Alternate Spellings of Surname: Birdinger, Bredinger, Breidinger, Breitinger, Bridinger, Brutinger
Born in Pennsylvania sometime around 1841, Samuel Breidinger was a son of Adam Breidinger (1799-1863), a blacksmith, and Mary Breidinger (1800-1863). In 1850, he resided in Forks Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania with his parents, Adam Breidinger (1799-1863), a blacksmith, and Mary Breidinger (1800-1863), brothers John (1830-1893), a blacksmith, and Adam (1838-1882), and sister Sabina (1834-1913), who went on to marry Owen Henry Knecht and reside with him in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
In 1857, the area of the township where he and his family resided became part of Northampton County, Pennsylvania’s new township, which had been established by the court system on 5 May and christened “Palmer Township” to honor Pennsylvania state surveyor George Palmer. According to William Heller’s History of Northampton County:
The township is bounded on the north by Upper Nazareth and Plainfield townships, on the east by Forks township, the dividing line being Bushkill creek and the city of Easton, on the south by the borough of Glendon and Williams township, divided there from the Lehigh river, and on the west by Bethlehem, Lower and Upper Nazareth townships.
The township contains many fine farms, the soil being unsurpassed in its fertility….
As America descended from divisiveness to secession to Civil War, Samuel Breidinger grew to manhood, and took up the trade practiced by his father and older brother – blacksmithing.
Civil War Military Service
On 15 August 1861, Samuel Breidinger enrolled for military service at Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. He then officially mustered in at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 16 September 1861 as a Private with Company A of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
Military records at the time described him as a 20-year-old blacksmith and resident of Stockertown, Pennsylvania who was 5’7” tall with black eyes, light hair and a pale complexion.
Enrolled by Captain Richard Graeffe on 15 September 1861, the 93 members of Company A of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers mustered in on 16 September, along with most of the other men from Easton, Northampton County who had signed up to fight with the 47th Pennsylvania. Following a brief light infantry training period at Harrisburg’s Camp Curtain, the men of Company A and the 47th Pennsylvania headed for Washington, D.C. where, beginning 21 September, they were stationed at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights near Georgetown. Henry D. Wharton, a Musician with the regiment’s C Company, wrote to the Sunbury American newspaper the next day with the following update:
After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.
After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.
We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday [21 September 1861] without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on dis-covering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.
Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent man and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.
Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.
On 24 September 1861, Captain Richard Graeffe and his men from Company A, as part of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, became members of the U.S. Army when they were officially mustered into federal service. On 27 September, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvania was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.
The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to General W. F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.
Once again, Company C Musician Henry Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:
On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….
We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….
There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [sic], a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….
Sometime during this phase of duty, as part of the 3rd Brigade, the 47th Pennsylvanians were moved to a site they initially christened “Camp Big Chestnut” for the large chestnut tree located within their lodging’s boundaries. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.
On October 11, the 47th Pennsylvania marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. Also around this time, companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops. In his letter of 13 October, Henry Wharton described their duties, as well as their new home:
The location of our camp is fine and the scenery would be splendid if the view was not obstructed by heavy thickets of pine and innumerable chesnut [sic] trees. The country around us is excellent for the Rebel scouts to display their bravery; that is, to lurk in the dense woods and pick off one of our unsuspecting pickets. Last night, however, they (the Rebels) calculated wide of their mark; some of the New York 33d boys were out on picket; some fourteen or fifteen shots were exchanged, when our side succeeded in bringing to the dust, (or rather mud,) an officer and two privates of the enemy’s mounted pickets. The officer was shot by a Lieutenant in Company H [?], of the 33d.
Our own boys have seen hard service since we have been on the ‘sacred soil.’ One day and night on picket, next day working on entrenchments at the Fort, (Ethan Allen.) another on guard, next on march and so on continually, but the hardest was on picket from last Thursday morning ‘till Saturday morning – all the time four miles from camp, and both of the nights the rain poured in torrents, so much so that their clothes were completely saturated with the rain. They stood it nobly – not one complaining; but from the size of their haversacks on their return, it is no wonder that they were satisfied and are so eager to go again tomorrow. I heard one of them say ‘there was such nice cabbage, sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, &c., out where their duty called them, and then there was a likelihood of a Rebel sheep or young porker advancing over our lines and then he could take them as ‘contraband’ and have them for his own use.’ When they were out they saw about a dozen of the Rebel cavalry and would have had a bout with them, had it not been for…unlucky circumstance – one of the men caught the hammer of his rifle in the strap of his knapsack and caused his gun to fire; the Rebels heard the report and scampered in quick time….
On Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by Schmidt as “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” Less than a month later, in his letter of 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed more details about life at Camp Griffin:
This morning our brigade was out for inspection; arms, accoutrements [sic], clothing, knapsacks, etc, all were out through a thorough examination, and if I must say it myself, our company stood best, A No. 1, for cleanliness. We have a new commander to our Brigade, Brigadier General Brannen [sic], of the U.S. Army, and if looks are any criterion, I think he is a strict disciplinarian and one who will be as able to get his men out of danger as he is willing to lead them to battle….
The boys have plenty of work to do, such as piquet [sic] duty, standing guard, wood-chopping, police duty and day drill; but then they have the most substantial food; our rations consist of fresh beef (three times a week) pickled pork, pickled beef, smoked pork, fresh bread, daily, which is baked by our own bakers, the Quartermaster having procured portable ovens for that purpose, potatoes, split peas, beans, occasionally molasses and plenty of good coffee, so you see Uncle Sam supplies us plentifully….
A few nights ago our Company was out on piquet [sic]; it was a terrible night, raining very hard the whole night, and what made it worse, the boys had to stand well to their work and dare not leave to look for shelter. Some of them consider they are well paid for their exposure, as they captured two ancient muskets belonging to Secessia. One of them is of English manufacture, and the other has the Virginia militia mark on it. They are both in a dilapidated condition, but the boys hold them in high estimation as they are trophies from the enemy, and besides they were taken from the house of Mrs. Stewart, sister to the rebel Jackson who assassinated the lamented Ellsworth at Alexandria. The honorable lady, Mrs. Stewart, is now a prisoner at Washington and her house is the headquarters of the command of the piquets [sic]….
Since the success of the secret expedition, we have all kinds of rumors in camp. One is that our Brigade will be sent to the relief of Gen. Sherman, in South Carolina. The boys all desire it and the news in the ‘Press’ is correct, that a large force is to be sent there, I think their wish will be gratified….
On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.” As a reward – and in preparation for bigger things to come, Brannan obtained new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.
But these frequent marches and their guard duties in rainy weather gradually began to wear the men down; a number of 47th Pennsylvanians fell ill with fever. Several contracted Variola (smallpox), which was also sickening Confederate troops stationed nearby, and were sent back to Union Army hospitals in Washington, D.C. At least two members of the regiment died from the pox while receiving treatment.
For this reason and because the war waged on, enrollments continued so that, by December 1861, a total of 101 men were listed on Company A’s roster.
Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862, marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church. Sent by rail to Alexandria, they then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before they were marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.
During the afternoon of 27 January, as 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.
Upon their arrival in Key West in early February, they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics, they also strengthened the federal installation’s fortifications. Although the state had seceded from the Union in 1861, Florida remained home to numerous Union supporters, and was strategically vital to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor, Jefferson and other federal military installations.
During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of soldiers from the resident mingled with locals as attendants at local church services.
Not surprisingly, a fair number of the 47th who lost their lives during the Civil War were claimed not by rifle or cannon fire, but by dysentery and other diseases spread by troops suddenly placed in close military quarters, as well as by yellow fever and other tropical diseases which plagued the inhabitants of Florida and its neighboring states.
From mid-June through July, the 47th Pennsylvania was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men made camp before being housed in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s main staging area were commonly rotated among the various regiments stationed there during this time, putting soldiers at 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.”
The men were then sent on a return expedition to Florida. Company A participated with the 47th Pennsylvania and other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October. Commanded by Brigadier-General John M. Brannan, the 1,500-plus Union force disembarked at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats. Taking the point, the 47th led the brigade through 25 miles of dense, pine forested swamps populated with dangerous snakes and alligators. When it was all over, the brigade had forced the Confederates to abandon their artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and paved the way for the Union to occupy the town of Jacksonville, Florida.
From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackey’s Point, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again, but they and their fellow 3rd Brigaders were less fortunate this time.
Picked off by snipers while on the move toward the Pocotaligo Bridge, they also faced massive resistance from a heavily entrenched and fortified Confederate battery that opened fire on the Union troops as they entered and crossed a clearing. Those headed for the higher ground of the Frampton Plantation fared no better, encountering artillery and infantry in the midst of the surrounding forests.
The Union regiments grappled with the Confederates where they found them, pursuing enemy troops for four miles as they retreated to the bridge where the 47th then relieved the 7th Connecticut. But the Confederates were just too well fortified. After two hours of intense fighting in an unsuccessful attempt to take the ravine and bridge, sorely depleted ammunition supplies forced the 47th’s withdrawal to Mackey’s Point.
Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died; two officers and another 114 enlisted were wounded. Several of the resting places for men from the 47th still remain unidentified, the information lost to the sloppy records management of Army and hospital staff, or to the trauma-impaired memories of soldiers forced to hastily bury or leave behind their fellow members of the 47th upon receiving orders to retreat to safer ground.
The 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head on 23 October, where members of the regiment served as the funeral Honor Guard for the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South, General Ormsby M. Mitchel, who died from yellow fever on 30 October. The Mountains of Mitchel, a region of the South Pole on Mars discovered by Mitchel in 1846 while working as an astronomer at the University of Cincinnati, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were both later named for him. The men of the 47th Pennsylvania were the soldiers given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.
Still stationed at Fort Taylor for much of 1863, Private Samuel Breidinger found the year to be, sadly, a consequential one for his family back home in Pennsylvania. On 11 February, his father, Adam Breidinger passed away in Northampton County, and was laid to rest at the Forks Cemetery in Stockertown. Less than a year later, his mother was also laid to rest there, following her death on 13 July.
That same year – on 18 December 1863, Private Breidinger also re-enlisted, re-mustering for a second, three-year term of service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers at Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida.
It had also been a difficult year for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers with multiple members of the regiment felled by tropical diseases such as typhoid and yellow fever, as well as by the all too common camp complaints associated with chronic dysentery.
When the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered to expand the Union’s reach across Florida in early January 1864, Captain Richard Graeffe and a group of men from A Company were assigned to special duty. Raiding area cattle herds in order to provide food for the growing Union troop presence, Graeffe also took his detachment of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers north to Fort Myers and beyond. Abandoned in 1858 after the U.S. government’s third war with the Seminole Indians, the fort was ordered to be reclaimed and revitalized in 1864 by General D. P. Woodbury, Commanding Officer, U.S. Department of the Gulf, District of Key West and the Tortugas to facilitate the Union’s Gulf Coast blockade while also offering shelter for pro-Union supporters and those fleeing Rebel troops, including Confederate Army deserters and escaped slaves.
A draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared in 2010 for the Everglades National Park partially described the time of Captain Graeffe and the men under his Florida as follows:
A small contingent of 20 men and two officers from the Pennsylvania 47th Regiment, led by Captain Henry Crain of the 2nd Regiment of Florida, arrived at the fort on January 7, 1864. A short time later, the party was joined by another small detachment of the 47th under the command of Captain Richard A. Graeffe. Over a short period, increasing reinforcements of the fort led to increasing cattle raids throughout the region. A Union force so far into Confederate land did not go well with Confederate loyalists. The fact that so many men stationed at the post were black soldiers from the newly created U.S. Colored Troops was particularly aggravating. The raids were so antagonizing that the Confederates created a Cattle Guard Battalion called the “Cow Cavalry” to repulse Union raiders. The unit remained a primary threat to the Union soldiers carrying out raids and reconnaissance missions from Brooksville to as far south as Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers.
The detachment which served under Graeffe at Fort Myers has been labeled as the Florida Rangers in several publications, including The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Robert N. Scott, et. al. (1891). Several of Graeffe’s hand drawn sketches of Fort Myers were published in 2000 in Images of America: Fort Myers by Gregg Tuner and Stan Mulford.
1864 – The Red River Expedition
On 25 February 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers set off for a phase of service in which the regiment would truly make history. Steaming for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, the men of the 47th arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – this time to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, the 47th would become the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.
From 14-26 March, the 47th passed through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. Often short on food and water, the regiment encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.
Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the back-and-forth volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. The exhausted, but uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.
The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.
Casualties were once again severe. Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander, the regiment’s second in command, was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. Still others from the 47th were captured by Rebel troops, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war (POWs) until they were released during prisoner exchanges on 22 July and in August, September and November of 1864. Along the way, disease claimed still more.
Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore t0 resupply and regroup until 22 April. Retreating to Alexandria, they and their fellow Union soldiers scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.
On 23 April, the 47th and their fellow brigade members crossed the Cane River via Monett’s Ferry and, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, helped to build a dam from 30 April through 10 May, which enabled federal gunboats to successfully traverse the rapids of the Red River.
Beginning 16 May, A Company moved with the majority of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June before receiving orders on the 4th of July to return to the East Coast for further duty.
Removed from command amid the controversy over the Union Army’s successes and failures during the Red River Expedition, Union General Nathaniel P. Banks was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. Banks subsequently spent much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for Louisiana.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Still able and willing to fight after their time in Bayou country, the soldiers of Company A and the men from the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed aboard the McClellan beginning 7 July 1864.
Following their arrival in Virginia and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln on 12 July, they joined up with General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap in mid-July 1864. There, they fought in the Battle of Cool Spring and, once again, assisted in defending Washington, D.C. while also helping to drive Confederate troops from Maryland.
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor.
Records of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers confirm that the regiment 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 Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early.
From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in the Battle of Berryville, and engaged in related post-battle skirmishes with the enemy over subsequent days.
Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill – September 1864
Together with other regiments under the command of Union General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the members of Company A and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon”). The battle, also known as “Third Winchester,” is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.
The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny 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 their supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. Finally reaching and fording the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with the Confederate forces 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 Rebel artillery stationed on high ground. Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and their fellow 19th Corps members were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but many Union casualties ensued when another Confederate artillery group opened fire as Union troops tried to cross a clearing.
As a nearly fatal gap began to appear between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units commanded by Brigadier-Generals David A. Russell and Emory Upton. Russell, hit twice – once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers opened their lines long enough to enable Union cavalry forces led by 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 whittling away and pushing the Confederates steadily back. Early’s men ultimately retreated in the face of the valor displayed by the “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Confederate Army 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.
Sent out on skirmishing parties afterward, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania finally made camp at Cedar Creek. Moving forward, they would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, who mustered out on 23-24 September upon expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, Good and Alexander were replaced by others equally admired both for their temperament and the front line experience: John Peter Shindel Gobin, Charles W. Abbott and Levi Stuber.
Battle of Cedar Creek – October 1864
It was during 1864 that General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s crop-production 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, certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops – weakened by hunger – peeled off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day.
From a military standpoint, it was another impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October 1864, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to historian, Samuel P. Bates:
When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – ‘Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’
The Union’s counterattack stomped 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 thusly:
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, and no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.
But, it was costly; casualties for the 47th were particularly high with the regiment incurring more than 170 in killed, wounded, missing, and captured men. One of those killed in action on 19 October 1864 was Private Samuel Breidinger.
Initially buried near where he fell, Private Samuel Breidinger was ultimately laid to rest at the Winchester National Cemetery in Virginia as part of the federal government’s program to exhume and respectfully rebury all Union soldiers in national cemeteries.
His parents, who preceded him in death in 1863, still rest at the Forks Cemetery in Stockertown, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. His surviving brother, Adam, was laid to rest there following his death in 1882.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
2. Bridinger, Samuel, in Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
3. Bridinger, Samuel and Birdinger, Samuel, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
4. Bridinger, Samuel in Burial Ledgers, in Records of the National Cemetery Administration (Record Group 15), and U.S. Departments of Defense and Army (Quartermaster General, Record Group 92). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: 1864.
5. Florida’s Role in the Civil War, in Florida Memory. Tallahassee, Florida: State Archives of Florida.
6. Heller, William J. History of Northampton County and The Grand Valley of the Lehigh, Vol. II. New York, New York: The American Historical Society, 1920.
7. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, U.S. Adjutant General’s Office. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: 1861-1865.
8. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
9. Tamiami Trail Modifications: Next Steps, in Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Washington, D.C. and Everglades National Park: U.S. National Park Service, 2010.
10. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1850.