The son of a carpenter, William H. Ginkinger was part of the generation that preserved America’s Union while transforming the nation from an agrarian society to an industrial-powered economy. Known to family and friends as “Will,” he was also a dutiful son who put his own social life on hold to ensure that his blind, widowed mother would have a comfortable home life, safe and free from worry for the remainder of her days.
Born in Pennsylvania on 27 February 1828, William H. Ginkinger was a son of Pennsylvania natives W. James Ginkinger (1795-1864) and Margaretta (Nagle) Ginkinger (1802-1876). During the 1830’s, he resided with his parents in Allentown, Lehigh County, where on 9 June 1833, the Ginkinger family welcomed the arrival of Will’s sister, Anna M. Ginkinger (1833-1917).
By 1850, he and his younger sister resided with their parents at the family’s home in Allentown, where their father was employed as a carpenter. Sometime within this decade, he also became a member of a local militia unit known as the Allen Rifles, which were led by Tilghman H. Good, the man who would later become the founder and commanding officer of the 47th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War, and a three-time mayor of Allentown, post-war. One of three militia units formed in Lehigh County in the early to mid-1800s, the Allen Rifles “attained a degree of proficiency in Hardee’s tactics and the Zouave drill which won for them a reputation extending beyond the borders of the state,” according to historians Alfred Mathews and Austin N. Hungerford. Its members “wore regulation blue uniforms” and “carried Minie rifles.”
Employed as a moulder in Allentown by 1860, Will Ginkinger still lived with his parents at their home in Allentown’s Fifth Ward. Also living there were his 27-year-old sister, Anna (Ginkinger) Guth, and her three young sons: Alonzo (1854-1915), Henry (aged 4), and James (1858-1927). Will Ginkinger’s 64-year-old father, James Ginkinger, was documented by that year’s federal census enumerator as a day laborer whose personal estate was worth $400 (roughly the equivalent of $13,200). His mother, Margaretta, was documented as “blind” while his sister was described as a housekeeper.
* Note: Anna (Ginkinger) Guth had been married to Francis Guth (1831-1859), who was not shown on this 1860 census record because he had died in Allentown in September 1859.
But their lives—and the lives of every other American were about to change forever as the relations between their nation’s northern and southern states grew colder during the fall of that year—and that shattered like brittle ice that December when South Carolina seceded from the Union.
Civil War — Three Months’ Service
Two days before President Abraham Lincoln issued his 15 April 1861 call for volunteer troops to defend the nation’s capital (following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces), residents of the counties of Lehigh and Northampton in Pennsylvania “called a public meeting at Easton ‘to consider the posture of affairs and to take measures for the support of the National Government,’” according to Mathews and Hungerford. Disturbed by the domino effect decrees by multiple southern states trumpeting their respective secessions from the United States, these concerned Pennsylvanians voted to establish and equip an entirely new military unit, one that would be readied for duty as quickly as possible—a decision which proved to be remarkably prescient.
Several of the men in attendance that evening had already begun recruiting local militia members to protect the nation’s capital and Pennsylvania’s borders if the crisis worsened. The same day that President Lincoln called for volunteer troops, those same men contacted Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin to volunteer the services of their local recruits. Three days later, those experienced militia members left hearth and home to head for Dauphin County. Among the men departing from Allentown was Will Ginkinger.
On 20 April 1861, Will Ginkinger and his comrades from the Allen Rifles officially mustered in at Camp Curtin, a military training facility that had been established on Agricultural Society land in northern Harrisburg. Upon mustering in, they were attached to the 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Samuel Yohe, Thomas W. Lynn, and Tilghman H. Good were then awarded the ranks of Colonel, Major and Lieutenant-Colonel, respectively, and George Warren Alexander and William H. Gausler, the captains of the Reading and Jordan Artillerists, were placed in charge of Companies G and I.
* Note: Tilghman Good, the commander of the 4th Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard at the time of his appointment to the 1st Pennsylvania’s command staff, had previously served as Will Ginkinger’s captain in the Allen Rifles.
Following his muster in at the rank of Private with the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers, Private William H. Ginkinger was assigned to Company I under Captain William Gausler. When the regiment was fully assembled, it was transported to Cockeysville, Maryland via the Northern Central Railroad. The 1st Pennsylvanians then spent time at Camp Scott near York, Pennsylvania before being ordered to railroad guard duties along the lines between Pennsylvania and Druid Park in Baltimore, Maryland from 14-25 May.
From there, they were assigned to Catonsville (25 May) and Franklintown (29 May) before being ordered back across the border with their regiment and stationed at Chambersburg (3 June). There, they were attached to the 2nd Brigade (under Wyncoop), 2nd Division (under Keim) in General Robert Patterson’s Army. Ordered on to Hagerstown, Maryland on 18 June and then to Funkstown, Goose Creek, and Edward’s Ferry, the regiment remained in that latter vicinity until 22 June, when it was ordered to Frederick, Maryland.
Assigned with other Union regiments to occupy the town of Martinsburg, Virginia from 8-21 July (following the Battle of Falling Waters earlier that month), the 1st Pennsylvanians were subsequently ordered to Harpers Ferry on 21 July.
Then, in surprisingly short order, after completing their Three Months’ Service, Private Will Ginkinger and the other members of Company I were honorably discharged, mustering out at Harrisburg on 23 July 1861. But many of the newly returned Allen Riflemen knew in their hearts that they couldn’t just simply resume their regular routines while their nation was still in peril. Instead, they opted to re-enroll for military service by joining a brand new regiment that had just been established by their former commander, Tilghman Good.
Civil War — Three Years’ Service
Following the completion of his Three Months’ Service, Private Will Ginkinger became one of those members of the Allen Rifles to re-enlist. After re-enrolling at the age of 33 in Allentown, he then officially re-mustered for duty on 14 September at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg as a Private with Company B of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. That same day, he was promoted to the rank of Commissary Sergeant.
* Note: Company B was one of the first two companies of the newly created 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry to officially muster in for duty, and was led by Emanuel P. Rhoads, a grandson of Peter Rhoads, Jr., former president of the Northampton Bank. Often referred to as “E. P.,” Rhoads had performed his own Three Months’ Service as a First Lieutenant with the Allen Rifles.
Military records at the time describe Commissary Sergeant Will Ginkinger as an Allentown resident who worked as a moulder, and who was 5’6” tall with brown hair, gray eyes, and a dark complexion.
His new job as Commissary Sergeant was a tremendously important one within regimental and U.S. Army operations. According to accounting and business management professors Darwin L. King and Carl J. Case:
A brief review of military organization will provide the reader with more insight into the two basic military cost accounting positions: the Company Accounting Clerk and the Regimental Quartermaster. The Civil War Union Army was organized into corps, divisions, brigades, regiments, and companies (Boatner, 1991). A corps was the largest military unit. It was made up of two or three divisions under the direction of a Major General. A division was composed of three to five brigades … [each of which were] led by a Major General or Senior Brigade General … [and composed] of three to six regiments [led by] … a Brigadier General or a senior Colonel…. A regiment was typically composed of 500 to 1,000 men … [and was typically led by] a Colonel…. Finally, the regiment was broken down into the military’s smallest record keeping unit called a company….
The company or accounting clerk was a position filled by a man who was either a non-commissioned officer or soldier who was known to have good penmanship and a capacity for keeping good reports and records. This basically meant that privates … corporals, or sergeants (non-commissioned officers) were allowed to hold the position of company clerk. Either the commanding officer of the company (i.e. captain) or the first sergeant normally supervised the clerk…. The Company Accounting Clerk represented the heart of cost control for the army during the Civil War.
The next level of cost accounting was at the regimental level. Each quartermaster was responsible for cost records relating to the ten or twelve companies comprising the regiment. Since the quartermasters handled a large amount of cash for making payrolls and purchasing required supplies, regulations required all newly appointed quartermasters to purchase a “good and sufficient bond” in an amount specified by the Secretary of War.
According to Professors King and Case, company clerks were responsible for creating and updating records in their respective regimental morning report books, which detailed “the duty status of each soldier in the company,” and also “described the reason for every officer or soldier not being available for duty,” such as those who had been assigned to the Quartermaster’s Department or were “under arrest, away with or without leave, killed in action, wounded, hospitalized, or sick.” In addition, company clerks were also responsible for updating the accounts of company funds, which kept track of cash accounts “utilized by the unit for the purchase of necessities … not furnished by the army … such as the purchase of spices for cooking,” and for keeping current the books documenting “all general orders from the regimental headquarters … [and] any special orders that pertained to the company in general or to a particular member of the unit,” sick books, records of target practice, and descriptive books, which “listed each non-commissioned officer and enlisted men of the company with numerous details pertaining to each man [including] age, height, complexion, eye and hair color, birthplace, occupation, and when, where, and for how long they enlisted,” as well as “character, promotions, appointments, compliments … medals earned [and any] punishments resulting from court-martials.”
And these clerks also played a key role in keeping track of their regiments’ respective expenditures on clothing, arms, and other equipment. King and Case explain that:
The army normally provided the men with their entire first year’s clothing allowance upon enlistment. In following years, the clerk used a monthly allowance to determine if an overdrawn or under drawn situation existed [and if a soldier was overdrawn or was caught selling his clothing, he was expected to pay the army back during a bimonthly payroll muster]….
The Register of Public Property Issued to Soldiers was another book prepared by the accounting clerk … to record all of the rifles, pistols, swords, and other arms issued to each man [as well as] cap-boxes, cartridge-boxes, gun slings, waist belts, and small tools used to maintain the weapons. Soldiers were normally charged for lost arms unless there was a very legitimate reason…. Following a military engagement, the officers of the company were required to inventory arms in the hands of surviving soldiers and collect weapons from soldiers who were either killed or wounded….
King also notes that “Article XLII define[d] the Quartermaster’s Department as the unit that provide[d] ‘the quarters and transportation of the army, storage and transportation of all army supplies, army clothing, camp and garrison equipage, cavalry and artillery horses, fuel, forage, straw, material for bedding, and stationery,’” adding that:
The Regulations of 1861 … specified a standard amount of barracks and fuel for all officers … [and] the amount of stationery available for all officers.
…. Section 1148 allows a general three tents, one axe, and one hatchet while in the field. Also, for every fifteen soldiers on foot and every thirteen mounted soldiers, there was allocated one tent, two spades, two axes, two picks, two hatchets, two camp kettles, and five mess pans….
The subsistence department provided standard cost information on expenditures for the preparation of meals for the men. Notes to Section 1229 of the regulations quote the cost of 100 rations for the soldiers at $11.05. This figure represented detailed cost figures on pork, beef, flour, beans, rice, coffee, tea, sugar, vinegar, candles, soap, and salt. For example, 68 rations of pork were 51 pounds of meat at a standard cost of six cents per pound. The other 32 rations (to make the 100 rations total) was 40 pounds of beef at four cents per pound. The cost of the pork ($3.06) and beef ($1.60) represented a significant portion of the total cost of the rations of $11.05. Feeding all of the soldiers three times daily was a significant expense whose cost was carefully regulated by army headquarters.
It was this last part of the regimental quartermaster’s duties—the oversight of subsistence department operations—that was the new job of Regimental Commissary Sergeant William H. Ginkinger. Put in the simplest terms, if Ginkinger and his subordinates were not efficient and diligent in procuring and distributing food, coffee, and tea in adequate amounts to each unit within the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the members of the regiment would be hungry and, if unfed for too long, those soldiers would become malnourished. And if the members of the regiment became malnourished, they would not have the strength to march the long distances they were required to march, or defeat the Confederate troops they would encounter in battle.
In addition, the cost accounting work of Regimental Commissary Sergeant Will Ginkinger and his subordinates needed to be precise because their recordkeeping would be scrutinized by multiple pairs of eyes. According to Professors King and Case, “At the regimental level, all reports received from the company clerks were summarized and reviewed for accuracy prior to sending the information to Washington.”
Less than a week later, following a brief training period in light infantry tactics, Regimental Commissary Sergeant Will Ginkinger and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were ordered to head for Washington, D.C. Boarding a train at the Harrisburg railroad station on 20 September, they were transported to the nation’s capital, where they disembarked and were marched to the Soldiers’ Rest to receive food and relax for a few hours before being marched to their new duty assignment. Stationed about two miles from the White House, they then made their new home at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown, beginning 21 September. Henry D. Wharton, a Musician with the regiment’s C Company, penned the following update for the Sunbury American newspaper on 22 September:
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 discovering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.
Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent man and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.
…. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.
On 24 September, the men of Company B became part of the federal military service, mustering in with great pomp and gravity to the U.S. Army with their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Three days later, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Brigadier-General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, 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 close to the headquarters of Brigadier-General William Farrar Smith (also known as “Baldy”), and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac (“Mr. Lincoln’s Army”). 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 11 October, 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.” Four days later, Company B’s drummer boy, Alfred Eisenbraun, was dead—the second “man” from the regiment to die since the 47th Pennsylvania’s formation. (The first was another drummer boy, John Boulton Young of C Company, who was felled by smallpox at the Kalorama eruptive fever hospital in Georgetown on 17 October.)
A former tobacco stripper and son of a Frakturist-tombstone carver, 15-year-old Musician Eisenbraun had been shipped back to Georgetown on 22 or 23 October with other ailing members of his regiment after he had contracted typhoid fever in late September or early October. He died there at the army’s general hospital at Georgetown’s Union Hotel on Saturday, 26 October, and was laid to rest at the Military Asylum Cemetery (now the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home Cemetery) in Washington, D.C.
In late October 1861, according to Schmidt, the men from Companies B, G, and H woke at 3 a.m., assembled a day’s worth of rations, marched four miles from camp, and took over picket duties from the 49th New York:
Company B was stationed in the vicinity of a Mrs. Jackson’s house, with Capt. Kacy’s Company H on guard around the house. The men of Company B had erected a hut made of fence rails gathered around an oak tree, in front of which was the house and property, including a persimmon tree whose fruit supplied them with a snack. Behind the house was the woods were the Rebels had been fired on last Wednesday morning while they were chopping wood there.
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….
On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by the regiment’s founder, 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, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan obtained new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.
The guard duties in rainy weather and frequent marches, however, 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. Sent back to Union Army hospitals in Washington, D.C., at least two members of the regiment died there while receiving treatment.
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 Monday, 24 January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the officers boarded last. Then, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, they 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.
The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West in February, and were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, they introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men attended to their spiritual needs by participating in services at local churches.
While stationed in Key West, the men of the 47th drilled in heavy artillery and other tactics—often as much as eight hours per day. They also felled trees, built roads, and strengthened the installation’s fortifications.
Their time was made more difficult by the prevalence of disease. Many of the 47th’s men lost their lives to typhoid and other tropical diseases, or to dysentery and other ailments spread from soldier to soldier by poor sanitary conditions. Private Solomon Diehl of Company B was one of those struck down in this manner.
Next ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina from mid-June through July, they camped near Fort Walker before relocating to the Beaufort District, Department of the South, roughly 35 miles away. Frequently assigned to hazardous picket detail north of their main camp, which put them at increased risk from enemy sniper fire, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania became known for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing,” and “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan,” according to historian Samuel P. Bates.
Detachments from the regiment were also assigned to the Expedition to Fenwick Island (9 July) and the Demonstration against Pocotaligo (10 July).
On 30 September the 47th was sent on a return expedition to Florida where B Company participated with its regiment and other Union forces from 1 to 3 October in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff. Led by Brigadier-General Brannan, the 1,500-plus Union force disembarked from gunboat-escorted troop carriers at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek. With the 47th Pennsylvania in the lead and braving alligators, skirmishing Confederates and killer snakes, the brigade negotiated 25 miles of thickly forested swamps in order to capture the bluff and pave the way for the Union’s occupation of Jacksonville, Florida.
Integration of the Regiment
On 5 and 15 October 1862, respectively, the 47th Pennsylvania made history as it became an integrated regiment, adding to its muster rolls several young Black men who had endured plantation enslavement in Beaufort, South Carolina:
- Just 16 years old at the time of his enlistment, Abraham Jassum joined the 47th Pennsylvania from a recruiting depot on 5 October 1862. Military records indicate that he mustered in as “negro undercook” with Company F at Beaufort, South Carolina. Military records described him as being 5 feet 6 inches tall with black hair, black eyes, and a black complexion, and stated that his occupation prior to enlistment was “Cook.” Records also indicate that he continued to serve with F Company until he mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 when his three-year term of enlistment expired.
- Also signing up as an Under Cook that day at the Beaufort recruiting depot was 33-year-old Bristor Gethers. Although his muster roll entry and entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File in the Pennsylvania State Archives listed him as “Presto Gettes,” his U.S. Civil War Pension Index listing spelled his name as “Bristor Gethers” and his wife’s name as “Rachel Gethers.” This index also includes the aliases of “Presto Garris” and “Bristor Geddes.” He was described on military records as being 5 feet 5 inches tall with black hair, black eyes, and a black complexion, and as having been employed as a fireman. He mustered in as “Negro under cook” with Company F on 5 October 1862, and mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service. Federal records indicate that he and his wife applied for his Civil War Pension from South Carolina.
- Also attached initially to Company F upon his 15 October 1862 enrollment with the 47th Pennsylvania, 22-year-old Edward Jassum was assigned kitchen duties. Records indicate that he was officially mustered into military service at the rank of Under Cook with the 47th Pennsylvania at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and then transferred to Company H on 11 October 1864. Like Abraham Jassum, Edward Jassum also continued to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers until being honorably discharged on 14 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of enlistment.
More men of color would continue to be added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.
Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina
From 21-23 October, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackay’s Point under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again. This time, however, their luck would run out. Their brigade was bedeviled by snipers and faced massive resistance from an entrenched Confederate battery, which opened fire on the Union troops as they headed through an open cotton field. Those trying to reach the higher ground of the Frampton Plantation were pounded by Confederate artillery and infantry hidden in the surrounding forests.
Losses for the 47th Pennsylvania at Pocotaligo were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died; another two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded, including Privates Martin W. Leisenring and Obadiah Pfeiffer.
On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania headed back to Hilton Head, where members of the regiment were assigned to serve on the honor guard during the funeral of Major-General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South. Mitchel, who had died of yellow fever at the Union Army’s hospital at Hilton Head on 30 October, had initially gained fame in 1846 as an astronomer at the University of Cincinnati, following his discovery of The Mountains of Mitchel on Mars. Members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were awarded the high honor of firing the salute over the grave of the departed general.
On 1 November 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania helped another Black man escape from slavery near Beaufort when they added 30-year-old Thomas Haywood to the kitchen staff of Company H. Described as a 5-foot, 4 inch-tall laborer with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, he was officially mustered in as an Under Cook at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and served until the expiration of his own three-year term of service on 31 October 1865.
Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 for the men of the 47th Pennsylvania was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. Captain Rhoads and his B Company men joined with Companies A, C, E, G, and I in carrying out their assigned duties at Key West’s Fort Taylor while the soldiers from Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.
According to several diary entries penned in late February and early March of 1863 by Private Henry J. Hornbeck, who had been assigned duties related to the regiment’s Quartermaster’s Department, life was not all business for the soldier-accountants of the 47th Pennsylvania:
Thursday February 26th, at sea…. Running very near coast all day. Today being Wm. Ginkinger’s birthday, I took dinner with him at the table. Had a splendid dinner consisting of roast duck & the &c. Lighthouse in sight at 3 p.m. Passed Cape Florida Lighthouse at 4 p.m. At 9 p.m. passed Carysfort Lighthouse. Retired at 9:30. Sea rough.
Saturday February 28th. Nothing to do today. Companies G & E left early this morning for Tortugas. Colonel Good accompanying them. Very warm all day. Took a stroll about the city, and then went to McGrath’s with Ginkinger, Weiss & Mennig. He kindly informed us to stay with him as long as we please & for which we shall ever feel grateful….
Sunday March 1st. Rose early this morning and went to U.S. Barracks and had a good bath although in salt water, on the beach. Today very warm again. In the evening Mr. McGrath, Ginkinger & myself attended Catholic Church and heard a very able sermon. At the close, he announced a meeting to take place next day, to offer up thanks for their deliverance from the persecuting order which was happily countermanded by our arrival….
Sunday March 8th…. After breakfast Mennig, Weiss & myself went to Fort Taylor, remained there until after dinner. Weiss & myself then went to Headquarters and witnessed Dress Parade, the returned to town. After supper, Weiss, Ginkinger & myself attended the Catholic Church….
Monday March 9th. Rose as usual, assisted today in keeping tally in the loading of the ship Underwriter with subsistence stores. In the evening our Band played on the balcony at the Russell House. Our mess was today regularly commenced, consisting of the following, Will Ginkinger, Commissary Sergeant; Jacob Beck, Quartermaster Sergeant; Will J. Weiss, Luther Mennig, two butchers and myself having and Irish woman (Mrs. Boyle) as cook….
In mid-June, Private Henry Hornbeck documented more of the ways in which he and Commissary Sergeant Will Ginkinger occupied their free time:
Wednesday June 17th Rose as usual. Chas. Martin Company B deserted last night. Busy at Commissary Papers. A small mail brought in by a pilot boat, from a steamer passing outside from the North. Received two shirts from Sister Mary and a letter enclosing photograph from Bro. John written by himself. No news of any account. After supper Ginkinger & myself went to Miss Allen’s and procured ice cream, then returned to office. Retired at 11 p.m. Very warm.
Friday June 19th. Busy at papers in the morning. A mail arrived from North in a gunboat. rec’d two letters, One from Sister Mary acknowledging receipt of money & trunk and the other from Bro. Molton, who is at home well & hearty, contemplating a trip to Jersey. News concerning Grandmother, bad, she being very feeble, otherwise very satisfactory. Reported that Vicksburg has been taken, hope it may prove true. After supper Ginkinger & myself took a short walk, returned by 9 p.m. Retired at 10. Weather hot and oppressing.
As the Fourth of July approached, Private Hornbeck and Commissary Sergeant Ginkinger were often occupied with the minutiae of regimental operations during their work day, but still finding time for self-care after clocking out:
Wednesday July 1st. Busy in office. Today procured Henry Kramer Company B as cook for our mess. This afternoon U.S. Gunboat Bermuda arrived from New Orleans, having an old mail for this place, which had passed here, and had gone on there, some time ago. Received a letter from Sister Mary and also one from Albert Kern, enclosing his photograph, although the news is rather late. Weiss & myself took a short walk towards the barracks, accompanying Pretz & Lawall. After which returned to office. Answered Kern’s letter. Ginkinger, Whiting & myself then went in bathing off the wharf. Retired at 11 p.m.
Saturday July 4th. Independence Day. No work in office to-day. Rose at 4 a.m. went with Ginkinger to Slaughter House, procured rations of fresh beef for our mess. Mennig & Myself went to fish market, purchased two fish. Took a cup of coffee at café opposite Provost Marshals Office. After breakfast Whiting & myself played a game of billiards, then witnessed the parade of 47th p.v. 5 Companies with Band & Col. & Staff. Review by the Genl. At Headquarters. Dispersed at 11 a.m. Weather extremely hot. Provost Guard quarters finely decorated. Flags hoisted at great many places. Firing squibs &c, salute by Fort Taylor & Gunboats in harbor, as usual on such occasions. Remained in office all day. After supper Ginkinger & myself visited Capt. Bell, then went with Serg’t. Mink to procure ice cream at a Colored Woman’s establishment, after which returned to office. Many of boys, as usual upon such occasions, being today pretty well curried. Today the San Jacinto relieved the Magnolia as Flag Ship for this port. After taking a sea bath retired at 11 p.m.
As the New Year arrived, Private Henry Hornbeck continued to document life during the day with the Quartermaster’s Department, and how members of the 47th Pennsylvania amused themselves after work:
Sunday January 4th…. After breakfast, washed & dressed. After dinner John Lawall, Wm. Ginkinger & myself went to the wharf. I then returned to barracks and P. Pernd. E. Crader and myself went out on the beach, searching sea shell. Returned by 4 o’clock. I then cleaned my rifle. Witnessed dress parade. Then went to supper. After supper went to the Methodist Church, heard a good Sermon by our Chaplain. Retired at 9 o’clock.
The next day, Regimental Commissary Sergeant Will Ginkinger re-enlisted at Fort Taylor in Key West on 5 January 1864.
Around this same time (early January 1864), the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was ordered to expand the Union’s reach by sending part of the regiment north to retake possession of Fort Myers, a federal installation that had been abandoned in 1858 following the U.S. government’s third war with the Seminole Indians. Per orders issued earlier in 1864 by General D. P. Woodbury, Commanding Officer, U.S. Department of the Gulf, District of Key West and the Tortugas, that the fort be used to facilitate the Union’s Gulf Coast blockade, Captain Richard Graeffe and a group of men from Company A were assigned to special duty, charged with expanding the fort and conducting raids on area cattle herds to provide food for the growing Union troop presence. Graeffe and his men subsequently turned the fort into both their base of operations and a shelter for pro-Union supporters, escaped slaves, Confederate Army deserters, and others fleeing Rebel troops.
Back in Key West, somewhere around this same phase of duty, Regimental Commissary Sergeant Will Ginkinger had received permission to live in quarters that were separated from the larger regimental accommodations, according to diary entries penned by Private Hornbeck:
Monday January 19th…. After breakfast went to office busy all day. I forgot to mention that yesterday we received the mail from Havana, and I received two letters, one from Sister Mary, the other from Aunt Elemina. The news from home are satisfactory, also forgot to mention that Lieutenant Levi Stuber of Company I was married last evening to a Miss Archer, of this city. After supper Mennig, Wm. Ginkinger & myself spent part of the evening at Mr. McGrath’s, our Chief Clerk. We then took a walk about the city, the band serenading Lt. Stuber & wife at Mennig & Ginkinger’s lodging place. Weather fine.
Tuesday January 20th. Yesterday afternoon I answered Aunt Elemina’s letter. Rose this morning at 4 o’clock, went to a coffee house and had a cup of good coffee. We then (Mennig, Ginkinger & myself) went to the butcher shop for our regiment and remained until 8 o’clock, then had breakfast. After breakfast went to the office, not having much to do, went to the commissary building and remained until dinner. Rumors that McClellan was again in command. Retired at 9.
Saturday January 24th. Busy in office all day. The tug having again gone to Havana for the mail, returned today with the mail. I received nothing. No news of any account. Took a walk after supper with Ginkinger, then went to camp. Retired at 9 p.m.
Monday January 26th…. Read a novelette in the afternoon. After supper Weiss, Ginkinger & myself went to Black Church. They made arrangements for the parade they intend giving. Thursday was the day appointed. This evening the prize steamer Virginia arrived in the harbor, having been captured by the gunboat Sonoma….
Thursday January 29th…. Busy in office until 10 o’clock. Mennig & myself then went to courthouse where the Blacks congregate for a parade today in honor of their freedom. They marched up to the colonel’s headquarters and gave him 3 cheers. They marched through most of the streets. There were a few stones thrown at them in passing through Conktown. At 3 p.m. they had a dinner at the Baracoon on the beach, and had dancing. It created great excitement in the city and fighting amongst a few. In the evening Wm. Weiss, Ginkinger, Fritz Jacobs & myself spent most of the evening at McGrath’s. Ginkinger & myself procedure secesh badges, worn by a few Young Ladies. The Ladies had one taken from them by a soldier, and we seeing it done, walked up to them, and under the plea of reporting to the Colonel the soldiers conduct, and by persuasive language procured two as samples. This place is altogether secesh, it proved itself this day, by their conduct. Tonight a member of Company E received a flesh wound, from a brother soldier, not purposely though, he having fired at a Black. Retired at 10 o’clock.
By early February, according to Private Henry Hornbeck, their lives were filled with a variety of events to keep their minds active and their spirits high:
Sunday February 1st…. Went to office after breakfast, remained about there until noon. Had John Lawall, We. Weiss, T. Leisenring, Sam. Smith & Dan. Wannermacher to dinner. After dinner went to wharf and passed most of the afternoon there, talking, &c. Had supper at 4 o’clock. Mennig, Ginkinger & myself then went to headquarters and witnessed dress parade at 6 o’clock, of Companies B and E, the band playing. After which Ginkinger, Weiss & myself attended Catholic Church, then went to barracks & retired.
But all that would change in less than a week’s time:
Tuesday February 3rd…. Busy in the office. At 3 o’clock this afternoon the steamer Matanzas arrived having on board the 90th New York Regiment who come to relieve us. They took us quite by surprise, we having just been comfortably situated. Received an old letter from Uncle Newhard, with this steamer, having lain at Beaufort, with Uncle’s photograph. Worked at the accounts until 11 o’clock tonight and wrote two letters, one to Mary and one to Aunt Elemina. Slept at the Provost Marshall’s house tonight.
February 6th Friday. Very stormy and raining this morning, finished the accounts so far as to be enabled to make out entirely when we arrive at Beaufort. Packed up and placed on board all my effect at 4 o’clock. The companies were all marched on board at 5 o’clock. The four companies in Tortugas will be relieved in a few days. Mennig, Ginkinger & myself spent the evening at McGrath’s, left at about 11 o’clock and he actually cried when bidding us good bye. Slept to night at the Provost Marshal’s office. There is great excitement amongst the citizens on account of our leaving. Many intend leaving the island and some have done so already.
This move would turn out to be one that had been undertaken in preparation for their regiment’s history-making journey to Louisiana. Boarding yet another steamer—the Charles Thomas—on 25 February 1864, the men from Companies B, C, D, I, and K of the 47th Pennsylvania headed for Algiers, Louisiana (across the river from New Orleans), followed on 1 March by other members of the regiment from Companies E, F, G, and H who had been stationed at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Upon the second group’s arrival, the now almost fully reunited regiment moved by train on 28 February to Brashear City 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.
Red River Campaign
From 14-26 March, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania headed for Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana (near the top of the “L” of this L-shaped state). As they progressed, they made their way through New Iberia, Vermilionville, Opelousas, and Washington. Often short on food and water during their long, hard trek through enemy territory, they finally arrived at their destination in early April.
From 4-5 April 1864, the regiment added to its roster of young Black soldiers when Aaron, James, and John Bullard, Samuel Jones, and Hamilton Blanchard (also known as John Hamilton) enrolled for service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers 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 would be officially mustered in for duty when the regiment reached a safer base of Union operations. Several of their entries noted that they were assigned the rank of “(Colored) Cook” while others were given the rank of “Under Cook.”
Moving on within a few days, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers made camp briefly at Pleasant Hill during the evening of 7 April. The next day (8 April 1864), they engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads, also known as the Battle of Mansfield, losing 60 of their friends to fierce gun and cannon fire. In the confusion, others were reported as killed in action, but survived.
The fighting waned only when darkness fell, and as the uninjured collapsed in exhaustion beside their gravely wounded or dead comrades. After midnight, they and their fellow surviving Union troops withdrew to 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. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate Major-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.
On that day, now known as the Battle of Pleasant Hill, the 47th nearly lost its second-in-command, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, who had been severely wounded in both legs. In addition, 68-year-old Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls of Company C was wounded while trying to mount the regimental colors on a caisson that had been recaptured from Confederate troops, as was Sergeant William Pyers of the same company, who had picked up the American flag when Walls fell, preventing it from falling into enemy hands.
In B Company, Edward Fink had been killed, and John Fries and Tilghman H. Reinsmith were wounded. Others, who had been captured, were marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas (the largest Confederate prison west of the Mississippi), where they would be held as prisoners of war (POWs) until released during prisoner exchanges in July, August, September, or November. Sadly, at least two members of the 47th died while in captivity there while still others remain missing to this day, possibly having been hastily interred on or between battlefields—or in unmarked prison graves.
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 a total of eleven days (through 22 April 1864). While at Grand Ecore, Commissary Sergeant Will Ginkinger’s comrade and friend, Private Henry J. Hornbeck, was officially transferred from the 47th Pennsylvania’s B Company to the regiment’s central command staff, and promoted to the rank of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant.
After engaging 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 night after completing a 45-mile march. En route, the Union forces were attacked again—this time in the rear, but they were able to quickly end the encounter and continue on.
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 Pennsylvanians supported Emory’s artillery.
Meanwhile, other Emory troops found and worked their way across the Cane River, attacked Bee’s flank, and forced a Rebel retreat. That Union brigade then erected a series of pontoon bridges, enabling the 47th 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.
Having finally reached Alexandria on 26 April, they 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 make their way back down the Red River more easily. 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 had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river. After a great deal 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.
Having entered Avoyelles Parish, they “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.
After the surviving members of the 47th made their way through Simmesport and into the Atchafalaya Basin, they moved on to Morganza, where they made camp again. According to Wharton, the members of Company C were sent on a special mission which took them on an intense 120-mile journey:
Company C, on last Saturday was detailed by the General in command of the Division to take one hundred and eighty-seven prisoners (rebs) to New Orleans. This they done [sic] satisfactorily and returned yesterday to their regiment, ready for duty. While in the City some of the boys made Captain Gobin quite a handsome present, to show their appreciation of him as an officer gentleman.
While encamped at Morganza, the nine formerly enslaved Black men who had enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania in Beaufort, South Carolina (1862) and Natchitoches, Louisiana (April 1864) were officially mustered into the regiment between 20-24 June 1864. The regiment then moved on once again, and arrived in New Orleans in late June.
As they did during their tour through the Carolinas and Florida, the men of the 47th had battled the elements and disease, as well as the Confederate Army, in order to survive and continue to defend their nation. But the Red River Campaign’s most senior leader, Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks, would not. Removed from command amid the controversy regarding the Union Army’s successes and failures, he was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. He later redeemed himself by spending much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for the people of Louisiana.
Snicker’s Gap and the Battle of Cool Spring
Undaunted by their travails in Bayou country, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued their fight to preserve the Union during the summer of 1864. After receiving orders on the 4th of July to return to the East Coast, they did so 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, they finally sailed away at the end of the month aboard the Blackstone, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.
Due to the delay, the boys from B Company missed out on a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, and also missed the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864, it was in Virginia at this time in history that the now full-strength 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would engage in their 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.
Inflicting heavy casualties during the Battle of Opequan (also known as “Third Winchester”) on 19 September, Sheridan’s gallant men forced a stunning retreat of Jubal Early’s Confederates—first to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September) and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack. Their victories helped Abraham Lincoln win a second term as President.
On 23-24 September 1864, Colonel Tilghman Good and Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander mustered out upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately for the 47th, they were replaced by others equally beloved for their temperament and front line experience.
Sheridan’s Army also began the first Union “scorched earth” campaign during this period, starving Confederate forces and their supporters into submission by destroying Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed by many today as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the turning of the war further in favor of the Union. Early’s men, successful in many prior engagements but now weakened by hunger, strayed from battlefields in increasing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864.
From a military standpoint, it was an impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing multiple Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles—all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to Bates:
When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – “Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’”
The Union’s counterattack pounded Early’s forces so far into submission that the men of the 47th would later be commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:
When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.
But, through it all, the casualty rates for the 47th continued to climb. Captain Edwin G. Minnich and Privates John Schimpf, Thomas Steffen, and James Tice of Company B were among those killed in action while Corporal August C. Scherer and others died later from their battle wounds. Charles Bachman, Harrison Geiger, Allen L. Kramer, and Henry H. Kramer were among those who survived their wounds, but Private Franklin Rhoads reportedly succumbed to disease after being captured and transported from the Cedar Creek battlefield area to the Confederate Army’s notorious Salisbury, North Carolina prison camp. He was just 18 years old.
Sadly, as late fall deepened in Virginia, Commissary Sergeant Will Ginkinger received word that his father, James Ginkinger, had been laid to rest at the Union-West End Cemetery back home in Allentown, following his death on 23 October 1864.
Given a slight respite after Cedar Creek, the men of the 47th were quartered at the Union’s Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December before receiving orders to assume outpost duty at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia just five days before Christmas.
By February of 1865, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah.
By 19 April, the regiment was back in Washington, D.C., ordered there to defend the nation’s capital again—this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. While serving in the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps (Dwight’s Division), the 47th also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May.
Letters home during this period and interviews conducted in later years with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania confirm that at least one member of the 47th was given the honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while still others were assigned to guard duties at the prison where the alleged Lincoln assassination conspirators were held during the early days of their confinement.
Taking one final swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June as part of the Department of the South’s 3rd Brigade (Dwight’s Division) and at Charleston beginning in June.
Duties during this time were Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including rebuilding railroads and other parts of the region’s infrastructure that had been damaged or destroyed during the long war. On 23 June 1865, Regimental Commissary Sergeant William H. Ginkinger was commissioned as Regimental First Lieutenant and Regimental Quartermaster, replacing the honorably discharged Francis Z. Heebner.
Finally, on Christmas Day in 1865, the majority of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began to be mustered out, a process which continued through early January 1866.
Following a stormy voyage north to New York City and a train trip to Philadelphia, the now very experienced and very weary 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers received their final discharge papers at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, and were returned to the arms of their loved ones and neighbors.
Return to Civilian Life
Following his honorable discharge from the military, Will Ginkinger returned home to his family in Pennsylvania. Methodist church records from this period show that he was unmarried and residing at 215 North 5th Street in Allentown, and that he attended weekly Monday night religious education meetings that were led by James B. Cole. Still single as of 1869, according to church records, he was appointed a Steward of the church in December of that year.
In 1870, he was still employed as a moulder and still resided at the home of his blind mother, Margaret Gingkinger. Also living at the home were his brother, George Ginkinger, a 42-year-old brick mason, and their 35-year-old sister, Anna (Ginkinger) Guth, and her three sons: Alonzo, aged 15, Henry, aged 14, and James, aged 12. The enumerator also noted that Anna was still employed as a housekeeper, and that none of the immediate Ginkinger family members (Margaretta, George, or Anna) were able to read or write—a notation which may have meant that the Ginkingers still spoke German or Pennsylvania Dutch in their Fifth Ward home. Also, although Anna’s son, Alonzo, was documented as being unable to read or write, her sons, Henry and James, were both shown as attending school that year.
Two years later, Will Ginkinger’s mother was gone. Following her death on 12 August 1876, she was interred next to Will Ginkinger’s father at the Union-West End Cemetery.
Still working as a moulder in 1880, Will Ginkinger was also still living in Allentown’s Fifth Ward—but had become a boarder in the home of his nephew, James W. Guth, a 22-year-old railroad brakeman, and his wife, Ellen.
On 25 November 1887, William H. Ginkinger filed for his U.S. Civil War Pension. Records of this period confirm that, by 1890, Will was receiving a pension of $17 per month due to “general debility,” and that this debility had forced him to relocate to the U.S. Soldiers and Sailors Home in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Death and Interment
Suffering from paralysis, Will Ginkinger died at the U.S. Soldiers and Sailors Home in Erie, Pennsylvania on 2 January 1891 (alternate date: 4 January 1891), according to burial records of Allentown’s Salem United Church of Christ and a death notice which appeared for him in the U.S. city directory for Erie. His remains were then brought home to the Lehigh Valley, and interred at the Union-West End Cemetery.
In his will, which was approved by the Register of Wills in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 10 January 1891, he seemed to convey that his friendship with Henry J. Hornbeck was as strong as ever. Appointing Hornbeck as his executor, he then also bequeathed ownership to him of the land and house he had owned at 215 North 5th Street in Allentown. On 14 January, that property was valued by appraisers at $3,258.68 in a report that was filed with the Register on 31 January.
Sadly, there appears to be more to the story of this transfer—the details of which were revealed in “The Account of Henry J. Hornbeck Executor of the last Will and Testament of William H. Ginkinger late of the City of Allentown deceased”—a document that was included with Will Ginkinger’s probate file. In this statement, Henry Hornbeck, who described himself as “The Said Accountant,” reported that:
The Said Accountant charges himself agreeably with an Inventory filed in the Register’s Office at Allentown, in and for Lehigh County, on January 31st 1891, to wit $3,258.68.
Based on that document, it appears that Hornbeck had transferred ownership of Will Ginkinger’s house to himself. Hornbeck then used the next section of the document to explain the reason for his seemingly shocking action: “Said Accountant takes credit for the following payments, disbursements and charges against said Estate,” followed by a list of expenses he incurred while serving as Ginkinger’s executor ($37.50 total), the expenses for Ginkinger’s funeral ($44.00), payment of a bill owed to the Allentown city treasurer “for macadamizing on fifth St. Allentown” ($24.04), and three separate entries of mortgage due items that were labeled with titles and mortgage due amounts that did not appear to be related to the Ginkinger estate or even match the stated amounts that were due:
- “Due on Mortgage of J. Newhard Estate for $500 to date” ($513.08);
- “Due on Mortgage of J. Newhard Estate for $500 to date” ($509.83); and
- “Due on Mortgage of Mrs. J. Newhard Estate for $1,000 to date” ($1,026.16).
But it was Hornbeck’s next item that is perhaps the most shocking:
- Due Henry J. Hornbeck on Judgment No. 129 Nov [illegible] 1888 for $1265 vs. decedent” ($1,428.81).
In addition to Hornbeck having apparently brought suit against his friend in 1888, Hornbeck was now telling his county’s Register of Wills that, as administrator of the estate of his friend, Will Ginkinger, that he (Henry Hornbeck) was owed a grand total of $3,612.42 to cover that estate’s estimated liabilities, and that the $3,258.68 he would gain from the bequeath to him of Ginkinger’s home and land would still not cover all that he was owed. As a result, explained Hornbeck, Ginkinger’s estate still owed him $353.74.
The one seemingly bright spot in this probate was that Will Ginkinger had been allowed to bequeath a clock valued at $5 to someone named Louisa Ruhe.
Perhaps an even brighter thought for historians and Civil War enthusiasts, however, will be the realization that there was another noteworthy entry on the appraisal of Ginkinger’s estate—a notation stating that, among the final possessions of Will Ginkinger, were two swords valued at $50. Researchers believe that it is very likely that one or both of these swords were carried by Ginkinger during his Civil War service with the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers.
What Happened to the Family of William H. Ginkinger?
Will Ginkinger’s oldest nephew, Alonzo A. Guth, went on to marry. A carpenter for many years, he was widowed by the time the federal census was conducted in 1900. That same census also noted that Alonzo and his 18-year-old son, Robert, lived together in Allentown, and that his son was a day laborer. Suffering from heart failure and dropsy, Alonzo Guth died five years later—on 18 May 1915, and was interred at Allentown’s Union-West End Cemetery.
Will Ginkinger’s sister, Anna M. (Ginkinger) Guth, lived a long life. In 1900, she resided at the home of her youngest son, James, and his wife, Ella, and their children: Mabel (aged 20), Annie (aged 19), Minnie (aged 18), and James F. Guth (aged 17). By 1910, she had moved out, was employed as a dressmaker, and had become the head of her own household with 36-year-old lodger named Anna Huth. In declining health due to valvular heart disease and senility, she suffered an episode of cerebral apoplexy and died on 4 January 1917, and was laid to rest at the Union-West End Cemetery.
Tragically, the life for Will Ginkinger’s nephew, James W. Guth, appears to have taken a troubling path. Death records show that he ended his life with a gunshot to his head on 11 April 1927. After a coroner’s inquest, his body was interred at the Union-West End Cemetery three days later. Prior census records noted that, although he had married and had three children, his life had clearly had ups and downs; a railroad brakeman in 1880, he had become a papermill foreman by 1900, but was toiling away as a boiler works laborer in 1910. He had also been preceded in death, in 1915, by his daughter, Mabel.
- Alonzo Guth, Francis Guth, and Anna M. Ginkinger, in Death Certificates (“Alonzo Guth,” file no.: 50262, date of death: 18 May 1915). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.
- Anna M. Guth, W. James Ginkinger, and Margaret Nagle, in Death Certificates (“Anna M. Guth,” file no.: 337, registered no.: 7, date of death: 4 January 1917). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.
- Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
- Coverage of Pennsylvania’s First Defenders. Mifflintown, Pennsylvania: Juniata Sentinel, 24 April 1895.
- “Florida’s Role in the Civil War,” in Florida Memory. Tallahassee, Florida: State Archives of Florida.
- Ginkinger, William H., in Atkinson’s Erie City Directory for 1891, p. 25 (notice of William Ginkinger’s death with cause and date of death). Erie, Pennsylvania: William P. Atkinson, 1891.
- Ginkinger, William H., 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, 1861-1865.
- Ginkinger, William H. or Wm. H., in 4. Civil War Veterans’ Card File (B-47 I and F&S-47 I). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
- Ginkinger, William H., in The Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives for the Second Session of the Fifty-First Congress, 1890-’91, p. 236. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891.
- Ginkinger, William H., in U.S. Civil War Pension General Index (application no.: 630009, certificate no.: 407462, filed from Pennsylvania, 25 November 1887). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
- Ginkinger, William H. or Wm., in United States Census (1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920) and U.S. Veterans’ Schedule (1890). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
- James W. Guth, Francis Guth and Anna Ginkinger, in Death Certificates (James W. Guth, file no.: 37243, registered no.: 416, date of death: 11 April 1927). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.
- King, Darwin L. and Carl J. Case. “Civil War Accounting Procedures and Their Influence on Current Cost Accounting Practices,” in the Journal of the American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences (ASBBS), vol. 3, no. 1, 2007.
- Mathews, Alfred and Austin Hungerford. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Everts & Richards, 1884.
- Schaadt, James L. “Company I, First Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers: A Memoir of Its Service for the Union in 1861,” in The Penn Germania: A Popular Journal of German History and Ideals in the United States, vol. 1, no. 1. Lititz and Cleona, Pennsylvania: H.W. Kriebel, editor. Holzapfel Publishing Co., 1912.
- Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
- William H. Ginkinger, in Records of Class 4 (James B. Cole, leader), in Records of the Asbury Park Methodist Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1865-1874. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
- “William H. Ginginger [sic] of James & Margaret,” in Burial Records (2 January 1891), Salem United Church of Christ, Allentown, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
- “Wm. H. Ginkinger,” in Wills and Probate Records (will approved: 10 January 1891), Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Office of the Register of Wills, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.