Captain Theodore Mink — A Whaler and Warrior Who Ran Off to Join the Circus

Captain Theodore Mink, Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (shown here as a lieutenant in 1864, courtesy of Julian Burley; used with permission).

 

The circus is a jealous wench. Indeed that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire drinks blood — who kills the brightest stars in her crown and will allow no private life for those who serve her; wrecking their homes, ruining their bodies, and destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her insatiable demands. She is all of these things, and yet, I love her as I love nothing else on earth. — Henry Ringling North, co-owner, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1936-1967

 

The expectations of average men and women in mid-19th century America were often modest and achievable—demanding, but productive labor performed in a stable work environment, a roof over one’s head with enough pocket money to afford an ample supply of daily bread, and an evening’s ease in the glow of a warm fire, surrounded by family and friends.

The possibility of grand voyages and cross-country treks to lesser visited lands were what small town Pennsylvania boys read about in books, dreams turned into reality only by the most stout hearted and swashbuckling of pioneer souls—men like Theodore Mink.

Formative Years

Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania sometime between 1837 and 1840, Theodore Mink was a son of Pennsylvania natives Sarah and Henry Mink, a coach maker in Lehigh and Northampton Counties.

Note: Although one source indicates that Theodore Mink was born on 1 September 1818 and died on 7 January 1867, his 1890 obituary confirmed that he died in Philadelphia in 1890 and had been born sometime around 1837. Military records also confirm that he was born sometime around 1840, and his official death certificate issued by the City of Philadelphia noted that he was 50 years old at the time of his death on 7 January 1890.

Announcement by Theodore Mink’s father, Henry, that he resumed coach making and repair above Hagenbuch’s Hotel on 8th Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania (Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, 10 April 1866, public domain).

Apprenticed and trained by his father in the coach making business during his youth, he lost interest in the trade sometime during his teenage years, and made the decision to leave all he knew in search of greater adventure. Sometime during the 1850s, he tried his hand at whaling, and worked in that industry for roughly four and a half years, according to his obituary. (Penned by a newspaperman nearly half a century later, that obituary may need to be taken with a grain of salt, however, since it contained several factual errors, including incorrect data related to Mink’s military service.)

What is known for certain is that, in 1860, Theodore Mink was on record as residing with his parents in Allentown’s 3rd Ward, where he assisted his father in the coach making and repair business.

But just one year later, he was lured once again by the siren song of adventure—this time as his nation descended into one of its darkest and most divisive periods in history.

Civil War—Three Months’ Service

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

South Carolina (20 December 1860). Mississippi (9 January 1861). Florida (10 January 1861). Alabama (11 January 1861). Georgia (19 January 1861). Louisiana (26 January 1861). Texas (1 February 1861). One by one, southern states had begun their secession from the union just as Americans were passing their nation’s torch of leadership from President James Buchanan to President Abraham Lincoln.

As conditions deteriorated at the federal government’s last stronghold in Charleston, South Carolina—Fort Sumter, the tensions between America’s North and South boiled over, sweeping Pennsylvanians into a conflict many had hoped to avoid. According to historian James L. Schaadt:

On the 13th of April, 1861, being the day following the bombardment of Fort Sumter, and two days previous to President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers, the citizens of Northampton and Lehigh counties called and held a public meeting in the square at Easton, ‘to consider the posture of affairs and to take measures for the support of the National Government.’ Eloquent and patriotic speeches were made and the First Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers was formed, as the result of the meeting. There were then in existence three military companies at Allentown: The Jordan Artillerists, commanded by Captain (later Major) W. H. Gausler; the Allen Rifles, organized in 1849 and commanded by Captain (later Colonel) T. H. Good, and The Allen Infantry, organized about 1859 and commanded by Captain (later Major) Thomas Yeager. The Artillerists and the Rifles consolidated and became Company I of the First Regiment, and with the other companies of the regiment, were mustered in on April 20, 1861, Captain Good, having been chosen lieutenant colonel of the regiment. Captain Gausler was selected to command Company I.

No sooner had the news of the attack on Fort Sumter come to Allentown than Captain Yeager of the Allen Infantry hurried to Harrisburg and tendered the services of himself and his command to Governor Curtin. He received one of the first, if not the first, captain’s commission issued for the Civil War, and with it in his pocket hurried back to Allentown and called upon his company for volunteers to defend the National Capitol, then threatened by the Secessionists.

The company had been organized in 1859, held regular drills, and had arrived at a fair stage of efficiency in Scott’s Tactics. The uniform was of gray cloth with black and gold bullion trimmings. The company paraded for the first time in the new uniform on Washington’s birthday, 1861, at Philadelphia, on the occasion of the raising of the Flag over Independence Hall by President Lincoln, and with the Allen Rifles and the Jordan Artillerists accompanied the President to Harrisburg. The men of the Allen Infantry carried old-fashioned flint-lock guns with bayonets. The guns were generally ineffective and unreliable. ‘They kicked and spit in our faces,’ as one of the survivors says. The company was not otherwise equipped for the field, the men having neither great-coats nor [sic] blankets, knapsacks or canteens. The meeting and drill room was in an upper story of [what was at the time of Schaadt’s writing in 1911] No. 716 Hamilton Street, Allentown.

On coming back from Harrisburg on the evening of the 16th of April, Captain Yeager opened the list for volunteers in the company’s armory and called upon the members of his company to enlist for the service of the United States…. [B]y noon of the next day 47 had signed the roll. The excited populace crowded the armory and the streets; but Captain Yeager determined to go that afternoon without waiting for more signers. The citizens packed a box with necessary articles of clothing, charged themselves with the care and support of the families of the departing men, and prepared a farewell dinner at the Eagle Hotel, Market (now Monument) Square, placing under each plate a five-dollar note, contributed by citizens….

[A]t 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 17th of April the gallant band of volunteers, headed by Captain Yeager and surrounded and followed by a shouting, cheering, crying crowd of citizens, marched down Hamilton Street, lightly covered with snow, to the East Penn Junction and took [the] train to Harrisburg….

Although Theodore Mink was not among the first group of Allen Infantrymen to enlist that day, he did leave his job as a Lehigh Valley blacksmith to enlist with the Allen Infantry shortly thereafter. As a result, he was one of a handful of men who became known as First Defenders,” and was on hand when his unit and other Pennsylvania regiments were attacked by a mob of southern sympathizers in Baltimore, Maryland during the late afternoon of Thursday, 18 April 1861. After escaping the riot and making their way to Washington, D.C., they were stationed at the U.S. Capitol Building, where they were quartered in the office of John Breckenridge, who had resigned from his elected position as vice president of the United States in 1859 to accept an elected seat in the U.S. Senate (only to later abandon his responsibilities with that office in September of 1861 when he chose to side with the southern states that had caused America’s secession crisis).

Equipped with muskets and minie ball ammunition from the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Private Theodore Mink and his fellow Allen Infantrymen were greeted by U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward and President Abraham Lincoln, “who shook hands with every man,” according to Schaadt. After twelve days of Capitol guard duty, they were then attached to the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 25th Regiment as Company G. Transferred on 1 May to the United States Arsenal on the Potomac River across from Alexandria, Virginia, they helped guard the stockpile of more than 70,000 rifles and cannon housed there. On 10 May, they changed into the same blue uniforms worn by members of the regular U.S. Army.

They then marched for Rockville, Maryland on 29 June, to Poolesville the next day, and on to Point of Rocks and Sandy Hook. After engaging in skirmishes with Rebel troops on the Fourth of July, they then moved on to Williamsport on 6 July, crossed the Potomac River, and began a brief occupation of Martinsburg before heading to Bunker Hill on 15 July. After stops in Charleston and Harper’s Ferry on 17 and 18 July, they were ordered to head for home, and were honorably discharged at Harrisburg on 23 July 1861.

Knowing the fight to preserve America’s union was far from over, Theodore Mink then promptly reenlisted for a three-year term of service.

Civil War—47th Pennsylvania Volunteers

Re-upping for an additional tour of duty, Theodore Mink re-enrolled in his hometown of Allentown on 5 August 1861. He then officially re-mustered on 30 August at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania as a Sergeant with Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry—a regiment newly founded by Tilghman H. Good, the man who would be named that organization’s commanding officer and who would later become a three-term mayor of Allentown.

Note: Company I was one of the first two companies from the borough of Allentown to join the Pennsylvania Volunteers’ 47th Regiment, and was also the largest of the regiment’s ten companies to muster in during the summer and early fall of 1861 with most of its one hundred and two members logged in as available for duty on 30 August—the same day that Coleman A. G. Keck was commissioned as a Captain with the 47th Pennsylvania and placed in charge of I Company. Although several members of the company had performed their Three Months’ Service prior to joining the 47th, most were Keck-recruited novices.

Military records at the time of Theodore Mink’s re-enlistment described him as being a twenty-eight-year-old blacksmith and resident of Allentown, Pennsylvania who was 5’9” tall with black hair, black eyes and a dark complexion.

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

Following a brief light infantry training period, Sergeant Theodore Mink and his company were sent by train with the 47th Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., where they were stationed at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights near Georgetown, about two miles from the White House, beginning 21 September. Henry Wharton, a Musician with the regiment’s C Company, penned the following update the next day to his hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American:

After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.

After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.

We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday [21 September 1861] without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on dis-covering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.

Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent man and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.

…. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.

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

Then, on 24 September, the soldiers of Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers became part of the federal service when the regiment officially mustered into the U.S. Army. Three days later, on 27 September, 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:

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 [sic] 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 (U.S. Library of Congress, public doain).

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” due to a large, nearby chestnut tree. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.

On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a mid-October letter home, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to lead the entire 47th Regiment) reported that companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops. On 13 October, Henry Wharton described their duties in his own missive:

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 his letter of 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed still more details about life at Camp Griffin:

This morning our brigade was out for inspection; arms, accoutrements [sic], clothing, knapsacks, etc, all were out through a thorough examination, and if I must say it myself, our company stood best, A No. 1, for cleanliness. We have a new commander to our Brigade, Brigadier General Brannen [sic], of the U.S. Army, and if looks are any criterion, I think he is a strict disciplinarian and one who will be as able to get his men out of danger as he is willing to lead them to battle….

The boys have plenty of work to do, such as piquet [sic] duty, standing guard, wood-chopping, police duty and day drill; but then they have the most substantial food; our rations consist of fresh beef (three times a week) pickled pork, pickled beef, smoked pork, fresh bread, daily, which is baked by our own bakers, the Quartermaster having procured portable ovens for that purpose, potatoes, split peas, beans, occasionally molasses and plenty of good coffee, so you see Uncle Sam supplies us plentifully….

A few nights ago our Company was out on piquet [sic]; it was a terrible night, raining very hard the whole night, and what made it worse, the boys had to stand well to their work and dare not leave to look for shelter. Some of them consider they are well paid for their exposure, as they captured two ancient muskets belonging to Secessia. One of them is of English manufacture, and the other has the Virginia militia mark on it. They are both in a dilapidated condition, but the boys hold them in high estimation as they are trophies from the enemy, and besides they were taken from the house of Mrs. Stewart, sister to the rebel Jackson who assassinated the lamented Ellsworth at Alexandria. The honorable lady, Mrs. Stewart, is now a prisoner at Washington and her house is the headquarters of the command of the piquets [sic]….

Since the success of the secret expedition, we have all kinds of rumors in camp. One is that our Brigade will be sent to the relief of Gen. Sherman, in South Carolina. The boys all desire it and the news in the ‘Press’ is correct, that a large force is to be sent there, I think their wish will be gratified….

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

On 21 November, the 47th participated in another morning divisional review, followed by brigade and division drills that afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, Generals Smith and Brannan advised Colonel Good that the 47th Pennsylvania had acquitted itself as “the best regiment in the whole division.” Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan ordered that brand new Springfield rifles be obtained and distributed to every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers in recognition of their group’s outstanding performance that day.

But their frequent marches and guard duties in rainy weather gradually began to wear a number of the men down. As a result, more 47th Pennsylvanians fell ill, and more died.

But Theodore Mink, still sturdy and stout hearted, soldiered on.

1862

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

Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862. Marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, they were then transported by train to Alexandria, where they boarded the steamship City of Richmond. After completing a brief voyage along the Potomac River, they arrived at the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before being marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C.

The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.

At 4 p.m. on the afternoon of 27 January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began steaming away for Florida, deemed strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida (Harper’s Weekly, 1864, public domain).

By early February 1862, the 47th Pennsylvanians were guarding the streets of Key West. Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics, they also felled trees, built new roads, and strengthened the installation’s fortifications as part of their garrison duties at Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, they participated in a formal parade for residents and then mingled with area residents at local church services.

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.

Two months later, Captain Coleman A. G. Keck was ordered to return home to recruit additional men for the regiment. Meanwhile, his I Company men continued their garrison duty. Tragically, while Captain Keck was away, Sergeant Charles Nolf, Jr. was accidentally killed via “friendly fire” in the southern part of Key West on 9 June. According to Schmidt, et. al.:

The 24 year old [sic] bricklayer from Allentown was shot through the brain and killed instantly while he was on the beach gathering shells with a few of his friends from the company. In front of the Sergeant and his friends were four members of the 90th New York with loaded rifles on their shoulders. One of them was carelessly playing with the trigger of his gun, ‘when bang! off went the load, the ball entering the forehead of Nolf, killing him instantly.’ Some members of his company ‘were bent on revenge’, but an investigation proved it an accident, although the carrying of loaded rifles was strictly prohibited….

Fort Walker, Hilton Head, South Carolina, circa 1861 (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, public domain).

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 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 duty.

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).

Capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida and Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina

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

Sent on a return expedition to Florida as September 1862 waned, Sergeant Theodore Mink and the men of Company I saw their first truly intense moments of service as their unit participated with the 47th Pennsylvania and other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1-3 October.

Commanded by Brigadier-General John M. Brannan, the 47th Pennsylvanians disembarked with a 1,500-plus Union force at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats. Taking point, the 47th Pennsylvanians led the 3rd Brigade through twenty-five miles of dense, pine forested swamps.

By the time the expedition ended, the Union brigade had forced the Confederate Army to abandon its artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and had paved the way for the Union Army to occupy the town of Jacksonville, Florida. Along the way, two companies from the 47th Pennsylvania (E and K) also helped capture the Gov. Milton, a Confederate steamer that had equipped the bluff and surrounding Rebel troop placements with men and supplies.

According to the 47th’s commanding officer, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, skirmishers from the 47th “came on one of the enemy camps and we came on them so suddenly that their tents were still blazing” around 3 p.m. that first day of the expedition. “Company I commanded by Capt. Keck, scouting ahead of the advance, surprised the Rebels … we reached the first rebel picket post at 4 PM. They, it seemed had already heard of our coming, and knowing that resistance was useless, they burned their … cavalry … camp and skedaddled.”

Integration of the Regiment

Meanwhile, back at the 47th Pennsylvania’s base of operations in South Carolina, officers of the regiment who had been ordered to remain behind to perform occupation duties in and around Beaufort, enrolled several young to middle-aged Black men who had endured plantation enslavement near Beaufort and Hilton Head. As a result of their actions, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry became an integrated regiment on 5 October 1862.

Battle of Pocotaligo

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

From 21-23 October 1862, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers 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 enroute 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.

Still, the Union soldiers grappled with the Confederates where they found them that day, pursuing the Rebels for four miles as they retreated to the bridge. The 47th then relieved the 7th Connecticut but, after two hours of intense fighting, it became clear that the enemy was just too well armed. As their ammunition began to run out, the 47th Pennsylvanians received orders to withdraw to Mackay’s Point.

Losses were significant. Two officers and eighteen enlisted men from the 47th died; two officers and one hundred and fourteen enlisted men were wounded.

Upon returning to Hilton Head, several 47th Pennsylvanians were assigned to serve as the funeral Honor Guard for Major-General Ormsby M. Mitchel, and awarded the high honor of firing the salute over his grave. (The commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South, Mitchel had succumbed to yellow fever on 30 October. Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, was later named for him in recognition of his efforts to free Black men, women and children from enslavement.)

1863

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

By 1863, Captain Keck and the men of I Company were once again based with the 47th Pennsylvania in Florida. Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November of 1862, much of 1863 was spent guarding federal installations in Florida as part of the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I garrisoned Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson in Florida’s Dry Tortugas.

Sometime during this phase of duty, Captain Coleman Keck was appointed Post Treasurer via Special Order No. 26. Serving on the 47th Pennsylvania’s Council of Administration, he reviewed and approved pay for the 47th’s bandsmen and bakers. He also periodically visited Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.

Life here was rife with difficulties, however, as soldiers battled dysentery, tropical diseases and other discomforts. In a letter home, Private Pretz observed that “Capt. Coleman Keck is the roughest and most irreligious officer we have, it is shocking to hear him curse; and none of the officers have respect for the teachings of the bible.” Pretz also criticized his commanding officer and Rev. William D. C. Rodrock, claiming:

[The chaplain] is a poor specimen. He don’t do much good. He is too much of a humbug. Nobody respects him…. Capt. Keck is reported sick in quarters. Nothing serious, I’m sure, or else he would be in hospital. Whenever an officer feels indisposed he generally causes himself to be reported sick in quarters. I feel a desire to study Luther’s Smaller Catechism. I wish, father, you would send me one by mail. God is good. He hears and answers my prayers.

Even so, most of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers opted to re-enlist for additional terms of service. Among those re-upping at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida on 8 August 1863 was Sergeant Theodore Mink—a three-time enlistee.

1864

Departing just a few short months later due to his failing battle with liver disease, I Company Captain Coleman A. G. Keck resigned his commission on 22 February 1864, thereby giving regimental commanders the opportunity to put a healthier man in charge of Company I just as the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were about to make another entry in the annals of American History.

Red River Campaign

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

On 25 February 1864—three days after Captain Keck’s resignation, the men of Company I and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers set off for one of their most challenging engagements. Steaming first for New Orleans via the Charles Thomas, the 47th arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February, and were then shipped by train to Brashear City (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. (Previously assigned to detached duty and unable to reach Louisiana until 23 March, the men from Company A were effectively placed on yet another 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.)

From 14-26 March, the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched for Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana, by way of New IberiaVermilionville (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 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.”

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

Often short on food and water, the men encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before marching again the next day from morning until noon.

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 in 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 as those who were uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. Finally, after midnight, the surviving Union troops were ordered to withdraw to Pleasant Hill (now the Village of Pleasant Hill).

The next day (9 April), 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.

Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, 9 April 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 7 May 1864, public domain).

By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner and son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, 47th Pennsylvanians were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.

Casualties were once again severe. Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Alexander was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. Corporal William Frack of I Company was killed in action while I Company’s Sergeant William H. Halderman (alternate spelling “Haltiman”) and Corporal William H. Meyers of were among those who were wounded in battle.

Still others from the 47th were captured, marched roughly one hundred and twenty-five miles to Camp Ford, the largest Confederate Army prison camp west of the Mississippi River, and were held there as prisoners of war (POWs) until released during prisoner exchanges beginning 22 July 1864. Sadly, at least two men from the 47th never made it out of that camp alive; another 47th Pennsylvanian died while being treated at the Confederate Army hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th Pennsylvanians fell back to Grand Ecore, where they remained for 11 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 as shown on this map of Union troop positions for the Battle of Cane River 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 Lt.-Col. Joseph Bailey, the officer overseeing its construction, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 eased 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).

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.

Union Army base at Morganza Bend, Louisiana, circa 1863-1865 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

As Wharton noted, the surviving members of the 47th marched for Simmesport and then Morganza, where they made camp again. While encamped there, 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.

The regiment then moved on once again, finally arriving back in New Orleans in late June. On the Fourth of July, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers received orders to return to the East Coast. In response, 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.)

Arriving in the Washington, D.C. area as the Battle of Fort Stevens was under way (11-12 July 1864), the men from Companies A, C, E, F, H, and I were not engaged in the fighting there, but may have had a memorable encounter there with President Abraham Lincoln.

Officially attached to the U.S. Army’s 19th Corps at this juncture, this group of 47th Pennsylvanians soon found themselves back in combat—at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia (17-19 July) under the command of Major-General David Hunter. Also known as the Battle of Cool Spring, the Union Army chased down and then engaged the Confederate troops of Lieutenant-General Jubal Early as they retreated from their loss at Fort Stevens. Able to pry loose the hold that the Confederates had on Berryville, Virginia, these Union troops helped pave the way for Major-General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan’s tide-turning 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August, the first day of the month arrived with the promotion of a man who would first become the commanding officer of his company before ultimately being advanced to a key leadership role with the regiment. First Lieutenant Levi Stuber of I Company was now Captain Levi Stuber.

The next month—September 1864—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, along with a number of men from I Company. All mustered out 18 September 1864 upon expiration of their respective service terms.

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, Virgina, 19 September 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

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

The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. After advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. As they reached 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 Brigadier-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.

On the day of the Union’s success at Opequan (19 September 1864), several men from I Company received promotions, including First Sergeant Theodore Mink, who advanced to the rank of Second Lieutenant. Corporals William H. Meyers and Edwin Kemp were promoted to the rank of Sergeant while Privates Thomas N. Burke and Allen Knauss became corporals.

Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out to skirmish before making camp at Cedar Creek. Moving forward, they and other members of the 47th Pennsylvania 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 frontline experience, including John Peter Shindel Gobin, a man who would later go on to become Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Battle of Cedar Creek, October 1864

Sheridan rallying his troops, Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

It was during the fall of 1864 that Major-General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s crops and farming infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents—civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops began peeling off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally.

From a military standpoint, 19 October was another impressive, but heartrending day. Early’s men, who had launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces during the wee hours that morning, were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates captives—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!’”

After the Union’s counterattack punched Early’s forces into submission, the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas. Observed Bates:

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. Among the dead was Sergeant William Pyers, the C Company man who had so gallantly rescued the flag at Pleasant Hill just six months earlier. His son, C Company Drummer Boy Samuel Pyers saw him fall.

As with the Red River Campaign, men from the 47th Pennsylvania were captured by Rebel soldiers and carted off to Confederate prisons—this time to Andersonville (Georgia), Libby (Richmond, Virginia) and Salisbury (North Carolina). Of those held as POWs at this time, only a handful survived.

On 23 October 1864, Second Lieutenant Theodore Mink’s unit became another integrated one within the regiment with Order No. 70, which directed that John Bullard be transferred from the 47th’s Company D to I Company. Bullard, who had mustered in as a “Colored Cook” while the regiment was stationed in Louisiana, would continue to serve with I Company for the duration of the war.

The 47th Pennsylvanians were then ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester, Virginia from November through most of December. On 3 November 1864, Second Lieutenant Theodore Mink was promoted again—this time to the rank of First Lieutenant.

Rested and somewhat healed, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were moved again—this time, just five days before Christmas, to Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia, where they were assigned to outpost and guard duties.

1865 – 1866

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

Assigned first to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah in February 1865, the men of the 47th then moved, via Winchester and Kernstown, back to Washington, D.C. Assigned to defend the nation’s capital beginning 19 April (following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln), First Lieutenant Theodore Mink and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians encamped near Fort Stevens, and received new uniforms.

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 Mary Surratt and other key Lincoln assassination conspirators during the early days of their imprisonment.

On 22 May 1865, First Lieutenant Theodore Mink was commissioned as Captain and placed in charge of I Company, following the promotion of Levi Stuber to the rank of Major and service on the regiment’s central command staff. As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania then participated in the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May.

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

On their final southern tour, Captain Theodore Mink and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Again in Dwight’s Division, this time they were with the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Relieving the 165th New York Volunteers in July, they then quartered in the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury at Charleston, South Carolina.

Finally, beginning on Christmas day of that year, Captain Theodore Mink and his men began to honorably muster out at Charleston, South Carolina—a process which continued for the entire regiment through early January. Following a stormy voyage home, the weary 47th Pennsylvanians disembarked in New York City, and were then shipped to Philadelphia by train where they were honorably discharged at Camp Cadwalader.

Return to Civilian Life

An example of the Forepaugh Circus advertising bills that would have been posted by Theodore Mink (circa 1880s, public domain).

After receiving his honorable discharge paperwork from the military at Camp Cadwalader in Philadelphia on 12 January 1866, Theodore Mink briefly attempted to eke out an existence in Pennsylvania. But he had seen too much of life to adopt the same settled life his father and former neighbors had chosen.

So, he ran off to join the circus—literally.

Employed by Mike Lipman’s railroad troupe until it ran out of funds and left its performers and stagehands stranded in Berks County’s Borough of Reading, he quickly found not just a job, but his lasting vocation with legendary circus impresario Adam Forepaugh, Sr. and his son.

Utah newspaper advertisement for Adam Forepaugh’s circus (18 May 1878, public domain).

For the better part of nearly two decades, Theodore Mink was a member of Forepaugh’s “advance brigade,” distributing and hanging circus advertisements (known as “bills”) ahead of the company’s arrival in cities from Portland, Maine to San Bernardino, California.

Circus records confirm that Theodore Mink was appointed head of the circus wardrobe on at least one occasion, and that he was promoted to a management role during his final six years on the job. Charged with ensuring the comfort and safety of both staff and performers, he was advanced in pay grade and responsibility level until becoming supervisor of the sleeping cars on Forepaugh’s circus trains.

But while given the opportunity to see much of the United States during his circus career, there were many frightening moments during the 1870s and 1880s involving equipment failures, train derailments and fires which injured both performers and staff—some fatally.

Sadly, there were also many days when Theodore Mink and his fellow troupe members went without food because poor weather conditions had dampened crowd turnouts.

The Circus Life

Theodore Mink and equestrienne Louise Boshell, above, toured with Adam Forepaugh’s circus during the 1870s (circa 1890, public domain).

After wintering with Adam Forepaugh’s Museum, Menagerie and Circus in Northern California in 1878, Theodore Mink served as the wardrobe manager for Forepaugh’s opening engagement in Hayward on 29 March. He and his fellow troupe members then travelled 528 miles south to San Bernardino for the company’s next show.

Their programs that season typically began with the entry of the equestrian director and master of the circle, followed by a “Grand Opening Pageant” with six elephants, camels, costumed comedians, and mounted knights and their ladies. Herr Drayton’s cannon ball act then preceded additional equestrians, as well as clowns and Hector, the Riding Canine before Louis Leslie and his “Enchanted Barrel” and Mahomet, an “Educated Turkish Stallion” dazzled crowds.

Audiences then oohed and gasped while watching the feats of aerialists known as The Monarchs, and as Young Ajax mesmerized as the “Boneless Wonder,” followed by William Monroe’s “Seven Horse Act,” Louise Boshell as “The Telegraphic Wire,” Madame Rolland (“The Empress of the Arena”), and a death-defying trapeze act.

Having completed a nearly 10,000 mile journey with stops up and down California—as well as in Salt Lake City, they concluded their tour in St. Louis, Missouri on 12 October. They then headed for a new season packed with shows across the Deep South.

The 1880s

In its 12 April 1882 coverage of circus news, The Allentown Democrat reported the following in its Circus Talk section:

There will be more circuses on the road the coming summer than ever before. Many of them will start on their travels next week these however being mostly “railroad shows.” Wagon shows seldom venture out before the last week in April. Forepaugh, one of the wealthiest show managers in America, with headquarters in Philadelphia, opened in Washington, D.C. last week, and next Saturday exhibits at Chester, Pa. Among his employees are two Allentonians, Theodore Mink, with the paste brigade, and William Fried, (now calling himself Dan. Taylor,) assistant equerry. Both have been in Mr. Forepaugh’s employ for a long term of years. Mr. F. puts out two shows this season, one under the management of his son, Adam Forepaugh, Jr…. It is a very finely equipped concern, one of its chariots being wholly constructed of alabaster. The big show (the one under the old man’s own management) was to have traversed through this part of the State this spring, but Barnum caused him to change, his route….

Note: Fellow Allentonian William Fried (also known as “Dan Taylor”) may in fact have been a friend or neighbor of Theodore Mink during the 1850s or 1860s, and may also have served with him as a member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War. (Military records document the enrollment of a “William H. Fried” with Company F while circus log books confirm that a Dan/Daniel Taylor was employed by Forepaugh as Master of Pavilions as early as 1880.)

Theodore Mink worked with Forepaugh’s “advance brigade” (Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, Wheeling, West Virginia, 14 July 1882, public domain).

In July 1882, the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer confirmed that Theodore Mink would be staying at the St. James Hotel in Wheeling, West Virginia as a member of “Forepaugh’s Advance Brigade.” A year later, he assumed management of the six sleeping cars which housed the 478 performers and staff of the Great Forepaugh Show, Circus Hippodrome and Menagerie; as a result, performers depended upon him to ensure their comfort at the end of long and tiring days.

In addition to equestrian shows with chariots and twenty-five elephant performing acts, spectacles of this decade included a camel and buffalo-stocked menagerie with six “sacred white bulls,” and performances by strongman George Jagendorfer, bicycle high wire artist Leonati, “Indian snake charmer” Nala Danajante, and The Silbons, who were billed as the world’s finest aerial performers.

Not to be outdone, magician Roltair vied for the attention of children of all ages with his fellow side show performers Royal Forbes (a juggler), the “Gorilla Man” (Rudolph Grauwitch), the “Phantom Lady” (Mad Southwick), the “Yorkshire Giant” (Henry Alexander Cooper), and the “Circassian Lady” (Mana Zeralda).

Theodore Mink also toured with Henry Alexander Cooper, above, the “World’s Tallest Man” (circa 1880, public domain).

Shows during this decade typically began with the entrance of a single knight, mounted on horseback, followed by Adam Forepaugh, Sr., on a horse-drawn carriage pulled by four black horses, and a twenty-piece circus band on a carriage drawn by ten gray horses. Ten stallions and ten ponies then pranced in, trailed by twelve equestrians, four Roman chariots, clowns and elephants—all of which set the stage for tableaus depicting St. George’s battle with a dragon, Cleopatra lounging on her barge, an old-time minstrel show, and the fearsome pirate Blue Beard. Mysterious horse-mounted Turks, a towering Bull elephant known as Bolivar, tigers with their tamers, and the circus calliope then closed the processional.

In 1883, the season opened in Philadelphia on 14 April. After a week of performances, Forepaugh’s train than traveled to Wilmington, Delaware before working its way across central and eastern Pennsylvania (Lancaster, Harrisburg, Reading, and Pottsville). Well received in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, circus troupe members were delayed at Allentown on 2 May due to a train derailment and fire, but were back on track in time for their performance in Easton.

Touring New Jersey and Connecticut through May, they then headed for Boston, where the train derailed and caught fire again twice (on 27 May and on 7 June). Adding insult to the injuries suffered, business was also poor during this phase of the company’s journey. Crowds finally turned out in Worcester, Massachusetts on 16 June; additional money making days in Portland and Bangor, Maine followed as the month came to a close. But with stormy weather across Massachusetts and New York during most of July, business once again lagged, and did not pick up again until Forepaugh’s performers disembarked later that month in Vermont. Facing more financial challenges in August and September during stops across New York and Ohio, performers and staff were regularly expected to go without meals, according to circus logbooks. Finally, after completing their tour of western and central Pennsylvania, troupe members returned to winter quarters in Philadelphia on 14 October.

Another example of the circus advertising bills that Theodore Mink likely posted during the 1880s while working for Adam Forepaugh’s legendary circus (public domain).

Just over a week later, Theodore Mink was back home in Allentown for a visit with old friends, according to the 24 October 1883 edition of The Allentown Democrat:

HOME ON A VISIT.—Capt. Theodore H. Mink, a son of Henry Mink, deceased, who in the long ago carried on the carriage making business in our city, is at present here on a visit, his first (with the exception of a single day last spring) in seven years. He is well and hearty, and is being cordially greeted by his many friends. Though a young man yet he has probably traveled more miles and encountered and braved more dangers, fortunately escaping all of them unscathed, than any other person that ever left here to fight the battles of life. When a young boy he was apprenticed to the carriage making business, but tiring of it he quit and went away to try his hand at whale catching. He followed this dangerous sea-faring life for 4½ years, and coming home then to this place he soon after enlisted in Co. I of the 47th Penna. regiment, and with it helped to fight the battles of rebellion from the beginning to the end of the war, going out as a private and coming home Captain of his company. After following various pursuits then he in 1867 left here with Mike Lipman’s railroad circus. The concern was however stranded at Reading, and being bought in by the great Philadelphia circus proprietor, Adam Forepaugh, Mr. Mink then entered his employ, and has remained with him ever since—a service so long continued that it evidences the fact that his employer finds him a valuable help. He for the first fifteen years was connected with the advance advertising brigades, usually having charge of the bill posters, but last year on account of his long time faithfulness to the interests of the ‘King of the Show World,’ was given a position demanding less active labor and commanding better pay, by placing him in charge of the show’s sleeping cars. The circus concluded its season of this year at Williamsport, Pa., on Saturday night a week, and the next evening the entire concern was safely landed at the Forepaugh headquarters on Lehigh Avenue, Philadelphia. Mr. M. reports that his employer had a very successful season, and that he made a great deal of money. He since his connection with the show has visited every State in the Union, many of them dozens of times, and traveled many hundred thousands of miles, yet without sustaining as much as a scratch through accident. When with the advance brigade Mr. Forepaugh often sent him into far distant States to war against other shows that were encroaching on his territory, this business being termed ‘skirmishing,’ and the method of procedures to bill against invading parties. This fact alone shows that Mr. Forepaugh places no little reliance on Mr. M.’s judgment and general business qualifications. Show life is a hard one, hard because of unceasing labor and almost constant travel, and Capt. Mink says that he often tired of it, and made numerous resolves to quit at the end of the season, but that on the coming of each successive spring, when the band commenced to play, he could not resist going again. He has in a manner become a permanent fixture with the show, and it is not likely that he will ever leave Mr. Forepaugh, whom he regards as a child would a father. He has steady work with him all the year round, he when not on the road being kept busy at the repairing of show property, painting, &c.

Mr. Forepaugh seems to have a special liking for our Allentown boys, he having two others in his employ steadily, to wit, Messrs. Henry and Edward Fried, the former boss canvasman for a successive period of 18 years, and the latter a general repairer of wood work [sic] in and about the show buildings. Capt. Mink on Monday [21 October 1883] participated ine re-union of the survivors of his old regiment in this city—the day being the anniversary of the battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina.

Illness, Death and Interment

Theodore Mink’s life with his circus co-workers largely followed this same pattern of ups and downs for several more years until he contracted pneumonia while at home at 815 Race Street in Philadelphia sometime during late December 1889 or early January 1890. As his condition worsened, he was transported to the Pennsylvania Hospital in that city, where he passed away on 7 January.

The death certificate issued for him by the City of Philadelphia noted that he had been employed as a “Showman” and had been born in Allentown’s 6th Ward, that he was still unmarried at the time of his death, and that his remains were transported by Undertaker John A. Frank to an unspecified cemetery in Allentown for burial on 10 January. Additional records confirm that he was laid to rest at Allentown’s Union-West End Cemetery.

On Wednesday, 15 January 1890, The Allentown Democrat presented this fitting tribute to the life of this 19th century adventurer, reprinting a significant portion of the article, “Home on a Visit,” that the newspaper had published about Mink in 1883:

DEATH OF CAPT THEODORE MINK. – Capt. Theodore Mink, a son of Henry Mink, who forty years ago carried on the carriage making business in this city, died at the Pennsylvania Hospital, in Philadelphia, on Tuesday of last week, aged about 53 years. He was a single man. He made his last visit to this his native city in the fall of 1887. He probably traveled more miles and encountered and braved more dangers, fortunately escaping all of them unscathed, than any other person that left here to fight the battles of life. When a young boy he was apprenticed to the carriage making business, but tiring of it he quit and went away to try his hand at whale catching. He followed this dangerous seafaring life for 4 ½ years, and coming home then to this place he at the outbreak of the rebellion in April, 1861, joined Capt. Thomas Yeager’s Allen Infantry, one of the first five military organizations in the State to respond to the call of President Lincoln for 75,000 volunteers. The call was made on April 15th, and on the 17th the company started for Harrisburg, and immediately left there for the seat of national government. At Baltimore they were attacked by a mob, but they fought themselves through, and with the four other companies from this State – one from Reading, two from Pottsville and one from Lewistown, were the first troops to report to the President. They remained in service at the Capitol for three months, the full term of their enlistment, and then returned home. On the 5th of August of the same year, (1861,) Mr. Mink enlisted for three years in a company which was then being raised here by Capt. Coleman Keck, and which later was made Co. I of the 47th regiment, Col. Good, and with it helped to fight the battles of the rebellion from the beginning to the end of the war, he having reenlisted for three years at Key West, Florida, on the 20th of October, 1863 [sic, military records show the reenlistment date as 8 October 1863]. He went out as a private and came home Captain of his company on Jan. 12th, 1866. He received his promotion to the Captaincy on Oct. 18th, 1864 – the day before the bloody battle at Cedar Creek, Va [sic, military records show promotions received to 2nd Lieutenant on 19 September 1864, the same day as the Battle of Opequon Creek, Virginia, to 1st Lieutenant on 3 November 1864, and to Captain of Company I on 22 May 1865]. After his return home, and the following of various pursuits, he in 1867 left here with Mike Lipman’s railroad circus. – The concern was however stranded at Reading, and being bought in by the great Philadelphia circus proprietor, Adam Forepaugh, Mink then entered his employ, and remained with him to the close of the last season – a service so long continued that it evidences the fact that his employer found him a valuable help. He for the first fifteen years was connected with the advance advertising brigades, usually having charge of the bill posters, but six years ago, on account of his long time faith fullness, he was given a position demanding less active labor and commanding better pay, by placing him in charge of the show’s sleeping cars. The deceased during his connection with the show visited every State in the Union, many of them dozens of times, and traveled many hundred thousands of miles, yet without sustaining as much as a scratch through accident.

Sources:

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

2. “Death of Capt. Theodore Mink.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 15 January 1890.

3. “Florida’s Role in the Civil War,” in Florida Memory. Tallahassee, Florida: State Archives of Florida.

4. “Forepaugh’s Advance Brigade,” in “Hotel Arrivals: St. James Hotel.” Wheeling, West Virginia: Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, 14 July 1882.

5. “Home on a Visit.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 24 October 1883.

6. Mink, Theodore, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

7. Schaadt, James L. “The Allen Infantry in 1861.” Lititz, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania-German: A Popular Magazine of Biography, History, Genealogy, Folklore, Literature, Etc., vol. 12, 1911.

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

9. Stegall, Joel T. Salisbury Prison: North Carolina’s Andersonville.” Fayetteville, North Carolina: North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, 13 September 2018.

10. “Tamiami Trail Modifications: Next Steps,” in Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Washington, D.C. and Everglades National Park, Florida: U.S. National Park Service, 2010.

11. Theodore Mink, in Adam Forepaugh’s Museum, Menagerie and Circus, Season 1878, and in Great Forepaugh Show, Season 1883. Stratford, Connecticut: Circus Historical Society, retrieved online 23 June 2017.

12. Theodore Mink, in Return of a Death in the City of Philadelphia (Physician’s Certificate). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 7 January 1890.

13. U.S. Census (Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, 1860). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.