Meadath, Jesse (Second Lieutenant)

Alternate Spellings of Surname: Meadath, Meadeath, Meaddith, Medeath, Middagh

Perry County Courthouse, New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, circa 1860s (Hain’s History of Perry County, 1922, public domain).

Born in Perry County, Pennsylvania on 12 June 1833 (alternate birth date: 13 May 1833), Jesse Meadath was a son of Pennsylvania natives John Meadath and Sarah (Jones) Meadath.

Sometime during the early to mid-1850s, he wed Pennsylvania native Sarah Swisher (born 15 January 1835). They welcomed a son, Oliver Meadath, to their Perry County home on 24 April 1855. Daughter Catharine Elizabeth (“Kate”) arrived on New Year’s Eve in 1857, followed by another son on 21 October 1858. (Shown on records as “James” or “James Nicholas,” he was listed in his father’s 1909 obituaries in at least two newspapers as “Joseph”; by that time, he had moved west to seek a better life, and had settled in Illinois. He passed away there on 20 April 1831.)

As America’s relations between its northern and southern states worsened in the late 1850s and southern states began to secede from the Union in the early 1860s, Jesse Meadath was a 28-year-old dad focused on trying to support his growing family in Landisburg, Perry County through employment as a carpenter.

Civil War Military Service

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

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

Following President Abraham Lincoln’s calls for volunteers to help quell the growing southern rebellion, Jesse Meadath enrolled for military service at Bloomfield in Perry County, Pennsylvania on 20 August 1861. He then mustered in at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 31 August as a Corporal under the leadership of Captain Henry Durant Woodruff with the newly formed 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics, Corporal Jesse Meadath and his company were sent by train with the 47th Pennsylvania 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. The next day, C Company 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, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Brigadier-General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvania was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.

The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to the headquarters of Brigadier-General William Farrar Smith (also known as “Baldy”), and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac (“Mr. Lincoln’s Army”). Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.

On 11 October, 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, 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 overseen by the regiment’s founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.”

Springfield_1861

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

As a reward for their performance that day—and in preparation for the even bigger events which were yet to come, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan ordered that brand new Springfield rifles be obtained for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

1862

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).

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, Corporal Meadath and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians arrived in Key West, where they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. There, they drilled daily in heavy artillery tactics and other military strategies. On 14 February, the regiment made itself known to area residents via a parade through the city’s streets.

From mid-June through July, the 47th was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men made camp before being housed in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly performed during this time, rotated among the regiments present, putting Meadath and his comrades at greater risk from sniper fire. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, during this time, the men of the 47th “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing.”

Detachments from the regiment were also assigned to the Expedition to Fenwick Island (9 July) and the Demonstration against Pocotaligo (10 July).

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

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

Sent on a return expedition to Florida, Company D saw its first truly intense moments when it participated with the 47th Pennsylvania and other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October. Led by Brigadier-General John M. Brannan, a 1,500-plus Union force disembarked at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats. Taking point, the 47th led the 3rd Brigade through 25 miles of dense, pine forested swamps populated with deadly snakes and alligators. By the time the expedition ended, the brigade had forced the Confederate Army to abandon its artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and had paved the way for the Union to occupy the town of Jacksonville, Florida.

Integration of the Regiment

On 5 and 15 October 1862, respectively, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry became an integrated regiment, adding to its muster rolls several young to middle-aged Black men who had been freed from enslavement on plantations in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina:

  • Just 16 years old at the time of his enlistment, Abraham Jassum joined the 47th Pennsylvania from a recruiting depot on 5 October 1862. Military records indicate that he mustered in as “negro undercook” with Company F at Beaufort, South Carolina. Military records described him as being 5 feet 6 inches tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and stated that his occupation prior to enlistment was “Cook.” Records also indicate that he continued to serve with F Company until he mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 when his three-year term of enlistment expired.
  • Also signing up as an Under Cook that day at the Beaufort recruiting depot was 33-year-old Bristor Gethers. Although his muster roll entry and entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File in the Pennsylvania State Archives listed him as “Presto Gettes,” his U.S. Civil War Pension Index listing spelled his name as “Bristor Gethers” and his wife’s name as “Rachel Gethers.” This index also includes the aliases of “Presto Garris” and “Bristor Geddes.” He was described on military records as being 5 feet 5 inches tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and as having been employed as a fireman. He mustered in as “Negro under cook” with Company F on 5 October 1862, and mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service. Federal records indicate that he and his wife applied for his Civil War Pension from South Carolina.
  • Also attached initially to Company F upon his 15 October 1862 enrollment with the 47th Pennsylvania, 22-year-old Edward Jassum was assigned kitchen duties. Records indicate that he was officially mustered into military service at the rank of Under Cook with the 47th Pennsylvania at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and then transferred to Company H on 11 October 1864. Like Abraham Jassum, Edward Jassum also continued to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers until being honorably discharged on 14 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service.

More men of color would continue to be added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.

Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina

From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackay’s Point, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again, but they and the 3rd Brigade were less fortunate this time.

Harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge, they met resistance from an entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field. Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they were battered by artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests. Grappling with the Confederates where they found them, they forced the Rebels into a four-mile retreat to the Pocotaligo Bridge. There, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut. But the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackay’s Point.

Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died; two officers and another 114 enlisted were wounded. Several resting places for men from the 47th still remain unidentified, the information lost to sloppy Army and hospital records management, or to the trauma-impaired memories of men who were forced to hastily bury or leave behind the bodies of comrades upon receiving orders to retreat.

On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for Major-General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South who had succumbed to yellow fever on 30 October. The Mountains of Mitchel, an area of Mars’ South Pole discovered by Mitchel in 1846 while he was engaged as a University of Cincinnati astronomer, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were both later named for him.

Men from the 47th Pennsylvania were given the high honor of firing the salute over General Mitchel’s grave.

1863

 Fort Jefferson's moat and wall, circa 1934, Dry Tortugas, Florida (C.E. Peterson, Library of Congress; public domain)

Fort Jefferson’s moat and wall, circa 1934, Dry Tortugas, Florida (C.E. Peterson, Library of Congress, public domain).

By 1863, Corporal Jesse Meadath and D Company were once again based with the 47th Pennsylvania in Florida. Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November of 1862, much of 1863 was spent guarding federal installations in Florida while attached to the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I garrisoned Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson in Florida’s Dry Tortugas.

Neither location was a “garden spot” conducive to pleasant relaxation. The environment for those stationed at the more remotely located Fort Jefferson was particularly harsh. Many who had already done more than any nation could have reasonably asked of them could have returned home, their heads held high. But the majority of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers chose instead to re-enlist in order to finish the fight.

Corporal Jesse Meadath was one of those who re-upped for a second three-year term of service. He re-enlisted at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida on 10 October 1863. Sometime during the early to middle part of his tenure with the 47th Pennsylvania, he was also promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

It was also during this year that Sergeant Jesse Meadath was awarded a brief furlough. Following re-enlistment, he was given permission to travel north to visit with his wife and children.

1864

The year of 1864 proved to be one of great highs and lows for Jesse Meadath. On 30 January 1864, Sergeant Meadath was promoted to the rank of First Sergeant. On 22 August, his wife gave birth to their son, Jesse Elmer Meadath, back home in Perry County, Pennsylvania. (This little one born into a time of terrible strife would live to witness wondrous change in a new century, finally passing away at the age of 71 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 3 December 1935.)

Meanwhile, in the interim between his promotion and the birth of his namesake, First Sergeant Jesse Meadath helped his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians to make history. In early January 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was ordered to expand the Union’s reach. Regimental leaders did so, first, by sending part of the regiment north to retake possession of Fort Myers, a federal installation that had been abandoned in 1858 following the U.S. government’s third war with the Seminole Indians. Per orders issued earlier in 1864 by General D. P. Woodbury, Commanding Officer, U.S. Department of the Gulf, District of Key West and the Tortugas, that the fort be used to facilitate the Union’s Gulf Coast blockade, Captain Richard Graeffe and a group of men from Company A were charged with expanding the fort and conducting raids on area cattle herds to provide food for the growing Union troop presence across Florida. Graeffe and his men subsequently turned the fort into both their base of operations and a shelter for pro-Union supporters, escaped slaves, Confederate Army deserters, and others fleeing Rebel troops.

Then while that mission was unfolding, all of the other companies of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began preparing for the regiment’s history-making journey to Louisiana. Boarding yet another steamer—the Charles Thomas—on 25 February 1864, the men from Companies B, C, D, I, and K of the 47th Pennsylvania headed for Algiers, Louisiana (across the river from New Orleans), followed on 1 March by other members of the regiment from Companies E, F, G, and H who had been stationed at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Upon the second group’s arrival, the now almost fully reconstituted regiment moved by train on 28 February to Brashear City before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, and became the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks.

Red River Campaign

From 14-26 March, the 47th passed through New Iberia, Vermilionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana. Sadly, Private William Mays of Company D would be among those from the 47th who would not survive the Red River experience. One of the early casualties in this campaign, he died from disease-related complications at the Union’s General Hospital in New Orleans on 30 March 1864.

From 4-5 April 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania added to its roster of young Black soldiers when 18-year-old John Bullard enrolled for service with Company D at Natchitoches, and Aaron and James Bullard, Samuel Jones, and Hamilton Blanchard (also known as John Hamilton) enrolled with other companies of the 47th. According to his entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives, John Bullard was officially mustered in for duty on 22 June “as (Colored) Cook.”

Often short on food and water, the regiment encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.

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

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

Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (Mansfield). 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.

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 and son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were  forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.

Casualties were severe. Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Alexander was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color bearers, both from Company C, were wounded while preventing the regimental flag from falling into enemy hands. Private Ephraim Clouser of Company D was shot in his right knee, and Corporal Isaac Baldwin was also wounded.

Still others from the 47th 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. Sergeant James Crownover had been wounded in action before being taken captive. He, Private James Downs, Corporal John Garber Miller, and Private William J. Smith were four of the fortunate who survived. Downs, Miller and Smith were released on 22 July, Crownover on 25 November 1864.

Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th Pennsylvanians fell back to Grand Ecore, where they remained for a total of eleven days. After engaging in the hard labor of strengthening regimental and brigade fortifications in a brutal climate, they moved back to Natchitoches Parish on 22 April 1864, arriving in Cloutierville at 10 p.m. that night after marching 45 miles. En route, the Union forces were attacked again—this time in the rear, but they were able to quickly end the encounter and continue on.

On 23 April, episodic skirmishing quickly roared into the flames of a robust fight as 47th Pennsylvanians and other members of their brigade engaged the Confederate troops of Brigadier-General Hamilton Bee in the Battle of Cane River (also known as “the Affair at Monett’s Ferry”). Part of the advance party led by Brigadier-General William Emory, the 47th Pennsylvania supported Emory’s artillery as it countered the barrage from the Confederate artillery’s 20-pound Parrott guns and raking fire from enemy troops situated near a bayou and on a bluff. Meanwhile, other Emory troops worked their way across the Cane River, attacked Bee’s flank, and forced a Rebel retreat. Those Union troops then erected a series of pontoon bridges, enabling the 47th and other remaining Union soldiers to make the Cane River Crossing 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, Lt.-Col. 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, they learned they would remain at their latest new camp for at least two weeks. Placed temporarily under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey, they were assigned yet again to the hard labor of fortification work, helping to erect “Bailey’s Dam,” a timber structure that enabled Union gunboats to more easily make their way back down the Red River. According to Wharton:

We were at Alexandria seventeen days, during which time the men were kept busy at throwing up earthworks, foraging and three times went out some distance to meet the enemy, but they did not make their appearance in numbers large enough for an engagement. The water in the Red river had fallen so much that it prevented the gunboats from operating with us, and kept our transports from supplying the troops with rations, (and you know soldiers, like other people, will eat) so Banks was compelled to relinquish his designs on Shreveport and fall back to the Mississippi. To do this a large dam had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river. After a great deal labor this was accomplished and by the morning of May 13th the last one was through the shute [sic], when we bade adieu to Alexandria, marching through the town with banners flying and keeping step to the music of ‘Rally around the flag,’ and ‘When this cruel war is over.’ The next morning, at our camping place, the fleet of boats passed us, when we were informed that Alexandria had been destroyed by fire – the act of a dissatisfied citizen and several negroes. Incendiary acts were strictly forbidden in a general order the day before we left the place, and a cavalry guard was left in the rear to see the order enforced. After marching a few miles skirmishing commenced in front between the cavalry and the enemy in riflepits [sic] on the bank of the river, but they were easily driven away. When we came up we discovered their pits and places where there had been batteries planted. At this point the John Warren, and unarmed transport, on which were sick soldiers and women, was fired into and sunk, killing many and those that were not drowned taken prisoners. A tin-clad gunboat was destroyed at the same place, by which we lost a large mail. Many letters and directed envelopes were found on the bank – thrown there after the contents had been read by the unprincipled scoundrels. The inhumanity of Guerrilla bands in this department is beyond belief, and if one did not know the truth of it or saw some of their barbarities, he would write it down as the story of a ‘reliable gentleman’ or as told by an ‘intelligent contraband.’ Not satisfied with his murderous intent on unarmed transports he fires into the Hospital steamer Laurel Hill, with four hundred sick on board. This boat had the usual hospital signal floating fore and aft, yet, notwithstanding all this, and the customs of war, they fired on them, proving by this act that they are more hardened than the Indians on the frontier.

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

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

Having entered Avoyelles Parish, they “rested on their arms” for the night, half-dozing without pitching their tents, but with their rifles right beside them. They were now positioned just outside of Marksville, Louisiana on the eve of the 16 May 1864 Battle of Mansura, which unfolded as follows, according to Wharton:

Early next morning we marched through Marksville into a prairie nine miles long and six wide where every preparation was made for a fight. The whole of our force was formed in line, in support of artillery in front, who commenced operations on the enemy driving him gradually from the prairie into the woods. As the enemy retreated before the heavy fire of our artillery, the infantry advanced in line until they reached Mousoula [sic], where they formed in column, taking the whole field in an attempt to flank the enemy, but their running qualities were so good that we were foiled. The maneuvring [sic] of the troops was handsomely done, and the movements was [sic] one of the finest things of the war. The fight of artillery was a steady one of five miles. The enemy merely stood that they might cover the retreat of their infantry and train under cover of their artillery. Our loss was slight. Of the rebels we could not ascertain correctly, but learned from citizens who had secreted themselves during the fight, that they had many killed and wounded, who threw them into wagons, promiscuously, and drove them off so that we could not learn their casualties. The next day we moved to Simmsport 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.*

Continuing on, the surviving members of the 47th marched for Simmesport and then Morganza, where they made camp again. According to Wharton, the members of Company C were sent on a special mission which took them on an intense 120-mile journey:

Company C, on last Saturday was detailed by the General in command of the Division to take one hundred and eighty-seven prisoners (rebs) to New Orleans. This they done [sic] satisfactorily and returned yesterday to their regiment, ready for duty. While in the City some of the boys made Captain Gobin quite a handsome present, to show their appreciation of him as an officer gentleman.

While encamped at Morganza, the nine formerly enslaved Black men who had enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania in Beaufort (1862) and Natchitoches, Louisiana (April 1864) were officially mustered into the regiment between 20-24 June 1864. The regiment then moved on once again, and arrived in New Orleans in late June.

As they did during their tour through the Carolinas and Florida, the men of the 47th had battled the elements and disease, as well as the Confederate Army, in order to survive and continue to defend their nation. But the Red River Campaign’s most senior leader, Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks, would not. Removed from command amid the controversy regarding the Union Army’s successes and failures, he was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. He later redeemed himself by spending much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for the people of Louisiana.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Still able and willing to fight after their time in Bayou country, Company D and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies A, C, E, F, H, and I steamed aboard the McClellan for the East Cost beginning 7 July 1864.

Following their arrival and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, they then joined Major-General David Hunter’s forces in the fighting at Snicker’s Gap and, once again, assisted in defending Washington, D.C., and also helped to drive Rebel troops from Maryland.

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August, early and mid-September saw the departure of several 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who had served honorably, including Company D’s Captain Henry Woodruff, First Lieutenant Samuel Auchmuty, and Sergeants Henry Heikel and Alex Wilson. All mustered out 18 September 1864 upon expiration of their service terms. Those members of the 47th who remained on duty were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor in what one member of the 47th described as “our hardest engagement.”

Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill

Together with other regiments under the command of Union Major-General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the members of Company D and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant-General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”). The battle is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory here helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.

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).

The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan 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, Virginia toward Winchester, the 19th Corps was bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons. This delay enabled Early’s men to dig in.

After finally reaching the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with Early’s well-fortified Confederate troops. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Confederate artillery stationed on high ground.

Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and the 19th Corps were directed by Brigadier-General Emory to attack and pursue Major-General John B. Gordon’s Confederates. Some success was achieved, but casualties mounted as another Rebel artillery group opened fire on Union troops trying to cross a clearing. When a nearly fatal gap began to open between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan order the units led by Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell to move in. Russell, hit twice—once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania opened its lines long enough to enable the Union cavalry under 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 pushing the Confederates back. Early’s “grays” retreated in the face of the valor displayed by Sheridan’s “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Rebels retreated to Fisher’s Hill eight miles south of Winchester (21-22 September), 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 Pennsylvanians were then sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek.

Moving forward, they and other members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two more of their respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and Good’s second in command, Lieutenant-Colonel George Alexander, who mustered out 23-24 September upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, they were replaced by others equally admired both for temperament and their front line experience, including Second Lieutenant George Stroop, who was promoted to lead Company D.

Battle of Cedar Creek

During the fall of 1864, Major-General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by erasing Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed today as inhumane, the policy claimed many civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor, particularly during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864.

Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces during the early hours of the engagement at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops began peeling off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally. From a military standpoint, it was another impressive, but heartrending day.

During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. His men captured Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles—all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to Bates:

When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he road rapidly past them – “Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’”

The Union’s counterattack punched Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:

When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.

Once again, the casualties for the 47th were high. Sergeant William Pyers, the C Company man who had so gallantly rescued the flag at Pleasant Hill was cut down and later buried on the battlefield. Corporal Edward Harper of Company D was wounded, but survived, as did Corporal Isaac Baldwin, who had been wounded earlier at Pleasant Hill. Even Perry County resident and Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap.

Following these major engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December. On 14 November, Second Lieutenant George Stroop was promoted to the rank of Captain. Rested and somewhat healed, the 47th was then ordered to outpost and railroad guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charleston, West Virginia—five days before Christmas.

1865 – 1866

Assigned in February 1865 to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, the men of the 47th moved, via Winchester and Kernstown, back to Washington, D.C. where, on 19 April, they were again responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital—this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Encamped near Fort Stevens, they were resupplied and received new uniforms.

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.)

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 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Letters home and later newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania indicate 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.

As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May.

Captain Levi Stuber of Company I was promoted to the rank of Major with the regiment’s central staff during this time. On 1-2 Jun 1865, First Lieutenant George W. Kosier was promoted to the rank of Captain and leadership of Company D prior to the mustering out of Major George Stroop, who had completed his term of service; Second Lieutenant George W. Clay was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant.

On their final southern tour, Company D and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Attached again to Dwight’s Division, this time they were assigned to the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Relieving the 165th New York Volunteers in July, they quartered in the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury.

On 5 July 1865, First Sergeant Jesse Meadath was awarded the rank of Second Lieutenant. Duties for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers during this period were Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including the rebuilding of railroads and other regional infrastructure items which had been destroyed during the long war.

Beginning on Christmas Day of that year, the majority of the men of Company D, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, including Second Lieutenant Jesse Meadath, finally began to muster out at Charleston, South Carolina, a process which continued through early January. Following a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvania disembarked in New York City. The weary men were then shipped to Philadelphia by train where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were officially given their formal discharge papers.

Return to Civilian Life

Following his honorable discharge from the military at Camp Cadwalader, Jesse Meadath returned home to his wife, children and carpentry work in Perry County. Active in civic and social circles in his community, he was a member of the Knights of Malta and the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in Landisburg, Perry County, and also served with the International Order of Odd Fellows—elected before the turn of the century as “vice grand” and “Noble grand” of the Odd Fellows’ City Lodge No. 301 in Harrisburg.

On 28 April 1870, daughter Annie Meadath opened her eyes for the first time in Perry County. (Shown as one-month-old “Sarah” on the 1870 federal census, she would later marry Addison H. Landis, and then die from breast cancer in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County on 17 October 1908.)

Just over four years after Annie’s arrival, son Oliver passed away at the age of 20 on 24 July 1874. But joy returned quickly to the Meadath home when another son, Oscar Allen Meadath, was born on 6 November 1878. (Oscar went on to live a long, full life, passing away in Harrisburg at the age of 75 on 21 August 1954.)

By 1880, Jesse and Sarah Meadath were residing in Loysville, Perry County with their children Jesse, Annie and Oscar.

Later years

On 15 April 1890, Sarah widowed Jesse. She was interred at what is now Saint Peter’s United Church of Christ Cemetery in Bridgeport, Perry County, Pennsylvania.

Sometime afterward, Jesse Meadath moved to Harrisburg in Dauphin County, where he resided with his daughter, Mrs. Catharine (Meadath) Sutch. The 1890 U.S. Veterans’ Schedule (on which he was listed as “Jesse Meadow”) confirms that Jesse Meadath was residing in Harrisburg by 1890, and that he had health issues at this time.

The 9 July 1897 edition of the Harrisburg Telegraph also confirmed his residency in Harrisburg while reporting that Jesse Meadath was granted a [Civil War] pension. The 10 June 1902 edition of the Harrisburg Daily Independent noted that his state pension was $12. The 28 August 1906 edition of The Courier in Harrisburg reported that:

Lieut. Jesse Meadath, Mrs. Thomas Sutch and Miss Catharine Sutch, [were] visiting the Misses Swisher at Landisburg.

Ailing and under a physician’s regular care beginning in late September 1909, Jesse Meadath died from kidney disease and apoplexy at 8 p.m. on 10 November 1909 in Harrisburg at the home of his daughter, Catharine. (Catharine, who had married Thomas, Sutch, Jr., passed away in Harrisburg on 18 April 1933.)

Jesse Meadath was laid to rest with his wife at Saint Peter’s United Church of Christ Cemetery in Bridgeport, Perry County on 13 November 1909.

The 11 November 1909 edition of the Harrisburg Daily Independent reported his passing as follows:

Lieutenant Jesse Meadath died last night at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Thomas Sutch, 260 Calder street, aged about 70 years. Death resulted from old age. Mr. Meadath was a first lieutenant in Company D, Forty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers, serving all through the Civil war. He was a member of the Knights of Malta, No. 83; Odd Fellows, No. 301, and the G.A.R. post of Landisburg. Mr. Meadath is survived by the following children: Mrs. Thomas Sutch, Harrisburg; Joseph Meadath, of Illinois; Jesse and Oscar, of Harrisburg.

The body will be taken to St. Peter’s church, near Landisburg, Perry county, for interment tomorrow by T. M. Mauk.

The same newspaper provided an update the following day:

The body of Jesse Meadath, who died Wednesday night at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Thomas Sutch, 260 Calder street, will be taken to Landisburg tomorrow morning on the 7:5o train, where interment will be made. Funeral services will be held this evening at 7:30 o’clock at the house, conducted by the Rev. Mr. Huston of Progress.

The Harrisburg Telegraph gave him an even grander sendoff with a large headline and subhead  in its 11 November 1909 edition:

LIEUT. MEADATH DEAD.
Veteran of Civil War and Member of Several Lodges Passed Away Last Evening.

Lieutenant Jesse Meadath, a veteran of the Civil War, having been first lieutenant in Company D, Forty-seventh Pennsylvania volunteers, died of old age last evening at 8:30 o’clock at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Thomas Sutch, 260 Calder street. He was 70 years of age.

Mr. Meadath was a native of Perry county. He was a member of Knights of Malta lodge, No. 83; Odd Fellows, No. 301, and the G.A.R. Post of Landisburg. He is survived by the following children: Mrs. Thomas Sutch, Harrisburg; Joseph Meadath, of Illinois, and Jesse and Oscar, of Harrisburg.

Undertaker T. M. Mauk and Son will take body [sic] to St. Peter’s church, near Landisburg, perry county, for interment Friday.

Sources:

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

2. Civil War Veterans’ Card File (“Meadeth, Jesse”). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

3. Death Certificates (“Jesse Meadath” and “Annie M. Landis”). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Vital Statistics.

4. “Jesse Meadath.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Daily Independent, 11-12 November 1909.

5. “Lieut. Meadath Dead: Veteran of Civil War and Member of Several Lodges Passes Away Last Evening.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, 11 November 1909.

6. “Pennsylvania Pensions.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Daily Independent, 10 June 1902.

7. Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Index Card (“Meaddith, Jesse”). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

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

9. Social notice: Meadath-Swisher families. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: The Courier, 28 August 1906.

10. U.S. Census (1870, 1880), and U.S. Veterans’ Schedule (1890; “Jesse Meadow”). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

11. “Will Get Pensions.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, 9 July 1897.

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