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 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 went his own way, 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. In 1842, he ran for the position of Register, Recorder and Clerk of Northumberland County; he won and served as Clerk of that county’s Orphans’ Court during the early and middle years of the decade.
In 1845, Edward Oyster put his name forward for the position of County Register and Recorder, but withdrew 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.) An 1848 edition of the Sunbury American newspaper confirms that Edward Oyster continued to serve as Clerk of the Northumberland County Orphans’ Court; 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the man who had garnered the most delegates at the 1845 Democratic Convention (when Edward Oyster had entered and then withdrawn his name from consideration).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, Daniel, Mary Elizabeth and George were still living in Sunbury with their parents. Land-related notices in the Sunbury American newspapers that year indicate that the family home was located in Upper Augusta Township. The siblings also residing in the home at this time were: John Shindle Oyster (born in 1844), Edward Whitman Oyster (born in 1846), and Susanna Oyster (born in October 1849). Their paternal grandmother, Catharine Oyster, was also a member of the household.
Sadly, their sister 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 death as follows:
In this place, yesterday morning, Edward Oyster, Esq., late Recorder & c., of this county, aged about 45 years.
A measure of joy returned 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 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. According to the federal census of 1860, he still resided in Sunbury with his mother and brothers, George, John and Edward Oyster. Daniel, John and George worked as laborers to support their widowed mother. Their sister, Mary, lived nearby with her carpenter husband, Jacob Wilvert.
Civil War Military Service
A feeling of tension began to grow among Sunbury residents as southern states began toppling like dominoes—South Carolina (20 December 1860), 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, had been 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.
On 2 July 1861, the Sunbury Guards engaged in intense fighting during the Battle of Falling Waters, the first Civil War battle in the 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
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.
Sergeant Daniel Oyster and the other soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were formally mustered into the U.S. Army on 24 September in a ceremony filled with pomp and celebration. Assigned to the 3rd Brigade of W. F. Smith’s Army of the Potomac on 27 September and armed with Mississippi Rifles supplied by their beloved Keystone State, the 47th was given marching orders to head for Camp Lyon, Maryland on the eastern side of the Potomac River. Arriving during the late afternoon, they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in marching double-quick across a chain bridge before heading on toward Falls Church, Virginia.
Arriving at Camp Advance around dusk, the Sunbury Guards/Company C pitched their tents in a deep ravine near Fort Ethan Allen, a new federal military facility still under construction. Here, as part of the 3rd Brigade and General Smith’s Army of the Potomac, the 47th Pennsylvania helped to 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.
On 21 October, Sergeant Daniel Oyster participated in a planning meeting with his superior officers, Captain Gobin and Lt. 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. And on 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review by 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.
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 and was made effective, according to historian Samuel P. Bates, retroactive to 13 December 1861. The members of the regiment were quite pleased by Oyster’s promotion, according to historian Lewis Schmidt; 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’.
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.
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. Several men were discharged on surgeons’ certificates; still others died, and were interred at the post cemetery.
Next ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina from mid-June through July, they camped near Fort Walker and then quartered in the Beaufort District, Department of the South. Frequently on hazardous picket detail north of their main camp, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania became known for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing,” and “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan,” according to historian Samuel P. Bates.
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.
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. With the 47th Pennsylvania on point and braving alligators, snakes and Rebel troops, the men pushed through 25 dense miles of forests and swampland in order to capture the bluff and pave the way for the Union’s occupation of Jacksonville, Florida.
From 21-23 October, Company C and the 47th engaged Confederate forces in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at 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. 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.
On 23 October 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South, Major-General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, who had succumbed to yellow fever 30 October. Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, was later named for him. The men of the 47th Pennsylvania were the soldiers given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.
C Company’s Sergeant Peter Haupt, who also survived being wounded at Pocotaligo, succumbed from the complications of traumatic tetanus on 14 November 1862. Private Warren McEwen was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate on 7 December.
Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 for the men of the 47th Pennsylvania was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. Captain Gobin and his C Company men joined with Companies A, B, E, G, and I in duties at Key West’s Fort Taylor while the soldiers from Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.
It was a noteworthy year both for the number of men lost to disease—and because most of the soldiers from the 47th Pennsylvania chose to re-enlist when their original three-year terms of service expired.
Meanwhile, back home in Pennsylvania, Daniel’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).
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.
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.
Two days later, on 25 February 1864, the Sunbury Guards and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began a phase of service during which their regiment would make history. Boarding another steamer, the Charles Thomas, Second Lieutenant Daniel Oyster, Private John Oyster and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania traveled from New Orleans to Algiers, Louisiana. Arriving on 28 February, they then moved by train to Brashear City before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, and became the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.
From 14-26 March, the 47th marched for the top of the L in the L-shaped state, passing through New Iberia, Vermilionville, Opelousas, and Washington en route to Alexandria. On 8 April, they engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield).
Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down during the back-and-forth volley of fire. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, the uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill. C Company’s Private Jeremiah Haas was one of the many killed that day; Private Thomas Lothard was one of the even larger number wounded.
The next day, 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.
On 23 April, the 47th engaged in the Battle of Cane River near Monett’s Ferry and, from 30 April to 10 May, participated in the construction of a timber dam across the Red River to enable Union gunboats to more easily navigate the fluctuating water levels of the Red River.
During this phase of service, C Company Private Adam Maul was captured by Confederate forces (captured 3 May, released during a 22 July prisoner exchange). Private James Kennedy, who initially survived a gunshot fracture of his arm, died of related complications at the Union Army’s St. James General Hospital in New Orleans on 27 April 1864.
On 13 May, the regiment moved to Morganza, and then on to New Orleans on 20 June. Sergeant Peter Smelzer, one of the 47th Pennsylvania’s many Veteran Volunteers, was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate on 17 June 1864.
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.
Although members of the regiment 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. While Daniel Oyster’s obituary in the 11 August 1922 edition of Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star noted 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,” the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were in travel mode as this fighting occurred.
They 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, 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. Just two days later, he and his brother, Private John S. Oyster, were engaged with the 47th Pennsylvania in the Battle of Berryville. On 5 September 1864, Captain Daniel Oyster was wounded in action in the left shoulder (at Berryville).
Valor and Persistence — Opequan and Fisher’s Hill
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. Attached to the Middle Military Division, U.S. Army of the Shenandoah, led by Major-General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, the 47th Pennsylvanians were about to repeatedly display the sterner stuff of which they were made. Of the experience, Company C’s Samuel Pyers said it was “our hardest engagement.”
The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny 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 the Confederate forces commanded by Early. 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
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!’
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, who were killed in action. Even the 47th’s regimental chaplain, William 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. William Fry was released but, too ill to continue on, was sent home to Sunbury, where 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 guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia five days before Christmas. They marched through a snowstorm to get there.
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.
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.
Letters home and newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania in later years confirm that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during the early days of their imprisonment.
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 swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June, again as part of Dwight’s Division, but this time with the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Relieving the 165th New York in July, they were housed in a mansion formerly owned by the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. 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.
On 23 August 1865, Private Edward Oyster mustered out from the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
Finally, on Christmas Day 1865, the majority of the men from C Company, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers—including Captain Daniel Oyster and his younger brother, Private John Shindle Oyster—began to be honorably mustered out, a process that continued through early January 1866.
Following a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvania disembarked in New York City. The weary men were then shipped to Philadelphia by train, where the regiment was officially mustered out 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 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. 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.]
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.
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.
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
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.
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.