Alternate Spellings of Surname: Rinek, Rinick, Rinnick
Born in Pennsylvania on 8 December 1835, Henry Rinek was the son of Jacob Rinek (1805-1868) and Anna Maria (Bonstein) Rinek (1814-1903) of Northampton County, Pennsylvania.
In 1850, Henry Rinek resided in Easton, Northampton County with his parents and siblings: John (1832-1914), Mary, Thomas (1840-1904), Jacob (1843-1864), Susan (1846-1914), and Emma (1849-1852) in Easton, Northampton County. There, his father was employed as a rope maker.
In 1852, the Rinek family welcomed another child, Howard (1852-1926). Sadly, Henry’s little sister Emma passed away that same year. Anna Rinek (1855-1832) arrived three years later.
According to the 1900 federal census, Henry Rinek wed in 1858. His spouse was Pennsylvania native, Matilda A. Raub (1837-1901). They began their own family as residents of Easton’s West Ward.
Son Charles, their first child, was born in Easton sometime around 1859. Daughter, Lilly (also spelled “Lillie” on certain records), was born in February 1860, according to the 1860 federal census. Daughters, Mame A. Rinek and Ella A. Rinek, followed in 1861 and 1863, respectively.
Like his father before him, Henry supported his family on the wages of a rope maker.
Civil War Military Service
Henry Rinek enrolled for military service at Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 25 August 1862. He then mustered in for duty as a Private with Company E of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, serving under Captain Charles H. Yard.
His timing put him in the position of serving with the 47th not only for one of the regiment’s earliest victories, but also during one of its bloodiest periods of service.
During an expedition to Florida on 30 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers joined with the 1st Connecticut Battery, 7th Connecticut Infantry, and part of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry in assaulting Rebel forces at a 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.
Companies E and K of the 47th were then led by Captain Yard on a special mission; ordered by their superiors to help extend the Union Army’s reach further along the Saint John’s River, and venturing deeper and deeper into Confederate territory, the men from the 47th Pennsylvania’s E and K Companies collaborated with other Union Army soldiers to scope out and subsequently gain control of the town of Jacksonville, Florida on 5 October 1862. The combined Union force had also been charged with capturing or destroying the Confederate-controlled watercraft they encountered along the way.
A day later, while sailing aboard the Union gunboat Darlington (formerly a Confederate steamer) – with protection from the Union gunboat Hale, men from the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies E and K then traveled 200 miles along the Saint John’s River in order to capture the Gov. Milton on 6 October 1862. Another Confederate steamer, the Governor Milton was reported to be docked near Hawkinsville, and had been engaged in furnishing troops, ammunition and other supplies to Confederate Army units scattered throughout the region, including the batteries at Saint John’s Bluff and Yellow Bluff.
Identified as a thorn that needed to be plucked from the Union’s side, the Gov. Milton was seized by Companies E and K with support from other Union troops. Their expedition having gone deep enough into Confederate territory, the combined Union Army-Navy team sailed the Gov. Milton and other ships back down the Saint John’s River, and moved the Milton behind Union lines.
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 which Union leaders felt should be destroyed.
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 relieved the 7th Connecticut. Unfortunately, the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, the 47th was forced by depleted ammunition supplies to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.
Losses for the 47th Pennsylvania were particularly significant with a number of men killed in action, or so seriously wounded that they died from their wounds shortly thereafter. Still others were wounded in action; some were sent home on Surgeon’s Certificates of Disability where they recuperated; others were able to be treated in the field or at the regimental or post hospital in order to return to duty.
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. The Mountains of Mitchel, a part of Mars’ South Pole discovered by Mitchel in 1846 while working 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 his grave.
Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 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, the men soon came to realize that disease would be their constant companion and foe.
On 25 February 1864, the 47th set off for a phase of service in which the regiment would make history. Steaming for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, the men 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 – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, the 47th would become the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign spearheaded by Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.
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 remaining members of 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 back-and-forth volley of fire unleashed by both sides during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (Mansfield). The fighting waned only when darkness fell. The exhausted, but 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 who was the 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. 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 in July, August and November. At least one member 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, 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, which enabled federal gunboats to successfully traverse the rapids of the Red River.
Beginning 16 May, Captain Charles Yard and E Company moved with the majority of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Still able and willing to fight after their Bayou battles, the soldiers of Company E and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies A, C, D, F, H, and I returned to the Washington, D.C. area aboard the McClellan beginning 7 July 1864.
Following their arrival in Virginia and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, they joined Major-General David Hunter’s forces in the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, and 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 and E Company’s Captain Charles H. Yard. Both mustered out at Berryville, Virginia on 18 September 1864 upon expiration of their respective three-year terms of service. 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 E and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians 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. 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. Finally reaching and fording the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with Early’s Confederate Army. 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, 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.
Moving forward, the surviving 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 H. 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 with leaders who were equally respected for their front line experience and temperament, including Major John Peter Shindel Gobin, formerly of the 47th’s Company C, who had been promoted up through the regimental staff to the rank of Major (and who would be promoted again on 4 November to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and regimental commanding officer).
Battle of Cedar Creek, October 1864
During the Fall of 1864, General Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “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 – 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 and win the day.
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 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 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. A number of men from Company E were also killed or wounded in action. As with the battles in Louisiana, men from the 47th were also captured by Confederate forces and taken to prison camps, where several perished.
Following these major engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December. 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 they trudged through a snowstorm in order to reach their new home.
1865 – 1866
Assigned in February 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. On 19 April 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were once 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 were resupplied.
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 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. Captain Levi Stuber of Company I also advanced to the rank of Major with the regiment’s central staff during this time.
Finally, on 1 June 1865, Private Henry Rinek was Honorably Discharged from military service by General Order No. 53, issued by Headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Middle Military Division.
After the War
After mustering out from the service, Henry Rinek returned home to his family in Northampton County, Pennsylvania and resumed work in Easton as a rope maker. In 1870, all of the Rinek children (Charles, Lilly/Lillie, Mame, and Ella) were still living at home with Henry and his wife, Matilda. In addition, Mary Brininger was living with the Rineks and working as their domestic servant.
In 1880, Henry and Matilda were still living with daughters, Mame and Ella. But by 1900, Henry and Matilda Rinek were living alone in Easton’s 6th Ward. Then, in 1901 after having witnessed the dawn of a new century, Matilda widowed Henry.
Henry followed her in death four years later, passing away at the Rinek family home in Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania on 13 May 1905.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
2. Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Index Card. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
3. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
4. U.S. Census (1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.