Born in Pennsylvania in 1836, George Stein Isett was the son of Pennsylvania native Henry Isett (born sometime around 1795). In 1850, George lived alone with his father, a 55-year-old carpenter, in Liverpool, Perry County, Pennsylvania.
In 1861, at the dawn of the Civil War, George Isett was in his mid-20s, employed as a boatman, and still residing in Liverpool.
Civil War Military Service
On 20 August 1861, at the age of 25, George S. Isett enrolled for military service at Bloomfield, Perry County, Pennsylvania. He then mustered in at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 31 August 1861 as a Private with Company D of the newly formed 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The commanding officer of his company was Captain Henry Durant (“H. D.”) Woodruff.
Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics, Captain Woodruff and his company were sent by train with the 47th Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., where they were stationed about two miles from the White House at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 21 September. The next day, Company C Musician Henry D. Wharton penned the following update for the Sunbury American newspaper:
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.
As a unit of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company D became part of the federal service when the regiment officially mustered into the U.S. Army on 24 September. On 27 September, a rainy, drill-free day which permitted many of the men to read or write letters home, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were assigned to the 3rd Brigade of W.F. Smith’s Army of the Potomac. That afternoon, they marched to the Potomac River’s eastern side and, after reaching Maryland’s Camp Lyon, marched double-quick over a chain bridge before moving on toward Fall Church, Virginia.
Arriving at Camp Advance at dusk, they 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). Armed with Mississippi rifles supplied by the great Keystone State, they joined with the 3rd Brigade and Smith’s Army of the Potomac in defending the nation’s capital.
On October 11, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads after having been ordered with the 3rd Brigade to Camp Griffin. In a letter home in mid-October, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to lead the entire 47th Regiment) reported that companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops.
On Friday morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th engaged 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.” 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.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.”
As a reward for their performance that day – and in preparation for the even bigger events which were yet to come, Brigadier-General Brannan directed his subordinates to ensure that brand new Springfield rifles would be purchased for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
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 railcars 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.
By the afternoon of Monday, 27 January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had commenced boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the enlisted men boarded first, followed by their superior officers. 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, Private George S. Isett and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West, where they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. On 14 February, the regiment made itself known to area residents via a parade through the city’s streets.
Drilled daily in heavy artillery tactics, the soldiers of the 47th also cut trees, built roads and strengthened the installation’s fortifications. The work was frequently unpleasant, the weather often harsh – with at least several men suffering from sunstroke so severe that they were hospitalized before being discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability. The men of the 47th also battled yellow fever, typhoid and other tropical diseases for which their immune systems had no fortitude, as well as dysentery and other chronic conditions common to soldiers confined to close, often unsanitary quarters.
Sometime during this phase, Private George S. Isett became one of those who fell ill. On 17 May 1862, he died from acute dysentery at the post hospital at Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida.
Although no data for George S. Isett has been posted on the federal government’s Nationwide Gravesite locator, and a 2014 query of the cemetery administration office at Barrancas National Cemetery failed to confirm Isett’s reburial there, historian Lewis Schmidt stated in his 1986 book about the 47th Pennsylvania:
Pvt. Isett was buried in Grave #14 of the Key West Post Cemetery, and when the cemetery was abandoned in 1927 and the burials transferred to Fort Barrancas National Cemetery, his remains were mishandled and his body was buried in a group of 228 unknown graves.
This reburial of soldiers’ remains was undertaken in 1927 as part of the federal government’s program to ensure the proper burial of each Union soldier in a national cemetery. Unfortunately, more than a few of the soldiers interred at Fort Taylor were either never exhumed because their remains were never found, or were in such a decomposed state that it made successful exhumation impossible. Some of the men’s remains disappeared during the transfer process when at least one of the transport vehicles was lost. The remains of others like Private George S. Isett, who had originally been properly identified and labeled, were mishandled during the transfer process, the individual soldier identifications lost to sloppy records management, and the remains of the individual soldiers mistakenly reburied with a group of more than two hundred “unknowns.”
In George S. Isett’s Memory
Following his passing, Private George Isett’s fellow soldiers honored his memory by publishing the following tribute in Isett’s hometown newspaper:
TRIBUTE OF RESPECT
At a meeting of Company D, 47th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, the following resolutions were adopted:
WHEREAS, it has pleased God in his allwise providence, to remove from our midst our friend and brother in arms, Geo S. Isett; therefore,
RESOLVED, hat by his death we have lost a warm hearted friend, a true patriot and good soldier, and one whose placed cannot be filled among us.
RESOLVED, That we most heartily sympathize with the deceased and hope that he who has thus afflicted them, will be their reliance in time of need.
RESOLVED, That these resolutions be forwarded to the Perry County papers for publication, and a copy be sent to the friends of the deceased
Signed: George W. Topley, Jesse Meadith, Jacob Charles, George W. Jury, Isaac Baldwin, Committee.
In addition, an online memorial for Private George S. Isett has been created at Find A Grave.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
2. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
3. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, in U.S. Adjutant General’s Office (Record Group 94). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives, 1862.
4. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
5. U.S. Census (1850).