Civil War Military Service
George W. Hall entered military service with the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at a pivotal time in American history – as America’s long nightmare with its Civil War was coming to a close – and as the nation was about to be shaken to its core by the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
He enrolled for service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers on 16 March 1864 at Easton in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and mustered in that same day as a Private with the 47th’s A Company. Muster rolls for the regiment note that he caught up with the regiment while it was stationed at Berryville, Virginia, and that he joined the regiment from a recruiting depot on 18 September 1864. These same rolls also stated that he mustered in as a “Vet Vol,” signaling that he had served with a different regiment earlier in the war.
If he truly did connect with the regiment on 18 September 1864, George W. Hall’s timing was, depending on one’s perspective, either fortuitous or very, very unlucky for he arrived the day before the 47th Pennsylvania was about to fight one of its most intense battles in the regiment’s distinguished history.
Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill – September 1864
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania served under the command of Union General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps. On 19 September 1864, they helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon”). Also known as “Third Winchester,” this battle 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.
Even if Private George W. Hall had not arrived in time for the fighting at Opequan, however, he most certainly was on scene for the 47th Pennsylvania’s next major engagement – another battle viewed by historians as critical to the success of President Lincoln and his generals in turning the tide of war in the Union’s favor.
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 helped the Union win the war. 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. A contingent of men from A Company were killed or wounded in action. Even the regimental chaplain, William Rodrock, suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap.
The regiment as a whole also lost a number of men through capture by Confederate troops. Several of these men were imprisoned at the Rebel’s infamous Andersonville prison camp; others were held a POWs at Salisbury in North Carolina. Many died; all too many who survived were never the same.
Following these major engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December before taking up outpost and railroad guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia five days before Christmas.
1865 – 1866
Assigned in February 1865 to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, Private George W. Hall and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were moved, via Winchester and Kernstown, back to Washington, D.C. There, on 19 April, they were responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Making camp near Fort Stevens, they received new uniforms and were resupplied.
Letters home and newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania in later years confirm that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their imprisonment or trial.
As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade, Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, they participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May. Captain Levi Stuber of Company I was also promoted to the rank of Major during this time of turbulence.
On their final swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June, again as part of Dwight’s Division, but this time with the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South.
Relieving the 165th New York in July n Charleston, South Carolina, they were housed in and around a mansion formerly owned by the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. Duties during this period typically were Provost (military police) or Reconstruction-related (repairing or rebuilding key elements of the region’s infrastructure which had been damaged or destroyed during the long war).
In addition to the hard work and challenging circumstances involved in working with an often hostile population, the men of the 47th were stalked by typhoid and other diseases while stationed in the Deep South. Many who died during this phase were initially interred in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery before their remains were later exhumed and reinterred at the Beaufort National Cemetery.
Finally, on Christmas day 1865, the majority of the men of Company A, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers – including Private George W. Hall – began to be honorably mustered out, a process which continued through early January 1866.
Following a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvanians disembarked in New York City. The weary men were then shipped to Philadelphia by train, where the regiment was officially mustered out at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866.
After the War
The whereabouts and life of George W. Hall are somewhat murky following the end of the Civil War. What is known for certain, according to U.S. Civil War Pension records, is that George Hall married and lived nearly another quarter of a century following his honorable discharge from military service. The 1890 U.S. Veterans’ Schedule confirms that he was a resident of Spring Brook, Pennsylvania that year.
His passing that same year is also confirmed by two notations in the U.S. Civil War Pension Index. On 24 September 1890, he personally filed a pension claim from Pennsylvania. His widow, Martha J. Hall, then filed a Civil War Widow’s Pension claim from Pennsylvania on 16 December 1890.
George and Martha were both likely buried in Pennsylvania, but at this juncture, researchers for this website have not yet located their final resting places.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
2. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
3. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
4. Veteran and Widow Pension Application Listings (George W. Hall and Martha J. Hall), in U.S. Civil War Pension Index. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives.