Born in Ireland (circa 1815, according to his admissions ledger entry at the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio, or circa 1827 per his Civil War Veterans’ Card File entry at the Pennsylvania State Archives), Lawrence McBride was one of several Irish immigrants who fought with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to preserve America’s union.
Details of his formative and early adult years remain murky; however, he appears to have had ties to the City of Brooklyn, New York and both Berks and Lehigh counties in Pennsylvania at various times during his life. The 19 August 1859 edition of the Reading Times documented an assault on him as follows:
Police Affairs. The week thus far has been prolific with interesting police items. First came a representative of the female sex charged by an indignant personage of the same sex, with throwing stones at her…. Patrick McNarry came next, drunk, very drunk and was sent on the hill for twenty days. Mary Dougherty appeared on two charges, first with assault and battery on Lawrence McBride, and secondly with threatening to take his life. She was bound over in 200 to answer one charge, and $300 the other. The plaintiff was then on complaint of Mary, tried for abusing her with harsh epithets….
Two years later, according to his entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives, Lawrence McBride was a shoemaker residing in Catasauqua, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Although that same record stated that he was thirty-four years old when he enlisted at Catasauqua for military service, U.S. soldiers’ home admissions records for him later in life noted that he had been born in Ireland in 1815—meaning that he may, in fact, have been forty-six years old at the time of his enrollment.
Civil War Military Service
Lawrence McBride officially mustered in for Civil War military duty on 30 August 1861 at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, becoming one of the early responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help end the conflict between America’s North and South. He entered as a Private with Company F, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Military records at the time described him as being 5’4” tall with dark hair, gray eyes and a dark complexion.
Note: Company F of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was the first company of this Union regiment to muster in for duty. The initial recruitment for members was conducted in Catasauqua, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, where this commanding company’s officer—Captain Henry Samuel Harte—lived and worked as an innkeeper.
Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics at Camp Curtin, the soldiers of Company F and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania were transported south by rail to Washington, D.C. Stationed roughly two miles from the White House, they pitched their tents at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 21 September. Henry D. Wharton, a musician from the regiment’s C Company, penned an update the next day to the Sunbury American, his hometown newspaper:
After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.
After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.
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 dis-covering 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.
While at Camp Kalorama, Captain Harte issued his first directive (Company Order No. 1)—that his company drill four times per day, each time for one hour.
On 24 September, the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry finally became part of the U.S. Army when its men were officially mustered into federal service. On 27 September—a rainy day, 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. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (one hundred and sixty-five steps per minute using thirty-three-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.
The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to 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” in reference to the large chestnut tree located within their lodging’s boundaries. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.
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 historian Lewis Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” Less than a month later, in his letter of 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed more details about life at Camp Griffin:
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….
As a reward for their performance—and in preparation for bigger things to come, Brannan obtained brand new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
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, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars 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.
As the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental during the afternoon of 27 January, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers. The officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, 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.
Private Lawrence McBride and the other members of Company F arrived in Key West with their fellow members of the regiment in early 1862, and were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvanians introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, soldiers from the 47th Pennsylvania also mingled with locals by attending services at churches nearby.
Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics, they also strengthened the fortifications at the federal installation. During this phase of duty, disease was the most fearsome foe, due largely to poor sanitary conditions and water quality. A significant number of 47th Pennsylvanians fell ill; several were ultimately laid to rest at the post cemetery.
But there were also moments of celebration. According to Schmidt, 4 June 1862 was a festive day for the regiment. As the USS Niagara sailed for Boston after transferring its responsibilities to the USS Potomac, the flagship of the Union Navy squadron in that sector, the guns of fifteen warships anchored nearby boomed in salute, as did those manned by the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ F Company, which “fired 15 of the heavy casemate guns from Fort Taylor at 4 PM.”
From mid-June through July, the 47th was stationed at Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men made camp before being housed in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly rotated among the regiments present there at the time, putting soldiers at increased risk from sniper fire. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, during this phase of their service, the men of the 47th “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing.”
Sometime during July according to Schmidt, Major William H. Gausler and Captain Henry S. Harte returned home to the Lehigh Valley to resume their recruiting efforts. Major Gausler was able to persuade an additional 54 men to join the 47th Pennsylvania while Harte rounded up 12 more.
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 twenty-five 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) that had been abandoned by Confederate forces during 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 an operations base at Port Royal, South Carolina, facilitating Union expeditions to Georgia and Florida, during which U.S. troops were able to take possession of Fort Clinch and Fernandina, Florida (3-4 March 1862), secure the surrender of Fort Marion and Saint Augustine (11 March), and establish 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, ordered the placement of earthworks-fortified gun batteries atop Saint John’s Bluff overlooking the Saint John’s River and at Yellow Bluff nearby. Confederate leaders hoped to disable the Union’s naval and ground force operations at and beyond Mayport Mills with as many as eighteen cannon, including three eight-inch siege howitzers and eight-inch smoothbores and Columbiads (two of each).
After the U.S. gunboats Uncas and Patroon exchanged shell-fire with the Confederate battery at Saint John’s Bluff on 11 September 1862, Rebel troops were initially driven away, but then returned to their battery on the bluff. When a second, larger Union gunboat flotilla tried and failed again six days later to shake the Confederates loose, Union military leaders ordered an army operation with naval support.
Backed by U.S. gunboats Cimarron, E.B. Hale, Paul Jones, Uncas and Water Witch armed with twelve-pound boat howitzers, the 1,500-strong Union Army force commanded by Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan moved up the Saint John’s River and further 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 continued its advance. When the 47th Pennsylvanians reached Saint John’s Bluff with their fellow Union brigade members on 3 October 1862, they found the battery abandoned. (Other Union troops discovered that the Yellow Bluff battery was also Rebel free.)
In the wake of this success, Union leaders ordered the gunboats and army troops to extend the expedition, which they did, capturing assorted watercraft as they advanced further up the river. During this phase, Companies E and K of the 47th were led by Captain Charles Yard (E Company’s captain) in capturing Jacksonville, Florida (5 October) and the Gov. Milton, a Confederate steamer. Docked near Hawkinsville, the Milton had been furnishing troops, ammunition and other supplies not only to the Rebel battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, but to other Confederate Army units scattered throughout the region.
On 5 and 15 October 1862, several young Black men who had been enslaved near Beaufort, South Carolina enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Those new members of the regiment included:
- Abraham Jassum and Edward Jassum, who were just sixteen and twenty-two years of age, respectively, when they joined; and
- Bristor Gethers, a thirty-three-year-old man.
Listed as “Presto Gettes” on his muster roll entry and entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File in the Pennsylvania State Archives, and as “Bristor Gethers” on his U.S. Civil War Pension Index entry, the older man was described as being 5’5″ tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and as having been employed as a fireman. In comparison, military records described Abraham Jassum as being 5’6″ tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, noting that his occupation prior to enlistment was “Cook.” All three were enrolled with the title of “Negro UnderCook.”
From 21-23 October 1862, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel T. H. Good and Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers next engaged the heavily protected Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina—including at Frampton’s Plantation and the Pocotaligo Bridge—a key piece of southern railroad infrastructure.
Harried by snipers enroute to the bridge, they met resistance from an entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field. Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests. The Union soldiers grappled with Confederates where they found them, pursuing the Rebels for four miles as they retreated to the bridge. There, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut. But the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and the Pocotaligo Bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackay’s Point.
Losses for the 47th Pennsylvania were significant, ranging from front-line privates to company commanders. A fair number died where they were felled by rifle or cannon fire while others were discharged later due to the severity of their battle wounds. The graves of several members of the regiment remain unidentified to this day.
On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for General Ormsby M. 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 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I garrisoned Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.
Once again, the regiment was plagued by disease and harsh living conditions. But despite these harsh conditions, the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers chose to re-enlist when their three-year service terms were up, including Private Lawrence McBride. Although his entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives indicates that he re-enlisted at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida on 19 October 1863, his U.S. soldiers’ home admissions ledger entry later in life noted that he had been honorably discharged at Fort Jefferson on 22 October 1863 in order to re-enlist, which he then did that same day at Fort Jefferson, re-mustering as a Private with Company F of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
On 25 February 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers set off for a phase of service in which the regiment would make history. Steaming first 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, Vermilionville, Opelousas, and Washington while enroute 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, sixty members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (Mansfield). The fighting waned only when darkness fell. 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. 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 one hundred and twenty-five 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 July and November. Several members of the regiment never made it out alive.
Following what some historians have called a drubbing by the Confederate Army and others have called a technical Union victory (or at least a draw), the 47th Pennsylvania fell back to Grand Ecore, where the men resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. Retreating toward Alexandria, Louisiana, they then scored another victory against the Confederates, this time on 23 April at Monett’s Ferry in the Battle of Cane Hill.
Next, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey, they helped to build a dam near Alexandria from 30 April through 10 May. Christened as “Bailey’s Dam,” this timber structure enabled federal gunboats to successfully traverse the fluctuating waters of the Red River. Beginning 16 May, Captain Henry S. Harte and F Company moved with most of the 47th from Simmesport 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 time in Bayou country, the soldiers of Company F and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania returned to the Washington, D.C. area aboard the McClellan from 5-12 July 1864—but they did so without their commanding officer, Captain Henry S. Harte, who was ordered to serve on detached duty as the leader of the 47th Pennsylvanians serving with Companies B, G and K, who were left behind because the McClellan was unable to transport the entire regiment. (Captain Harte sailed later aboard the Blackstone with Companies B, G and K, and arrived in the Washington, D.C. area on 28 July.)
After arriving on the East Coast and having a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, the bulk of the 47th Pennsylvania joined up with Major-General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia, where the men from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I 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 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was then assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia during the early part of that month. Over the next several weeks, the regiment then engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a “mimic war” being waged by Major-General Philip Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early.
From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers then fought in the Battle of Berryville.
With F Company once again under the command of Captain Henry S. Harte by September, the opening days of Fall 1864 also saw the promotion of several men from Company F and the departure of a significant number of others who had served honorably but whose terms of service were expiring, including F Company’s Captain Harte, who mustered out at Berryville, Virginia on 18 September 1864. For Private Lawrence McBride and other remaining members of the 47th, the fighting was not yet over—and they were about to engage in the regiment’s greatest moments of valor.
Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864
Together with other regiments under the command of Union Major-General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the members of Company F 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”). 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 bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. Upon reaching 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.
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 fled 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 Good and Good’s second in command, Lieutenant-Colonel George Alexander, who mustered out 23-24 September upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, they were replaced by 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 Commanding Officer of the regiment).
Battle of Cedar Creek, 19 October 1864
It was during the Fall of 1864 that Major-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 an 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 with more than 170 members of the regiment killed, wounded, or captured and carted off to Confederate prison camps. Sergeant William Pyers, the C Company man who had so gallantly rescued the flag at Pleasant Hill was cut down in view of his drummer boy son and later buried on the battlefield. Perry County resident and Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap. Privates Addison R. Geho and Rainey Grader of Company F were killed in action while Privates Josiah H. Walk and William H. Moll were wounded in action, but recovered and ultimately returned to continued service with the regiment.
Following these engagements, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester, where they remained from November through most of December. Rested and somewhat healed, they were then ordered to outpost and railroad guard duty 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 back to Washington, D.C., via Winchester and Kernstown. By 19 April, 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 the early days of their imprisonment.
Then, as part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, Private William Hollenbach and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians participated in the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May.
On their final southern tour, Private Lawrence McBride and his fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Attached again to Dwight’s Division, this time they were assigned to the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Relieving the 165th New York Volunteers in July, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania next quartered in Charleston at the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury.
Finally, beginning on Christmas day of that year, the majority of the men of Company F, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers—including Private Lawrence McBride—began to honorably muster out at Charleston, South Carolina, a process which continued through early January. Following a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvania disembarked in New York City. The weary men were then shipped to Philadelphia by train where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were officially given their discharge papers.
Return to Civilian Life
Following his honorable discharge from the military, Lawrence McBride returned north, and resumed his life. As with his early days, the details of his existence during the late 1860s through early 1880s remain murky.
What is known for certain is that he, like many of the men who survived multiple Civil War battles, suffered from a variety of health issues for the remainder of his days. Initially admitted to the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Dayton, Ohio on the Fourth of July 1885, he was diagnosed as suffering from lumbago (low back pain) and diarrhea—chronic conditions which had developed during his service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers in South Carolina sometime during 1862, and which likely worsened during his time in the difficult conditions at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida.
Described on his soldiers’ home admissions ledger entry as a seventy-year-old widower and former laborer who was 5’-2/8” tall with gray hair, gray eyes and a fair complexion, he had clearly married at some point before or after the war. Although his residence subsequent to discharge was listed on the soldier’s home admissions ledger as Allentown, Pennsylvania, that same record noted that his nearest living relative was his sister—Mrs. Ellen Moore of “Ferris and Van Brunt” in Brooklyn, New York (in what was Brooklyn’s “Red Hook” neighborhood).
Note: According to federal census records of 1880, there were numerous women named “Ellen Moore” who were Irish immigrants residing in Brooklyn, New York during this time. Researchers have narrowed down that list to an “Ellen Moore,” who was born in Ireland sometime around 1831 and was the wife of John Moore, a forty-four-year-old native of Ireland who was employed as a ship’s carpenter. According to the 1880 U.S. Census, this Ellen Moore and her husband resided at 3867 Van Brunt Street in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, King’s County, New York.
This identification for Lawrence McBride’s sister is further strengthened by the 1870 U.S. Census which documented an Ellen Moore and her ship’s carpenter husband, John, residing in Brooklyn’s 12th Ward with a twelve-year-old “Stephen McBride,” a native of Pennsylvania who may have been either her son or her nephew. (If Stephen McBride was the latter, he may have been born in Lehigh County as a son of Lawrence McBride since Lawrence’s entry in the Pennsylvania Civil War Veterans’ Card File indicated that he was a resident of Catasauqua at the time of his 1861 enlistment.) The 1875 New York State Census also confirmed this family grouping of Ellen, John and Stephen, noting that they resided at 32 Partition Street in Brooklyn’s 12th Ward (now Coffey Street in that borough’s “Red Hook” neighborhood); however, confusion remains regarding the true familial lineage, because the 1875 New York census taker listed the teenager as “Stephen Moore” rather than as “Stephen McBride,” and also described him as a “stepson” of Ellen (McBride) Moore and her husband, John Moore.
As for what may have happened during the 1870s to Private Lawrence McBride, one possibility is that he, too, resided in the State of New York. Two separate federal census takers recorded a thirty-five-year-old laborer named Lawrence McBride as residing in the 24th District of Manhattan’s 19th Ward in 1870 with his thirty-five-year-old wife, Mary, a native of Ireland, and their daughters, Rosanna and Mary, who had been born in New York circa 1863 and 1862, respectively, and as a forty-fiv-year-old cart driver residing on Second Avenue in New York City in 1880 with his forty-eight-year-old wife, Mary, a native of Ireland, and their New York-born daughters Rosie and Mary (aged sixteen and thirteen), while a New York State Census taker recorded a forty-eight-year-old laborer named Lawrence/Laurence McBride as residing in Brooklyn’s 5th Ward with his forty-seven-year-old wife, Mary, a native of Ireland, and their children: Annie, a twenty-three-year-old native of England who was employed as a dressmaker; and Kings County, New York natives Bennet, Margaret and Henry McBride, who were aged eighteen, sixteen and eleven, respectively. However, one or both of these individuals may not have been the same Lawrence McBride who is the subject of this biographical sketch since there is at least one “Lawrence McBride” who was interred at Brooklyn’s Holy Cross Cemetery in 1875—more than a decade before the Private Lawrence McBride who fought with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers actually passed away.
How Did Private Lawrence McBride Actually Spend His Final Years?
Two months after relocating to the U.S. National Soldiers’ Home in Dayton, Ohio, Lawrence McBride applied for his U.S. Civil War Pension—on 14 September 1885, according to federal pension records. He was then “Fully Admitted May 17 1886” to that soldiers’ home (also known as the “Central Branch” of the soldiers’ home system). Suffering from stomach cancer, he passed away at that U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Dayton, Ohio on 16 September 1889. The next day, hospital administrators determined that his personal effects were worth just 25 cents.
An Irish immigrant who fought to preserve the union of his adopted homeland during the U.S. Civil War, Private Lawrence McBride was then laid to rest with military honors at the Dayton National Cemetery. A military headstone was then procured for him on 1 June 1890, and erected on his grave in Dayton, where he still rests to this day.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
2. Lawrence McBride and Mary Dougherty, in Police Affairs. Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Times, 19 August 1859.
3. McBride, Lawrence, in Death Records (Montgomery County and U.S. National Soldiers’ Home, 16 September 1889). Dayton, Ohio: Probate Court, Montgomery County, Ohio.
4. McBride, Lawrence, in “Records of Headstones of Deceased Union Veterans,” 1889-1890. Washington, D.C.: United States National Archives and Records Administration.
5. McBride, Lawrence, Admissions Ledgers, “Records of the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers,” 1885-1889 (Central Branch, Dayton, Ohio). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
6. McBride, Lawrence, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
7. McBride, Lawrence, in United States Civil War and Later Pension Index, 1885. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
8. New York State Census. Albany, New York: 1875.
9. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
10. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio: 1870, 1880.
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