The best of men cannot suspend their fate. The good die early, and the bad die late. – Daniel Defoe
Penned half a world away and more than a century before the births of the thousands of Lehigh Valley residents who fought to preserve America’s Union during the Civil War, the prophetic words of Daniel Defoe are sadly appropriate to describe one particular soldier, John Joseph Goebel, a simple shoemaker who rose through the ranks to become a commanding officer within a regiment which would make and then be forgotten by history.
Birth and Lineage
Born on 1 April 1830 in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, John Joseph Goebel was a son of Solomon Goebel (1794-1863) and Susanna (Hayman) Goebel (1797-1859). His siblings were: Hannah Goebel (1821-1905), who later wed Franklin Young (1821-1893); Susanna Goebel (1824-1908), who later married blacksmith Levi Reinert; Lydia Goebel (1828-1896), who later wed Albert J. Newhard (1825-1897), who served with Company F of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (the same regiment in which Lydia’s brother, John, served as the commanding officer of Company G); Solomon Goebel (1832-1905), who was one of the First Defenders from Pennsylvania to respond to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to defend Washington, D.C. following the fall of Fort Sumter, and who served in that capacity as a 2nd Sergeant with the Allen Infantry, and then also served later as a 1st Lieutenant with Company G of the 25th Pennsylvania Volunteers and as a member of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry; and Elevina/Elemina Goebel (1840-1920), who later wed shoemaker Joseph H. Hummel (1836-1915).
In 1840, John J. Goebel resided in South Whitehall Township, Lehigh County with his parents and siblings. The census of the period recorded a total household of eight, signaling that at least one of his sisters had married and left the Goebel home to begin her own household.
Before the next decade was out, John J. Goebel had also begun his own family. On 20 May 1853, he wed fellow Pennsylvania native Levina Schifferstein (1832-1893). While various records indicated that her given name was spelled as “Lavinia” or “Lovina,” a handwritten letter from her daughter, Mary, which is contained in the Goebel family’s U.S. Civil War Widow’s and Orphans’ Pension File indicated that her given name was spelled “Levina.”
By 1860, John J. Goebel was employed as a shoemaker and residing in Allentown’s 4th Ward with his wife, Levina, and their children: Solomon (1854-1875), Maria Francisco (1856-1874), Susan Louise (1857-1941), and Mary Jestina, who was just eight months old when the census was taken on 8 June 1860. Also residing at the home at this time was John Goebel’s father, Solomon (aged 65); 17-year-old apprentice shoemaker Henry Reiss, and 16-year-old servant Elisabeth Mill.
Civil War Military Service
On 4 September 1861, John J. Goebel enrolled for Civil War military service at Allentown in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. He then officially mustered in for duty at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 18 September 1861. That same day, he was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant with Company G, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
Company G was initially led by Charles Mickley, a successful Lehigh Valley miller and a native of Mickleys near Whitehall Township in Lehigh County The remainder of Company G – 95 men – also enrolled and mustered in that same day; by the next month, the roster numbered 98 – a figure that would hold until 1862. By the time the Civil War ended in 1865, a total of 195 men would ultimately serve with G Company.
Following a brief light infantry training period at Camp Curtin, Captain Mickley and his company were sent by train with the 47th Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., where they were stationed at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights near Georgetown, about two miles from the White House, beginning 21 September. Henry Wharton, a Musician with the regiment’s C Company, penned an update the next day to his hometown newspaper, 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 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.
As a unit of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company G became part of the federal service when the regiment officially mustered into the U.S. Army on 24 September. 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 (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.
The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to 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, 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” for 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.
While en route, disaster struck. In an affidavit written roughly a year later (to support the pension application by Private Reuben Wetzel’s widow which was filed on 17 March 1863), John Goebel provided a brief explanation of what happened:
I John J. Goebel formerly First Lieutenant of Co. “G”, commanded by Capt. C. Mickley … now commanded by me, do certify on honor that Reuben Wetzel was a private of said Co. “G” 47th Reg. P.V. that he was mustered into the United States Service for three years or during the War, at Harrisburg Penna on the eleventh day of September A.D. 1861, and continued in actual service up to the time of his death. That sometime in October 1861, he broke one of his legs, which was afterwards amputated in consequence of which he died at General Hospital, Union Hotel, Georgetown, D.C., on the seventeenth day of November A.D. 1861, whilst in the service of the United States in the line of duty.
Allentown, December 19th 1863
John J. Goebel Capt
Comdg. G. Co. 47th P.V.
Although alive when pulled from the wreckage, it was immediately obvious to leaders of the 47th Pennsylvania that Private Reuben Wetzel’s military career was likely over. Wetzel fractured a tibia, a serious injury even today because this shin bone is the largest and strongest of the two leg bones below the knee. As Private Wetzel’s widow continued her fight to obtain a Civil War widow’s and orphans’ pension, John Goebel provided the following additional details about the accident:
Head Quarters “G” Co. 47th Regt. P.V.
Morgancia [sic] La. May 26th 1864
I certify on honor that Reuben Wetzel, late a Private of “G” Co. Regt. P.V. while in the line of his duty, and whilst the Regiment was moving from Ft. Ethan Allan to Camp Griffin, Va. on or about the tenth day of October 1861 has fractured his leg, the facts and circumstances attending the breaking of his leg are as follows: The said Reuben Wetzel Private was at the time detailed as Company Cook, the Cooking Utensils being all loaded on the wagons, and the Company Cooks ordered to remain in charge of them, to stay with the Train, as it became night and dark, and the roads being bad to march, he got on horse back, on the hind off [sic] horse of his wagon, the wagon where his Cooking apperattus [sic] had been loaded on, and as they crossed a deep ditch the wagon tongue knocked him off from the horse, the front wagon wheel passing over his leg and thus causing the fracturing of the same without any cause or fault of his own, on the 3rd day following he was removed from Camp Griffin Va. to the Union Hospital at Georgetown D.C. Later his leg was amputated; inflamation [sic] ensued causing his death on the 17th day of November, following. I further certify that this catastrophy [sic] occured [sic] to Reuben Wetzel Private of “G” Co. 47th Regt. Pa. Vols. while in the service of the United States and acting in the line of his duty and in obedience to orders of his Commanding Officer.
John J. Goebel
Capt. Comdg. G. Co. 47th P.V.
Treated initially in the field and then at Camp Griffin, Virginia by regimental physicians, Private Wetzel was transported three days later to the Union Hotel in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., where the Union operated one of its larger general hospitals. As John Goebel indicated in his subsequent writings, Wetzel then succumbed there to complications from the tibia fracture and resultingamputation just five weeks later (on 17 November 1861).
Pageantry and Hard Work
Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued to train, and engaged in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads on 11 October 1861. In a letter home around this time, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to head 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.” In late October, according to Schmidt, the men from Companies B, G and H woke at 3 a.m., assembled a day’s worth of rations, marched four miles from camp, and took over picket duties from the 49th New York:
Company B was stationed in the vicinity of a Mrs. Jackson’s house, with Capt. Kacy’s Company H on guard around the house. The men of Company B had erected a hut made of fence rails gathered around an oak tree, in front of which was the house and property, including a persimmon tree whose fruit supplied them with a snack. Behind the house was the woods were the Rebels had been fired on last Wednesday morning while they were chopping wood there.
In his letter of 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed still 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….
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 – and in preparation for bigger things to come, Brigadier-General John Milton 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 Pennsylvanians left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862. Marching with their equipment through deep mud for three miles to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, they were shipped by rail to Alexandria, and then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal. There, they were reequipped, and were marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped rail 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.
On the afternoon of 27 January, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ferried to the Oriental via smaller steamers. The officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
In early February 1862, Company G and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West, where they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men from the regiment attended to their spiritual needs by attending services at churches in the area. While there, they also had the opportunity to meet and mingle with the locals.
Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics and other military strategies, they felled trees, built new roads and helped to strengthen the facility’s fortifications. All the while, the 47th Pennsylvanians battled an unseen foe – disease. Many were felled by dysentery, a condition common to soldiers who lived in close, often unsanitary quarters while others were claimed by typhoid or yellow fever.
From mid-June through July, the 47th was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men made camp before being housed in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly rotated among the regiments present there at the time, putting soldiers at increased risk from sniper fire. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, the men of the 47th “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing.”
Sent on a return expedition to Florida, Company G saw its first truly intense moments when it participated with the 47th Pennsylvania and other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October. Led by Brigadier-General Brannan, a 1,500-plus Union force disembarked at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats. Taking point, the 47th led the 3rd Brigade through 25 miles of dense, pine forested swamps populated with deadly snakes and alligators. By the time the expedition ended, the brigade had forced the Confederate Army to abandon its artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and had paved the way for the Union to occupy the town of Jacksonville, Florida.
From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackey’s Point, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again, but they and the 3rd Brigade were less fortunate this time.
Harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge, they met resistance from an entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field. Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests.
The Union soldiers grappled with the 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 bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.
Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died, including Captain Charles Mickley and Privates Benjamin Diehl, James Knappenberger, John Kuhns (alternate spelling: Kuntz), and George Reber. Captain Mickley and Privates Knappenberger and Kuhns were killed in action during the 47th’s early engagement at the Frampton Plantation; Thorntown, Pennsylvania resident George Reber sustained a fatal gunshot wound to his head.
Another two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded in action, including Private Franklin Oland, who died from his wounds at the Union Army’s general hospital at Hilton Head, South Carolina on 30 October, and Private John Heil who sustained a gunshot wound (“Vulnus Sclopet”), and succumbed to his own battle wound-related complications at Hilton Head on 2 November 1862.
Several resting places for men from the 47th still remain unidentified, the information lost to the sloppy records management of Army Quartermaster and hospital personnel, or to the trauma-impaired memories of soldiers who hastily buried or were forced to leave behind the bodies of comrades upon receiving orders to retreat.
A 1987 article by Frank Whelan for Allentown’s Morning Call newspaper provides more detail what happened that day:
It was a venture designed to cut a railroad linking Charleston and Savannah, Ga. But poor planning by the overall Union commander, a Gen. Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel, seemed to doom it to failure from the start. The officers in charge of the brigades expected to meet 10,000 armed Southern troops when they landed.
Yet the men of the 47th knew none of this. Like any men before a battle, they got ready for it in various ways. Young Capt. Charles Mickley of G Company picked up a pen to write a Lehigh Valley friend the night before the assault.
He enclosed a check for $600, the pay he had received that day. He asked his friend to set it aside in a savings bank for his wife.
After taking care of that bit of business, Mickley expressed his apprehension. ‘Today at one o’clock our Reg. will embark on the Steamer Ben Deford to go on an Expedition which our Reg is to take part in. But where we are agoing to, we are as yet kept in the dark about….’
The next morning Capt. Mickley and his men in the 47th were no longer in the dark. Outside of a farm called Frampton Plantation, near Pocotaligo, he found himself face to face with hot Rebel fire. As shell and canister and grapeshot raked the line, the bold Mickley charged forward into what commanding officer Tilghman Good called ‘a perfect matting of vines and brush . . . almost impossible to get through.’ Less than 24 hours after he penned his letter home, Charles Mickley was lying dead on the first battlefield of his life. His new home would be Union Cemetery.
Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, an Allentown newspaper published in German, reported that Captain Mickley had suffered a fatal head wound during the Battle of Pocotaligo on 22 October 1862 on “the railway between Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.” Peter Wolf, sutler for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, was the man who arranged to have Captain Mickley’s remains shipped north – through southern lines – in order for a proper funeral to be held by Mickley’s widow and their young children.
In his report on the engagement, made from headquarters at Beaufort, South Carolina on 24 October 1862, Colonel Tilghman H. Good recounted still more details of the 10th Army’s ill-fated engagement:
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers in the action of October 22:
Eight companies, comprising 480 men, embarked on the steamship Ben De Ford, and two companies, of 120 men, on the Marblehead, at 2 p.m. October 21. With this force I arrived at Mackays Landing before daylight the following morning. At daylight I was ordered to disembark my regiment and move forward across the first causeway and take a position, and there await the arrival of the other forces. The two companies of my regiment on board of the Marblehead had not yet arrived, consequently I had but eight companies of my regiment with me at this juncture.
At 12 m. I was ordered to take the advance with four companies, one of the Forty-seventh and one of the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and two of the Sixth Connecticut, and to deploy two of them as skirmishers and move forward. After moving forward about 2 miles I discerned some 30 or 40 of the enemys [sic] cavalry ahead, but they fled as we advanced. About 2 miles farther on I discovered two pieces of artillery and some cavalry, occupying a position about three-quarters of a mile ahead in the road. I immediately called for a regiment, but seeing that the position was not a strong one I made a charge with the skirmishing line. The enemy, after firing a few rounds of shell, fled. I followed up as rapidly as possible to within about 1 mile of Frampton Creek. In front of this stream is a strip of woods about 500 yards wide, and in front of the woods a marsh of about 200 yards, with a small stream running through it parallel with the woods. A causeway also extends across the swamp, to the right of which the swamp is impassable. Here the enemy opened a terrible fire of shell from the rear, of the woods. I again called for a regiment, and my regiment came forward very promptly. I immediately deployed in line of battle and charged forward to the woods, three companies on the right and the other five on the left of the road. I moved forward in quick-time, and when within about 500 yards of the woods the enemy opened a galling fire of infantry from it. I ordered double-quick and raised a cheer, and with a grand yell the officers and men moved forward in splendid order and glorious determination, driving the enemy from this position.
On reaching the woods I halted and reorganized my line. The three companies on the right of the road (in consequence of not being able to get through the marsh) did not reach the woods, and were moved by Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander by the flank on the causeway. During this time a terrible fire of grape and canister was opened by the enemy through the woods, hence I did not wait for the three companies, but immediately charged with the five at hand directly through the woods; but in consequence of the denseness of the woods, which was a perfect matting of vines and brush, it was almost impossible to get through, but by dint of untiring assiduity the men worked their way through nobly. At this point I was called out of the woods by Lieutenant Bacon, aide-de-camp, who gave the order, ‘The general wants you to charge through the woods.’ I replied that I was then charging, and that the men were working their way through as fast as possible. Just then I saw the two companies of my regiment which embarked on the Marblehead coming up to one of the companies that was unable to get through the swamp on the right. I went out to meet them, hastening them forward, with a view of re-enforcing the five already engaged on the left of the road in the woods; but the latter having worked their way successfully through and driven the enemy from his position, I moved the two companies up the road through the woods until I came up with the advance. The two companies on the right side of the road, under Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander had also worked their way up through the woods and opened fire on the retreating enemy. At this point I halted and reorganized my regiment, by forming close column by companies. I then detailed Lieutenant Minnich, of Company B, and Lieutenant Breneman, of Company H, with a squad of men, to collect the killed and wounded. They promptly and faithfully attended to this important duty, deserving much praise for the efficiency and coolness they displayed during the fight and in the discharge of this humane and worthy trust.
The casualties in this engagement were 96. Captain Junker of Company K; Captain Mickley, of Company [sic] I, and Lieutenant Geety, of Company H, fell mortally wounded while gallantly leading their respective companies on.
I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of both officers and men. They all performed deeds of valor, and rushed forward to duty and danger with a spirit and energy worthy of veterans…
As Good continued, he made clear that despite men falling around them, the 47th continued to fight on:
The rear forces coming up passed my regiment and pursued the enemy. When I had my regiment again placed in order, and hearing the boom of cannon, I immediately followed up, and, upon reaching the scene of action, I was ordered to deploy my regiment on the right side of the wood, move forward along the edge of it, and relieve the Seventh Connecticut Regiment. This I promptly obeyed. The position here occupied by the enemy was on the opposite side of the Pocotaligo Creek, with a marsh on either side of it, and about 800 yards distant from the opposite wood, where the enemy had thrown up rifle pits all along its edge.
On my arrival the enemy had ceased firing; but after the lapse of a few minutes they commenced to cheer and hurrah for the Twenty-sixth South Carolina. We distinctly saw this regiment come up in double-quick and the men rapidly jumping into the pits. We immediately opened fire upon them with terrible effect, and saw their men thinning by scores. In return they opened a galling fire upon us. I ordered the men under cover and to keep up the fire. During this time our forces commenced to retire. I kept my position until all our forces were on the march, and then gave one volley and retired by flank in the road at double-quick about 1,000 yards in the rear of the Seventh Connecticut. This regiment was formed about 1,000 yards in the rear of my former position. We jointly formed the rear guard of our forces and alternately retired in the above manner.
My casualties here amounted to 15 men.
We arrived at Frampton (our first battle ground) at 8 p.m. Here my regiment was relieved from further rear-guard duty by the Fourth New Hampshire Regiment. This gave me the desired opportunity to carry my dead and wounded from the field and convey them back to the landing. I arrived at the above place at 3 o’clock the following morning.
While Good was working on his reports to his superiors, his subordinates in the 47th Pennsylvania were settling back in at Hilton Head, where they had returned on 23 October. There, men from the 47th were given the honor of serving as the funeral guard for General Ormsby 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, and fired the salute over his grave. 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.
The year of 1862 proved to be an auspicious one for John J. Goebel. Back home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, daughter Flora Amanda Goebel (1862-1882) opened her eyes for the first time at the Goebel family home. And, in the wake of Captain Mickley’s death at Pocotaligo, South Carolina in October, 1st Lieutenant Goebel assumed command of Company G. He was then promoted to the rank of Captain on 2 January 1863 while re-enlisting at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida.
By 1863, the men of G Company were once again based with the 47th Pennsylvania in Florida. Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November of 1862, much of 1863 was spent guarding federal installations in Florida 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, accessible-only-by-boat installation in Florida’s Dry Tortugas. Men from the 47th were also sent on skirmishes and to Fort Myers, which had been abandoned in 1858 after the third U.S. war with the Seminole Indians. As before, disease was an ever-present foe.
The time spent here by Captain Goebel and the men of Company G and at Fort Jefferson was notable also for the men’s commitment to preserving the Union. Many who could have returned home chose instead to re-enlist in order to finish the fight.
Steaming first for New Orleans via the Charles Thomas, the 47th arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February, and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, the 47th would become the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union General Nathaniel 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 regiment encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.
Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, those who were uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.
The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner and son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.
Casualties were once again severe. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. .
Still others from the 47th were captured, marched 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war until released during prisoner exchanges on 22 July or in later months. At least two men from the 47th Pennsylvania never made it out of that prison alive; another died months later while being treated at a Confederate prison hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana.
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 the men resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. Retreating further to Alexandria, they and their fellow Union soldiers scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.
On 23 April, the 47th and their fellow brigade members crossed the Cane River via Monett’s Ferry and, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, helped to build a dam from 30 April through 10 May, to enable federal gunboats to easily traverse the Red River’s rapids. Henry D. Wharton briefly described the experience in a letter penned to the Sunbury American on 29 May:
The water in the Red River had fallen so much that it prevented the gunboats from operating with us, and kept our transports from supplying the troops with rations…. Banks was compelled to relinquish his designs on Shreveport and fall back to the Mississippi. To do this a large dam had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river. After a great deal labor this was accomplished and by the morning of May 13th the last one was through the chute, when we bade adieu to Alexandria, marching through the town with banners flying and keeping step to the music of ‘Rally around the flag,’ and ‘When this cruel war is over.’
Beginning 16 May, G Company moved with most of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, Louisiana. While stationed at Morganza, Captain John J. Goebel continued to advocate on behalf of the widow of one of his men who had been killed nearly three years earlier – Private Reuben Wetzel. Penning a second affidavit for Sarah Wetzel’s U.S. Civil War Widow’s and Orphan’s Pension application, Captain Goebel’s act of compassion, combined with those of others who also were advocating on behalf of the widow, ultimately enabled Private Wetzel’s family to finally receive the financial support to which they were entitled under federal laws.
As summer intensified in Morganza, Captain Goebel and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians moved on to New Orleans on 20 June, from where they received new orders on the 4th of July to return to the East Coast.
Removed from command amid the controversy over the Union Army’s successes and failures during the Red River Expedition, Union General Nathaniel P. Banks was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. Banks subsequently spent much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for Louisiana.
Through it all, disease continued to cut its way through the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Undaunted by their travails in Bayou country, the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers willingly continued their fight to preserve the Union during the summer of 1864. After receiving orders to return to the East Coast, they did so in two stages.
Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed for the Washington, D.C. area beginning 7 July while the men from Companies B, G and K remained behind on detached duty and to await transportation. Led by F Company Captain Henry S. Harte, they finally sailed away at the end of the month, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.
Due to the delay, the boys from G Company missed out on a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, and also missed the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August, that month and the opening days of September saw the departure of several 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who had served honorably, including a number of men from G Company. The 47th Pennsylvania also engaged in the Battle of Berryville, Virginia and its related pre and post-battle skirmishes from 3-5 September.
Back home in Allentown, Captain John J. Gobel’s wife greeted the arrival, on 7 September 1864, of daughter Ida Virginia.
Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864
Together with other regiments under the command of Union General Philip H. Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the members of Company G and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers inflicted heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”). The battle is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory here helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.
The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. After advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. After finally reaching and fording the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with the Confederate Army commanded by Early. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Confederate artillery stationed on high ground.
Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and the 19th Corps were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but casualties mounted as another Confederate artillery group opened fire on Union troops trying to cross a clearing. When a nearly fatal gap began to open between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units led by Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell. Russell, hit twice – once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania opened its lines long enough to enable the Union cavalry under William Woods Averell and the foot soldiers of General George Crook to charge the Confederates’ left flank.
The 19th Corps, with the 47th in the thick of the fighting, then began pushing the Confederates back. Early’s “grays” retreated in the face of the valor displayed by Sheridan’s “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Rebels retreated to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September), eight miles south of Winchester, and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one.
Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek. Moving forward, they and other members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two more of their respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and Good’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George Alexander, who mustered out 23-24 September upon expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, they were replaced by others equally admired both for temperament and their front line experience: John Peter Shindel Gobin, Charles W. Abbott and Levi Stuber.
On 18 October 1864, G Company’s Captain John Goebel was commissioned, but not mustered, as a Major. The next day, he would answer his last bugle call. Wounded in action during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, he succumbed to battle wound-related complications several weeks later.
Battle of Cedar Creek, 19 October 1864
It was during the Fall of 1864 that General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s crops and farming infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents – civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops began peeling off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally.
From a military standpoint, it was another impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to Bates:
When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he 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. Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap, and 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.
Mortally wounded, John J. Goebel was initially stabilized near where he fell, and then was moved from that field of battle to the 47th’s field hospital for further care before being transported to the Union’s 19th Army Corps post hospital at Winchester, Virginia (also known as Sheridan Field Hospital or Shawnee Springs Hospital), where he was admitted for advanced care on 23 October 1864. Established in response to the carnage wrought by the Battle of Opequan (also known as “Third Winchester”) on 19 September 1864, the 4,000-bed Sheridan Field Hospital was a temporary Union medical encampment situated near the northern rail yards. Staffed by 20 Union physicians and equipped with supplies for 5,000 soldiers, the 500-tent facility was the largest field hospital of the entire Civil War, and stretched north from Shawnee Springs to the Church Ridge home of Jacob Senseny.
Major Goebel’s battle wound and subsequent treatment were well documented, if albeit briefly, in medical journals of the period:
CASE 45. – ‘Major John J. G____, Co. G, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, at the battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, received a comminuted fracture of the neck and head of the left femur by a conoidal musket ball. He was admitted, October 23d, into the Sheridan Field Hospital at Winchester, where Surgeon L. P. Wagoner, 114th New York Volunteers, dressed the limb in Liston’s straight splint. He died, exhausted by irritative fever, on November 5th, 1864.’ The pathological specimen, No. 3789, Sect. I, A.M.M., shows the head of the femur completely broken off by the missile, which has gouged out its course on the superior border. A complete fracture, with a fissure extending through the depression for the ligamentum teres, separates the posterior third of the head. The specimen is represented in the adjacent wood-cut. (FIG. 36.)
Although he initially survived, he died from battle wound-related complications three weeks after his final encounter with the enemy, succumbing during the morning of 5 November 1864 at Sheridan’s Field Hospital.
His cause of death was listed in the Union Army’s death ledger as “Effects of G.S. Wound,” and was certified by “G.P. Wagner S 114 NY Vols,” a surgeon serving with the 114th Regiment of the New York Volunteers.
Captain Goebel’s body, like that of his predecessor Captain Mickley, was brought home to the Lehigh Valley, where he was laid to rest at the Union-West End Cemetery in Allentown.
Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, Allentown’s German language newspaper, reported on his death in its 15 November 1864 edition. Roughly translated, it conveyed the following details:
On November 9th in a hospital in Virginia, Capt. Joseph [sic] Goebel, of this city, approximately 35 years old. – Capt. Goebel was severely wounded in the last battle of the rebellion in Virginia with Gen. Sheridan, and died despite receiving the most attentive care. Capt. Goebel was a popular young man, and his death is deeply mourned by all good citizens who knew him. Gently rest the ashes of this true patriot!
A Widow Grieves and Endures
Following the deaths of her husband in battle and of their youngest daughter, Ida Virginia, on 25 July 1866, Levina Goebel began to pick up the pieces of her shattered family life. Much of her time during her early years of widowhood was spent in filing for her husband’s Civil War military pension and the benefits it conveyed to the widow and children of a fallen Union soldier. She was ultimately awarded a pension of $20 per month, plus an additional $2 per surviving child to help her raise Solomon, Maria, Susan, Mary, and Flora.
In 1870, she resided in Allentown with 16-year-old Solomon, 11-year-old Mary, and eight-year-old Flora. Both girls were still in school, and Solomon helped to support his family on the wages of a cigarmaker.
The next two decades, however, proved to be filled with more heartache for Levina and the Goebel clan. Daughter Maria and son Solomon passed away within a year of each other, in 1874 and 1875, respectively.
Joy briefly returned in 1875, when daughter Susan married Charles W. Hecker (1854-1908), a Pennsylvania native and son of William Hecker and Louise (Hartzell) Hecker, but then daughter Flora was also claimed by the reaper on 18 April 1882.
During the 1880s, Levina Goebel continued to reside in Allentown with her remaining children. Members of the Goebel household at this time included daughters Mary and Susan (Goebel) Hecker, as well as Susan’s husband, Charles Hecker, and their children: Solomon (1876-1954) and Arthur Garfield (1877-1953).
Despite so many wrenching moments, Levina S. Goebel went on to live a long, full life. Surviving nearly three decades after her husband was killed in battle and two decades after losing several children, she drew her last breath in Philadelphia on 31 January 1893, and was finally permitted by fate to rest with her husband at Union-West End Cemetery in Allentown.
On 10 February 1893, daughter Mary penned the following letter to the federal Pension Bureau:
Finance Committee } Philadelphia
Pension Bureau Feb 10th 1893.
Levina Goebel, widow of Capt. John J. Goebel, died on Jan. 31st 1893 at her residence 2818 Mervine St. Philadelphia, Pa. The No. of her Pension Certificate is 47.211. You will please forward the necessary papers to file to her daughters, Sue L. Hecker, and Mary J. Winter.
They are the only children living of the deceased.
Yours Very Respectfully,
Mary J. Winter
1812 Olive St.Philadelphia, Penna.
Their daughter Mary Jestina Goebel, who became a corset maker, went on to marry Edward Winter. A widow residing in Philadelphia in 1909, she died in Baltimore on 5 April 1911.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
2. Case 45, Major John J. G____, Co. G, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, in Temporization and Amputation at the Hip Compared with Excision, in A Report on Excisions of the Head of the Femur for Gunshot Injury. Washington, D.C.: War Department, Surgeon General’s Office, 2 January 1869.
3. Death Certificates, Pennsylvania (Susan Louise Hecker, et. al.). Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.
4. Gestorben, in Der Lecha County Patriot. Allentown: 15 November 1864.
5. Goebel, J. J., in Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1845), in Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92). Washington, D.C. U.S. National Archives.
6. Goebel, J. K., in Registers of Deaths of U.S. Volunteers. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives.
7. Goebel, John J. and Levina Goebel, et. al. in U.S. Civil War Widows’ and Orphans’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives.
8. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
9. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1840, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900.
10. Winter, Mary Jane and Lavinia Goebel, in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915 (from originals housed in the Death Records collection at the Philadelphia City Archives). Salt Lake City: FamilySearch, 2008, 2010.