in a short time. I then crossed it and moved down on the south bank toward Mount Pleasant Landing. After moving about 1 mile down the bank of the creek my skirmishing companies came upon a camp, which evidently had been very hastily evacuated, from the fact that the occupants had left a table standing with a sumptuous meal already prepared for eating. On the center of the table was placed a fine, large meat pie still warm, from which one of the party had already served his plate. The skirmishers also saw 3 mounted men leave the place in hot haste. I also found a small quantity of commissary and quartermasters stores, with 23 tents, which, for want of transportation, I was obliged to destroy. After moving about a mile farther on I came across another camp, which also indicated the same sudden evacuation. In it I found the following articles … breech-loading carbines, 12 double-barreled shot-guns, 8 breech-loading Maynard rifles, 11 Enfield rifles, and 96 knapsacks. These articles I brought along by having the men carry them. There were, besides, a small quantity of commissary and quartermasters stores, including 16 tents, which, for the same reason as stated, I ordered to be destroyed. I then pushed forward to the landing, where I arrived at 7 p.m.

We drove the enemys [sic] skirmishers in small parties along the entire march. The march was a difficult one, in consequence of meeting so many swamps almost knee-deep.

On 3 October, Good filed his report from Saint John’s Bluff, Florida, now in Union hands:

At 9 o’clock last night Lieutenant Cannon reported to me that his command, consisting of one section of the First Connecticut Battery, was then coming up the creek on flat-boats with a view of landing. At 4 o’clock this morning a safe landing was effected and the command was ready to move. The order to move to Saint John’s Bluff reached me at 4 p.m. yesterday. In accordance with it I put the column in motion immediately and moved cautiously up the bank of the Saint John’s River, the skirmishing companies occasionally seeing small parties of the enemy’s cavalry retiring in our front as we advanced. When about 2 miles from the bluff the left wing of the skirmishing line came upon another camp of the enemy, which, however, in consequence of the lateness of the hour, I did not take time to examine, it being then already dark.

After my arrival at the bluff, it then being 7:30 o’clock, I dispatched Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander with two companies back to the last-named camp (which I found, from a number of papers left behind, to have been called Camp Hopkins and occupied by the Milton Artillery, of Florida) to reconnoiter and ascertain its condition. Upon his return he reported that from every appearance the skedaddling of the enemy was as sudden as in the other instances already mentioned, leaving their trunks and all the camp equipage behind; also a small store of commissary supplies, sugar, rice, half barrel of flour, one bag of salt, &c., including 60 tents which I have brought in this morning. The commissary stores were used by the troops of my command.

Integration of the Regiment

On 5 and 15 October 1862, respectively, the 47th Pennsylvania then made history as it became an integrated regiment, adding to its muster rolls several young to middle-aged Black men who had endured plantation enslavement in Beaufort, South Carolina. Among the men freed who subsequently opted to enroll as members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were Abraham and Edward Jassum (aged 16 and 22, respectively), and Bristor Gethers (aged 33), whose name was spelled as “Presto Gettes” on transcriptions of muster rolls made by historian Samuel P. Bates. 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

Pocotaligo-Coosawhatchie Expedition, 21-23 October 1862 (U.S. Army, public domain).

From 21-23 October, Company C and the 47th engaged Confederate forces in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackay’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.

Charleston & Savannah Railroad, South Carolina (Harper’s Weekly, 4 March 1865, public domain).

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 Mackay’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.

In his report on the engagement, made from headquarters at Beaufort, South Carolina on 24 October 1862, Colonel Good wrote:

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers in the action of October 22:

Eight companies, comprising 480 men, embarked on the steamship Ben De Ford, and two companies, of 120 men, on the Marblehead, at 2 p.m. October 21. With this force I arrived at Mackays Landing before daylight the following morning. At daylight I was ordered to disembark my regiment and move forward across the first causeway and take a position, and there await the arrival of the other forces. The two companies of my regiment on board of the Marblehead had not yet arrived, consequently I had but eight companies of my regiment with me at this juncture.

At 12 m. I was ordered to take the advance with four companies, one of the Forty-seventh and one of the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and two of the Sixth Connecticut, and to deploy two of them as skirmishers and move forward. After moving forward about 2 miles I discerned some 30 or 40 of the enemys [sic] cavalry ahead, but they fled as we advanced. About 2 miles farther on I discovered two pieces of artillery and some cavalry, occupying a position about three-quarters of a mile ahead in the road. I immediately called for a regiment, but seeing that the position was not a strong one I made a charge with the skirmishing line. The enemy, after firing a few rounds of shell, fled. I followed up as rapidly as possible to within about 1 mile of Frampton Creek. In front of this stream is a strip of woods about 500 yards wide, and in front of the woods a marsh of about 200 yards, with a small stream running through it parallel with the woods. A causeway also extends across the swamp, to the right of which the swamp is impassable. Here the enemy opened a terrible fire of shell from the rear, of the woods. I again called for a regiment, and my regiment came forward very promptly. I immediately deployed in line of battle and charged forward to the woods, three companies on the right and the other five on the left of the road. I moved forward in quick-time, and when within about 500 yards of the woods the enemy opened a galling fire of infantry from it. I ordered double-quick and raised a cheer, and with a grand yell the officers and men moved forward in splendid order and glorious determination, driving the enemy from this position.

On reaching the woods I halted and reorganized my line. The three companies on the right of the road (in consequence of not being able to get through the marsh) did not reach the woods, and were moved by Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander by the flank on the causeway. During this time a terrible fire of grape and canister was opened by the enemy through the woods, hence I did not wait for the three companies, but immediately charged with the five at hand directly through the woods; but in consequence of the denseness of the woods, which was a perfect matting of vines and brush, it was almost impossible to get through, but by dint of untiring assiduity the men worked their way through nobly. At this point I was called out of the woods by Lieutenant Bacon, aide-de-camp, who gave the order, ‘The general wants you to charge through the woods.’ I replied that I was then charging, and that the men were working their way through as fast as possible. Just then I saw the two companies of my regiment which embarked on the Marblehead coming up to one of the companies that was unable to get through the swamp on the right. I went out to meet them, hastening them forward, with a view of re-enforcing the five already engaged on the left of the road in the woods; but the latter having worked their way successfully through and driven the enemy from his position, I moved the two companies up the road through the woods until I came up with the advance. The two companies on the right side of the road, under Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander had also worked their way up through the woods and opened fire on the retreating enemy. At this point I halted and reorganized my regiment, by forming close column by companies. I then detailed Lieutenant Minnich, of Company B, and Lieutenant Breneman, of Company H, with a squad of men, to collect the killed and wounded. They promptly and faithfully attended to this important duty, deserving much praise for the efficiency and coolness they displayed during the fight and in the discharge of this humane and worthy trust.

The casualties in this engagement were 96. Captain Junker of Company K; Captain Mickley, of Company I [sic], and Lieutenant Geety, of Company H, fell mortally wounded while gallantly leading their respective companies on.

I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of both officers and men. They all performed deeds of valor, and rushed forward to duty and danger with a spirit and energy worthy of veterans.

The rear forces coming up passed my regiment and pursued the enemy. When I had my regiment again placed in order, and hearing the boom of cannon, I immediately followed up, and, upon reaching the scene of action, I was ordered to deploy my regiment on the right side of the wood, move forward along the edge of it, and relieve the Seventh Connecticut Regiment. This I promptly obeyed. The position here occupied by the enemy was on the opposite side of the Pocotaligo Creek, with a marsh on either side of it, and about 800 yards distant from the opposite wood, where the enemy had thrown up rifle pits all along its edge.

On my arrival the enemy had ceased firing; but after the lapse of a few minutes they commenced to cheer and hurrah for the Twenty-sixth South Carolina. We distinctly saw this regiment come up in double-quick and the men rapidly jumping into the pits. We immediately opened fire upon them with terrible effect, and saw their men thinning by scores. In return they opened a galling fire upon us. I ordered the men under cover and to keep up the fire. During this time our forces commenced to retire. I kept my position until all our forces were on the march, and then gave one volley and retired by flank in the road at double-quick about 1,000 yards in the rear of the Seventh Connecticut. This regiment was formed about 1,000 yards in the rear of my former position. We jointly formed the rear guard of our forces and alternately retired in the above manner.

My casualties here amounted to 15 men.

We arrived at Frampton (our first battle ground) at 8 p.m. Here my regiment was relieved from further rear-guard duty by the Fourth New Hampshire Regiment. This gave me the desired opportunity to carry my dead and wounded from the field and convey them back to the landing. I arrived at the above place at 3 o’clock the following morning.

In a second report made from Beaufort on 25 October 1862, Colonel Good added the following details:

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the First Brigade in the battles of October 22:

After meeting the enemy in his first position he was driven back by the skirmishing line, consisting of two companies of the Sixth Connecticut, one of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania, and one of the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania, under my command. Here the enemy only fired a few rounds of shot and shell. He then retreated and assumed another position, and immediately opened fire. Colonel Chatfield, then in command of the brigade, ordered the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania forward to me, with orders to charge. I immediately charged and drove the enemy from the second position. The Sixth Connecticut was deployed in my rear and left; the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania on my right, and the Fourth New Hampshire in the rear of the Fifty-fifth, both in close column by divisions, all under a heavy fire of shell and canister. These regiments then crossed the causeway by the flank and moved close up to the woods. Here they were halted, with orders to support the artillery. After the enemy had ceased firing the Fourth New Hampshire was ordered to move up the road in the rear of the artillery and two companies of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania to follow this regiment. The Sixth Connecticut followed up, and the Fifty-fifth moved up through the woods. At this juncture Colonel Chatfield fell, seriously wounded, and Lieutenant-Colonel Speidel was also wounded.

The casualties in the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania amounted to 96 men. As yet I am unable to learn the loss of the entire brigade.

The enemy having fled, the Fourth New Hampshire and the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania followed in close pursuit. During this time the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania and the Sixth Connecticut halted and again organized, after which they followed. On coming up to the engagement I assumed command of the brigade, and found the forces arranged in the following order: The Fourth New Hampshire was deployed as skirmishers along the entire front, and the Fifty-fifth deployed in line of battle on the left side of the road, immediately in the rear of the Fourth New Hampshire. I then ordered the Sixth Connecticut to deploy in the rear of the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania and the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania to deploy on the right side of the road in line of battle and relieve the Seventh Connecticut. I then ordered the Fourth New Hampshire, which had spent all its ammunition, back under cover on the road in the woods. The enemy meantime kept up a terrific fire of grape and musketry, to which we replied with terrible effect. At this point the orders were given to retire, and the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania and Seventh Connecticut formed the rear guard. I then ordered the Thirty-seventh Pennsylvania to keep its position and the Sixth Connecticut to march by the flank into the road and to the rear, the Fourth New Hampshire and Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania to follow. The troops of the Second Brigade were meanwhile retiring. After the whole column was in motion and a line of battle established by the Seventh Connecticut about 1,000 yards in the rear of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania I ordered the Forty-seventh to retire by the flank and establish a line of battle 1,000 yards in the rear of the Seventh Connecticut; after which the Seventh Connecticut moved by the flank to the rear and established a line of battle 1,000 yards in the rear of the Forty seventh, and thus retiring, alternately establishing lines, until we reached Frampton Creek, where we were relieved from this duty by the Fourth New Hampshire. We arrived at the landing at 3 o’clock on the morning of the 23d instant.

The casualties of the Sixth Connecticut are 34 in killed and wounded and the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania 112 in killed and wounded. As to the remaining regiments I have as yet received no report.

Following their return to Hilton Head, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers recuperated from their wounds and resumed their normal duties. In short order, several members of the 47th were called upon to serve as the funeral Honor Guard for Major-General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, and given the high honor of firing the salute over this grave. (Commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South, Mitchel succumbed to yellow fever on 30 October 1862. The Mountains of Mitchel, a part of Mars’ South Pole discovered in 1846 by Mitchel as a University of Cincinnati astronomer, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were both named after him.)

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.

1863

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

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

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. The members of C Company 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.

Meanwhile, back home in Pennsylvania, Daniel Oyster’s younger brothers, Edward and John, were beginning their own military service, enrolling for military service at Sunbury, Northumberland County on 29 June 1863 with the Pennsylvania 36th Militia, Emergency of 1863, a volunteer “home guard” organized in response to the looming invasion of the Keystone State by Confederate Major-General Robert E. Lee. They then officially mustered in for duty as privates at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 2 July 1863, and were subsequently stationed with the militia at Greencastle, Chambersburg and Hagerstown, Maryland before being mustered out with their militia unit on 11 August 1863 (after Union military leaders determined that the Emergency of 1863 had ended).

In a letter to the Sunbury American on 23 August 1863, Henry Wharton described Thanksgiving celebrations held by the regiment and residents of Key West and a yacht race the following Saturday at which participants had “an opportunity of tripping the ‘light, fantastic toe,’ to the fine music of the 47th Band, led by that excellent musician, Prof. Bush.”

As the year 1863 waned, Daniel’s younger brother, John, then re-enlisted for military service. Re-enrolling at the age of 20 at Sunbury, Pennsylvania on 20 November 1863, he then re-mustered the same day at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as a Private with his older brother’s unit—Company C of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Military records at the time described Private John Shindle Oyster as a recruit and Sunbury native and laborer who was 5’6” tall with brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion.

1864

Back home in Pennsylvania on 23 February 1864, another Oyster brother re-entered the fight when 18-year-old Edward Whitman Oyster once again left his job as a printer in Delaware County, Pennsylvania—this time to re-enroll and re-muster for military service at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as a Private with Company M of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Military records at the time described him as being 5’5” tall with light hair, gray eyes and a fair complexion.

U.S. Military and New Orleans, Opelousas & Great Western trains, Algiers railroad shop, Louisiana, circa 1865 (public domain).

Two days later, on 25 February 1864, the Sunbury Guards and most of the other members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began a phase of service during which their regiment would truly make history. Boarding the Charles Thomas that day, Second Lieutenant Daniel Oyster and Private John Oyster joined their Company C comrades and the men from Companies B, D, I, and K as the steamer headed for Algiers, Louisiana (which is situated across the river from New Orleans and is now a neighborhood in New Orleans). They were followed on 1 March by the men 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 (now Morgan City, Louisiana) before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, and became the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks. (Unable to reach Louisiana until 23 March, the men from Company A were effectively placed on a different type of detached duty in New Orleans while they awaited transport to enable them to catch up with the main part of their regiment. Charged with guarding and overseeing the transport of 245 Confederate prisoners, they were finally able to board the Ohio Belle on 7 April, and reached Alexandria with those prisoners on 9 April.)

Red River Campaign

Natchitoches, Louisiana (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 7 May 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

From 14-26 March, the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched for Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana, by way of New IberiaVermilionville (now part of Lafayette), Opelousas, and Washington.

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

Often short on food and water throughout their long, grueling trek through enemy territory, the 47th Pennsylvanians encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill on the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.

That day (8 April 1864), they engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield because of its proximity to the community of Mansfield).

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

Rushed into combat 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 the community of Pleasant Hill (now the Village of 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 (9 April 1864), 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 in the Battle of Pleasant Hill 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 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 was then also shot while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands.

Both color-bearers survived their wounds and continued to fight on—Walls until he was honorably discharged upon expiration of his term of service on 18 September 1864. But others from the 47th were less fortunate, including Private John C. Sterner (killed in action at Pleasant Hill), and Privates Cornelius Kramer, George Miller, and Thomas Nipple (wounded in action).

In addition, the regiment nearly lost its second-in-command, Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Alexander, who was severely wounded in both legs, while other men were captured, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war (POWs) until released during prisoner exchanges in July, August, September, or November. Those from Company C 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 three members of the 47th died while in captivity while the graves of still others remain unidentified to this day.

On 16 April 1864, Second Lieutenant Daniel Oyster was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant.

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 11 days and engaged 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 same night, after marching 45 miles. While en route, they were attacked again—this time at the rear of their brigade, but they were able to quickly end the encounter and move forward.

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

The next morning (23 April 1864), episodic skirmishing quickly roared into the flames of a robust fight. As part of the advance party led by Brigadier-General William Emory, the 47th Pennsylvanians took on Brigadier-General Hamilton P. Bee’s Confederate Cavalry in the Battle of Cane River (also known as “the Affair at Monett’s Ferry” or the “Cane River Crossing”). Responding to a barrage from the Confederate artillery’s 20-pound Parrott guns and raking fire from enemy troops situated near a bayou and on a bluff, Emory directed one of his brigades to keep Bee’s Confederates busy while sending the other two brigades to find a safe spot where his Union troops could ford the Cane River. As part of the “beekeepers,” the 47th Pennsylvania supported Emory’s artillery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having finally reached Alexandria on 26 April, the 47th Pennsylvanians 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. While stationed in Rapides Parish in late April and early May, 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 [Bailey’s Dam] had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river.

During this phase of service, C Company Private James Kennedy, who had initially survived a gunshot fracture of his arm in battle, died of related complications at the Union Army’s St. James General Hospital in New Orleans on 27 April 1864, and Private Adam Maul was captured by Confederate forces on 3 May. (He would later be released during a 22 July prisoner exchange.)

As Wharton continued on with his letter, he noted that:

After a great deal of labor [the construction of Bailey’s Dam] was accomplished and by the morning of May 13th the last [Union gunboat] was through the shute [sic], when we bade adieu to Alexandria, marching through the town with banners flying and keeping step to the music of Rally around the flag,’ and ‘When this cruel war is over.’ The next morning, at our camping place, the fleet of boats passed us, when we were informed that Alexandria had been destroyed by fire – the act of a dissatisfied citizen and several negroes. Incendiary acts were strictly forbidden in a general order the day before we left the place, and a cavalry guard was left in the rear to see the order enforced. After marching a few miles skirmishing commenced in front between the cavalry and the enemy in riflepits [sic] on the bank of the river, but they were easily driven away. When we came up we discovered their pits and places where there had been batteries planted. At this point the John Warren, an unarmed transport, on which were sick soldiers and women, was fired into and sunk, killing many and those that were not drowned taken prisoners. A tin-clad gunboat was destroyed at the same place, by which we lost a large mail. Many letters and directed envelopes were found on the bank – thrown there after the contents had been read by the unprincipled scoundrels. The inhumanity of Guerrilla bands in this department is beyond belief, and if one did not know the truth of it or saw some of their barbarities, he would write it down as the story of a ‘reliable gentleman’ or as told by an ‘intelligent contraband.’ Not satisfied with his murderous intent on unarmed transports he fires into the Hospital steamer Laurel Hill, with four hundred sick on board. This boat had the usual hospital signal floating fore and aft, yet, notwithstanding all this, and the customs of war, they fired on them, proving by this act that they are more hardened than the Indians on the frontier.

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

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

Having entered Avoyelles Parish, the 47th Pennsylvanians “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.

Union Army base at Morganza Bend, Louisiana, circa 1863-1865 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

As Wharton noted, the surviving members of the 47th marched for Simmesport and then Morganza, where they made camp again. On 17 June 1864, Sergeant Peter Smelzer, one of the 47th Pennsylvania’s many Veteran Volunteers, was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate.

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, finally arriving back in New Orleans in late June. On the 4th of July 1864, the 47th Pennsylvanians learned that their fight was far from over as the regiment received new orders to set sail yet again. Battered but undaunted by their Bayou experience, the Oysters and their fellow C Company soldiers boarded the McClellan with men from Companies A, D, E, F, H, and I, and steamed away for the East Coast on 7 July. Private George Fritz was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate that same day. (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, the 47th Pennsylvanians who had been left behind in Louisiana finally sailed away at the end of the month aboard the Blackstone. Arriving in Virginia on 28 July, they reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.)

Although the men from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I arrived in the Washington, D.C. area as the Battle of Fort Stevens (11-12 July 1864) was under way, they appear not to have been engaged in the actual fighting. (Despite Daniel Oyster’s obituary in the 11 August 1922 edition of Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star noting that he “was attached to the 19th Army Corps that came to Washington from around Petersburg and routed Gen. Early at the battle of Fort Stevens on the outskirts of the city, after Early’s forces had threatened the capital,” it appears that he and the other 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were in travel mode as this fighting occurred.)

Those 47th Pennsylvanians did, however, have a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln.

But in all too short order, First Lieutenant Daniel Oyster, Private John S. Oyster, and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I were engaged in new combat activities, most notably at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia (17-19 July). Also known as the Battle of Cool Spring, the Union Army went after the Confederate troops of Lieutenant-General Jubal Early as they retreated from their loss at Fort Stevens. Although Union forces commanded by other leaders lost their engagements, the Union troops led by Major-General David Hunter were able pry loose the hold Confederates had on Berryville, Virginia, a success which helped pave the way for Union Major-General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan’s tide-turning 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

On 24 July, C Company 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.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

On 1 September 1864, First Lieutenant Daniel Oyster re-enlisted at Berryville, Virginia, and was promoted to the rank of Captain of Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Attached to the Middle Military Division, U.S. Army of the Shenandoah with their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers from August through November of 1864, it was at this time and place, under the leadership of legendary Union Major-General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, that the Oyster brothers would exhibit their greatest moments of valor. Of the experience, C Company Drummer Boy Samuel Pyers later said it was “our hardest engagement.”

From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in the Battle of Berryville, which had sparked as Confederate troops in the area responded to Major-General Sheridan’s efforts to move his Union troops deeper into the Shenandoah Valley before roaring into a full-fledged battle as both sides poured more troops into the area.

The next day, on 5 September 1864, Captain Daniel Oyster was shot in the left shoulder during related actions at Berryville. According to Wharton, in a recap letter penned to the Sunbury American on 7 April 1864:

Capt. Oyster was struck by a ball, staggering him, but otherwise doing no injury. In his being hit there is a circumstance connected, that I cannot help but giving you, even you may put it down as a fish story, though for the truth the whole company will vouch. The ball struck him on the back of his shoulder, made a hole in his vest and shirt and none in the coat….

I wrote to you a few days ago of the promotions in Company C, but for fear they did not reach you, I send them again: Daniel Oyster, Captain; William M. Hendricks, 1st Lieutenant; and Christian S. Beard, 2nd Lieutenant. They are well liked, and in their new positions give satisfaction….

Despite the intensity of the combat at Berryville, though, the casualty rates for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and the entire portion of the Union Army involved were surprisingly low—roughly 600 total (combined figure for both sides in killed, wounded, captured, or missing soldiers), and the battle is now viewed by many present day historians as a stalemate.

Valor and Persistence — Opequan and Fisher’s Hill

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

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

While his brother and superior officer Captain Daniel Oyster recuperated from his battle wound, Private John Oyster and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued to fight on.

The 47th Pennsylvania’s march next major offensive began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. After advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and their supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. Finally reaching the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with Confederate forces commanded by Early.

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

The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Rebel artillery stationed on high ground. Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and their fellow 19th Corps members were directed by Brigadier-General Emory to attack and pursue Major-General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but many Union casualties ensued when another Confederate artillery group opened fire as Union troops tried to cross a clearing.

As a nearly fatal gap began to appear between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units commanded by Brigadier-Generals David A. Russell and Emory Upton. Russell, hit twice—once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers opened their lines long enough to enable Union cavalry forces led by William Woods Averell and the foot soldiers of General George Crook to charge the Confederates’ left flank.

The 19th Corps, with the 47th in the thick of the fighting, then began whittling away and pushing the Confederates steadily back. Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early’s men ultimately retreated in the face of the valor displayed by the “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Confederate Army retreated to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September), eight miles south of Winchester, and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one.

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and their fellow Union soldiers inflicted heavy casualties during this engagement on 19 September 1864, which is known as the Battle of Opequan (or “Third Winchester,” also spelled as “Opequon”). Sent out on skirmishing parties afterward, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania finally made camp at Cedar Creek.

Moving forward, they would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and his second in command, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, who mustered out on 23-24 September upon expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, Good and Alexander were replaced by others equally admired both for their temperament and the front line experience: John Peter Shindel Gobin, C Company’s former captain who had been promoted to the regiment’s central command staff, and who would now assume command of the entire regiment; and Charles W. Abbott and Levi Stuber.

Battle of Cedar Creek — 19 October 1864

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

Just over a month after being wounded in action during the fighting at Berryville, Virginia, Captain Daniel Oyster was wounded in action again—this time severely—and in the other shoulder (the right)—during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia on 19 October 1864.

That morning, Early’s Confederate forces briefly stunned the Union Army, launching a surprise attack at Cedar Creek, but Sheridan was able to rally his Union men. Intense fighting raged for hours and ranged over a broad swath of Virginia farmland. 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 historian, Samuel P. 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!’

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

The Rebels, weakened by hunger due to the Union Army’s earlier “scorched Earth” destruction of the area’s farming infrastructure,  gradually peeled off, one by one, to forage for food while Sheridan’s forces fought on, and won the day.

The men of the 47th fought so bravely, in fact, that they 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, and no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.

Captain Daniel Oyster’s 1922 Evening Star obituary described the experience of C Company:

Capt. Oyster also was with Gen. Sheridan’s forces at the battle of Cedar Creek. Where he performed meritorious service. He and his men held a knoll against the Confederates and fought off attacks at a distance of only forty yards. He was severely wounded in this engagement and after losing more than thirty men, ordered the rest to retire. Himself weak from the loss of blood and unable to retreat, was captured by the enemy, but when Gen. Sheridan’s timely arrival from Washington by horseback turned defeat into victory, he was recaptured.

The battle, though a Union victory, was costly. Casualties for the 47th were particularly high. C Company’s Sergeant William Pyers, who had prevented the American flag from falling into enemy hands just six months earlier during the Battle of Pleasant Hill was, in the words of his son, C Company Musician Samuel Pyers, “mowed down.” Privates Samuel E. Breidinger (a blacksmith from Easton), Thomas J. Bower (an Easton shoemaker) and Lawrence Gatence were killed in action. Even the 47th’s regimental chaplain, the Rev. William D. C. Rodrock, suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap.

Still more men, including C Company’s William Fry, were captured and held as POWs. Several died in captivity, including many who ended their days at the Confederate Army’s notorious Salisbury, North Carolina prison camp while others were released and continued to fight. Sgt. William Fry of C Company was eventually released but, too ill to continue on, was sent home to Sunbury where, tragically, he died at the home of his mother a short time later.

Following these engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December before taking up outpost and railroad guard duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia five days before Christmas. They marched through a snowstorm to get there.

1865

Assigned in February 1865 to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, the men of the 47th were moved, via Winchester and Kernstown, back to Washington, D.C.

Upon return home for his furlough, Capt. Daniel Oyster was given the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers' new Second State Color (Sunbury American, 11 March 1865, public domain).

Upon return home for his furlough, Capt. Daniel Oyster was given the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ new Second State Color (Sunbury American, 11 March 1865, public domain).

Sometime around this period, Captain Daniel Oyster was authorized to take furlough; he used the time not only to visit his family in Sunbury, but to pick up a replacement for the regiment’s very tattered battle flag. Manufactured by Horstmann Brothers & Co., the Second State Color had been shipped to Sunbury in February 1865.

There, on the home soil of the Sunbury Guards, color-guard unit for the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, the Second State Color was presented to Captain Daniel Oyster, commanding officer of Company C on 7 March 1865. He formally presented it to the regiment upon his return to duty.

On 19 April, the Oyster brothers and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were again responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital—this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Making camp near Fort Stevens, they received new uniforms and were resupplied.

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

Spectators gather for the Grand Review, 23-24 May 1865; note crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag, half-mast, after President Lincoln’s assassination (Matthew Brady, U.S. Library of Congress).

Letters penned to family and friends during this period of service to the nation and newspaper interviews conducted with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania many years after the Civil War’s end documented that several members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others members of the regiment were apparently assigned to guard one or more of the key Lincoln assassination conspirators during the early days of their imprisonment.

Regimental Chaplain Rodrock, wearing his heart on his sleeve, described Lincoln’s assassination as “a crime against God, against the Nation, against humanity and against liberty” and “the madness of Treason and murder!” in a report to his superiors on 30 April 1865, while also observing that “We have great duties in this crisis. And the first is to forget selfishness and passion and party, and look to the salvation of the Country.”

Second State Color - 47th PA Volunteers

Second State Color, 47th Pennsylvania. Source: Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee.

On 11 May 1865, the 47th Pennsylvania’s First State Color was retired and replaced with the regiment’s Second State Color.

The new Second State Color was carried by the regiment when, as part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade, U.S. Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May.

On their final southern tour, Company C and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June.

Attached again to Dwight’s Division, they performed Reconstruction-related duties as part of the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South.

Ruins of Charleston, South Carolina as seen from the Circular Church, 1865 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, public domain).

Assigned next to relieve the 165th New York Volunteers in July, they quartered in the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury in Charleston, South Carolina. Among their duties during this time were provost responsibilites (ensuring the smooth operation of the judicial system by providing guards for the area’s jails, facilitating operations of the courts, and other civic governance tasks).

But, once again, typhoid and other diseases stalked the men of the 47th. Many who died during this phase were initially interred in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery before their remains were later exhumed and reinterred at the Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina.

On 23 August 1865, Private Edward Oyster became the first of the Oyster brothers to end his military tenure when he mustered out from the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

Then, on Christmas Day 1865, Captain Daniel Oyster and his younger brother, Private John Shindle Oyster, joined with the majority of the men from C Company, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers in mustering out for the final time—a process that continued through early January 1866.

Following a stormy voyage home, the weary 47th Pennsylvanians disembarked in New York City, and were transported to Philadelphia by train, where the regiment was officially, honorably discharged at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866.

Return to Civilian Life

Following their honorable discharge from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Captain Daniel Oyster and Private John Shindle Oyster returned home to Pennsylvania where they reunited with the Oyster clan, and tried to regain some semblance of normal life in Sunbury.

Their brother, Edward W. Oyster, also returned home. In 1868, he wed Mary Gambrill (1852-1920). Born in Alexandria, Virginia on 15 November 1852, she was a daughter of Franklin and Hannah Ann (Mills) Gambrill.

By 1870, Daniel Oyster was still living with his aging mother in Sunbury where he was employed as a local policeman; however, this job was not a successful career move. His obituary in the Washington, D.C. Evening Star later noted that “after his discharge [he] entered the postal service” because, after being twice wounded during the war, he was unable, due to lasting disabilities, to continue the former, more physical occupations he had previously performed. In its March 1872 edition, the Sunbury American confirmed this transition as it reported the following:

CAPT. DANIEL OYSTER, of this place, has received the appointment of mall [sic] agent on the railroad route between Harrisburg and Lock Haven, and entered upon his duties Tuesday last. This appointment is one well bestowed upon a worthy soldier and citizen. Capt. Oyster did valiant service during the late war, where he received wounds which crippled him for life. He is a worthy citizen, and his numerous friends will be happy to learn that the Government which he so bravely fought to sustain, has given him an office whereby he is able to maintain himself.

Also residing at the Oyster family home in 1870 were Daniel’s brother and fellow Civil War veteran, George, and George’s children: Harriet (aged 12) and William Hemperley Oyster (1868-1929). [Of note: George’s wife, Phoebe, was not listed on the federal census at this time.]

Thomas Edison’s coal-fired electrical power plant, Fourth Street, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1883 (public domain).

By 1880, most of the Oyster clan were all still listed on the same federal census sheet, one after another:

  • Still employed as a mail agent and unmarried in 1880, Daniel Oyster continued to live with his mother, Catharine, at their home in Sunbury.
  • His brother, George Oyster, employed as a watchman, resided nearby with his wife, Phoebe, and their children: William H. (aged 11), Bertha (aged 8) and Charles (aged 3).
  • Brother John was employed as a fireman with the area railroad, and lived nearby with his wife, Rachel Jane (Reed) Oyster (1847-1935), and their children: Mary (aged 11), Daniel Clarence Oyster (1876-1948), Catharine (aged 3), and Carrie (aged 2).
  • The youngest brother, Edward W. Oyster, was employed in the printing business, and appears to have been dividing his time between Sunbury and Washington, D.C. Two separate federal census listings indicate that, on 3 June 1880, he resided in Sunbury with his wife, Mary, and their children: Edward (aged 10), Lucy (aged 7), Frank (aged 2), and Guy Harrison (aged 1); on 5 June, he was recorded as living in Washington, D.C. with his wife and their children: Edward (aged 10), Lucy (aged 6), Frank (aged 2), and Guy (aged 1).
  • Sister Mary also lived nearby with her husband, Jacob Wilvert, and their children: Edward J. (aged 17) and John P. (aged 15).

Sadly, this family stability would be disrupted before the turn of the century. On 20 April 1899, John Shindle Oyster passed away. He was interred at Hunter Cemetery in Sunbury.

In 1900, Edward W. Oyster, was employed as a government clerk, and resided in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Mary, and their children.

Railroad bridge to Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 19 May 1905 (public domain).

That same year, at the age of 65, Daniel Oyster resided as a boarder at the Sunbury home of Sophia Rake, a local “tailoress,” and her sister, Margaret (Rake) Maihl. His occupation was listed as “book keeper and tailor’s helper.” After Sophia passed away on 1 February 1905 and was interred at the Sunbury Cemetery, Daniel Oyster continued to reside as a boarder with Margaret, who was shown as the head of the household on the 1910 federal census. Boarding there with him at that time were Annie Hileman (a 29-year-old trained nurse), and Carrie Fetterman (a 30-year-old tailoress). Seven years later, on 14 August 1917, Margaret (Rake) Maihl also passed away; she was also interred at the Sunbury Cemetery. Annie Hileman served as the informant on her death certificate.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Daniel’s brother Edward W. Oyster, was employed as a clerk with the U.S. Treasury Department while Edward’s wife, Mary, was employed as a clerk with the U.S. Department of the Interior. Residing with them in Washington, D.C. were their 34-year-old daughter, Lucy, her husband, typewriter salesman George H. Ward, and their three-year-old daughter, Vivian. All three of the Wards were natives of Washington, D.C. In addition, Edward Wilver, a son of Mary Wilver and nephew of Edward W. Oyster, also lived with the family at this time, as did a male boarder.

On 15 January 1920, Daniel’s younger brother, George Oyster, passed away in Sunbury, and was interred at the Sunbury Cemetery.

Unidentified veteran and visitors at the Phoebus Gate, U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Hampton, Virginia (circa 1910, public domain).

On 4 April 1920, at the age of 85, Captain Daniel Oyster was admitted to the Southern Branch of the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Hampton, Virginia. The admissions ledger indicated that he was still suffering from complications related to “O.G.S. right shoulder” (the original gunshot wound which he sustained during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia), as well as “mental insufficiency, arteriosclerosis, impaired hearing.” This ledger described him as being a Protestant laborer who was 5’-8-1/2” tall with gray hair, gray eyes and a light complexion. He was receiving a U.S. Civil War Pension of $20 per month at this time. The 1890 U.S. Veterans’ Schedule also confirms that Captain Oyster was twice wounded—once during the fighting at Berryville on 5 September 1864 and a second time, more severely, in the right shoulder during the Battle of Cedar Creek just over a month later on 19 October.

Still single, Daniel Oyster’s residence subsequent to discharge was listed in this same ledger as Washington, D.C. His surviving brother, Edward Whitman Oyster of 16th and D Streets in Washington, D.C., was listed as his next of kin.

On 9 June 1920, Daniel Oyster’s sister-in-law, Mary (Gambrill) Oyster (wife of his brother, Edward), passed away in Washington, D.C. She was interred at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

By 1922, Daniel’s brother, Edward W. Oyster, a 47-year veteran of the federal government often referred to in the newspapers as “E. W. Oyster,” resided at 727 Quebec Place in Washington, D.C. in 1922.

Death and Interment

Captain Daniel Oyster - Death Headline, Evening Star, Washington, D.C. (11 August 1922).

Captain Daniel Oyster—death headline, Evening Star, Washington, D.C. (11 August 1922).

Daniel Oyster died from complications related to his arteriosclerosis at the U.S. Soldiers’ Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Hampton, Virginia on 5 August 1922. The admissions ledger at the soldier’s home indicated that his remains were shipped to Arlington National Cemetery “by H. S. Cunningham Aug 6, 1922.”

He was given a funeral with full military honors before being laid to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery on 11 August. A notice published in the 11 August 1922 edition of Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star noted the following about plans for his funeral:

Services at grave, in officers’ section, Arlington cemetery, near the Lee mansion, at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, August 11.

Surviving him were his brother, Edward Whitman Oyster; a niece, Mrs. George A. Ward; and two nephews: Guy Harrison Oyster, who was serving at that time as secretary to the president of the American Federation of Labor (A.F.L.), Samuel Gompers, and E. J. Wilver, “paymaster of the government printing office,” and who had served during World War I as a Second Lieutenant with the U.S. Army’s 317th Infantry, 80th Division. All resided in Washington, D.C.

Edward Whitman Oyster followed his brother in death just over two years later, passing away in Washington, D.C. on 13 October 1924. He was also interred at Arlington National Cemetery, laid to rest there on 15 October.

Edward’s son, Guy Harrison Oyster, was also interred at Arlington when he passed away in 1928.

Sources:

1. “A Handsome Flag.” Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 11 March 1865.

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

3. “Capt. Daniel Oyster, 87, Civil War Veteran, Dead: Brother of Washington Resident Given Military Funeral at Arlington National Cemetery Today” and Funeral Notice. Washington, D.C.: Evening Star, 11 August 1922.

4. Daniel Oyster, in Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, in Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs (Southern Branch, Hampton, Virginia; Record Group 15, Microfilm M1749). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1920-1922.

5. “Democratic County Convention” and “The Nominations.” Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1 September 1849.

6. “Florida’s Role in the Civil War,” in Florida Memory. Tallahassee, Florida: State Archives of Florida.

7. Notice of Capt. Daniel Oyster’s mall agent appointment. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 23 March 1872.

8. Oyster Family Burial Records, in Pennsylvania Veterans’ Burial Index Cards. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

9. Oyster Family Death Certificates. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Health, Department of Vital Statistics.

10. Oyster Family Death and Burial Records, in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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

12. Stegall, Joel T. Salisbury Prison: North Carolina’s Andersonville.” Fayetteville, North Carolina: North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, 13 September 2018.

13. “Tamiami Trail Modifications: Next Steps,” in Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Washington, D.C. and Everglades National Park, Florida: U.S. National Park Service, 2010.

14. U.S. Census (1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920) and U.S. Veterans’ Schedule (1890). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.