With heartfelt gratitude to John Rohal for his efforts to document the life story and burial location of Jacob T. Ochs.
Jacob Tilghman Ochs (1834-1884) was as much of a casualty as any of his fellow soldiers who were killed in action during the American Civil War, but he was never truly accorded the respect that those other men are still given more than 150 years after they died in hospitals or on battlefields far from loved ones. Branded by members of his community as “demented” and shamed publicly as someone whose “desire for strong drink had deranged his mind,” he was most likely, in truth, a hard-working, good person who simply had the terrible misfortune to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
We can make this educated guess about Jacob Ochs’ life in 19th-century Pennsylvania because we now know, thanks to decades of mental health research, that PTSD is an illness that can strike anyone at any time and can severely affect normal human functioning for many years after its symptoms first begin. Those who suffer from PTSD may experience anxiety, depression, difficulty maintaining work or social relationships, drug and/or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and/or suicidal tendencies because this illness’s symptoms (hypervigilance to, and avoidance of, anyone or anything that might cause flashbacks, hallucinations, nightmares, or other intrusive memories about the germinative incident; an exaggerated startle response and difficulty concentrating; dyspnea/shortness of breath; effort fatigue; feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or shame; emotional or physical numbing and a flat affect; irritability or anger; heart palpitations; sleep disturbance or insomnia; sweating, etc.) take a terrible toll on the body, as well as the mind.
Known during the American Civil War as “Soldiers’ Heart,” PTSD was researched and written about in the late 1860s and early 1870s as an anxiety disorder linked to heart disease by Jacob Mendes da Costa, MD, a graduate of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College who became a physician at Turner’s Lane Hospital in Philadelphia during the Civil War.
Why Jacob T. Ochs may have developed Soldiers’ Heart/PTSD when friends and neighbors of his did not is still an unsolved mystery, but the origins of his condition and later difficulties in life can be traced back to a war that left deep emotional scars on many of its participants because of the ways in which it was waged—“concentrated and personal, featuring large-scale battles in which bullets … caused over 90 percent of the carnage,” according to the late journalist Tony Horwitz:
“Most troops fought on foot, marching in tight formation and firing at relatively close range, as they had in Napoleonic times. But by the 1860s, they wielded newly accurate and deadly rifles, as well as improved cannons. As a result, units were often cut down en masse, showering survivors with the blood, brains and body parts of their comrades.
Many soldiers regarded the aftermath of battle as even more horrific, describing landscapes so body-strewn that one could cross them without touching the ground….
Wounded men who survived combat were subject to pre-modern medicine, including tens of thousands of amputations with unsterilized instruments…. Opiates were widely available and generously dispensed for pain and other ills, causing another problem: drug addiction.
Though geographically less distant from home than soldiers in foreign wars, most Civil War servicemen were farm boys, in their teens or early 20s, who had rarely if ever traveled far from family and familiar surrounds. Enlistments typically lasted three years….
These conditions contributed to what Civil War doctors called ‘nostalgia,’ a centuries-old term for despair and homesickness so severe that soldiers became listless and emaciated and sometimes died. Military and medical officials recognized nostalgia as a serious ‘camp disease,’ but generally blamed it on ‘feeble will,’ ‘moral turpitude’ and inactivity in camp. Few sufferers were discharged or granted furloughs, and the recommended treatment was drilling and shaming of ‘nostalgic’ soldiers….”
So, it should come as no surprise then to anyone reading this biographical sketch that, despite becoming a successful and respected stone mason, Jacob T. Ochs did not go on to have a happy, long, full life after he returned home after the war.
That life of Jacob Ochs, however, began uneventfully. Born in Lower Saucon, Northampton County, Pennsylvania on 11 October 1834, Jacob Tilghman Ochs was a son of stone mason Philip Ochs (1813-1885) and Susanna (Shick) Ochs (1814-1886), as well as a brother to Isadora Elisabeth (Ochs) Brader (1843-1901).
Jacob T. Ochs’ mother was a daughter of Jacob Shick (1772-1842) and Elizabeth Shick (1778-1855). His father, Philip Ochs, was a son of Pennsylvania natives Jacob Ochs (1776-1866) and Susanna (Boehm) Ochs (1776-1846).
* Note: According to the Lower Saucon County Historical Society, “Lower Saucon Township was chartered in 1743, when it was still a part of Bucks County. It was established in the rich farmland along the Saucon Creek. The name is of Native American origin, from sakunk meaning ‘at the mouth of the creek.’ The township also included South Bethlehem until 1865 and Hellertown until 1872. German immigrants convinced by [William] Penn’s favorable description of the New World, settled Lower Saucon Township in large numbers, beginning in 1730. There were numerous mills built to provide sawed wood, flour, textiles, paper, and gunpowder.
The first church, Lower Saucon Church, was established in 1734 and was built by a German Reformed congregation on what is now Easton Road. There were 10 schools in place in the township even before the legislature of Pennsylvania adopted the public school system in 1834.”
In 1850, 15-year-old Jacob Ochs resided in Lower Nazareth Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania with his parents, who were in their mid-thirties, and his siblings: Sarah J., aged 13; George H., aged 11; David J., aged 9; Isadora E., aged 6; Levina, aged 3; and Philip W., aged 2. A federal census taker who visited the Ochs’ home that year indicated that, while Jacob, Sarah, George, David, and Isadora had all learned to read and write by this time, their mother, Susanna, still could not.
In 1860, Jacob and his family were confirmed residents of Easton in Bethlehem Township, Northampton County. His father, who had personal estate holdings valued at $50 that year, was still employed as a stone mason while Jacob’s younger brother, David, was employed as a laborer. Also part of the Ochs household were Jacob’s mother and siblings Sarah, Wilson, and August, aged 6.
But that year would soon become a troubling one for the Ochs family and other Northampton County residents as word spread of growing tensions between America’s northern and southern states and publicly elected officials in the Deep South did what Pennsylvanians feared most that they would do—tear the nation asunder by seceding from the Union. In response, citizens of Northampton County came together in two massive public demonstrations. The first—held on 8 January 1861—was described by Rev. Uzal Condit in his History of Easton, Penn’a from the Earliest Times to the Present, 1739-1885 as follows:
“The National Guards, Citizens Artillery and Easton Jaegers paraded with full ranks during the afternoon, while at intervals ‘Poly’ Patier, with his six-pounder on Mount Jefferson, reminded the citizens who thronged the streets, how British ranks fell before the Kentucky rifles at New Orleans, and how the hero of that day, had in 1832, pledged his oath to hang the man who would attempt to dissolve the Union as high as Haman.”
But southern states continued to fall like dominos—Mississippi (9 January 1861), Florida (10 January 1861), Alabama (11 January 1861), Georgia (19 January 1861), Louisiana (26 January 1861), and Texas (1 February 1861), and Northampton County residents continued to worry and plan, coming together again en masse on 22 February—the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday—per Condit:
“The clouds of disunion, gathering for some time, had become ominously black in the southern sky and gave every evidence of being about to burst in armed treason. This gave great significance to the celebrations in honor of the Father of his Country, and of that stern old patriot who had sworn by the Eternal that the Union must be preserved.
Day by day this feeling grew among Eastonians…. The mechanics and workingmen, the bone and sinew of every community, discussed the threatening news early and late, at their homes, in their shops and at the meetings of their societies. On Monday evening, February 18, 1861, they crowded the old Court House in the Square in pursuance of a call for a meeting to give expression to Union sentiment. John J. Otto presided, with vice presidents: Lehigh Ward, Max Gress, William Keller; Bushkill Ward, Charles H. Yard, Henry J. Young; West Ward, Thos. Daily, Aaron Frey; South Easton, H. Wilhelm, D. Sandt; Phillipsburg, J. S. Bach, James Price; and secretaries, H. S. Wagner, G. W. Reichard, T. T. Hamman, A. Seip.
After some spirited remarks … Isaac Pixley, an old Mexican War veteran, was called upon and amid rapturous applause appealed to the laboring men to stand by the stars and stripes…. A long series of resolutions, intensely loyal in tone, were reported by a committee appointed for the purpose and adopted by an overwhelming majority.”
One of those resolutions held “that the election of Abraham Lincoln or any other man, to the office of President in a legal and constitutional manner, is not a fit or just cause for the dismemberment of this great and mighty republic.” Another that, because Easton’s citizens believed Southerners’ rights were “to be maintained in the Union,” they were “willing to make any concessions to secure to them their constitutional rights in the Union,” but could not “consent to a dissolution of the States upon any terms or any manner whatever.”
Pointedly noting that they would only see any secession as “revolution and treason—a means employed by traitors to destroy the inestimable blessings of liberty, which were bought by the blood of our forefathers and which are as dear to us as our own lives,” they added that they were “opposed to making any concessions to those who are laboring to sever the bonds of our Union, by articles of secession, that would array brother against brother in hostile combat, that would trample in the dust the stars and stripes, the only true emblem of our national liberty and greatness, the pride of every true American, which has floated so long over our beloved country, and which has been acknowledged and honored by every nation and in every commercial port throughout the civilized world,” according to Condit.
So, when Easton civic leaders began recruiting men to answer President Lincoln’s call for volunteers to defend the nation’s capital and preserve America’s Union, Jacob T. Ochs became an early responder.
On 19 September 1861, Jacob T. Ochs enrolled for Civil War military service in Easton, Pennsylvania; within hours, he was officially mustering in as a private with Company E of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. By the next day, he was on a train, headed for Washington, DC with his new comrades. From the time of his departure until mid-September 1864, he would serve under E Company Captain Charles Hickman Yard, a tailor who had gained solid military experience during the 1850s with the Easton National Guard and during the opening months of the American Civil War as an officer in the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers.
According to historian Lewis Schmidt, the men of E Company were issued:
1 light blue overcoat, 1 extra good blouse, 1 pair dark pantaloons, 2 white flannel shirts, 2 pair drawers, 2 pair socks, 1 pair shoes, 1 cap, 1 knapsack (suspended from shoulder), 1 haversack (suspended from waist), 1 canteen….”
They also received their rifles that same day. Following their arrival in Washington, DC, they were marched with other 47th Pennsylvanians to a soldiers’ rest area, where they were fed and then, after an all-too-brief respite, ordered back into formation and marched to “Camp Kalorama,” a site on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown that was located roughly two miles from the White House. Pitching their tents on 21 September, they would remain here less than a week before receiving new orders.
The next day, Henry D. Wharton, a musician with the 47th Pennsylvania’s C Company, penned the following update to 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.
We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday [21 September 1861] without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on discovering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.
Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent man and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.
…. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.
On the 24th of that same month, the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry became part of the U.S. Army when its men were officially mustered into federal service. The next day, 25 September, George Washington Hahn of E Company, David Huber and F. J. Scott described their early days via a letter from Camp Kalorama to the Easton Daily Evening Express:
[A]fter a ride of about twenty-four hours in those delightful cattle cars, we came in sight of the Capitol of the U.S. with colors flying and the band playing and everyone in the best of spirits…. We have one of the best camps in the Union; plenty of shade trees, water and food at present; we have had no ‘Hardees’ [hardtack] yet in this camp, but no doubt we will have them in abundance by and by. But we can cook them in so many different ways, they are better than beef. We soak them over night, fry them for breakfast, stew them for dinner, and warm them over for supper…. The way we pass our time in the evening is as follows: first, after supper, we have a good Union song, then we read, write, crack jokes and sing again. We are ‘gay and happy’ and always shall be while the stars and stripes float over us.
…. We have a noble Colonel and an excellent Band, and the company officers throughout are well drilled for their positions. Our boys are well and contented; satisfied with their clothing, satisfied with their rations, and more than all satisfied with their officers, from Captain to the 8th Corporal. Our boys will stand by the Captain till the last man falls….
This morning we … visited Georgetown Heights; we stood on top of the reservoir and from there had a fine view of the Federal forts and forces on the other side of the Potomac. It looks impossible for an enemy to enter Washington, so strongly fortified is every hill and the camps connect for miles along the river. We saw General McClellan and Professor Lowe taking a view of the Confederate army from the balloon. The rebels are now only four miles from here….
On 27 September, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvania was on the move again. Armed with Mississippi rifles, they marched behind the 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 trudged on for roughly another mile before making camp.
The next morning, they moved out 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 close to General W. F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. 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.
Once again, Company C Musician Henry Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:
On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….
We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….
There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [sic], a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….
Sometime during this phase of duty, as part of the 3rd Brigade, the 47th Pennsylvanians were moved to a site they initially christened “Camp Big Chestnut” due to a large chestnut tree located nearby. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, DC.
On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a mid-October letter home, 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. In his letter of 13 October, Henry Wharton described their duties, as well as their new home:
The location of our camp is fine and the scenery would be splendid if the view was not obstructed by heavy thickets of pine and innumerable chesnut [sic] trees. The country around us is excellent for the Rebel scouts to display their bravery; that is, to lurk in the dense woods and pick off one of our unsuspecting pickets. Last night, however, they (the Rebels) calculated wide of their mark; some of the New York 33d boys were out on picket; some fourteen or fifteen shots were exchanged, when our side succeeded in bringing to the dust, (or rather mud,) an officer and two privates of the enemy’s mounted pickets. The officer was shot by a Lieutenant in Company H [?], of the 33d.
Our own boys have seen hard service since we have been on the ‘sacred soil.’ One day and night on picket, next day working on entrenchments at the Fort, (Ethan Allen.) another on guard, next on march and so on continually, but the hardest was on picket from last Thursday morning ‘till Saturday morning – all the time four miles from camp, and both of the nights the rain poured in torrents, so much so that their clothes were completely saturated with the rain. They stood it nobly – not one complaining; but from the size of their haversacks on their return, it is no wonder that they were satisfied and are so eager to go again tomorrow. I heard one of them say ‘there was such nice cabbage, sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, &c., out where their duty called them, and then there was a likelihood of a Rebel sheep or young porker advancing over our lines and then he could take them as ‘contraband’ and have them for his own use.’ When they were out they saw about a dozen of the Rebel cavalry and would have had a bout with them, had it not been for…unlucky circumstance – one of the men caught the hammer of his rifle in the strap of his knapsack and caused his gun to fire; the Rebels heard the report and scampered in quick time….
On Friday morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” Wharton then revealed more details about life at Camp Griffin in a letter penned on 17 November:
This morning our brigade was out for inspection; arms, accoutrements [sic], clothing, knapsacks, etc, all were out through a thorough examination, and if I must say it myself, our company stood best, A No. 1, for cleanliness. We have a new commander to our Brigade, Brigadier General Brannen [sic], of the U.S. Army, and if looks are any criterion, I think he is a strict disciplinarian and one who will be as able to get his men out of danger as he is willing to lead them to battle….
The boys have plenty of work to do, such as piquet [sic] duty, standing guard, wood-chopping, police duty and day drill; but then they have the most substantial food; our rations consist of fresh beef (three times a week) pickled pork, pickled beef, smoked pork, fresh bread, daily, which is baked by our own bakers, the Quartermaster having procured portable ovens for that purpose, potatoes, split peas, beans, occasionally molasses and plenty of good coffee, so you see Uncle Sam supplies us plentifully….
A few nights ago our Company was out on piquet [sic]; it was a terrible night, raining very hard the whole night, and what made it worse, the boys had to stand well to their work and dare not leave to look for shelter. Some of them consider they are well paid for their exposure, as they captured two ancient muskets belonging to Secessia. One of them is of English manufacture, and the other has the Virginia militia mark on it. They are both in a dilapidated condition, but the boys hold them in high estimation as they are trophies from the enemy, and besides they were taken from the house of Mrs. Stewart, sister to the rebel Jackson who assassinated the lamented Ellsworth at Alexandria. The honorable lady, Mrs. Stewart, is now a prisoner at Washington and her house is the headquarters of the command of the piquets [sic]….
Since the success of the secret expedition, we have all kinds of rumors in camp. One is that our Brigade will be sent to the relief of Gen. Sherman, in South Carolina. The boys all desire it and the news in the ‘Press’ is correct, that a large force is to be sent there, I think their wish will be gratified….
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—and in preparation for even bigger adventures and honors to come, Brannan obtained brand new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.
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, DC. 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 that afternoon, when the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers. The officers boarded last, and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, they 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. Arriving in Key West in early February, they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvanians paraded through the streets and, that Sunday, attended services at local churches, where they met and mingled with area residents. Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics over the next several weeks, they also felled trees and strengthened the installation’s fortifications. According to Schmidt, by the time this period of manual labor was over, a “fine military road had been cut by the brigade from Fort Taylor directly through the island.”
From mid-June through July, the 47th was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina and then to Beaufort, where the men were housed in tents and local homes in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly rotated among the regiments present, putting soldiers at increased risk from sniper fire.
But it would not be well-armed Confederate troops who would become their primary foe; it would be disease. Among the first to fall ill and die here was Company E’s Private Amandus Long, a cigar maker from Allentown who died from typhoid fever on 20 March 1862. Even so, the men of the 47th “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing,” according to historian Samuel P. Bates.
First Victory and First True Horror
During a return expedition to Florida beginning 30 September, the 47th joined with the 1st Connecticut Battery, 7th Connecticut Infantry, and part of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry in assaulting Confederate forces at their heavily protected camp at Saint John’s Bluff overlooking the Saint John’s River area. Trekking and skirmishing through roughly 25 miles of dense swampland and forests after disembarking from ships at Mayport Mills on 1 October, the 47th captured artillery and ammunition stores (on 3 October), which had been abandoned by Confederate forces due to the bluff’s bombardment by Union gunboats.
* Note: The capture of Saint John’s Bluff followed a string of U.S. Army and Navy successes which enabled the Union to gain control over key southern towns and transportation hubs. In November 1861, the Union’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron established a base at Port Royal, South Carolina, enabling the Union to mount expeditions to Georgia and Florida. During these forays, U.S. troops took possession of Fort Clinch and Fernandina, Florida (3-4 March 1862), secured the surrender of Fort Marion and Saint Augustine (11 March), and established a Union Navy base at Mayport Mills (mid-March). That summer, Brigadier-General Joseph Finnegan, commanding officer of the Confederate States of America’s Department of Middle and Eastern Florida, placed gun batteries atop Saint John’s Bluff overlooking the Saint John’s River and at Yellow Bluff nearby. Fortified with earthen works, the batteries were created to disable the Union’s naval and ground force operations at and beyond Mayport Mills, and were designed to house up to 18 cannon, including three eight-inch siege howitzers and eight-inch smoothbores and Columbiads (two of each).
After an exchange of fire between U.S. gunboats Uncas and Patroon and the Rebel battery at Saint John’s Bluff on 11 September, Rebel troops returned after initially being driven away. When a second, larger Union gunboat flotilla also failed to shake the Rebels loose again six days later, Union military leaders ordered a more concerted operation combining ground troops with naval support.
Backed by the U.S. gunboats Cimarron, E.B. Hale, Paul Jones, Uncas and Water Witch and their 12-pound boat howitzers, the 1,500-strong Union Army force commanded by Brigadier-General Brannan advanced up the Saint John’s River and inland along the Pablo and Mt. Pleasant Creeks on 1 October 1862 before disembarking and marching for the battery atop Saint John’s Bluff. The next day, Union gunboats exchanged shellfire with the Rebel battery while the Union ground force marched toward danger. But when the 47th Pennsylvanians reached Saint John’s Bluff with their fellow brigade members on 3 October 1862, they found an abandoned battery. The sheer size of Brannan’s expedition had been too unnerving for the Confederates, who had also abandoned an additional battery nearby at Yellow Bluff.
With those successes, Union leaders ordered the gunboats and army troops to extend the expedition. As they did, they captured assorted watercraft as they advanced up the river. Companies E and K of the 47th then joined with other Union Army soldiers in the reconnaissance and subsequent capture of Jacksonville, Florida on 5 October 1862.
A day later, sailing up river on board the Union gunboat Darlington (a former Confederate steamer), men from the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies E and K traveled 200 miles along the Saint John’s River to capture the Gov. Milton. Reportedly docked near Hawkinsville, this Confederate steamer had been engaged in furnishing troops, ammunition and other supplies to Rebel units scattered throughout the region, including the batteries at Saint John’s Bluff and Yellow Bluff.
With support from other Union troops, Companies E and K seized the steamer, as reported by E Company Corporal George R. Nichols:
At 9 PM … October 7, discovered the steamer Gov. Milton in a small creek, 2 miles above Hawkinsville; boarded her in a small boat, and found that she had been run in there but a short time before, as her fires were not yet out. Her engineer and mate, then in charge, were asleep on board at the time of her capture. They informed us that owing to the weakness of the steamer’s boiler we found her where we did….
I commanded one of the Small Boats that went in after her. I was Boatman and gave orders when the headman jumped on Bord [sic] take the Painter with him. That however Belongs to Wm. Adams or Jacob Kerkendall. It was So dark I could not tell witch [sic] Struck the deck first. But when I Struck the deck I demanded the Surrend [sic] of the Boat in the name of the U.S. after we had the boat an offercier [sic] off [sic] the Paul Jones, a Gun Boat was with us he ask me how Soon could I move her out in the Stream I said five minuts [sic]. So an Engineer one of coulered [sic] Men helped Me. and I will Say right hear [sic] he learned Me More than I ever knowed about Engineering. Where we started down the River we was one hundred and twenty five miles up the river. When we Stopped at Polatkey [Palatka] to get wood for the Steamer I went out and Borrowed a half of a deer that hung up in a [sic] out house and a bee hive for some honey for the Boys. I never forget the boys.
Nichols also stated that he and his party “returned with our prize the next day,” adding that he was then ordered to remain with the Gov. Milton:
So hear [sic] we are at Jacksonville and off we go down the river again, and the Captain Yard said you are detailed on detached duty as Engineer well that beats hell. I told him I did not Enlist for an Engineer. well I cannot help it he said. I got orders for you to stay hear [sic].. When the Boys was gone about a week orders came for us to come to Beaufort, S. Carolina by the inland rout [sic] over Museley Mash Rout [sic]. So I Borrowed a twelve pound gun with amanition [sic] for to Protect ourselves with. But I only used it once to clear Some cavalry away. We Passed fort Palask. But that was in our Possession and we got Back to Beaufort all right. and I whent [sic] up to see the Boys and Beged [sic] captain to get me Back in the company, But he could not make it go.”
From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. (“T. H.”) Good and Lieutenant-Colonel George Warren (“G. W.”) Alexander, the entire 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry joined with other Union regiments to engage the heavily protected Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina—including at Frampton’s Plantation and the Pocotaligo Bridge—a key piece of the South’s railroad infrastructure. Harried by snipers en route, they headed directly into the firing path of an entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery, which opened up on them as they entered a cotton field.
Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests. But the Union soldiers would not give in; grappling with the Confederates where they found them, they pursued the Rebels for four miles as the Confederate Army retreated to the bridge. There, the 47th Pennsylvania relieved the 7th Connecticut. Unfortunately, the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting to take the ravine and bridge, the 47th was forced by depleted ammunition supplies to withdraw to Mackay’s Point.
Losses for the 47th Pennsylvania were heavy. Privates Henry A. Backman, Nathan George, Samuel Minnick, George B. Rose and 14 other enlisted men died; a total of 114 were wounded. Also on the casualty lists were: Captain Charles Mickley, killed in action; Captain George Junker, mortally wounded; Lieutenant William Geety, gravely wounded; E Company’s Corporal Reuben Weiss, and Privates Nathan Derr and William A. Force. Wounded in both legs (including a gunshot to the left leg), Corporal Weiss returned to action after convalescing, and served for two more years until being honorably discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate. Privates Nathan Derr, George Hahn and William Force were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates on 2 February 1863, 25 February 1863, and 10 April 1863, respectively.
On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for 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.
Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 for Private Jacob Ochs and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. The men of E Company again joined with Companies A, B, C, G, and I in guarding Key West’s Fort Taylor while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.
As with their previous assignments, they soon came to realize that disease would be their constant companion—making it all the more remarkable that, during this phase of service, the majority of 47th Pennsylvanians chose to re-enlist when their three-year service terms were up. Among those opting to do so was Private Jacob Ochs, who was honorably discharged on 20 October 1863 so that he could re-enlist as a U.S. Veteran Volunteer under General Order No. 191 (Adjutant General’s Office and U.S. War Department, 1863). After re-enrolling under Captain Yard at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida on 21 October 1863, Private Ochs then officially re-mustered there on 27 October.
1864—Red River Campaign
On 25 February 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers set off for a phase of service in which their regiment would make history. Steaming for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, they arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride—this time to Franklin via the Bayou Teche—they joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, they became part of the only regiment from Pennsylvania to serve in the 1864 Red River Campaign.
From 14-26 March, they passed through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. Often short on food and water, they camped 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 Pennsylvania were cut down on 8 April by the back-and-forth fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (Mansfield). The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, the uninjured finally collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, they withdrew to Pleasant Hill.
The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers did it all over again. Ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff, the 47th Pennsylvania and other Union regiments endured 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). By 3 p.m., 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 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.
Casualties were severe. Private Richard Hahn was killed in action. The regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander, was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also seriously wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. Still others from the 47th were captured by Confederate troops, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war until they were released during prisoner exchanges between 22 July and November. Sadly, at least two members of the 47th Pennsylvania never made it out alive.
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 to resupply and regroup until 22 April. Retreating to Alexandria, they and their fellow Union soldiers next scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill on 23 April (also known as the Affair at Monett’s Ferry).
Placed briefly under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey a week later, the 47th Pennsylvanians helped to build a dam from 30 April through 10 May, enabling federal gunboats to navigate the fluctuating water levels of the Red River.
Beginning 16 May, they made their way to and beyond Simmsport, across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans by 20 June.
1864—Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Still able and willing to fight after their Bayou battles, the soldiers of Company E and the members of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies A, C, D, F, H, and I returned to the Washington, DC area aboard the McClellan beginning 7 July 1864. Following their arrival, they had a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln before joining Major-General David Hunter’s forces in the fighting near Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was next assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia, and proceeded to engage in a series of back-and-forth movements over the next several weeks between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a “mimic war” being waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early. From 3-4 September, they fought in the Battle of Berryville.
Two weeks later, a major change occurred when Company D’s Captain Henry Woodruff, E Company’s Captain Charles H. Yard and Captain Henry S. Harte of F Company all mustered out at Berryville upon expiration of their respective three-year terms of service.
Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864
A day later, the members of Company E and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces during the Battle of Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”) as part of a large Union force commanded by Union General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps. Still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign, this Union victory on 19 September 1864 helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.
The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny began at 2 a.m. as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. Advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, they march quickly bogged down in the face of massive troop and supply wagon movement, enabling Early’s Confederates to dig in. Upon reaching Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with Early’s army. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal as the Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Early’s artillery, which was positioned on higher ground.
Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvanians and their fellow 19th Corps members were directed by Brigadier-General Emory to attack and pursue Major-General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Casualties mounted as Confederate cannon opened fire on Union troops as they tried to cross a clearing. When a nearly fatal gap began to open between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan responded by ordering the units of Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell to plug the hole. Russell, hit twice—once in the chest—was mortally wounded.
As the battle intensified, the 47th Pennsylvania opened its lines long enough to enable the Union cavalry under William Woods Averell and General George Crook’s foot soldiers 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. Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek.
Just over a week later, the 47th Pennsylvania lost its two most senior leaders when Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Good’s second in command, Lieutenant-Colonel George Alexander, mustered out upon expiration of their respective terms of service.
Battle of Cedar Creek, 19 October 1864
It was during this part of the Civil War that Major-General Sheridan had initiated the first use of the Union’s “scorched earth” campaigns—starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents, but almost certainly contributed to the war’s significant shift in the Union’s favor at this point—especially during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864 as Early’s seemingly unstoppable troops peeled off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win this tide-turning engagement.
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, and his troops 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 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 Union’s counterattack pounded Early’s forces into submission. So effective were the men of the 47th that they were later 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.”
But once again, casualties for the 47th Pennsylvania were high. Multiple members of the regiment had been captured and taken to Confederate prisons, where they were held as held as prisoners of war (POWs); a shocking number later died from starvation or physical abuse. And the equivalent of nearly two full companies of men from the 47th were dead with many, many others wounded, including Company E’s Corporal Edward W. Menner and Privates Andrew Burk, John Kunker, Owen Moser, John Peterson—and Jacob T. Ochs.
Kunker, Menner, Moser, and Peterson survived but Private Burk, who had sustained gunshot wounds to the head and upper right arm and had initially been declared killed in action by mistake, was sent to the Union Army’s post hospital at Winchester where he underwent surgery on 13 December to remove bone matter from his brain. Moved to the Union Army’s General Hospital at Frederick, Maryland, he died there just two days before Christmas from phthisis, a chronic wasting away from disease-related complications (often tubercular) which was common among soldiers convalescing.
Private Jacob T. Ochs, who had been shot in the foot, would also survive, but he was injured severely enough that he required a lengthy period of recuperation. As a result, he spent the remainder of his service tenure under the care of Union Army medical personnel.
Sidelined by his foot wound for roughly eight months, Private Jacob Ochs was finally deemed strong enough to be discharged from the Union Army’s Jarvis General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland on a surgeon’s certificate of disability on 19 June 1865.
* Note: Even with 21st century medical advances, a patient’s recovery from a gunshot wound to a foot can be difficult. In one recent case, a 42-year-old developed complications with his breathing within six hours of sustaining multiple fractures to the tarsal bones after having been shot in the foot. Lapsing into a coma after fat embolism syndrome developed, he was saved by magnetic resonance imaging, which confirmed the syndrome’s onset and enabled physicians to establish an effective treatment.
But even if that specific complication did not develop for Jacob Ochs, the injury alone was likely horrific enough to cause significant, painful damage to his foot that was most certainly treated with opioids by his army physicians. According to the editors of Ballistic Trauma: A Practical Guide, “There are three mechanisms whereby a projectile can cause tissue injury”:
“1. In a low-energy transfer wound, the projectile crushes and lacerates tissue along the track of the projectile, causing a permanent cavity. In addition, bullet and bone fragments can act as secondary missiles, increasing the volume of tissue crushed.
2. In a high-energy transfer wound, the projectile may impel the walls of the wound track radially outwards, causing a temporary cavity lasting 5 to 10 milliseconds before its collapse in addition to the permanent mechanical disruption produced….
3. In wounds where the firearm’s muzzle is in contact with the skin at the time of firing, tissues are forced aside by the gases expelled from the barrel of the fire, causing a localized blast injury.”
Return to Civilian Life
Following his honorable discharge from the military Jacob T. Ochs returned home to Northampton County, Pennsylvania. In October of 1865, he was awarded a U.S. Civil War Pension—a fact which seems to indicate that his war injuries, whether physical or psychological—or both—were still interfering with his ability to resume a normal life. This is understandable when considering not only the lengthy periods of treatment and convalescence that he endured while still in the army—during which he was most likely treated with opioids—but the very real possibility that he may have developed a chronic pain condition due to the apparent severity of his foot injury.
According to Giovanni Iolascon and other researchers, “Silas Weir Mitchell described several cases of causalgia due to gunshot wounds that occurred during the American Civil War.” Causalgia, which is known more commonly today as complex regional pain syndrome type II (CRPS II), is a neurological disorder in which peripheral nerve damage caused by a traumatic injury, such as a gunshot wound or broken ankle, results in a persistent burning pain that can be aggravated by something as simple as the touch of a loved one’s hand or even a gentle spring breeze:
“Silas Weir Mitchell was a doctor who dedicated the first years of his career to the care of wounded soldiers, in particularly in peripheral nerve injuries caused by gunshots, during the American Civil War…. In 1864 he published, in collaboration with George Morehouse and William Keen, the monograph ‘Gunshot Wounds and Other Injuries’ that soon became the benchmark for the diagnosis and treatment of nerve damage until World War I.
Among the diseases accurately described by Mitchell there was a syndrome characterized by a typical chronic burning pain located distally to the peripheral nerve injury site and associated with skin disorders. The description given by the Author was very suggestive and finely described the signs and the symptoms characteristic of what we now call CRPS.
The skin affected in these cases was deep red or mottled, and red and pale in patches. The subcuticular tissues were nearly all shrunken and, where the palm alone was attacked, the part so diseased seemed to be a little depressed, firmer and less elastic than common. In the fingers there were often cracks in the altered skin, and the integuments presented the appearance of being tightly drawn over the subjacent tissues. The surface of all the affected parts was glossy and shiny as though it had been skillfully vanished. Nothing more curious than these red and shining tissues can be conceived of. In most of them the part was devoid of wrinkles and perfectly free from hair….
Further study led us to suspect that the irritation of a nerve at the point of the wound might give rise to changes in the circulation and nutrition of the parts in its distribution, and that these alterations might be of themselves of a pain-producing nature.
This clinical condition was later described as ‘causalgia’ in ‘Injuries of Nerves and Their Consequences’, a second book published by Mitchell in 1872….”
And, because Jacob Ochs may have continued to receive opioids for the treatment of his foot wound following his discharge from the military, he may also have become addicted to opioids and/or may have begun self-medicating with over-the-counter painkillers or alcohol as many of his fellow Civil War veterans did—either due to chronic pain or because he may have been suffering from PTSD.
Still living at home in Freemansburg with his parents in 1870, Jacob T. Ochs appeared to have made some progress, however, because he had secured work as a stone mason—the same trade in which his father was still employed. Also still living at home were Jacob’s siblings, George H. Ochs (aged 31), described as being “at home” on that year’s census; Wilson P. Ochs (aged 22), a “boatman”; and Cyrus G. Ochs (aged 16), a “boathand.” Another clue that Jacob appeared to be improving is that, while his father’s personal estate holdings were estimated at just $100 that year, Jacob’s own were valued at $800.
Still unmarried a decade later, Jacob Ochs remained employed as a stone mason, but had relocated with his stone mason father, his mother, and younger brother, Cyrus, a collier mill worker, to the Second Ward in the city of Bethlehem in Northampton County by the time the federal census taker arrived on their doorstep on 9 June 1880. Also residing with the family was a 19-year-old servant, Ellen Fatzinger.
Death and Interment
But sadly, this 47th Pennsylvanian would not witness the dawn of a new century as other veterans of this regiment did. According to the Bethlehem Daily Times, Jacob T. Ochs committed suicide during the morning of 28 July 1884, drawing his last breath when he was just 49 years, 9 months, and 17 days old. The Bethlehem Daily Times reported on the tragedy later that same day:
“JACOB OCHS COMMITS SUICIDE.—Jacob Ochs, aged about 47 years, and until recently employed by Josiah George as a stone mason, committed suicide at the Cross Roads Hotel, Hottelsville, this morning. For the past week, Ochs has bene unable to work, owing to different causes, one of which was his strong inclination for drink. Several days ago he remarked to Jacob Jacoby, proprietor of the hotel, that the boys of the village were going to kill him. Mr. Jacoby knowing that this was untrue, suspected that the man was demented, and in consequence kept a strict watch over him. Last night he went to his room early, and for considerable time went back and forth between his room and the garret. Becoming alarmed at these doings, Mr. Jacoby went up stairs about 2 o’clock and compelled the man to stop and go to his bed. Ochs procured a piece of suspender and went again to the garret, where he hung himself. At 5 o’clock this morning, Allen F. Jacoby, son of the proprietor, went to Ochs’ room to awake him. Not finding him there he immediately began search and found the man hanging from the rafters of the garret, dead. When found he was lying with his feet and one arm on the garret steps. Deputy Coroner Anstett was immediately summoned and impaneled the following jury: Al. F. Jacoby, Joel Schitz, Edward Mack, Aaron Levers, Daniel Desh and Powell Rinker, who, after hearing the testimony of several witnesses, rendered a verdict of death by suicide. The deceased was a bachelor, and has been a resident of this vicinity for a number of years. He was well known in the Bethlehems as a first-class mason. It is said his desire for strong drink had deranged his mind, and in this condition he committed the rash act. He will be buried at Freemansburg to-morrow afternoon.”
He was laid to rest the next day at the Trinity United Church of Christ Cemetery, the same cemetery in Freemansburg, Northampton County, Pennsylvania where his father and mother would be interred in 1885 and 1886, respectively, according to their obituaries and church burial records. A brief mention of his burial was made in that day’s edition of the same newspaper that had previously reported on his suicide:
“The remains of Jacob Ochs, who committed suicide at Hottelsville at an early hour yesterday morning, were interred at Freemansburg this afternoon.”
Could “the boys of the village” truly have been planning to harm Jacob Tilghman Ochs because of something he had said or done in 1884, or was the post-war suffering that he endured due to imagined voices of former comrades accusing him from beyond the grave for surviving the war when they had not? Or might the voices he was hearing have come in the form of aspersions cast by living, breathing veterans within his own community who felt his physical or psychological wounds had not been nearly as serious as their own?
While any one of those theories could have been a motivating factor in Jacob Ochs’ suicide, the latter may very well be the most plausible reason because, by the 1880s, societal norms still had not yet begun to catch up with the physical and emotional fallout of the American Civil War. According to historian Jonathan S. Jones, “Opiates were among nineteenth-century America’s most commonly used medicines” with physicians of the time prescribing “opium, morphine, laudanum, and other preparations for ‘intolerable pain’ to ‘troublesome looseness’ of the bowels,” and “since many people lacked regular access to physicians, sick and suffering Americans also self-medicated with opiates, which they purchased without restrictions at many pharmacies and stores throughout the nation.”
And that prescribing practice only increased during and after the Civil War as military physicians cared for wounded soldiers ravaged by terrible pain from horrific injuries. As a result, “opiate addiction caused overwhelming suffering for Civil War veterans, chiefly because ‘slavery’ to opiates—as addiction was often described—violated prevailing ideas of manhood, morality, and mental health.”
“Like habitual drunkenness, to be ‘enslaved’ to opiates was to be dependent on the drugs, a state antithetical to widely held ideas of masculinity and morality, which demanded independence, self-mastery, and sobriety….
The physical effects of long-term opiate abuse—which had to be consumed daily, often for decades, to remain functional and to stave off withdrawal symptoms—ruined veterans’ bodies, leaving them fatigued, emaciated, impotent…. The ever-increasing dosages necessary to offset tolerance to the drugs proved a burdensome expense…. Addiction also left many veterans unable to work and thus dependent on family and friends. Most addicted veterans were unable to simply quit taking opiates at will, try as they might, which branded them as weak, lacking in self-control, and intemperate…. Making matters worse, nineteenth-century medical understandings of addiction posited that opiate intemperance caused insanity…. Moreover, because of the implications of addiction for morality, masculinity, and insanity, addicted veterans often found themselves excluded from pensions and soldiers’ homes [where they might have received life-changing medical care]….
Opiate abuse also signaled an unwillingness to endure pain, and observers often denigrated the manliness of addicted veterans for this reason…. Soldiers who refused to outwardly manifest pain exhibited ‘hospital courage’ … and fellow soldiers lauded them for their manliness. In contrast, men who excessively consumed opiates revealed their inability or unwillingness to bear pain in manly fashion and were condemned….
The medical classification of opiate addiction in the nineteenth century directly informed [the ways in which physicians and society in general acted toward those they perceived as addicts]. Most doctors classified opiate addiction alongside drunkenness as a variety of intemperance, with negative implications for addicts’ moral character and mental health…. Among its many characteristics, intemperance entailed dependence on female caretakers and on intoxicating substances, lack of volition and self-control, and recklessness, signaling poor character and the loss of manhood…. Because opiate addiction was so closely linked to drunkenness, the same criticisms carried over.”
And, as if that were not enough to unsettle the mind of Jacob Ochs, “Addicted veterans risked being committed [to terrible asylums of the time] not only by administrators of soldiers’ homes but also by families and friends seeking relief from the burden of caring for addicted relatives.”
While researchers may never be able to determine exactly what caused Jacob T. Ochs to end his life, what is clear is that his decision must never again be viewed as a weakness on his part, but as a failure of physicians and members of his community to appreciate his obvious pain—and to provide him with the compassionate medical care and community support that would have helped him believe that his life mattered and that better days still awaited him.
That failure should bother us all—so much so that we each redouble our efforts to reach out to help those in our communities whose souls have been razored by the all-too-often harsh responses of a world which marginalizes and condemns them for life circumstances that were beyond their control.
- Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
- Condit A.M., Rev. Uzal. The History of Easton, Penn’a from the Earliest Times to the Present, 1739-1865. Washington, DC: West & Condit, 1885.
- da Costa, Jacob Mendez. “Observations on the diseases of the heart noticed among soldiers, particularly the organic diseases,” in Contributions relating to the Causation and Prevention of Disease, and to Camp Diseases; together with a Report of the Diseases, etc., Among the Prisoners at Andersonville, GA.” New York: United States Sanitary Commission and Hurd and Houghton, 1867.
- da Costa, Jacob Mendez. “On Irritable Heart; a Clinical Study of a Form of Functional Cardiac Disorder and its Consequences: Age in Two Hundred Cases. Result in 200 Cases,” in The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, Vol. 61, No. 121, p. 17. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: January 1871.
- Horwitz, Tony. “Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD?”, in Smithsonian Magazine, January 2015. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.
- “Jacob Ochs Commits Suicide.” Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Bethlehem Globe-Times, 28 July 1884.
- Jacob Ochs (suicide and interment notice). Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Bethlehem Globe-Times, 29 July 1884.
- “Jacob T. Ochs,” in Burial Records, Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Freemansburg, Northampton County, Pennsylvania (29 July 1884), in “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013.” Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry.com, retrieved online 30 May 2020.
- Jones, Jonathan S. “Opium Slavery: Civil War Veterans and Opiate Addiction,” in The Journal of the Civil War Era, Vol. 10, No. 2, June 2020, pp. 185-212. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press.
- Mahoney, Peter F., James Ryan, et. al. Ballistic Trauma: A Practical Guide, Second Edition, pp. 31-66, 91-121, 168-179, 356-395, 445-464, 535-540, 596-605. London, England: Springer-Verlag London Limited, 2005.
- Ochs, Jacob, in Muster Roll, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Co. E (initial 1861 enlistment and 1863 discharge prior to reenlistment), in “Civil War Muster Rolls and Related Records, 1861–1866,” in “Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11).” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
- Ochs, Jacob, in Muster Roll, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Co. E (1863 reenlistment at Fort Jefferson, foot wound—Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia 19 October 1864, discharge on Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability, 19 June 1865), in “Civil War Muster Rolls and Related Records, 1861–1866,” in “Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11).” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
- Ochs, Jacob, in U.S. Civil War General Pension Index Cards (application no.: 93405; certificate no.: 55311, October 1865). Washington, DC: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
- Ochs, Philip/Phillip, Susanna/Susan, Jacob, et. al., in U.S. Census (Lower Nazareth Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania: 1850; Easton, Bethlehem Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania: 1860; Freemansburg Borough, Northampton County, Pennsylvania: 1870; Bethlehem: Second Ward, Northampton County, Pennsylvania: 1880). Washington, DC: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
- Pollard, Harvey, Chittari Shivakumar, et. al. “‘Soldier’s Heart’: A Genetic Basis for Elevated Cardiovascular Disease Risk Associated with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder,” in Frontiers in Neuromolecular Science, 23 September 2016. Switzerland: Frontiers Research Foundation.
- Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.