The Sweger Soldiers of Perry County: Cousins and Brothers-in-Arms

Corporal Elkanah Sweger, Company H, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, circa 1864 (public domain).

Cousins and brothers-in-arms. One, a farmer and son of a prominent Pennsylvania gunsmith. The other, a carpenter.

Elkanah and George Sweger grew up to be average hard-working guys in Perry County, Pennsylvania—before giving up their day jobs to become soldiers. They served together during the American Civil War in the same company of the same regiment—Company H of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Formative Years

Born on 17 October 1830 in Perry County, Pennsylvania, George Sweger (1830-1870) was a son of shoemaker John Sweger (1807-1871) and Elizabeth (Bausum) Sweger (born 6 September 1799), and he was also a first cousin to Elkanah Sweger and many of the other Sweger men profiled in this biographical sketch.

During the 1830s and 1840s, George Sweger (1830-1870) lived in Spring Township, Perry County with his parents, John and Elizabeth Sweger, and siblings, Rebecca (born in 1829); Matilda (born in 1838), who would grow up to marry Evan Arnold; Mary Ann Sweger (1840-1925), who would grow up to wed John Ebert; Daniel Sweger (1842-1909), who would die, still unmarried, on 25 March 1909 at the Carlisle, Pennsylvania home of his niece, Caroline Umholtz; and John Edgar Sweger (1843-1911), who would later wed Catherine Ebert.

Born in Perry County on 2 February 1842, Elkanah Sweger was a son of Perry County natives William Sweger (1815-1892) and Mary Ann (Bausum) Sweger (1815-1889), and the brother of: Lewis (1836-1906), who had been born on 9 June 1836; Joshua (1838-1897), who had been born on 8 March 1838 and would grow up to marry Mary A. Fickes circa 1864; Absalom (1841-1865), who would grow up to become a soldier with a multi-year military career involving multiple deployments; Sarah Rose (1844-1875), who was born on 21 December 1844 and would grow up to marry David Gordon Swartz (circa 1864); Mary Ellen (1845-1919), who would grow up to wed Michael Loy; William (1848-1894), who would re-enlist in the U.S. Army after the Civil War, serve until he was honorably discharged, relocate to Massachusetts, wed and be widowed by Rosa Gollar, and spend his final years in an old soldiers’ home in Maine; Emelin/Emeline (1849-1919), who was born in October 1849, known to family and friends as “Emma,” and who would grow up to wed George Henry Wilfert, a native of Germany; John Calvin (1853-1926), who had been born on 12 May 1853; Matilda J. (1855-1942), who was born on 14 January 1855, known to family and friends as “Tillie,” and would later marry Albert Cain; and George Washington Sweger (1857-1930), who was born on 13 June 1857 and would later marry Mary Ellen Ricedorf.

During the 1840s and 1850s, Elkanah Sweger and his siblings were educated in Perry County’s local schools and began working on the family farm in Saville Township as they became old enough to do so.

Meanwhile, their first cousin—George Sweger (1830-1870)—had grown up to become a carpenter, and had begun his own family in Perry County. After marrying Rebecca K. Yohn in April 1850, he and his bride lived with his parents, John and Elizabeth Sweger, at their home in Spring Township. Also residing there in 1850 were George’s siblings: Matilda, Mary, Daniel, and John.

These Sweger siblings and cousins were all coming of age at a time when an increasing number of the adults across Perry County were not only speaking out against the practice of chattel slavery across America—but putting their lives on the line, physically, to help men, women and children escape from their enslavers. According to historian Glenn Holliman:

In July of 1841, three fugitive slaves—Ben, Alick and Tom, who [had escaped from enslavement by brothers John and George Hall of Hartford County, Md.] were pursued by slave catchers north along the Susquehanna River and then northwest up the Juniata River.

By July 7, the runaways sought refuge in Newport [Perry County], which was a village of over 400 people. With knowledge of slave hunters in close pursuit, the escapees dashed for their freedom along the towpath of the Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal to Rope Ferry, Millerstown.

…. Ben drowned trying to escape by swimming across the Juniata River. The other two, captured and bound by the slave catchers, were released the next day due to militant actions of Newport residents….

Furnished with food and money, the refugees were sent on their way…. Alick and Tom were last seen escaping northwest of Newport….

The house at the corner of Main and Carlisle Streets in Landisburg, Perry County, Pennsylvania, which served as a stop along the Underground Railroad (shown circa 1900, public domain).

The Perry County communities of Landisburg and Ickesburg also became safe harbors for many formerly enslaved individuals—even as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made that help more dangerous for anyone rendering assistance, as well as for those fighting to remain free. A private home at the corner of Main and Carlisle Streets in Landisburg is known to have been one of the houses that served as active stops along the Underground Railroad.

By 1860, George Sweger (1830-1870) had moved out of his parents’ home (which is shown on the 1860 U.S. Census as being in Tyrone Township, Perry County with the household comprised of John and Elizabeth Sweger, sons Daniel and John, and a three-year-old named James Foley).

Shortly thereafter, George Sweger (1830-1870) and his wife, Rebecca, welcomed the births of children: Emmaretta R. (1851-1919), who was born on 5 May 1851 and would later wed Philip L. Burkett; George W., who was born on 14 July 1857; Benjamin F., who was born on 14 July 1859; and Aaron Wesley (1860-1928), who was born on 5 August 1860 and would grow up to marry Anna Mae Naylor.

Meanwhile, in 1860, George Sweger’s first cousin, Elkanah Sweger, was still residing at, and working on, his parents’ farm. Also still at home were Elkanah’s siblings: Lewis W., Joshua, Absalom, Sarah Rose, Mary Ellen, William, Emma, John Calvin, Tillie, and George Washington Sweger (1857-1930). Their father’s real estate and personal property were valued at $3,011 that year (approximately $101,992.36 in 2022 dollars).

Civil War

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

Elkanah Sweger became one of the early responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help end the growing strife between America’s northern and southern states when he enlisted for Civil War military service during the summer of 1861. Following his enrollment in Elliottsburg, Perry County, Pennsylvania on 20 August of that year, he officially mustered in for duty at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 19 September as a private with Company H of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Note: One of two companies with members enrolled almost exclusively from Perry County (the other being Company D), Company H was the final company to be mustered in to the Pennsylvania Volunteers’ 47th Regiment. The initial recruitment for members was conducted in Newport, Perry County, and was spearheaded by James Kacy, a forty-four-year-old merchant and resident of Elliottsburg who had served as a railroad postal clerk for the United States government in the mid-1850s during the administration of President Franklin Pierce, and who would be commissioned as captain of Company H when it formally mustered in. 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.

Military records at the time described Elkanah Sweger as a twenty-year-old laborer who was 5’6″ inches tall with light hair, gray eyes and a light complexion.

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 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.

Chain Bridge across the Potomac above Georgetown looking toward Virginia, 1861 (The Illustrated London News, public domain).

On 24 September 1861, the members of Company D and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers officially mustered in with the U.S. Army. Three days later, on September 27, a rainy, drill-free day which permitted many of the men to read or write letters home, the 47th Pennsylvanians were assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Brigadier-General Ingalls Isaac Stevens. By that afternoon, they were on the move again, headed for the Potomac River’s eastern side where, upon arriving at Camp Lyon in Maryland, they were ordered to march double-quick over a chain bridge and off toward Falls Church, Virginia.

Arriving at Camp Advance at dusk, the men pitched their tents in a deep ravine about two miles from the bridge they had just crossed, near a new federal military facility under construction (Fort Ethan Allen), which was also located near the headquarters of Brigadier-General William Farrar Smith (nicknamed “Baldy”), the commander of the Union’s massive Army of the Potomac (“Mr. Lincoln’s Army”). Armed with Mississippi rifles supplied by the Keystone State, their job was to help defend the nation’s capital.

Once again, Company C Musician Henry Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:

On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….

We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….

There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [sic], a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….

Unknown regiment, Camp Griffin, Virginia, fall 1861 (public domain, U.S. Library of Congress).

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.’”

Note: The men of Company H had had the least training of all of the 47th Pennsylvania’s units due to two simple facts: 1.) H Company was the last of the 47th’s companies to muster in for service, literally joining the regiment the day before it was sent by train to Washington, D.C.; and 2.) H Company had ten fewer men than each the 47th’s other companies—just ninety compared to the one hundred each of A, B, C, D, E, F, G, I, and K. So understaffed was H Company that its commanding officers continued their recruiting efforts through October in order to bring the company’s total membership up to ninety-seven.

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.

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 Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a morning 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, 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.”

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.

In a letter on 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….

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

On 21 November, the 47th participated in another morning divisional review. This time, it was overseen 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.”

As a reward for their performance that day—and in preparation for the even bigger events which were yet to come, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan ordered that new Springfield rifles be obtained for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

1862 

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were transported to Florida aboard the steamship U.S. Oriental in January 1862 (public domain).

Ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862, marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church. Sent by rail to Alexandria, they then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before they were marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped aboard 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.

According to Schmidt and letters home from members of the regiment, those preparations ceased on Monday, 27 January, at 10 a.m. when:

The regiment was formed and instructed by Lt. Col. Alexander ‘that we were about drumming out a member who had behaved himself unlike a soldier.’ …. The prisoner, Pvt. James C. Robinson of Company I, was a 36 year old miner from Allentown who had been ‘disgracefully discharged’ by order of the War Department. Pvt. Robinson was marched out with martial music playing and a guard of nine men, two men on each side and five behind him at charge bayonets. The music then struck up with ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as the procession was marched up and down in front of the regiment, and Pvt. Robinson was marched out of the yard.

Reloading then resumed. By that afternoon, when the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers. The officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, 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.

Alfred Waud’s 1862 sketch of Fort Taylor and Key West, Florida (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain; click to enlarge).

In early February 1862, Company H and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West, where they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor, and drilled daily in heavy artillery tactics and other military strategies. On 14 February, the regiment made itself known to area residents via a parade through the city’s streets. That weekend, soldiers from the regiment mingled with residents at local church services.

Members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry also felled trees and helped to build new roads in a climate which was far more challenging than what they had experienced to date—and in an area where the water quality was frequently poor. As a result, disease was a constant companion—an unseen foe that claimed the lives of multiple members of the regiment during this phase of duty.

But there were lighter moments as well. According to a letter penned by Henry Wharton on 27 February 1862, the regiment commemorated the birthday of former U.S. President George Washington with a parade, a special ceremony involving the reading of Washington’s farewell address to the nation (first delivered in 1796), the firing of cannon at the fort, and a sack race and other games on 22 February. The festivities resumed two days later when the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band hosted an officers’ ball at which “all parties enjoyed themselves, for three o’clock of the morning sounded on their ears before any motion was made to move homewards.” This was then followed by a concert by the Regimental Band on Wednesday evening, 26 February.

From mid-June through July, the 47th was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men made camp before moving on to a new home, which was located roughly thirty-five miles away in the U.S. 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” during this phase of service.

Around this same time, detachments from the regiment were assigned to the Expedition to Fenwick Island (9 July) and the Demonstration against Pocotaligo (10 July).

On 29 August 1862, Private Elkanah Sweger’s first cousin, George Sweger (1830-1870), enrolled for Civil War military service in Elliottsburg, Perry County, Pennsylvania, and then officially mustered in the same day at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg as a Private with Company H of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Military records at the time described him as being a thirty-two-year-old laborer residing in Elliottsburg.

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

Sent on a return expedition to Florida, Company H saw its first truly intense moments of combat 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 twenty-five miles of dense, pine-forested swamps, dodging 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.

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

In his report on the matter, filed from Mount Pleasant Landing, Florida on 2 October 1862, Colonel Tilghman H. Good described the Union Army’s assault on Saint John’s Bluff:

In accordance with orders received I landed my regiment on the bank of Buckhorn Creek at 7 o’clock yesterday morning. After landing I moved forward in the direction of Parkers plantation, about 1 mile, being then within about 14 miles of said plantation. Here I halted to await the arrival of the Seventh Connecticut Regiment. I advanced two companies of skirmishers toward the house, with instructions to halt in case of meeting any of the enemy and report the fact to me. After they had advanced about three-quarters of a mile they halted and reported some of the enemy ahead. I immediately went forward to the line and saw some 5 or 6 mounted men about 700 or 800 yards ahead. I then ascended a tree, so that I might have a distinct view of the house and from this elevated position I distinctly saw one company of infantry close by the house, which I supposed to number about 30 or 40 men, and also some 60 or 70 mounted men. After waiting for the arrival of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers until 10 o’clock, and it not appearing, I dispatched a squad of men back to the landing for a 6-pounder field howitzer which had been kindly offered to my service by Lieutenant Boutelle, of the Paul Jones. This howitzer had been stationed on a flat-boat to protect our landing. The party, however, did not arrive with the piece until 12 o’clock, in consequence of the difficulty of dragging it through the swamp. Being anxious to have as little delay as possible, I did not await the arrival of the howitzer, but at 11 a.m. moved forward, and as I advanced the enemy fled.

After reaching the house I awaited the arrival of the Seventh Connecticut and the howitzer. After they arrived I moved forward to the head of Mount Pleasant Creek to a bridge, at which place I arrived at 2 p.m. Here I found the bridge destroyed, but which I had repaired in a short time. I then crossed it and moved down on the south bank toward Mount Pleasant Landing. After moving about 1 mile down the bank of the creek my skirmishing companies came upon a camp, which evidently had been very hastily evacuated, from the fact that the occupants had left a table standing with a sumptuous meal already prepared for eating. On the center of the table was placed a fine, large meat pie still warm, from which one of the party had already served his plate. The skirmishers also saw 3 mounted men leave the place in hot haste. I also found a small quantity of commissary and quartermasters stores, with 23 tents, which, for want of transportation, I was obliged to destroy. After moving about a mile farther on I came across another camp, which also indicated the same sudden evacuation. In it I found the following articles … breech-loading carbines, 12 double-barreled shot-guns, 8 breech-loading Maynard rifles, 11 Enfield rifles, and 96 knapsacks. These articles I brought along by having the men carry them. There were, besides, a small quantity of commissary and quartermasters stores, including 16 tents, which, for the same reason as stated, I ordered to be destroyed. I then pushed forward to the landing, where I arrived at 7 p.m.

We drove the enemys [sic] skirmishers in small parties along the entire march. The march was a difficult one, in consequence of meeting so many swamps almost knee-deep.

On 3 October, Good filed his report from Saint John’s Bluff, Florida, now in Union hands:

At 9 o’clock last night Lieutenant Cannon reported to me that his command, consisting of one section of the First Connecticut Battery, was then coming up the creek on flat-boats with a view of landing. At 4 o’clock this morning a safe landing was effected and the command was ready to move. The order to move to Saint John’s Bluff reached me at 4 p.m. yesterday. In accordance with it I put the column in motion immediately and moved cautiously up the bank of the Saint John’s River, the skirmishing companies occasionally seeing small parties of the enemy’s cavalry retiring in our front as we advanced. When about 2 miles from the bluff the left wing of the skirmishing line came upon another camp of the enemy, which, however, in consequence of the lateness of the hour, I did not take time to examine, it being then already dark.

After my arrival at the bluff, it then being 7:30 o’clock, I dispatched Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander with two companies back to the last-named camp (which I found, from a number of papers left behind, to have been called Camp Hopkins and occupied by the Milton Artillery, of Florida) to reconnoiter and ascertain its condition. Upon his return he reported that from every appearance the skedaddling of the enemy was as sudden as in the other instances already mentioned, leaving their trunks and all the camp equipage behind; also a small store of commissary supplies, sugar, rice, half barrel of flour, one bag of salt, &c., including 60 tents which I have brought in this morning. The commissary stores were used by the troops of my command.

Integration of the Regiment

On 5 and 15 October 1862, respectively, the 47th Pennsylvania then made history as it became an integrated regiment, adding to its muster rolls several young to middle-aged Black men who had endured plantation enslavement in Beaufort, South Carolina. Among the men freed who subsequently opted to enroll as members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were Abraham and Edward Jassum (aged 16 and 22, respectively), and Bristor Gethers (aged 33), whose name was spelled as “Presto Gettes” on transcriptions of muster rolls made by historian Samuel P. Bates. More men of color would continue to be added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.

Battle of Pocotaligo

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

From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th Pennsylvanians engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. 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.

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. 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. Two officers and eighteen enlisted men died; two officers and another 114 enlisted were wounded. In his report on the engagement, made from headquarters at Beaufort, South Carolina on 24 October 1862, Colonel Good wrote:

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 I [sic], 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.

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.

In a second report made from Beaufort on 25 October 1862, Colonel Good added the following details:

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the First Brigade in the battles of October 22:

After meeting the enemy in his first position he was driven back by the skirmishing line, consisting of two companies of the Sixth Connecticut, one of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania, and one of the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania, under my command. Here the enemy only fired a few rounds of shot and shell. He then retreated and assumed another position, and immediately opened fire. Colonel Chatfield, then in command of the brigade, ordered the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania forward to me, with orders to charge. I immediately charged and drove the enemy from the second position. The Sixth Connecticut was deployed in my rear and left; the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania on my right, and the Fourth New Hampshire in the rear of the Fifty-fifth, both in close column by divisions, all under a heavy fire of shell and canister. These regiments then crossed the causeway by the flank and moved close up to the woods. Here they were halted, with orders to support the artillery. After the enemy had ceased firing the Fourth New Hampshire was ordered to move up the road in the rear of the artillery and two companies of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania to follow this regiment. The Sixth Connecticut followed up, and the Fifty-fifth moved up through the woods. At this juncture Colonel Chatfield fell, seriously wounded, and Lieutenant-Colonel Speidel was also wounded.

The casualties in the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania amounted to 96 men. As yet I am unable to learn the loss of the entire brigade.

The enemy having fled, the Fourth New Hampshire and the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania followed in close pursuit. During this time the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania and the Sixth Connecticut halted and again organized, after which they followed. On coming up to the engagement I assumed command of the brigade, and found the forces arranged in the following order: The Fourth New Hampshire was deployed as skirmishers along the entire front, and the Fifty-fifth deployed in line of battle on the left side of the road, immediately in the rear of the Fourth New Hampshire. I then ordered the Sixth Connecticut to deploy in the rear of the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania and the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania to deploy on the right side of the road in line of battle and relieve the Seventh Connecticut. I then ordered the Fourth New Hampshire, which had spent all its ammunition, back under cover on the road in the woods. The enemy meantime kept up a terrific fire of grape and musketry, to which we replied with terrible effect. At this point the orders were given to retire, and the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania and Seventh Connecticut formed the rear guard. I then ordered the Thirty-seventh Pennsylvania to keep its position and the Sixth Connecticut to march by the flank into the road and to the rear, the Fourth New Hampshire and Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania to follow. The troops of the Second Brigade were meanwhile retiring. After the whole column was in motion and a line of battle established by the Seventh Connecticut about 1,000 yards in the rear of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania I ordered the Forty-seventh to retire by the flank and establish a line of battle 1,000 yards in the rear of the Seventh Connecticut; after which the Seventh Connecticut moved by the flank to the rear and established a line of battle 1,000 yards in the rear of the Forty seventh, and thus retiring, alternately establishing lines, until we reached Frampton Creek, where we were relieved from this duty by the Fourth New Hampshire. We arrived at the landing at 3 o’clock on the morning of the 23d instant.

The casualties of the Sixth Connecticut are 34 in killed and wounded and the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania 112 in killed and wounded. As to the remaining regiments I have as yet received no report.

1863

Fort Jefferson’s moat and wall, circa 1934, Dry Tortugas, Florida (C.E. Peterson, Library of Congress, public domain).

Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 for the Sweger cousins and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I remained on duty at Key West’s Fort Taylor while the soldiers from Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.

In a letter to the Sunbury American on 23 August 1863, Henry Wharton described Thanksgiving celebrations held by the regiment and residents of Key West and a yacht race the following Saturday at which participants had “an opportunity of tripping the ‘light, fantastic toe,’ to the fine music of the 47th Band, led by that excellent musician, Prof. Bush.”

The time spent in Florida was notable also for the men’s commitment to preserving the Union. The climate was harsh and unpleasant and, as before, disease was a constant companion and foe. Many of the 47th who could have returned home, having well and honorably completed their service, chose instead to re-enlist, including Private Elkanah Sweger who re-upped for a second term of service on 19 October 1863.

The next month, a new child came into the world who would ultimately become an important part of Private Elkanah Sweger’s future. The baby’s name was Alfred (1863-1921), and he was the child of Margaret Ellen Ricedorf (1842-1916), who would be shown on later census records as “M. Ellen Sweger” (Elkanah Sweger’s wife). Baby Alfred would be referred to in some records as Elkanah’s son and in others as his stepson.

1864

Bayou Teche, Louisiana (Harper’s Weekly, 14 February 1863, public domain).

In early January 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was ordered to expand the Union’s reach by sending part of the regiment north to retake possession of Fort Myers, a federal installation that had been abandoned in 1858 following the U.S. government’s third war with the Seminole Indians. Per orders issued earlier in 1864 by General D. P. Woodbury, Commanding Officer, U.S. Department of the Gulf, District of Key West and the Tortugas, that the fort be used to facilitate the Union’s Gulf Coast blockade, Captain Richard Graeffe and a group of men from Company A were charged with expanding the fort and conducting raids on area cattle herds to provide food for the growing Union troop presence across Florida. (Graeffe and his men subsequently turned the fort into both their base of operations and a shelter for pro-Union supporters, escaped slaves, Confederate Army deserters, and others fleeing Rebel troops.)

Meanwhile, all of the other companies of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry had begun preparing for the regiment’s history-making journey to Louisiana. (And, back home in Pennsylvania, Elkanah Sweger’s brother, William, was enlisting as a private with Company B of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry on 1 February 1864.)

On 25 February 1864, the first group of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to be transported to Louisiana (Companies B, C, D, I, and K) boarded yet another steamer—the Charles Thomas—and headed for Algiers (which is situated across the river from New Orleans and is now a neighborhood in New Orleans). They were followed on 1 March by the members Companies E, F, G, and H who had been stationed at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.

Upon the second group’s arrival, the now almost fully reunited regiment moved by train on 28 February to Brashear City (now Morgan City, Louisiana) before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, and became the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks. (Unable to reach Louisiana until 23 March, the men from Company A were effectively placed on a different type of detached duty in New Orleans while they awaited transport to enable them to catch up with the main part of their regiment. Charged with guarding and overseeing the transport of 245 Confederate prisoners, they were finally able to board the Ohio Belle on 7 April, and reached Alexandria with those prisoners on 9 April.)

Red River Campaign

Natchitoches, Louisiana (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 7 May 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

From 14-26 March, the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched for Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana, by way of New Iberia, Vermilionville (now part of Lafayette), Opelousas, and Washington.

From 4-5 April 1864, the regiment added to its roster of young Black soldiers when Aaron Bullard (later known as Aaron French), James and John Bullard, Samuel Jones, and Hamilton Blanchard (also known as John Hamilton) enrolled for military service with the 47th Pennsylvania at Natchitoches. According to their respective entries in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives and on regimental muster rolls, the men were then officially mustered in for duty on 22 June at Morganza. Several of their entries noted that they were assigned the rank of “(Colored) Cook” while others were given the rank of “Under Cook.”

Often short on food and water throughout their long, grueling trek through enemy territory, the 47th Pennsylvanians encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill on the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.

19th U.S. Army Map, Phase 3, Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield (8 April 1864, public domain; click to enlarge).

Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, sixty members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield because of its proximity to the community of Mansfield). 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 the community of Pleasant Hill (now the Village of Pleasant Hill).

The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, as the 47th was shifting to the left of the 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 within the regiment were severe. Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander, the regiment’s second-in-command, was nearly killed, the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were wounded while preventing the regimental flag from falling into enemy hands, and multiple other members of the regiment were killed, wounded or captured by Confederate troops and held as prisoners of war at Camp Ford (Texas), the largest Confederate prison camp west of the Mississippi, until released during a series of prisoner exchanges between July and November 1864.

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 Pennsylvanians fell back to Grand Ecore, where they remained for eleven days and engaged in the hard labor of strengthening regimental and brigade fortifications. They then moved back to Natchitoches Parish on 22 April, arriving in Cloutierville at 10 p.m. that same night, after marching forty-five miles. While en route, they were attacked again—this time at the rear of their brigade, but they were able to quickly end the encounter and move forward.

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were stationed just to the left of the “Thick Woods” with Emory’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Division (map of Union troop positions, Battle of Cane River Crossing at Monett’s Ferry, Louisiana, 23 April 1864, Major-General Nathaniel Banks’ official Red River Campaign Report, public domain).

The next morning (23 April 1864), episodic skirmishing quickly roared into the flames of a robust fight. As part of the advance party led by Brigadier-General William Emory, the 47th Pennsylvanians took on Brigadier-General Hamilton P. Bee’s Confederate Cavalry in the Battle of Cane River (also known as “the Affair at Monett’s Ferry” or the “Cane River Crossing”). Responding to a barrage from the Confederate artillery’s 20-pound Parrott guns and raking fire from enemy troops situated near a bayou and on a bluff, Emory directed one of his brigades to keep Bee’s Confederates busy while sending the other two brigades to find a safe spot where his Union troops could ford the Cane River. As part of the “beekeepers,” the 47th Pennsylvania supported Emory’s artillery.

As Emory’s troops worked their way toward the Cane River, they attacked Bee’s flank, forced a Rebel retreat, and erected a series of pontoon bridges, enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and other remaining Union troops to make the Cane River Crossing by the next day. As the Confederates retreated, they torched their own food stores, as well as the cotton supplies of their fellow southerners.

In a letter penned from Morganza, Louisiana on 29 May, Henry Wharton described what had happened to the 47th Pennsylvanians during and immediately after making camp at Grand Ecore:

Our sojourn at Grand Ecore was for eleven days, during which time our position was well fortified by entrenchments for a length of five miles, made of heavy logs, five feet high and six feet wide, filled in with dirt. In front of this, trees were felled for a distance of two hundred yards, so that if the enemy attacked we had an open space before us which would enable our forces to repel them and follow if necessary. But our labor seemed to the men as useless, for on the morning of 22d April, the army abandoned these works and started for Alexandria. From our scouts it was ascertained that the enemy had passed some miles to our left with the intention of making a stand against our right at Bayou Cane, where there is a high bluff and dense woods, and at the same attack Smith’s forces who were bringing up the rear. This first day was a hard one on the boys, for by ten o’clock at night they made Cloutierville, a distance of forty-five miles. On that day the rear was attacked which caused our forces to reverse their front and form in line of battle, expecting too, to go back to the relief of Smith, but he needed no assistance, sending word to the front that he had ‘whipped them, and could do it again.’ It was well that Banks made so long a march on that day, for on the next we found the enemy prepared to carry out their design of attacking us front and rear. Skirmishing commenced early in the morning and as our columns advanced he fell back towards the bayou, when we soon discovered the position of their batteries on the bluff. There was then an artillery duel by the smaller pieces, and some sharp fighting by the cavalry, when the ‘mule battery,’ twenty pound Parrott guns, opened a heavy fire, which soon dislodged them, forcing the chivalry to flee in a manner not at all suitable to their boasted courage. Before this one cavalry, the 3d Brigade of the 1st Div., and Birges’ brigade of the second, had crossed the bayou and were doing good service, which, with the other work, made the enemy show their heels. The 3d brigade done some daring deeds in this fight, as also did the cavalry. In one instance the 3d charged up a hill almost perpendicular, driving the enemy back by the bayonet without firing a gun. The woods on this bluff was so thick that the cavalry had to dismount and fight on foot. During the whole of the day, our brigade, the 2d was supporting artillery, under fire all the time, and could not give Mr. Reb a return shot.

While we were fighting in front, Smith was engaged some miles in the rear, but he done his part well and drove them back. The rebel commanders thought by attacking us in the rear, and having a large face on the bluffs, they would be able to capture our train and take us all prisoners, but in this they were mistaken, for our march was so rapid that we were on them before they had thrown up the necessary earthworks. Besides they underrated the amount of our artillery, calculating from the number engaged at Pleasant Hill. The rebel prisoners say it ‘seems as though the Yankees manufacture, on short notice, artillery to order, and the men are furnished with wings when they wish to make a certain point.

The damage done to the Confederate cause by the burning of cotton was immense. On the night of the 22d our route was lighted up for miles and millions of dollars worth of this production was destroyed. This loss will be felt more by Davis & Co., than several defeats in this region, for the basis of the loan in England was on the cotton of Western Louisiana.

After the rebels had fled from the bluff the negro troops put down the pontoons, and by ten that night we were six miles beyond the bayou safely encamped. The next morning we moved forward and in two days were in Alexandria. Johnnys followed Smith’s forces, keeping out of range of his guns, except when he had gained the eminence across the bayou, when he punished them (the rebs) severely.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for the Union officer overseeing its construction, Lt.-Col. Joseph Bailey, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River near Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 facilitated Union gunboat passage (public domain).

Having finally reached Alexandria on 26 April, the 47th Pennsylvanians learned they would remain at their latest new camp for at least two weeks. Placed temporarily under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey, they were assigned yet again to the hard labor of fortification work, helping to erect “Bailey’s Dam,” a timber structure that enabled Union gunboats to more easily make their way back down the Red River. While stationed in Rapides Parish in late April and early May, according to Wharton:

We were at Alexandria seventeen days, during which time the men were kept busy at throwing up earthworks, foraging and three times went out some distance to meet the enemy, but they did not make their appearance in numbers large enough for an engagement. 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, (and you know soldiers, like other people, will eat) so Banks was compelled to relinquish his designs on Shreveport and fall back to the Mississippi. To do this a large dam [Bailey’s Dam] had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river. After a great deal of labor this was accomplished and by the morning of May 13th the last one was through the shute [sic], 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.’ The next morning, at our camping place, the fleet of boats passed us, when we were informed that Alexandria had been destroyed by fire – the act of a dissatisfied citizen and several negroes. Incendiary acts were strictly forbidden in a general order the day before we left the place, and a cavalry guard was left in the rear to see the order enforced. After marching a few miles skirmishing commenced in front between the cavalry and the enemy in riflepits [sic] on the bank of the river, but they were easily driven away. When we came up we discovered their pits and places where there had been batteries planted. At this point the John Warren, an unarmed transport, on which were sick soldiers and women, was fired into and sunk, killing many and those that were not drowned taken prisoners. A tin-clad gunboat was destroyed at the same place, by which we lost a large mail. Many letters and directed envelopes were found on the bank – thrown there after the contents had been read by the unprincipled scoundrels. The inhumanity of Guerrilla bands in this department is beyond belief, and if one did not know the truth of it or saw some of their barbarities, he would write it down as the story of a ‘reliable gentleman’ or as told by an ‘intelligent contraband.’ Not satisfied with his murderous intent on unarmed transports he fires into the Hospital steamer Laurel Hill, with four hundred sick on board. This boat had the usual hospital signal floating fore and aft, yet, notwithstanding all this, and the customs of war, they fired on them, proving by this act that they are more hardened than the Indians on the frontier.

On Sunday, May 15, we left the river road and took a short route through the woods, saving considerable distance. The windings of Red river are so numerous that it resembles the tape-worm railroad wherewith the politicians frightened the dear people during the administration of Ritner and Stevens. – We stopped several hours in the woods to leave cavalry pass, when we moved forward and by four o’clock emerged into a large open plain where we formed in line of battle, expecting a regular engagement. The enemy, however, retired and we advanced ‘till dark, when the forces halted for the night, with orders to rest on their arms. – ‘Twas here that Banks rode through our regiment, amidst the cheers of the boys, and gave the pleasant news that Grant had defeated Lee.

“Sleeping on Their Arms” by Winslow Homer (Harper’s Weekly, 21 May 1864, public domain).

Having entered Avoyelles Parish, the 47th Pennsylvanians “rested on their arms” for the night, half-dozing without pitching their tents, but with their rifles right beside them. They were now positioned just outside of Marksville, Louisiana on the eve of the 16 May 1864 Battle of Mansura, which unfolded as follows, according to Wharton:

Early next morning we marched through Marksville into a prairie nine miles long and six wide where every preparation was made for a fight. The whole of our force was formed in line, in support of artillery in front, who commenced operations on the enemy driving him gradually from the prairie into the woods. As the enemy retreated before the heavy fire of our artillery, the infantry advanced in line until they reached Mousoula [sic], where they formed in column, taking the whole field in an attempt to flank the enemy, but their running qualities were so good that we were foiled. The maneuvring [sic] of the troops was handsomely done, and the movements was [sic] one of the finest things of the war. The fight of artillery was a steady one of five miles. The enemy merely stood that they might cover the retreat of their infantry and train under cover of their artillery. Our loss was slight. Of the rebels we could not ascertain correctly, but learned from citizens who had secreted themselves during the fight, that they had many killed and wounded, who threw them into wagons, promiscuously, and drove them off so that we could not learn their casualties. The next day we moved to Simmsport [sic] on the Achafalaya [sic] river, where a bridge was made by putting the transports side by side, which enabled the troops and train to pass safely over. – The day before we crossed the rebels attacked Smith, thinking it was but the rear guard, in which they, the graybacks, were awfully cut up, and four hundred prisoners fell into our hands. Our loss in killed and wounded was ninety. This fight was the last one of the expedition. The whole of the force is safe on the Mississippi, gunboats, transports and trains. The 16th and 17th have gone to their old commands.

It is amusing to read the statements of correspondents to papers North, concerning our movements and the losses of our army. I have it from the best source that the Federal loss from Franklin to Mansfield, and from their [sic] to this point does not exceed thirty-five hundred in killed, wounded and missing, while that of the rebels is over eight thousand.

As Wharton noted, the surviving members of the 47th marched for Simmesport and then Morganza, where they made camp again. While at Morganza, the nine formerly enslaved Black men who had enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania in Beaufort, South Carolina (1862) and Natchitoches, Louisiana (April 1864) were officially mustered into the regiment between 20-24 June 1864.

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, circa 1860-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The regiment then moved on once again, finally arriving back in New Orleans in late June. On the Fourth of July, the Sweger cousins and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers received orders to return to the East Coast. The members of the regiment were loaded onto ships in two stages: Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed for the Washington, D.C. area aboard the McClellan, 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, the 47th Pennsylvanians who had been left behind in Louisiana finally sailed away at the end of the month aboard the Blackstone. Arriving in Virginia on 28 July, they reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.)

Following their arrival in Virginia and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln on 12 July, the men from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I joined Major-General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap in mid-July 1864. There, they fought in the Battle of Cool Spring, Virginia and, once again, assisted in defending Washington, D.C. while also helping to drive Confederate troops from Maryland.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Halltown Ridge, looking west with “old ruin of 123 on left. Colored people’s shanty right,” where Union troops entrenched after Major-General Philip Sheridan took command of the Middle Military Division, 7 August 1864 (photo/caption: Thomas Dwight Biscoe, 2 August 1884, courtesy of Southern Methodist University).

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia in early August 1864, and engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a “mimic war” being waged by the Union forces of Major-General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early.

From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers engaged in the Battle of Berryville.

The opening days of September also saw the departure of several 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who had served honorably, including Captain James Kacy of H Company and his fellow captains from D, E and F companies, H Company Musician Allen McCabe, Sergeant Robert H. Nelson, Corporal James F. Naylor, and H Company Privates Augustus Bupp, John A. Durham, Thomas J. Haney, Isaac Henderson, Michael Horting, William Hutcheson, John Kitner, Adam Louden, Walter C. Miller, John Morian, S. M. Raudibaugh, David and William R. Thompson, Benjamin Thornton, and George W. Zinn. All mustered out 18 September 1864 upon expiration of their respective service terms.

That same day (18 September), Corporal John A. Gardner, brother of H Company Second Lieutenant Reuben S. Gardner, was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, as were Corporals David H. Smith and John S. Snyder. Privates Daniel K. Smith and Daniel Urich were advanced to the rank of Corporal. Those members of the 47th who remained on duty were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor.

Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864

Battle of Opequan (aka Third Winchester), Virginia, 19 September 1864 (public domain).

Together with other regiments under the command of Union Major-General Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the members of Company H and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant-General Early’s Confederate forces in the Battle of Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”). The battle is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory here helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.

The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. After advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps 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 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 Brigadier-General 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, including John Peter Shindel Gobin, a man who would later go on to become Lieutenant-Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Also, on 24 September, First Sergeant James Hahn was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant within H Company as longtime Second Lieutenant Christian K. Breneman mustered out upon expiration of his three-year term of service

On 11 October 1864, Edward Jassum, one of the formerly enslaved Black men who had enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania in South Carolina, was transferred within the 47th Pennsylvania from F Company to Company H.

Battle of Cedar Creek, 19 October 1864

Alfred Waud’s 1864 sketch, “Surprise at Cedar Creek,” captured the flanking attack on the rear of Union Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th Corps by Lieutenant-General Jubal Early’s Confederate army, and the subsequent resistance by Emory’s troops from their Union rifle pits, 19 October 1864 (public domain).

It was during the fall of 1864 that Major-General Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s 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 multiple 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!’”

Sheridan Rallying His Troops, Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The Union’s counterattack punched Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:

When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.

Once again, the casualties for the 47th were high. Sergeant William Pyers, the C Company man who had so gallantly rescued the flag at Pleasant Hill was cut down and later buried on the battlefield. Within the contingent from Perry County, Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock suffered a frightening near miss as a bullet pierced his cap, Corporal Jonathan McIntire and Privates Valentine Andrews, Michael Heenan and Joseph Shelley were killed in action, Private Jonathan Lick sustained a severe gunshot wound to the left side of his head, and Private John Liddick was also severely wounded. Lick died 11 days later at the Union Army’s Patterson P. K. General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Liddick died at a Union Army hospital in Baltimore on 8 November.

Corporal John P. Rupley of Company H was wounded in action, but survived and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on 29 October.

Private Elkanah Sweger was also advanced that day to the rank of Corporal, as was Second Lieutenant Reuben S. Gardner, who was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant.

As with the Red River Campaign, men from the 47th Pennsylvania were also captured by Rebel soldiers and carted off to Confederate prisons—this time to Andersonville, Georgia, Richmond, Virginia, and Salisbury, North Carolina. Of those held as POWs, only a handful survived. Among the dead were H Company’s Privates Henry Shapley and Stephen Shaffer who perished at Salisbury, on 10 December 1864 and 8 January 1865, respectively.

Following these major engagements, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester, where they remained from November through most of December. During this phase of service, H Company received word that two more of the company’s own—Private Sterritt Lightner and John Lightman—had died. Confined to the Hoddington Lane General Hospital in Philadelphia, Lightner lost his battle with typhoid fever on 3 November 1864. Lightman died eight days later in Philadelphia at a Union Army hospital. Meanwhile, closer to the front, Private Joseph Smith lost his battle with disease at a Union Army hospital near Cedar Creek, Virginia on 11 November 1864.

Rested and somewhat healed, the 47th Pennsylvania was then ordered to outpost and railroad guard duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia five days before Christmas.

1865

Spectators gather for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865, at the side of the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half-mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (Matthew Brady, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Assigned to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah in February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers moved back to Washington, D.C., via Winchester and Kernstown. On 16 February, First Lieutenant Reuben S. Gardner was commissioned as Captain of Company H, and Second Lieutenant James Hahn was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant.

Beginning 19 April, the 47th Pennsylvanians were again responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital—this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Encamped near Fort Stevens, they received new uniforms and were otherwise resupplied.

Letters home and later newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania indicate that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during the early days of their imprisonment.

As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania also participated in the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May.

On 1 June 1865, Private George Sweger (1830-1870) was honorably discharged from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers via General Order No. 63, which was issued by the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office in Washington, D.C.

Ruins of Charleston, South Carolina as seen from the Circular Church, 1865 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, public domain).

During their final southern tour, Corporal Elkanah Sweger and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were stationed in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Attached again to Dwight’s Division, they were part of the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South.

Ordered to relieve the 165th New York Volunteers in Charleston, South Carolina in July, they quartered in the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. During this same time, Corporal Elkanah Sweger’s brother, Private William Sweger, was honorably discharged from the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry at Clouds Mills, Virginia on 13 July 1865 upon expiration of his term of service.

Guarding prisoners at the local jails and performing other civil governance in Charleston, South Carolina through the fall and early Winter, Corporal Elkanah Sweger and the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers finally began to honorably muster out at Charleston—a process which began on Christmas Day and continued through early January.

Following a stormy voyage home, they disembarked in New York City, and were transported by train to Philadelphia where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, they were officially given their final discharge papers.

Return to Civilian Life

Newport & Shermans Valley Railroad Station, Blain, Perry County, Pennsylvania, circa late 1800s-early 1900s (public domain).

Following his honorable discharge, George Sweger (1830-1870) returned to his wife, children, and farm in Perry County, Pennsylvania. Together, he and his wife greeted the births of three more children: Sheridan (1865-1930), who was born on 18 December 1865, would grow up to become a carpenter, marry Mary Rebecca Kuller on 24 January 1889 in Eshcol, Perry County, and welcome the births of seven children with her over a period of many happy years before succumbing to complications from a skull fracture sustained in a car accident in 1930; Scott W. (1866-1943), who was born in Saville Township, Perry County on 31 March 1886, would grow up to become an engineman at a milk plant, and marry and build a family with Anna Mary Pader; and Lillie May (circa 1870-1936), who would grow up to marry and raise a family with John Adam Howell, Sr.

But sadly, George Sweger (1830-1870) did not have long to enjoy the peace of his community and nation that he had he fought so hard to preserve just a few short years earlier. He died in Elliottsburg, Perry County on 22 August 1870 (alternate date 23 August 1870), and was interred at that community’s Lebanon Lutheran and Reformed Churchyard Cemetery. A military headstone was obtained for his grave in 1884.

Following his own honorable discharge from the military, George Sweger’s first cousin, Elkanah Sweger, also returned home to Perry County, Pennsylvania, where he resumed his life as a farmer and family man. Together, he and his wife, M. Ellen Sweger, welcomed the births of three more children: Minnie Catherine (1867-1874), who was born on 23 November 1967; Harvey Austin (1870-1946), who was born on 3 February 1870; and Charles S. Sweger (1879-1925), who was born on 22 February 1879.

Newport, Perry County, Pennsylvania, circa 1873 (Silas Wright, History of Perry County in Pennsylvania, 1873, public domain).

Post-war, Elkanah Sweger also joined the Grand Army of the Republic, and was a member of the Lieut. Arnold Lobaugh Post No. 297 in Newport, Perry County.

In July of 1870, Elkanah Sweger and his wife were residing in Landisburg, Perry County with daughter Minnie, aged two, and son Harvey, who was just four months old. That year’s federal census enumerator described Elkanah as a farmer who owned a total of $1,000 in real estate and other property (roughly $21,460 in 2022 dollars). Their son, Alfred N. Sweger (1863-1921), was not listed on this census, and may have been intentionally omitted from the census by his parents (or was living elsewhere at this time) due a poorly understood neurological condition—epilepsy, which was documented on his death certificate half a century later.

Life for this Sweger branch appeared to be particularly difficult during this decade. On 31 May 1874, daughter Minnie died at the age of six years, six months, and seven days. She was laid to rest at the Eshcol Cemetery in Eshcol, Perry County.

Tragedy struck again in 1875 and 1877 when Elkanah Sweger’s younger sister, Sarah Rose (Sweger) Swartz (1844-1875), died in Mannsville, Perry County on 9 October 1875, followed by older brother Absalom Sweger, who died in Elliottsburg, Perry County on 10 August 1877.

Sarah Rose (Sweger) Swartz, who had become the mother of five children—Ira McClellan Swartz (1864-1943); Clara Ellen (Swartz) Wentz (1866-1936); Anna Florence (Swartz) Klinepeter (1868-1932), who was known to family and friends as “Annie” and who had wed George B. Klinepeter circa 1887; William Henry Swartz (1873-1944); and Charles David Swartz (1874-1944)—was laid to rest at the Mannsville Lutheran Cemetery in Mannsville.

Absalom Sweger was laid to rest at the Messiah Lutheran Church Cemetery in Elliottsburg. The Perry County Democrat eulogized him in its 15 August 1877 edition:

Death of a Soldier.

ELLIOTTSBURG, AUG. 11th, 1877—Absalom Sweger died Aug. 10th 1877, aged 37 years, 5 months and 26 days. He was a faithful soldier of the great rebellion. He enlisted May 26, 1861, in Company B, first Rifles, P. R. V. Co. (Old Bucktail), under command of Capt. Wister, of Duncannon, and was discharged May 31, 1864. He also served 3 years in the Regular Service, fighting the Indians—completing, in all, 11 years fighting for his country. Mr. Sweger never asked for any thing but high private in the ranks. He never boasted of his bravery, but was always at his post, fighting when there was fighting to be done. Give honor to whom honor belongs. He is truly deserving of it. He was one out of six brothers who fought through the great rebellion.

He was buried with the honors of war to-day, Aug. 11, by a squad of his old comrades—soldiers in command of Capt. Wm. H. Rhoades, and the drum corps from Landisburg, consisting of musician Jeremiah Rice; drummers, Capt. Wm. Burtnett and Major Thornton.

Our thanks to the Landisburg Drum Corps, and long may they live to show their respect to the old soldiers.

J. A. G.

Note: The “3 years in the Regular Service” reference in Absalom Sweger’s obituary refers to his tenure of service as a private with Company I of the 1st U.S. Cavalry, which was involved in using military force against Indians in California and Nevada, according to U.S. Army historians. Absalom Sweger had enlisted on 6 November 1869 in San Francisco, and was discharged upon completing his tenure of service on 6 November 1874 from Camp Halleck, Nevada. Military records at the time of his enlistment described Absalom Sweger as a soldier from Perry County, Pennsylvania who was 5’7″ tall who had dark brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion.

During the spring and summer of 1880, more change came to Saville Township with newspapers reporting that “Jonas J. Smith, H. B. Zimmerman and Henry Fickes appointed viewers to view and lay out a road from near Elkanah Sweger’s lane to point near Jeremiah Burkpile’s wood-house in Saville twp.” When the federal census taker arrived at Elkanah’s doorstep later that year, he confirmed that Elkanah and his wife were still residing in Saville Township with their sons Harvey and Charles, and that son Alfred was also now living with them. Throughout this period of his life, Elkanah Sweger was actively involved with the Grand Army of the Republic’s Newport Post. On 5 April 1886, he filed for, and was ultimately awarded, a U.S. Civil War Pension.

On 28 August 1889, Elkanah’s mother, Mary Ann (Bausum) Sweger, passed away, and was laid to rest at the Messiah Lutheran Church Cemetery in Elliottsburg, Perry County. His father joined her in death two years later, and was interred beside her after passing away in Perry County on 29 June 1892.

Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, New Bloomfield, Perry County, Pennsylvania, circa early 1900s (public domain).

In 1893, The News in Newport, Perry County reported in its 17 November edition that “S. W. Fickes [had] transferred his recent purchase of the Kennedy property to Elkanah Sweger who expects to take up his residence there.” Still actively involved with the Grand Army of the Republic’s Lt. Arnold Lobaugh Post, Elkanah Sweger also played a role in arranging for a soldiers’ monument to be erected in Perry County. According to the 22 November 1894 edition of Newport, Pennsylvania’s The News:

The long-talked of monument in memory of the deceased soldiers of Perry county seems about to have assumed practical shape.

The Newport Cemetery Association has offered to present very eligible ground upon which to erect the proposed monument and contribute one-ninth as much to it as may be raised by the whole county.

Agreeably to this proposition Lt. Arnold Lobaugh Post has appointed a committee of veterans, consisting of J. S. Super, Elkanah Sweger and T. H. Milligan, to attend to the matter and see what can be done. The committee therefore requests all veterans and friends of the dead defenders of the nation who appreciate the worthiness of the undertaking to communicate with the committee either in person or by letter and assist in working up an interest in the patriotic project.

Tragedy continued to unfold, however, as two of Elkanah Sweger’s older brothers—William Sweger and Joshua Sweger—died within three years of one another.

On 1 June 1894, William Sweger (1848-1894) passed away at the U.S. Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Togus, Maine, and was interred at the home’s cemetery.

Note: Although several family trees and at least one published genealogical history indicate that William H. Sweger died sometime in 1865, military rosters clearly show that he survived the war and continued to serve his nation as a member of the military during the Indian Wars of the 1870s, and that he did so with one of his brothers—John Calvin Sweger—right by his side.

After re-enlisting with the U.S. Army in Springfield, Illinois on 22 July 1872, the Sweger brothers officially mustered in with Company A of the 1st U.S. Cavalry—the same regiment that their older brother, Absalom had joined in 1869. Assigned to Company A (a different company than their brother), William entered this service tenure as a private while John became a saddler. Serving from 22 August 1872 until 14 June 1877, their military records of 1872 described William and John Sweger as, respectively, a twenty-four-year-old farmer from Perry County who was 5’6¾” tall with hazel eyes, dark hair and a ruddy complexion and a twenty-one-year-old shoemaker who was 5’7¾” inches tall with hazel eyes, dark hair and a fair complexion. Following completion of their joint tenure of service, they were both honorably discharged at Camp Bidwell in Colorado.

After securing his honorable discharge, William Sweger returned to the East Coast where, sometime during the late 1870s or early 1880s, he settled in Boston, Massachusetts, found work as a clerk and, on 23 January 1883, wed Rosa Gollar. A twenty-four-year-old immigrant from Germany, she was a daughter of John and Mary Gollar. Sadly, their life together ended when Rosa widowed William just shy of their second anniversary when she died from leucocythemia at the City Hospital in Boston on 15 January 1885.

Boston city directories and other records of this era documented that William Sweger continued to work as a clerk while residing in Boston through at least the early 1890s, but that by 1892, he had switched jobs to become a “laborer,” and by 1893, was experiencing a marked decline in his health due to the rheumatism he had begun experiencing in 1880. On 15 June 1893, he was admitted to U.S. Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Togus, Maine, where he remained until his death from heart disease on 1 June 1894. The admissions ledger for the home simply states that he was “Buried in Home Cemetery, Grave #1117, Sec. F, Row 5” (with the handwritten notation “#29”). At the time of his death, his personal holdings included just $2.01 in U.S. Civil War Pension money and belongings valued at $11.93, which were given to his brother Joshua Sweger, who was reportedly living in Boston, according to that soldiers’ home ledger.

A few short years later, Joshua Sweger (1838-1897) then also departed from the world, passing away at home in Perry County, Pennsylvania on 8 November 1897. Predeceased by his infant sons, Otis O. Sweger (1866-1867) and Harry F. Sweger (1872-1873), Joshua Sweger was survived by his widow, Mary A. (Fickes) Sweger, whom he had married circa 1864, and their son Samuel B. Sweger (1868-1922), a carpenter. Joshua Sweger was laid to rest at the Newport Cemetery in Newport, Perry County.

Note: A member of his local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) post, Joshua Sweger had served as a private with Company A of the 12th Pennsylvania Reserve Corps (also known as the 41st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry) from the time of his enrollment at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on 15 June 1861 until his transfer to the 190th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on 31 May 1864. His final muster out occurred on 21 December 1865, according to his index cards in the Pennsylvania Civil War Veterans’ Card File in Harrisburg.

During his tenure with the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves/41st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Private Josiah Sweger’s regiment participated in the Expedition to Grinnell’s Farm and Action at Dranesville (1861), McDowell’s Advance on Falmouth, Virginia (1862), the Battles of Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, Glendale, Groveton and Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg (1862), the “Mud March” (January 1863), the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863), the Bristoe Campaign (1863), the Rapidan Campaign (1864), and the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Harris Farm, North Anna, and Totopotomoy (1864).

During his tenure of service with the 190th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Private Joshua Sweger most likely would also have participated in the Battle of Cold Harbor and Assault on/Siege of Petersburg (June 1864), the Battle of the Crater (July 1864), the Battle of Hatcher’s Run (February 1865), and the Appomattox Campaign (spring 1865), including the Battles of White Oak Road and Five Forks and the Surrender of Lee’s Army at Appomattox Court House (April 1865).

Military records in 1861 described Private Joshua Sweger as being a twenty-three-year-old carpenter from Perry County, Pennsylvania who was 5’8” tall with dark hair, dark eyes, and a dark complexion.

The next year, The News of Newport reported in its 7 April 1898 edition that “Elkanah Sweger and his son Charles were in town Friday” [1 April], and that they had “removed from Markelville to the farm, near Eshcol, where Charles will do the farming.”

Residing in Saville Township at the dawn of a new century with his wife of thirty-three years, Elkanah Sweger was still somewhat engaged in farming, and was shown on that year’s federal census as being able to read and write. Also residing at his home were his son Alfred, and Beulah E. Kerr, who was described by that year’s census enumerator as an eight-year-old “daughter” of Elkanah and Ellen. Alfred worked as a day laborer while Beulah attended school.

Illness, Death and Interment

In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day in 1901, The News of Newport reported in its 16 May edition that:

Elkanah Sweger of Saville township was in town on Monday” [13 May], “not in the best of health, we regret to say, for which reason he wishes to sell his farm. He informed us that Rev. E. G. Baker will be the orator at the Memorial Day ceremonies at Eshcol on the 30th inst., and that he hoped to secure the services of the Newport Band for the same occasion. There are now seventeen graves to be decorated in the Eshcol cemetery and nowhere else in Perry county is greater effort made to properly observe the Day from year to year.

Less than a year later, Elkanah Sweger answered his final bugle call. Following his death from consumption (tuberculosis) at his home in Eshcol on 18 April 1902, he was laid to rest at the Eshcol Cemetery in Eshcol, Perry County with military honors provided by his comrades from the nearby G.A.R. Post in Newport.

According to his obituary in The Perry County Democrat, he was “a well-known and respected citizen of Saville township” who was predeceased by his daughter, Minnie, and was survived by his wife and “children: Harvey, of Manning, Iowa; Charles, at home, and a step son, Alfred,” as well as “brothers and sisters: John, of Marysville; Lewis, of Shermansdale; George, of Elliottsburg; Mrs. Albert Kane [sic], of Harrisburg; Mrs. Michael Loy, of Alinda; and Mrs. George H. Wilfert, of Boston.”

Follow-up news coverage in the 8 May 1902 edition of The News of Newport noted that “Harvey Sweger, who had been at Eshcol attending the funeral of his father, Elkanah Sweger, who died on the 28th ult., left on Monday [5 May] for his home at Manning, Iowa,” and that Harvey “was accompanied to town by his mother and brother Charles.”

Elkanah’s widow, M. Ellen Sweger, applied for a Civil War Widow’s Pension on 29 April, and was awarded pension support in the amount of $12 per month, beginning on 26 March 1903.

What Happened to Elkanah Sweger’s Wife and Children?

As one century waned and a new one progressed, Elkanah Sweger’s children began to make their own way in the world. On 22 August 1894, Elkanah’s son, Harvey A. Sweger, wed May Edith Stanley (1872-1964) in Ogle, Illinois. His new wife was an Illinois native and daughter of Virginians John A. Stanley (1843-1917) and Lucy Emily (McDonald) Stanley (1843-1903).

Four years later, on 18 February 1898, Harvey and May Sweger welcomed the birth of daughter Opal Lucille Sweger (1898-1980), who was born on 18 February 1898 and would later go on to marry Cedric E. Marshall.

In 1900, the trio resided in Warren Township, Carroll County, Iowa, where Harvey was employed as a “creameryman.” Census records show that his wife May had previously given birth to one other child, but that that child had not survived.

By 1902, Harvey had become a traveling salesman, and the trio had become a foursome with the arrival of daughter Eula Dorothy Sweger (1902-1968) in Manning, Carroll County on 18 June 1902. Iowa State Census records would later document that, although Harvey had only been able to attend school through the eighth grade, both of his daughters would go on to complete four years of college.

Before another decade passed, a federal census taker was knocking on the door of the Sweger family’s longtime homestead in Saville Township, Perry County, Pennsylvania. That April of 1910, the enumerator noted that M. Ellen Sweger had been widowed (by Elkanah Sweger), but will still living comfortably thanks to her own income. Residing with her at this time were her sons Alfred and Charles, both of whom were laborers paid for doing odd jobs.

Four months later, on 4 August 1910, Charles S. Sweger left the family nest after marrying Minnie Leonard (1892-1926), a resident of Duncannon Township in Perry County who was a daughter of W. R. and Martha J. Leonard. The ceremony took place in the Perry County community of New Bloomfield.

On 8 September 1916, Ellen Sweger’s Civil War Widows’ Pension support was increased to $20 per month—just a few months before her death on Christmas Day that same year. She was subsequently laid to rest beside her husband at the Eshcol Cemetery. Following her death, son Alfred Sweger continued to live in the family’s Saville Township home.

On 19 February 1919, Charles and Minnie Sweger welcomed the birth of daughter, Mary E. Sweger (1919-2008), in Sunbury, Northumberland County.

Less than two years later, on 13 December 1921, Elkanah Sweger’s son/stepson, Alfred N. Sweger, lost his battle with epilepsy when he died at the age of 58 at the home of Elkanah’s other son, Charles, in Saville Township. Three days later, Alfred was also laid to rest at the Eshcol Cemetery.

Meanwhile, during the fall of 1925, Charles S. Sweger, who had been employed as a watchman for the Pennsylvania Railroad (P.R.R.), was caught up in an argument that turned violent. Wounded by a gunshot, he was transported to the Polyclinic Hospital in Dauphin County, where physicians determined that the bullet that had struck him had “lodged in 3rd dorsal vertebrae” (located in the middle of the group of five lumbar vertebrae in the lower back area of his spinal column). He went into shock and then succumbed to hemorrhage at the hospital on 28 October 1925—a diagnosis rendered by the coroner’s inquest that was held that same day, according to his Pennsylvania Death Certificate. He was buried at the Eshcol Cemetery on 3 November.

By 1930, Harvey Sweger and his wife, Ellen, had relocated to Des Moines in Polk County, Iowa, where Harvey was now the manager of a wholesale ice cream company. Also residing with the couple at this time were son Charles and three lodgers. A decade later, Harvey was retired. Still residing with him in Marshalltown, Marshall County were his wife and daughter Opal.

On 5 April 1946, Harvey A. Sweger suffered a coronary thrombosis (a blood clot inside the heart), and died at the Deaconess Hospital in Marshalltown, Marshall County, Iowa. His death certificate noted that he had been employed in the “creamery industry” (ice cream manufacturing). He was laid to rest at the Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown.

What Happened to Elkanah Sweger’s Other Siblings

Predeceased by Joshua Sweger (1838-1897), Absalom Sweger (1841-1877) and Sarah Rose Sweger (1844-1875), Elkanah Sweger’s surviving siblings went on to live well into the 20th century. Their lives unfolded as follows.

Lewis W. Sweger 

Lewis W. Sweger (1838-1897), attended Perry County’s public schools until he was in his teens. Trained as a carpenter under William Bausum of Juniata County, he undertook a summer apprenticeship and then worked as  a journeyman carpenter for four years. Sometime during this phase of his life, he also wed Elizabeth Reiber (possibly during  the early 1950s, although one source states that the couple married on 4 February 1858). She was a daughter of Benjamin and Sarah (Low) Reiber.

Together, he and his wife welcomed the births of children: Oliver (1855-1859), who was born on 1 May 1855 and died on 2 April 1859; Alfred T. (1858-1859), who was born on 17 December 1858 and died on 24 March 1859); Benjamin Luther (1860-1860), who was born on 23 March 1860 and died on 4 September 1860; and Thomas E. (1862-1881), who was born on 26 April 1862 and died on 4 January 1881.

Lewis Sweger supported his family through his carpentry business, which he had opened in 1859.

Just under four months later, Lewis W. Sweger enlisted for Civil War military service. After enrolling at Loysville in Perry County on 8 August 1862, he mustered at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg in as a corporal with Company H of the 133rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which was ordered to Washington, D.C. and then Rockville, Maryland, where it was attached to the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 5th Army Corps, U.S. Army of the Potomac in early September 1862. Ordered to move to Sharpsburg, Maryland later that month, he remained there with the 133rd Pennsylvania through the end of October before moving on with his regiment to Falmouth, Virginia, where he and his fellow 133rd Pennsylvanians remained until 17 November. Just under a month later, Corporal Lewis Sweger and his comrades were facing off with the enemy in the Battle of Fredericksburg from 12-15 December 1862. A month after that, they were slogging through the countryside during Burnside’s “Mud March” (from 20-24 January 1863) before being give a brief respite at Falmouth from February through late April 1863 when they were assigned to the Chancellorsville Campaign, beginning 27 April. Less than a week later, they were once again thrust into combat, engaging Confederate troops in the Battle of Chancellorsville from 1-5 May. Battered by both major engagements, Corporal Lewis Sweger’s regiment was honorably mustered out on 26 May 1863.

Note: Sometime during his regiment’s stay at Falmouth, Lewis W. Sweger was either able to return home on furlough or was able to reconnect with his wife in some other way (perhaps through her visiting the camp where he was stationed) because their daughter Clara M. Sweger, who would later go on to wed John Wilson, was born on 16 December 1863, meaning that she was likely conceived in April 1863. Another daughter, “Leforna” [sp?] was then born sometime in 1864. During this period of his life, Lewis Sweger continued to support his family via his carpentry business.

On 9 March 1865, Lewis Sweger re-enlisted for Civil War Service, enrolling and mustering in the same day in Carlisle, Pennsylvania as a private with Company H of the 28th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a regiment with a distinguished record of service, which included the Battle of Antietam (1862), Battle of Chancellorsville (1863), Battle of Gettysburg (1863), Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign (1863), Atlanta Campaign (1864), Battle of Resaca (1864), Golgotha Church (1864), Peach Tree Creek (1864), the Siege and subsequent Occupation of Atlanta (1864), Sherman’s March to the Sea (1864), and the Siege of Savannah (1864).

Military records at that time described him as being a twenty-eight-year-old carpenter residing in Carlisle, who was 5 feet, 8 and ½ inches tall with black hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.

Private Lewis Sweger was entering the 28th Pennsylvania as it was in the midst of the Union Army’s Campaign of the Carolinas, and may have been thrust into combat almost immediately upon connecting with his new regiment, which fought in the Battle of Bentonville from 19-21 March before occupying Goldsboro three days later, and then advancing on, and occupying Raleigh, North Carolina from 9-14 April 1865. Present for the surrender of Johnson’s Army at Bennett House on 26 April, he and his fellow 28th Pennsylvania Volunteers were then ordered to Richmond and then Washington, D.C., where they participated in the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies on 24 May. Attached to the 3rd Brigade, Bartlett’s Division, 22nd Corps, Department of Washington that summer, they were then officially mustered out on 18 July 1865.

Post-war, Lewis W. Sweger returned home to his wife and children in Perry County, became a deacon in his church. More children soon followed: Sarah Ann (born 5 August 1866), who was known as “Sadie” to family and friends and who would later wed George W. Mace, Maggie V., who was born on 21 October 1868 and who would later wed Sherman T. Dunkelberger, Harry E., who was born on 18 February 1871, Lewis E., who was born on 22 February 1873, Charles McClellan (1876-1942), who was born on 23 April 1876 and would grow up to become a teacher, and Bessie M. (1878-1880) who was born on  30 March 1878 and who died on 26 August 1880.

In declining health from organic heart disease during the latter part of the century, Lewis W. Sweger filed for his U.S. Civil War Pension on 12 July 1890, and retired from carpentry work in 1895. He died in Carroll Township, Perry County on 31 January 1906, and was interred at the Mt. Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery in Elliottsburg, Perry County on 4 February. His widow, Elizabeth (Reiber) Sweger followed him in death in 1910.

Mary Ellen (Sweger) Loy

Elkanah Sweger’s younger sister, Mary Ellen Sweger (1845-1919), wed Michael Loy on November 8, 1866. Together, the couple welcomed the births of two daughters: Emma Jane (1867-1932), who was born in Spring Township, Perry County on 7 May 1867 and went on to marry Thomas Ellsworth Kennedy in 1886; and Annie (1869-1944), who was born in Spring Township, Perry County on 29 October 1869 and went on to marry Robert McClure, who became Perry County’s Treasurer.

A retired widow, Mary Ellen suffered an episode of cerebral apoplexy on 14 January 1919 while visiting her daughter, Annie. She survived for eleven days, finally succumbing in Bloomfield, Perry County on 26 January. She was then also laid to rest at the Messiah Lutheran Church Cemetery in Elliottsburg on 29 January 1919. Her obituary in The Perry County Democrat on Wednesday, 29 January described her life and death as follows:

Mary Ellen, widow of Michael Loy, late of Spring township, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Robert A. McClure, in this borough, on Sunday morning at half past 5 o’clock, after having lain in a semi-paralyzed condition for nearly two weeks from the effects of a stroke which she had on the 14th instant. She suffered a previous stroke last fall, but it was very light, and she appeared to have recovered and to be in good health.

Mrs. Loy was a daughter of William and Anna (Bousum) Sweger [sic], and was born in Spring township, near Elliottsburg November 5, 1845. She was therefore aged 73 years, 2 months and 21 days at the time of death. She was married to Michael Loy, November 8, 1866. Two daughters survive, namely: Mrs. T. Ellsworth Kennedy, of Newport, and Mrs. R. A. McClure, of this place. The following named brothers and sisters are also living: Mrs. Emma Wilfert, of Boston; Mrs. Tillie Kane [sic], of Harrisburg; John Sweger, of Marysville; and George Sweger, of Spring township.

Mrs. Loy was a member of the Lutheran church and was a good, kind mother and a woman of high character. She will be sadly missed by her family and friends.

The funeral was held this afternoon [29 January 1919], with services at the house, conducted by Rev. A. R. Longanecker, of Loysville, assisted by Rev. J. W. Weeter, and burial was made in the Lutheran cemetery at Elliottsburg.

Emelin/Emeline (Sweger) Wilfert

Emelin/Emeline Sweger (1849-1919), who was known to family and friends as “Emma,” wed George Henry Wilfert in Perry County, Pennsylvania sometime around 1871. Her husband had just recently emigrated from Germany (in 1867).

Their first two children, Elizabeth and Clara, were born in Pennsylvania, respectively, in July 1875 and May 1877. Daughters Emma S. and Lillian were both born in Massachusetts—in December 1879 and August 1882—while son John Henry Wilfert (1890-1918) was born in Revere, Suffolk County, Massachusetts on 27 June 1890.

By June 1990, Emma (Sweger) Wilfert and her family were residing in Revere, Massachusetts, where her husband worked for a restaurant, daughters Elizabeth and Emma S. Wilfert were employed, respectively, as a saleswoman and bookkeeper, daughter Lillian was in college, and son John was in elementary school. According to that year’s federal census, Emma (Sweger) Wilfert’s husband, George, had become a naturalized citizen of the United States.

A decade later, the Wilfert household was still largely together and living at 220 Second Avenue in Revere, Massachusetts. Family patriarch George Wilfert was reported by that year’s federal census enumerator to have his “Own Income” while daughter Emma was employed as a bookkeeper at an iron foundry and daughter Lillian was working as a stenographer for a starch company.

By 1920, however, the household had shrunk to include just parents George and Emma Wilfert and their unmarried daughter Emma, who was employed as a stenographer for a machine shop. According to that year’s federal census, George Wilfert still owned and operated his restaurant.

John Calvin Sweger 

Following the end of the American Civil War, John Calvin Sweger (1853-1926) opted to enlist with the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars of the 1870s, and he did so with one of his brothers—William Sweger—right by his side.

After enrolling with the U.S. Army in Springfield, Illinois on 22 July 1872, the Sweger brothers mustered in with Company A of the 1st U.S. Cavalry—the same regiment that their older brother, Absalom had joined in 1869. Assigned to Company A (a different company than their brother), John C. Sweger became a saddler while William entered as a private. Serving from 22 August 1872 until 14 June 1877, their military records of 1872 described John C. Sweger and William Sweger as, respectively, a twenty-one-year-old shoemaker who was 5’7¾” tall with hazel eyes, dark hair and a fair complexion and a twenty-four-year-old farmer from Perry County who was 5’6¾” tall with hazel eyes, dark hair and a ruddy complexion. Following completion of their joint tenure of service, they were both honorably discharged at Camp Bidwell in Colorado.

After securing their discharge, the Sweger brothers returned to the East Coast where, sometime during the late 1870s or early 1880s, William settled in Boston, Massachusetts, found work as a clerk there, and married. John C. Sweger also evidently relocated to Boston sometime around the 1880s or 1890s because, when his brother died at the U.S. Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Togus, Maine on 1 June 1894, admissions personnel at the home noted that William Sweger’s personal effects were to be given to his brother Joshua Sweger, who was living at 117 Blackstone Street in Boston, according to their records.

However, before his stay in Boston, John C. Sweger had clearly returned home to Perry County, Pennsylvania and resumed his work as a shoemaker because he married Mary Jane Wax (1860-1933), a daughter of Henry and Rebecca Wax, and welcomed the births with her of children: Anna Bessie (1879-1907), who was born in Pennsylvania on 25 March 1879 and would grow up to marry Charles V. Simpson; Clara May (1883-1960), who was born in Pennsylvania on 8 June 1883 and would grow up to become a trauma nurse at a Pennsylvania hospital and marry John Harry Sweeney; Benjamin Franklin (1885-1960), who was born in Pennsylvania on 13 January 1885; and Charles Leighton Sweger (1894-1948), who was born in Marysville, Perry County, Pennsylvania on 27 September 1894 and who would grow up to marry Margaret May O’Leary.

Note: John C. Sweger’s sister, Emma (Sweger) Wilfert, was also living in Boston with her husband around this time. According to Boston city directories of the period, her husband operated a restaurant on Blackstone Street. So, it is also possible that John C. Sweger did not actually relocate to Boston but, instead, received mail from the soldiers’ home at his brother-in-law’s restaurant.

In 1918, the Harrisburg Telegraph reported in its 23 September edition that “Charles Sweger, a mechanic in the Tank Corps at Camp Colt, Gettysburg, spent a furlough over the weekend with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John C. Sweger.”

Main Street, Marysville, Perry County, Pennsylvania, circa 1910 (public domain).

Following his death in Marysville, Perry County on 9 June 1926, John C. Sweger was laid to rest at that community’s Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

His widow, Mary Jane (Wax) Sweger followed him in death on 19 March 1933. According to her obituary in the 23 March 1933 Duncannon Record:

Mrs. Mary Jane Sweger, 79, widow of John C. Sweger, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. J. H. Sweeney, Dahlian street, Marysville, Sunday morning after an illness of only several days duration. She is survived by the following children: Mrs. Sweeney and Charles L. Sweger, both of Marysville; B. F. Sweger, of Coatesville, and two sisters, Mrs. Thomas Reeder, Newport R.D., and Mrs. Robert Kingsborough, Carlisle.

The funeral services were conducted from the home of her daughter, Mrs. Sweeney, of Marysville, with the Rev. Charles R. Hartmon, pastor of Trinity Reformed Church, Marysville, officiating. Burial was made in the Chestnut Grove cemetery. Mr. Sweger preceded her in death several years ago. The Swegers were lifelong residents of Marysville where Mr. Sweger for many years prior to his death conducted a shoe repair shop.

George Washington Sweger (1857-1950)

Elkanah Sweger’s youngest brother, George Washington Sweger (1857-1930), who had followed in their father’s footsteps and become a farmer, also wed and started his own family. Following his marriage to Kathrine Jane (“Katie”) Campbell (1858-1908), he welcomed the births with her of children: Annie E. (1880-1955); Daisy May (1884-1922), who was born in May 1844 and went on to marry Lewis Wesley Sweger, a son of Aaron Sweger and Martha Ann Campbell Sweger; Harry Franklin (1886-1958), who was born on 7 May 1866 and later wed Erma Cromwell; Elmer R. (1888-1892), who was born in August 1888; Clarence (1891-1975), who was born in Saville Township, Perry County on 7 March 1891 and later wed Gertrude E. Fuller; Pearl J. (1893-1920), who was born on 1 August 1893 and went on to marry William Eli Sheaffer; Russell Miland (1895-1958), who was born on 13 October 1895 and later wed Mary Ethel Saylor; Ralph George (1897-1942), who was born on 31 August 1897 and went on to marry Esther M. Rothrock; and Olive S. Sweger (1900-1900), who was born on 10 October 1900 and died on 28 October 1900.

Preceded in death by his wife (in 1908) and four of his children, he waged a heroic fight against cancer in his later years, finally losing his battle on 27 October 1930. According to his obituary, he had been “a well-known resident of near Elliottsburg” who “was an industrious farmer, a member of the Reformed Church, and was highly esteemed by all who knew him.” His funeral was held at the Lutheran Church on 30 October. He was then also buried at the Messiah Lutheran Church Cemetery in Elliottsburg.

Matilda J. (Sweger) Cain

Horse Drawn Trolleys, 2nd and Market Streets, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, circa 1890 (public domain).

Matilda J. (Sweger) Cain (1855-1942), who was known as “Tillie” to family and friends, married Albert Cain in Perry County sometime around 1870. Together, they welcomed the births of children: Charles C. (1874-1962), who was born in Perry County on 29 January 1874 and who grew up to wed Jane S. Long; Florence Ida (1881-1920), who was born on 10 May 1881 and who grew up to marry George C. Collier circa 1900; Edgar E. (1885-1962), who was born on 7 July 1885 and later wed Mary Margaret Kline; Roy Albert (1887-1963), who was born in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania on 19 October 1887; Pearl Matilda (1892-1985), who was born in Harrisburg on 14 December 1892 and grew up to wed Melvin O. Garman, who had worked for The Patriot newspaper in Harrisburg before serving with Company F of the Third Depot Battalion, Signal Corps, American Expeditionary Forces during World War I; Mary A. (1895-1976), who would grow up to marry Clyde S. McCauley; and Herbert A. Cain (1897-1965), who would grow up to marry Emma Elizabeth Stahl.

A member of the Sixth Street United Brethren Church in Harrisburg, Tillie (Sweger) Cain was widowed by her husband in 1924. After a long, full life, she died at the home of her daughter, Mary (Cain) McCauley, on 16 February 1942, and was laid to rest beside her husband at the East Harrisburg Cemetery.

Sources:

  1. Alfred N. Sweger, in Death Certificates (file no. 119162, registered no. 21). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, 1921.
  2. “Another Old Soldier Gone” (Elkanah Sweger’s obituary). Bloomfield, Pennsylvania: The Perry County Democrat, 7 May 1902.
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