Private Comley Idall — From Pleasant Sojourn to Despair

Alternate Spellings of Surname: Idal, Idall. Alternate Spellings of Given Name: Comly, Comley


Daniel Rupp's depiction of Lancaster County, c. 1844 (public domain).

Daniel Rupp’s depiction of Lancaster County, circa 1844 (public domain).

Born in Pennsylvania in 1839, Comley Idall was a son of Pennsylvania native William Idall (born sometime around 1811) and Mary (Streeper) Idall (1810-1860), a native of Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County. Brother to Lewis D. (1836-1877), Regina Y. (1838-1925), and Marilla Idall (1845-1929), he grew up with his siblings in a peaceful, bucolic setting.

In 1850, he lived with his parents and siblings in Martic Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where his father supported the family as a farmer. Also residing with the Idalls was twenty-three-year-old William Barclay.

The state’s agricultural census for that year confirms that their lives were comfortable, made possible by the sweat of their father’s brow. Owners of a one hundred and sixty-eight-acre farm valued at $3,290 with an additional $100 worth of farm machinery and other tools, the Idalls had improved one hundred of those acres by this time, which they had used to produce fifteen tons of hay, three hundred and fifty bushels of oats, two hundred and eighty bushels of wheat, two hundred and fifty bushels of Indian corn, ten bushels of clover seed, and $5 worth of market garden vegetables in 1850. They also owned livestock valued at $360—fiveasses/mules (but no horses), seven milk cows, six sheep, and four hogs—from which they produced three hundred and twelve pounds of butter, and ten pounds of wool. An additional $75 was raised through slaughtering.

Their community, inhabited by a number of Quaker families who worshipped at the Friends Meetinghouse in neighboring Drumore Township, was also home to roughly one hundred and fifty African American citizens.

The decade continued to be a pleasant and prosperous one for Comley Idall and his family as evidenced by two key events. Two tracts of Martic Township land (one hundred and fifty acres) were granted via land patent to Idall family patriarch, William Idall, on 19 September 1851. Originally granted to James and Joseph Read [sic] during the 1750s as warrant numbers 353 and 367, the tracts adjoined those owned by Nicholas Brotherlous, John Graham, Samuel Lackey, Jane McGahey, and John McMullen.

Then, on 16 December, 1858, Comley Idall’s sister, Regina Y. Idall, wed Martic Township native Abram Shoemaker (1838-1925). A son of Montgomery County natives, Jesse and Sarah (Lukins) Shoemaker, Abram went on to become “the owner of the two best farms in [Lancaster] county,” according to the Biographical Annals of Lancaster County.

Note: Described in the Annals as “the estimable daughter of William and Mary (Streeper) Idall,” Regina Y. (Idall) was also known as and “a lady well known as a kind and sympathetic neighbor and as one who in ever way sustains the character of a Christian woman. Her husband, Abram, was a “man of sterling worth, respected and valued by his acquaintances and beloved by his family and friends.”

But the Idall family’s joy was soon tempered. Roughly two years after Regina’s wedding, their family matriarch, Mary (Streeper) Idall, passed away and was laid to rest at the Drumore Cemetery (also known as the Drumore Friends Cemetery).

Sometime after this loss, Comley Idall relocated with his father and sister, Marilla, to the community of Newport, Perry County, where both Comley and his father continued their lives as farmers. Also residing with the Idalls at this time, according to the 1860 federal census, were thirteen-year-old apprentice, William A. Nite, and fourteen-year-old Margaret Price.

Note: Comley Idall’s brother, Lewis D. Idall, remained behind in Lancaster County, where he resided with their newly married sister, Regina. Lewis later went on to enlist for Civil War duty, serving with Company H, 18th Regiment, Illinois Infantry from 1 March 1865 to 16 December 1865.

Civil War — Three Months’ Service

Alma Pelot's photo showing the Confederate flag flying over Fort Sumter 16 April 1861 (public domain, Library of Congress).

Alma Pelot’s photo showing the Confederate flag flying over Fort Sumter 16 April 1861 (Library of Congress, public domain).

Following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces in mid-April 1861, Comley Idall became one of the first men in his community to respond to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for seventy-five thousand volunteers to help defend the nation’s capital. He enrolled and mustered in for duty at Harrisburg in Dauphin County as a Private with Company D of the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry on 20 April 1861.

Note: Composed almost entirely of men from Perry County, D Company was raised by Captain Henry Durant Woodruff, a member of Perry County’s Bloomfield militia who would also later go on to lead the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’s Company D.

Shipped with his regiment the next day to Cockeysville, Maryland and then to York, Pennsylvania, Private Comley Idall and his fellow 2nd Pennsylvanians remained in York until 1 June 1861 when they moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. There, they were attached to the 2nd Brigade (under Wyncoop), 2nd Division (under Keim) in General Robert Patterson’s Army. Ordered next to Hagerstown, Maryland on 16 June and then to Funkstown, the regiment remained in that vicinity until 23 June.

This public domain illustration is an excerpt from a larger montage of images from the Battle of Falling Waters, Virginia which ran in the 27 edition of Harper's Weekly. "Council of War" depicts "Generals Williams, Cadwallader, Keim, Nagle, Wynkoop, and Colonels Thomas and Longnecker" strategizing on the eve of battle.

Excerpted from an image montage for the Battle of Falling Waters, Virginia, “Council of War” depicts “Generals Williams, Cadwallader, Keim, Nagle, Wynkoop, and Colonels Thomas and Longnecker” strategizing on the eve of battle (Harper’s Weekly, 27 July 1861, public domain).

On 2 July, Private Comley Idall and the 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteers served in a support role during the Battle of Falling Waters, Virginia.

The Battle of Falling Waters was the first Civil War battle in the Shenandoah Valley. (A second battle occurred there in 1863 with a different military configuration.) Known as the Battle of Hainesville or Hoke’s Run, this first Battle of Falling Waters paved the way for a Confederate Army victory at Manassas (Bull Run) on 21 July, according to several historians.

The next day, Private Idall and the 2nd Pennsylvania occupied Martinsburg, Virginia. On 15 July, they advanced on Bunker Hill, and then moved on to Charlestown on 17 July before reaching Harper’s Ferry on 23 July. Three days later, they mustered out at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, following the successful completion of their Three Months’ Service.

Civil War — Three Years’ Service

Realizing that the war was far from over, Comley Idall promptly re-upped for a three-year tour of duty. Re-enrolling for service in his adopted hometown of Newport, Perry County on 23 September 1861, he officially re-mustered at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg on 30 September as a Private with Company H, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Military records at the time described him as being 5’6″ tall with dark hair, hazel eyes and a dark complexion.

Founded and led by Captain James Kacy, a forty-four-year-old Elliottsburg merchant and resident, H Company was one of two companies with members enrolled almost exclusively from Perry County (the other being Company D), and was the final company to be mustered into the Pennsylvania Volunteers’ 47th Regiment.

Supporting Kacy as a leader of Company H was First Lieutenant William Wallace Geety, a twenty-nine-year-old who had been a practicing dentist in Harrisburg.

Camp Curtin (Harpers Weekly, 1861; public domain).

Camp Curtin (Harper’s Weekly, 1861, public domain).

Following a brief light infantry training period, Captain Kacy 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. On this day and the next, Privates John D. Clay, David R. Frank, Martin Harper, William Hayes, John H. Meyers, Samuel A. M. Reed, and William H. Robinson transferred from one Perry County company (H) to the other (D) within the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

On 22 September, C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton penned the following update for 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.

On 24 September, the soldiers of Company H, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers became part of the federal service when the regiment officially mustered into the U.S. Army. Three days later, 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, 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 ten miles from Washington, D.C. Posted not far from their home state, members of the regiment occasionally had the good fortune to receive personal visits from family members.

On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a letter home in mid-October, 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:

I was ordered to take my company to Stewart’s [sic] house, drive the Rebels from it, and hold it at all hazards. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning, so waiting until it was just getting day, I marched 80 men up; but the Rebels had left after driving Capt. Kacy’s company [H] into the woods. I took possession of it, and stationed my men, and there we were for 24 hours with our hands on our rifles, and without closing an eye. I took ten men, and went out scouting within half a mile of the Rebels, but could not get a prisoner, and we did not dare fire on them first. Do not think I was rash, I merely obeyed orders, and had ten men with me who could whip a hundred; Brosius, Piers, Harp and McEwen [all of Company C] were among the number. Every man in the company wanted to go. The Rebels did not attack us, and if they had they would have met with a warm reception, as I had my men posted in such a manner that I could have whipped a regiment. My men were all ready and anxious for a ‘fight.’”

Captain Gobin had been referring to Brigadier-General James Ewell Brown (“J.E.B.”) Stuart, commanding officer of the Confederate Army of the Potomac (later known as the Army of Northern Virginia), under whose authority the 4th Virginia Cavalry (“Black Horse Cavalry”) fell. Stuart’s Fairfax County, Virginia home had been commandeered by the Union Army and used by the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and other Union regiments as the base of operations for their picket lines in that area. Among the Civil War-related papers of H Company’s First Lieutenant William Geety at the U.S. Army Military History Institute, are a photograph and other items taken from Stuart’s Union-occupied home.

In his letter of 13 October, Henry Wharton also described their duties and 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 20 October 1861, Private Daniel Foose died while the regiment was stationed at Camp Griffin, Virginia. According to historian Lewis Schmidt and others researching the 47th Pennsylvania, Private Foose was laid to rest with full military honors three days later—at 4 p.m. on 23 October 1861—under the large chestnut tree for which the camp had originally been named (“Camp Big Chestnut”). He was just nineteen years old.

Two days later, on Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a morning Divisional Review, described by Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.”

In late October, writes 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.

Around this same time, Capt. Kacy divided H Company into four squads, by tent grouping, each under the leadership of a sergeant:

whose duty it shall be to see that the arms and accoutrements are kept in good order. That the men keep their tents clean, that they are clean in their person, and that they wash their hands and faces and comb their hair every day. That the men keep order in their quarters and report all damage to arms, want or waste of ammunition, and all disorderly conduct.

Kacy followed that order with another clarifying meal times (breakfast: 6 a.m., dinner: noon, supper: 6 p.m.) and duty schedules (7 a.m., 1 p.m., 7 p.m.). In early November, Kacy directed that:

while in camp, no permits or washing will be given on any other days than Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. All washing must be done in the forenoon. No permits or leaves of absence from company will be given on any days but Monday and Friday. Sutler tickets will be given only in the morning between the hours of 7 and 9.

It was also during this phase that H Company suffered one of its earliest casualties. Private Daniel Biceline died from “Febris Typhoides” (typhoid fever) on 5 November 1861 at Camp Griffin. In his own letter of 17 November, Company C’s 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….

On 21 November, the 47th participated in another morning divisional review—this time by Colonel Tilghman H. Good. Brigade and division drills were then held that 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.”

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

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.

As Winter arrived and deepened, Privates Robert Fry and William Dorman were discharged, respectively, on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability on 16 December and New Year’s Eve. Captain Kacy of H Company was also granted leave, and was able to spend a brief period of time with his family at home in Perry County over the holidays before returning for duty in early January.


U.S. Naval Academy Barracks and temporary hospital, Annapolis, Maryland, c. 1861-1865 (public domain).

U.S. Naval Academy Barracks and temporary hospital, Annapolis, Maryland, circa 1861-1865 (public domain).

Next ordered to move from Virginia 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 sent by rail to Alexandria, and then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal. There, they were reequipped and marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, they 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.

On 27 January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began their departure. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the officers boarded last and, at 4 p.m. per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, they all steamed away for the Deep South. 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.

Woodcut depicting the harsh climate at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during the Civil War. (Public domain, U.S. Library of Congress.)

Woodcut depicting the harsh climate at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during the Civil War. (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Private Idall and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West in early February 1862. Once there, they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. A few short days later, Private Frederick Watts was dead, having succumbed 13 February 1862 while confined to the 47th’s Regimental Hospital. Military records described his cause of death as pneumonia or “brain fever.” According to Schmidt, Watts:

arrived at Key West sick with measles and a cold he had caught on board ship, died of brain fever or ‘Pneumonia Typhoides’ as it was variously reported, and was buried with military honors. Chaplain Rodrock reported that he had died of ‘brain fever, contracted on board the Oriental. Aged 23 years’. He was the fourth member of Capt. Kacy’s Company H to die since the regiment was mustered in. The young man was buried in Grave 27 of the Post Cemetery on the day of his death, probably out of fear of the contagious nature of the disease and a lack of refrigeration or other means of preserving the body. Pvt. Watt’s mortal remains would eventually travel north in 1927, when the Key West Post Cemetery would be abandoned, and the bodies shipped on the tug ‘Jenkins’ to Fort Barrancas National Cemetery on the Naval Air Station grounds at Pensacola, Florida. He would be reinterred in Section 17, Grave 92.

With the officers of the 47th Pennsylvania concerned once again regarding the potential for disease to decimate the ranks, Captain Kacy of Company H ordered that:

Sgt. R.S. Gardner will have under his command tents #1 and 2 and will be held personally responsible for the clean up of the men in person, clothing, arms, accoutrements, and quarters. Sgt. James Hahn will have under him tents #3 and 4 and be held responsible the same as #1 and 2. Sgt. Lynch will have under his control tents #5 and 6 and will be likewise held responsible. The Sgts. Gardner, Hahn and Lynch will have the men of the company on the parade ground at 5:30 AM and when one of them is on guard, the other two will attend to this drill duty and divide the squad between their respective commands.

In addition to daily drills during this phase of duty, the 47th Pennsylvanians also felled trees, helped to build new roads and strengthened the fortifications in and around the Union Army’s presence at Key West. 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, a number of the men attended to their spiritual needs by attending services at local churches.

Disease was a constant companion and foe during this phase of duty. A number of 47th Pennsylvanians were felled by dysentery or tropical diseases; several died while others were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability. Additionally, according to Schmidt, life was one of preparation for future encounters with the enemy. In May 1862, “Cpl. James J. Kacey, [the son of H Company’s commanding officer], was detailed to daily duty fixing cartridge boxes.”

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. Private Jeremiah Smith became one of those to die while stationed with the 47th Pennsylvania at Beaufort, South Carolina—although his foe was not a human one. He succumbed to fever complicated by dysentery on 9 August 1862.

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” during this phase of service.

A Regiment Victorious — and Bloodied

Illustration of the Union Navy's base of operations, Mayport Mills, circa 1862 (public domain).

Union Navy’s base of operations, Mayport Mills, circa 1862 (public domain).

Sent on a return expedition to Florida as September 1862 waned, Private Comley Idall and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers saw their first truly intense moments of service when they engaged with other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October.

Commanded by Brigadier-General John M. Brannan, the 47th Pennsylvanians disembarked with a 1,500-plus Union force at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats.

J.H. Schell's 1862 illustration showing the earthen works which surrounded the Confederate battery atop Saint John's Bluff along the Saint John's River in Florida (public domain).

J.H. Schell’s 1862 illustration showing the earthworks surrounding the Confederate battery atop Saint John’s Bluff along the Saint John’s River in Florida (public domain).

Taking point, the 47th Pennsylvanians then led the 3rd Brigade through twenty-five miles of dense, pine forested swamps populated with deadly snakes and alligators. By the time the expedition ended, the Union brigade had forced the Confederate Army to abandon its artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and had paved the way for the Union Army to occupy the town of Jacksonville, Florida. Along the way, two companies from the 47th Pennsylvania (E and K) also helped capture the Gov. Milton, a Confederate steamer that had equipped the bluff and surrounding Rebel troop placements with men and supplies.

That same day and ten days later, 5 and 15 October 1862 respectively, a black teen and several young to middle-aged Black men left the hardship they had known in Beaufort, South Carolina to become members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers:

  • Just sixteen years old at the time of his enlistment, Abraham Jassum joined the 47th Pennsylvania from a recruiting depot on 5 October 1862. Military records indicate that he mustered in as “negro undercook” with Company F at Beaufort, South Carolina. Military records described him as being 5’6″ tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and stated that his occupation prior to enlistment was “Cook.” Records also indicate that he continued to serve with F Company until he mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 when his three-year term of enlistment expired.
  • Also signing up as an Undercook that day at the Beaufort recruiting depot was thirty-three-year-old Bristor Gethers. Although his muster roll entry and entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File in the Pennsylvania State Archives listed him as “Presto Gettes,” his U.S. Civil War Pension Index listing spelled his name as “Bristor Gethers” and his wife’s name as “Rachel Gethers.” This index also includes the aliases of “Presto Garris”, and “Bristor Geddes.” He was described on military records as being 5’5″ tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and as having been employed as a fireman. He mustered in as “Negro under cook” with Company F on 5 October 1862, and mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service. Federal records indicate that he and his wife applied for his Civil War Pension from South Carolina.
  • Also attached initially to Company F upon his enrollment with the 47th Pennsylvania on 15 October 1862, twenty-two-year-old Edward Jassum was also assigned kitchen duties. Records indicate that he was officially mustered into military service at the rank of Undercook with the 47th Pennsylvania at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and then transferred to Company H on 11 October 1864. Like Abraham Jassum, Edward Jassum also continued to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers until being honorably discharged on 14 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service.

More men of color would continue to be added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.

The challenging environment of the Charleston & Savannah Railroad was illustrated by Harper's Weekly in 1865.

The challenging environment of the Charleston & Savannah Railroad (Harper’s Weekly, 1865).

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. Because Captain Kacy had fallen ill and was confined to a Union hospital while recuperating, Private Comley Idall and his fellow H Company men were led by 1st Lieutenant William E. Geety. Landing at Mackay’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.

Union Army map of the Pocotaligo-Coosawhatchie Expedition, 21-23 October 1862 (public domain).

Pocotaligo-Coosawhatchie Expedition, 21-23 October 1862 (public domain).

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 Mackay’s Point.

Losses for the 47th were significant with many casualties for the 47th occurring during the fighting which raged near the Frampton Plantation and near the Pocotaligo Bridge.

Two officers and eighteen enlisted men died, and an additional two officers and one hundred fourteen enlisted men from the 47th were wounded, including H Company’s First and Second Lieutenants, William Geety and William Gardner, First Sergeant George Reynolds, Corporals Daniel Reeder and P. W. Stockslager, and Privates Samuel Huggins, Cyrus Johnson, Robert Reed Kinsgsborough—and Comley Idall.

The death from a mortal gunshot wound of Private Comley Idall, Co. H, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers on 29 October 1862 at Hilton Head, South Carolina was documented by this entry in the U.S. Registers of Deaths of Volunteer Soldiers (public domain).

The death from a mortal gunshot wound of Private Comley Idall, Co. H, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers on 29 October 1862 at Hilton Head, South Carolina was documented by this entry in the U.S. Registers of Deaths of Volunteer Soldiers (public domain; click twice to enlarge).

The Fight to Survive

U.S. General Hospital, Hilton Head, South Carolina, c. 1861-1865. Built facing the ocean/Port Royal Bay (Broad River). Hospital medical director's residence, left foreground. Source: Library of Congress, public domain.

U.S. General Hospital, Hilton Head, South Carolina (mouth of Broad River/Port Royal Bay, facing ocean; circa 1861-5; U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Initially treated in the field by his comrades as best as they could while retreating, Private Comley Idall was stabilized enough by regimental medical personnel to be transported to the Union’s General Hospital at Hilton Head, South Carolina, where he was then given more advanced care for “Vulnus Sclopet” (gunshot wound). Sadly, the wound and its related complications were just too severe. He died there a week later (on 29 October 1862), and was laid to rest at Hilton Head.

His remains were later exhumed and reinterred in Section 37, Grave No. 4287) at the Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina as part of the federal government’s efforts to ensure the proper burial of Union soldiers in national cemeteries.

His family later erected a cenotaph in his memory at the Drumore Cemetery in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Although the hero’s journey of Comley Idall ended that terrible day in Hilton Head, South Carolina, his father and siblings continued to add new chapters to the Idall family’s story. To learn more, stay tuned for part two of this biographical sketch.



1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

3. Idal, Comley and Idall, Comley, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

4. Idal, William, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Patents, Book H 48: 299 (microfilm no. 1,0288,84). Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1851. Retrieved online 5 April 2016 via Lenzen, Gerald S. The Search for David Rose (1721-1781). Portland: Lenzen Research, 1 June 2000.

5. Idall, Comley, in “Interment Control Forms,” U.S. Office of the Quartermaster General. College Park: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

6. “Registers of Deaths of Volunteers,” in Records of the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1861-1865.

7. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

8. Shoemaker, Abram and Regina Y. Idall, William Idall and Mary (Streeper) Idall, in Biographical Annals of Lancaster County Pennsylvania Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens and Many of the Early Settlers. Chicago, Illinois: J. H. Beers & Co., 1903.

9. U.S. Census (1850, 1860). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.