Alternate Presentations of Name: John E. D. Roth, John E. L. Roth
Born in Pennsylvania on 19 August 1832, John E. L. Roth was the son of Pennsylvania native, John Roth, and served with the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers during the American Civil War, earning the respected designation of Veteran Volunteer.
According to Pennsylvania German Lutheran Church records, he was residing on Duncan’s Island in Perry County when he married Margaret Jane Allison of Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania in Harrisburg on 11 June 1850. No further information has been found to date regarding his spouse.
Civil War Military Service
Like many of his fellow Pennsylvanians, John E. L. Roth responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s April 1861 call for soldiers to help protect the nation’s capital following the attack on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces. He enrolled and mustered in for service at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County as a Private with Company E of the 1st Pennsylvania Infantry on 18 April 1861.
After honorably completing his Three Months’ Service, he then mustered out with his regiment at Harrisburg on 27 July 1861.
John E. L. Roth then promptly signed up for a three-year tour of duty, re-enrolling at Bloomfield in Perry County on 20 August 1861. Military records described him at the time as being a 29-year-old carpenter residing in Benvenue, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.
Mustering in for duty again at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg on 31 August 1861, he became a Private with Company D of the newly formed 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
He went on to help defend the nation’s capital again (Fall 1861 and April through June 1865, following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln), and to engage in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida (1-3 October 1862), to fight with the 47th Pennsylvania in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina (21-23 October 1862), and to participate with his regiment in the garrisoning of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida (1862 and 1863).
In 1863, he was also sent with his fellow Company D members to Fort Jefferson in the remote Dry Tortugas area of Florida, where the conditions were even more harsh on garrison duty than they had been on previous assignments. Some of the men were felled by sunstroke and the poor quality of the area’s drinking water while others were claimed by tropical diseases and other ailments common to the close and often unsanitary living quarters of soldiers.
After all of this, he still chose to re-enlist with the 47th at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida on 10 October 1863.
In 1864, Corporal John E. L. Roth participated with his regiment in Union General Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign across Louisiana (March-May 1864), including the Battles of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield and Pleasant Hill (8-9 April 1864). The 47th was the only Pennsylvania regiment so engaged in this campaign and, as such, made history.
Steaming from Florida for New Orleans via the Charles Thomas, the 47th arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February 1864, and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps.
From 14-26 March, the 47th passed through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. 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.
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 by both sides during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, those who were 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 for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, which had been severe during the Battle of Pocotaligo in October 1862, were even heavier here in Louisiana. The regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color bearers, both from Company C, as they prevented 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 and November.
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 fell back to Grand Ecore, where they resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. Retreating further to Alexandria, they and their fellow Union soldiers scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.
On 23 April, the 47th and their fellow brigade members crossed the Cane River via Monett’s Ferry and, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, helped to build a dam from 30 April through 10 May, to enable federal gunboats to easily traverse the Red River’s rapids.
Beginning 16 May, D Company moved with most of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June. On the 4th of July, they learned that their fight was far from over.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Still able and willing to fight after their time in Bayou country, the soldiers of Company D and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies A, C, E, F, H, and I boarded the McClellan and steamed away for the East Coast.
Following their arrival in Virginia 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. while also helping to drive Confederate 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, 1st 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.
Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864
Together with other regiments under the command of Union 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.
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 toward Winchester, the 19th Corps became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. After finally reaching and fording the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with the Confederate Army 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 Confederate artillery stationed on high ground.
Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and the 19th Corps were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but casualties mounted as another Confederate 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 sent in units led by Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell. 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 (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.
Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were 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. Both mustered out from 23-24 September upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, they were replaced by others equally admired for temperament and front line experience: 2nd Lieutenant George Stroop, who was promoted to lead Company D, and at the regimental level, John Peter Shindel Gobin, Charles W. Abbott and Levi Stuber.
Battle of Cedar Creek, October 1864
It was during the Fall of 1864 that General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s crops and farming infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents – 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 during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces 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 directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. 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 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. 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, 2nd 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 Charlestown, 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 received new uniforms and other supplies.
Letters home and newspaper interviews conducted in later years 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 and trial. 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.
On their final southern tour, Company D and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Again in Dwight’s Division, this time they were with 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. Duties for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers at this time were Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including rebuilding railroads and other key segments of the region’s infrastructure which had been damaged or destroyed during the long war.
Beginning on Christmas day of that year, the majority of the men of Company D, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers finally began to honorably muster out at Charleston, South Carolina, a process which continued through early January. Corporal John E. L. Roth was one who mustered out on 25 December 1865.
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 discharge papers.
Return to Civilian Life
Returning home after the war, John E. L. Roth married again in 1868 and began working as a carpenter. In 1870, he and his wife, Rachel (Ditty) Roth, lived in Halifax, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, but were back in Duncannon, Perry County by 1880, living at the home of John’s father. Their niece, 15-year-old Ellen Miller, was also residing there at this time.
By 1900, John E. L. Roth and his wife, Rachel, were again living by themselves – still in Duncannon, where he continued his work in house carpentry.
He died on 22 August 1906, his death ruled as an accidental drowning by Charles DePugh, the local registar in Duncannon. John’s wife, Rachel, was listed on the death certificate as the informant.
John E. L. Roth was interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Duncannon, Perry County, Pennsylvania on 24 August. The W.H. Zeigler Funeral Home of Duncannon handled the arrangements. (Note: The Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Index Card for John lists his year of death as 1907 rather than 1906.)
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
2. Civil War Veterans’ Card File (John E. D. Roth and John E. L. Roth). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
3. Death Certificate (John E.L. Roth). Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Vital Statistics.
4. Marriage Records. Various Locations: Pennsylvania German Lutheran Churches.
5. Military Records (John E. L. Roth). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
6. Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Index Card (John E. D. Roth). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Department of Veterans Affairs.
7. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
8. U.S. Census (1870, 1880, 1900).
9. U.S. Soldiers and Sailors Database. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service.