Lieutenant-Colonel George Warren (“G. W.”) Alexander

Lieutenant-Colonel George Warren Alexander, second in command, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Fort Jefferson, Florida (circa 1863-1864, public domain).

Lieut. Col. G. W. Alexander left this city yesterday morning to join his Regiment. The Col. is a good looking soldier, and we will go bail that he is a good man in every respect. We wish the Government had many more such.” — Notice of G. W. Alexander’s 20 September departure for Civil War service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Reading Times, 21 September 1861

The life of George Warren Alexander was one of soaring peaks and heartbreaking valleys. A respected leader of his community whose reputation was burnished by shining moments of military valor and visionary business leadership, his later life was rocked by a shocking episode of white collar crime, following the death of a beloved daughter.

Formative Years

Born on 9 May 1829 in Derry, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, George Warren Alexander was a son of Philip C. and Mary Ann (Taylor) Alexander. Although one source indicates that he was born in Bow Center, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, his Massachusetts marriage ledger entry stated that he was born in Derry, New Hampshire.

In September 1850, George W. Alexander resided in Holyoke, Hampden County, Massachusetts with his parents and New Hampshire-born sisters: Elvina, Rosette, Sarah, Merriam, Lois and Dorothy (born in 1831, 1832, 1834, 1836, 1840 and 1842, respectively). There, G. W. trained in manufacturing processes while working for a cotton mill. His father supported the large Alexander family on a carpenter’s wages.

Also residing with the family in 1850 was George’s future wife, Harriet N. Appleton, a daughter of Robert and Jane Appleton. Although one source indicates that Hattie was born in Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts, her Massachusetts marriage record stated that she was born in in 1829 in Allenstown, Merrimack County, New Hampshire.

Known throughout most of his life as “G. W.”, George W. Alexander became a married man a year later when he wed Harriet N. Appleton in Holyoke, Massachusetts on 10 September 1851. Sometime during the mid-1850s, G. W. and Hattie moved to Berks County, Pennsylvania, where they settled in the city of Reading, and where G. W. became a member of the Reading Artillerists, a local militia group.

On June 15 1855, G. W. and Hattie welcomed son, Edgar W. Alexander, to their Reading home. A daughter, Lillie O. Alexander, arrived in May 1858. Meanwhile, G. W. continued to hone his skills in the manufacturing trade.

Leader of the Reading Artillerists

Just six months before Lillie Alexander’s birth, on 2 November 1857, the Reading Artillerists named her father, George W. Alexander, as their newest Captain.

* Note: A storied local militia unit, the Reading Artillerists were founded “in the year 1799, for the purpose of quelling the celebrated Whiskey Rebellion,” according to a history of the Artillerists presented in the 20 October 1859 edition of the Reading Times. Among their varied duty assignments, the Artillerists served as the body guard for General George Washington when he visited Carlisle, Pennsylvania during the heat of the rebellion, fought in the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, and Spanish-American War. To read more about the Artillerists’ history, see The Reading Artillerists — Safeguarding George Washington and America’s Freedom.

A notice in the 12 September 1861 edition of the Reading Times confirms George W. Alexander’s status as the most recent of the commanding officers of this distinguished local militia unit:

Reading Artillerists, Attention!
You will meet this evening at 7 o’clock, at the Armory, 5th and Washington sts., for the purpose of transacting important business. Punctual attendance is requested.
By order,                               G. W. ALEXANDER,
WM. MCNALL, O.S.                                 Captain.

A Nation Torn Asunder

By the time that federal census takers arrived in Reading in 1860, George W. and Hattie Alexander were on record as residing in Reading’s Spruce Ward with their children Edgar (1855-1912) and Lillie (1858-1918). The census ledger for this period described G. W. as an employee of a “Wadding Manufactory.”

During the first years of this new decade, however, the Alexanders were experiencing the roller coaster of emotions so common to families across the Keystone State as they went about trying to live their lives while relations between America’s North and South worsened.

In December of 1860, South Carolina formally announced its secession from the United States. In 1861, G. W. and Hattie joyfully welcomed another daughter—Sallie Lydia Alexander—to the Alexander home.

Civil War — Three Months’ Service

The bombardment of Fort Sumter 12-14 April 1861 (Currier & Ives, public domain).

The bombardment of Fort Sumter 12-14 April 1861 (Currier & Ives, public domain).

One of the first men to answer President Abraham Lincoln’s April 1861 call for 75,000 troops to help quell the South’s burgeoning rebellion following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces, G. W. Alexander, captain of the Reading Artillerists, enrolled for military service in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania at the age of 31.

Commissioned a Captain, he mustered in for duty with Company G of the 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 20 April 1861. Transported with his regiment to Cockeysville, Maryland via the Northern Central Railroad, Captain George W. Alexander then spent time at Camp Scott near York, Pennsylvania before being ordered to railroad guard duties near Baltimore, Maryland from 14-25 May. From there, he and his men 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 to Hagerstown, Maryland on 18 June and then to Funkstown, Goose Creek and Edward’s Ferry, the regiment remained in that 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), Captain George W. Alexander and his regiment were ordered to Harper’s Ferry on 21 July. Following the honorable completion of his Three Months’ Service, he and his regiment mustered out on 23 July 1861.

Civil War — Three Years’ Service

George W. Alexander then promptly re-upped for a three-year tour, re-enrolling at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg on 5 August 1861. Commissioned at the age of 32 as a Lieutenant-Colonel with the newly formed 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, he mustered in for duty at Washington, D.C., and joined up with the 47th at its encampment at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown, roughly two miles from the White House. That same day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were also officially mustered into federal service with the U.S. Army.

On 27 September, a rainy, drill-free day which permitted many of the men to read or write letters home, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of W. F. Smith’s Army of the Potomac. That afternoon, Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Alexander and his men marched to the Potomac River’s eastern side and, after arriving at Camp Lyon, Maryland, continued double-quick over a chain bridge before moving on toward Falls Church, Virginia. Arriving at Camp Advance at dusk, they pitched their tents in a deep ravine about two miles from the bridge they had just crossed, near a new federal military facility under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). Armed with Mississippi rifles supplied by the Keystone State, they joined with the 3rd Brigade and Smith’s Army of the Potomac in defending the nation’s capital.

On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads after having been ordered with the 3rd Brigade to Camp Griffin. In a letter home in mid-October, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to lead the entire 47th Regiment) reported that companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left-wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops.

On Friday, 22 October 1861, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by historian Lewis Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.”

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

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


Rendering of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida, Harper's Weekly, 1864 (public domain).

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

Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862, marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church. 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.

By the afternoon of Monday, 27 January 1862, Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Alexander and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had commenced boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the officers boarded last. Per the orders of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

In early February 1862, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians arrived in Key West, where they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. The regiment made its presence known to area residents via a parade through the city’s streets on 14 February.

Drilling their men daily in heavy artillery tactics, Good and Alexander also assigned members of the 47th Pennsylvania to tasks designed to strengthen the federal installation’s fortifications, including tree cutting and road building. From mid-June through July, the 47th was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men camped before being housed in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly rotated among the regiments present, putting soldiers at increased risk from sniper fire. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, under the leadership of Good and Alexander, the men of the 47th “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing.”

Sent on a return expedition to Florida, the 47th Pennsylvanians saw their first truly intense moments of combat when the 47th participated with other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1-3 October. Led by Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, a 1,500-plus Union force disembarked at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats. Taking point, the 47th led the 3rd Brigade through 25 miles of dense, pine forested swamps populated with deadly snakes and alligators. By the time the expedition ended, the brigade had forced the Confederate Army to abandon its artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and had paved the way for the Union to occupy the town of Jacksonville, Florida.

Integration of the Regiment

On 5 and 15 October 1862, respectively, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry became an integrated regiment, adding to its muster rolls a Black teen and several young to middle-aged Black men who had been freed from enslavement on plantations in the vicinity of 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 service.

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, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackay’s Point, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again, but they and the 3rd Brigade were less fortunate this time. Harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge, they met resistance from an entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field. Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests.

The Union soldiers grappled with the Confederates where they found them, pursuing the Rebels for four miles as they retreated to the bridge. There, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut. But the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackay’s Point.

Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died; two officers and another 114 enlisted were wounded. Several resting places for men from the 47th still remain unidentified, the information lost to sloppy Army and hospital records management, or to the trauma-impaired memories of soldiers forced to hastily bury or leave behind the bodies of comrades upon receiving orders to retreat.

On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South who had succumbed to yellow fever on 30 October. The Mountains of Mitchel, a part of Mars’ South Pole discovered by Mitchel in 1846 as a University of Cincinnati astronomer, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were later named for him. Men from the 47th Pennsylvania were given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.

On 1 November 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania helped another Black man escape slavery near Beaufort when they added 30-year-old Thomas Haywood to the kitchen staff of Company H. Described as a 5 feet 4 inch-tall laborer with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, Haywood 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.

Ordered back to Key West on 15 November of 1862, Colonel T. H. Good, Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Alexander and the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were once again based at Fort Taylor in Florida.

Excerpt from 47th PA Volunteers' Civil War muster roll documenting Brig. Gen. J.M. Brannan's directive for Lt. Col. G.W. Alexander to assume command of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida, December 1862.

Excerpt from 47th PA Volunteers’ Civil War muster roll documenting Brig.-Gen. J. M. Brannan’s directive for Lt.-Col. G. W. Alexander to assume command of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida, December 1862.

In mid to late December 1862, Brigadier-General Brannan assigned Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander, Colonel Good, and Major Gausler of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to serve on a judicial panel with other Union Army officers to conduct the court martial trial of Colonel Richard White of the 55th Pennsylvania Volunteers, and also appointed Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin of the 47th Pennsylvania’s C Company as Judge Advocate for the proceedings. According to a report in the 16 December edition of The New York Herald:

A little feud [had] arisen in Beaufort between General Saxton and the forces of the Tenth Army corps. Last week, during the absence at Fernandina of General Brannan and Colonel Good, the latter of whom is in command of the forces on Port Royal Island, Colonel Richard White of the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania, was temporarily placed in authority. By his command a stable, used by some of General Saxton’s employes [sic], was torn down. General Saxton remonstrated, and … hard words ensued … the General presumed upon his rank to place Colonel White in arrest, and to assume the control of the military forces. Upon General Brannan’s return, last Monday, General [Rufus] Saxton preferred against Colonel White several charges, among which are ‘conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline’ and ‘conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.’ General Brannan, while denying the right of General Saxton to exercise any authority over the troops, has, nevertheless, ordered a general court martial to be convened, and the following officers, comprising the detail of the court, are to-day [sic] trying the case:— Brigadier General Terry, United States Volunteers; Colonel T. H. Good, Forty-seventh Pennsylvania; Colonel H. R. Guss, Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania; Colonel J. D. Rust, Eighth Maine; Colonel J. R. Hawley, Seventh Connecticut; Colonel Edward Metcalf, Third Rhode Island artillery; Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander, 47th Pennsylvania; Lieutenant Colonel J. F. Twitchell, Eighth Maine; Lieutenant Colonel J. H. Bedell, Third New Hampshire; Major Gausler, Forty-seventh Pennsylvania; Major John Freese, Third Rhode Island artillery; Captain J. P. S. Gobin, Forty-seventh Pennsylvania, Judge Advocate. Among the officers of the corps the act of General Saxton is generally deemed a usurpation on his part; and, inasmuch as this opinion is either to be sustained or outweighed by the Court, a good deal of interest is manifested in the trial.

White, whose regiment had just recently fought side-by-side, effectively, with the 47th Pennsylvania and other Brannan regiments in the Battle of Pocotaligo, was acquitted, according to The Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County, Pennsylvania, and continued to serve as an officer with the Union Army.

Three days before Christmas, by order of Brigadier-General John Brannan, Lieutenant-Colonel George Alexander assumed control of the Union Army’s post at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida on 22 December 1862. Relieving the fort’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel L. W. Tinelli, Alexander would be joined by the men from Companies D, F, H, and K of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. So, remotely located, Fort Jefferson is, even today, only accessible by air or water with ferry trips averaging two to three hours each way.


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

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

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers spent the whole of 1863 guarding and fortifying federal installations in Florida as part of the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I continued to guard Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson in Florida’s Dry Tortugas. The climate was particularly harsh, and the duty assignment was not an easy one.

Several members of the regiment suffered sunstroke so severe that they were hospitalized before being discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates and sent home. Other illnesses were also constant foes with men suffering from and succumbing to typhoid and other tropical diseases for which their immune systems were ill equipped, as well as to dysentery and similar ailments contracted while living in close, often unsanitary quarters.

But the time spent here by the 47th Pennsylvanians was even more notable for the men’s obvious commitment to preserving the Union. Many who could have justifiably returned home upon expiration of their respective three-year service terms, their heads held high after all they had already endured, chose instead to re-enlist in order to finish the fight.


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

Capt. Richard A. Graeffe, accompanied by Assistant Surgeon William F. Reiber, commanded the main portion of Company A which boarded ship on Monday, January 4 and sailed the following day, Tuesday, for Fort Myers, on the Caloosahatchee River fifteen air miles southeast of Charlotte Harbor. The company was transported on board the Army quartermaster schooner Matchless, after having embarked the day before, and was accompanied by the steamer U.S.S. Honduras commanded by Lt. Harris, and with Gen. Woodbury aboard. Lt. Harris was directed to tow the Matchless if necessary.

Punta Rassa was probably the location where the troops disembarked, and was located on the tip of the southwest delta of the Caloosahatchee River … near what is now the mainland or eastern end of the Sanibel Causeway… Fort Myers was established further up the Caloosahatchee at a location less vulnerable to storms and hurricanes. In 1864, the Army built a long wharf and a barracks 100 feet long and 50 feet wide at Punta Rassa, and used it as an embarkation point for shipping north as many as 4400 Florida cattle….

Capt. Graeffe and company were disembarked on the evening of January 7, and Gen. Woodbury ordered the company to occupy Fort Myers on the south side of the Caloosahatchee, about 12 miles from its mouth and 150 miles from Key West. Shortly after, [a detachment of men from the 47th Pennsylvania’s A Company stationed on Useppa Island] was also ordered to proceed to Fort Myers and join the main body of Company A, the entire command under direct orders of the General who was in the area…. Gen. Woodbury returned to Key West on the Honduras prior to January 19, and the command was left in charge of Capt. Graeffe who dispatched various patrols in search of refugees for enlistment and for activities involving Confederate cattle shipments.

Company A’s muster roll provides the following account of the expedition under command of Capt. Graeffe: ‘The company left Key West Fla Jany 4. 64 enroute to Fort Meyers Coloosahatche River [sic] Fla. were joined by a detachment of the U.S. 2nd Fla Rangers at Punta Rossa Fla took possession of Fort Myers Jan 10. Captured a Rebel Indian Agent and two other men.’

A draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared in 2010 for the Everglades National Park partially documents the time of Richard Graeffe and the men under his Florida command this way:

A small contingent of 20 men and two officers from the Pennsylvania 47th Regiment, led by Captain Henry Crain of the 2nd Regiment of Florida, arrived at the fort on January 7, 1864. A short time later, the party was joined by another small detachment of the 47th under the command of Captain Richard A. Graeffe. Over a short period, increasing reinforcements of the fort led to increasing cattle raids throughout the region. A Union force so far into Confederate land did not go well with Confederate loyalists. The fact that so many men stationed at the post were black soldiers from the newly created U.S. Colored Troops was particularly aggravating. The raids were so antagonizing that the Confederates created a Cattle Guard Battalion called the “Cow Cavalry” to repulse Union raiders. The unit remained a primary threat to the Union soldiers carrying out raids and reconnaissance missions from Brooksville to as far south as Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers.

Meanwhile, all of the other companies of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry had begun preparing for the 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.

Unable to reach Louisiana until 23 March, the men from Company A were effectively placed on a different type of detached duty in New Orleans while they awaited transport to enable them to catch up with the main part of their regiment. Charged with guarding and overseeing the transport of 245 Confederate prisoners, they were finally able to board the Ohio Belle on 7 April, and reached Alexandria with those prisoners on 9 April.

Red River Campaign

From 14-26 March, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry headed for Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana, by way of New Iberia, Vermilionville, Opelousas, and Washington. On 4 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 were then officially mustered in for duty on 22 June at Morganza. Several of their entries noted that they were assigned the rank of “(Colored) Cook” while others were given the rank of “Under Cook.”

Often short on food and water, the regiment encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.

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

Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the volley of fire unleashed by both sides during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, those who were uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.

The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner and son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.

During this engagement, the 47th Pennsylvania succeeded in recapturing a Massachusetts artillery battery lost during the earlier Confederate assault. Unfortunately, while mounting the 47th Pennsylvania’s colors on one of the recaptured caissons, Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was shot in the left shoulder. As Walls fell, Sergeant William Pyers saved the American flag, preventing it from falling into enemy hands. Both Walls and Pyers survived the day and continued to fight on with the 47th, as did Private Joseph Shaver, who went on to survive the war, be honorably discharged and become a Methodist Episcopal minister.

In addition, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ second in command, was severely wounded in both legs—injuries that were nearly fatal.

Still others from the 47th were captured, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war until released during prisoner exchanges in July, August and November. At least one member of the regiment never made it out alive from that experience.

Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore, where they engaged in the hard labor of strengthening regimental and brigade fortifications for eleven days. They then moved back to Natchitoches Parish on 22 April, arriving in Cloutierville at 10 p.m. that same night, after marching 45 miles. While en route, the Union forces were attacked again—this time at the rear of their brigade, 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”). But it would be a battle that Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Alexander would miss because he was still recuperating from the wounds he sustained to his legs on 9 April.

Beginning 13 May, the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers moved from Simmesport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June. On the 4th of July, the regiment received new orders, directing the 47th’s return to the East Coast. This departure was effected in two phases:

  1. Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed aboard the McClellan beginning on 7 July. Following their arrival in Virginia, they had a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln on 12 July, and were then ordered to join Major-General David Hunter’s forces; and
  2. Companies B, G and K remained behind in Louisiana on detached duty under the leadership of F Company Captain Harte. Once transport was arranged for the group, the detachment sailed aboard the Blackstone, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August 1864.

Meanwhile, several of the most seriously injured or ill were left behind for further treatment at the Union’s hospitals in Baton Rouge or New Orleans; those who did not survive now rest at federal cemeteries in Baton Rouge and Chalmette.

Removed from command amid the controversy over the Union Army’s successes and failures during the Red River Expedition, Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. Banks subsequently spent much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for Louisiana.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Still able and willing to fight after their Bayou battles, the 47th Pennsylvanians from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I joined up with Major-General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia in mid-July 1864. There, they fought in the Battle of Cool Spring and, once again, assisted in defending Washington, D.C. while also helping to drive Confederate troops from Maryland.

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah in August, early September saw the departure of several 47th Pennsylvanians whose terms were up, including Company D’s Captain Henry Woodruff. Those members of the 47th who remained on duty were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor.

Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864

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

Image of the victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces. Kurz & Allison, circa 1893. Public domain, courtesy of the Library of Congress: LC-DIG-pga-01855 (digital file from original print) LC-USZC4-1753 (color film copy transparency).

Victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces. Kurz & Allison, circa 1893. Public domain, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. Advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. Finally reaching and the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with the Confederate Army commanded by Early. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Confederate artillery stationed on high ground.

Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and the 19th Corps were directed by Brigadier-General Emory to attack and pursue Major-General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but casualties mounted as another Confederate artillery group opened fire on Union troops trying to cross a clearing. When a nearly fatal gap began to open between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units led by Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell. Russell, hit twice—once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania opened its lines long enough to enable the Union cavalry under William Woods Averell and the foot soldiers of General George Crook to charge the Confederates’ left flank.

The 19th Corps, with the 47th in the thick of the fighting, began pushing the Rebels back. Early’s “grays” retreated in the face of the valor displayed by Sheridan’s “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, eight miles south of Winchester, the Rebels retreated to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September), and to Waynesboro, after a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one. Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek.

Although he officially mustered out from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers on 23 September 1864 upon expiration of his three-year term of service, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander was reported by the Reading Times (in its 20 September 1864 edition) to have returned home sooner:

HOME. – Col. G. W. Alexander of the 47th P.V., arrived home on Saturday, after a protracted absence, during which he has seen much service. His many friends will be glad to hear that he is well and hearty.

Alexander’s superior, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, also mustered out around this time because his three-year term had expired as well.

Return to Civilian Life

Charles Evans Cemetery, circa 1862, where members of the family of G. W. Alexander were laid to rest beginning in the 1860s (excerpt: map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, H. F. Bridgens, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Following his honorable discharge from the military, George W. Alexander returned home to his wife, son, and daughters, Lillie and Sallie, in Reading, Pennsylvania. Newborn daughter, Nettie A. Alexander, opened her eyes for the first time for G. W. and Hattie in 1865.

In 1867, G. W. Alexander was confirmed by Congress as U.S. Assessor of the Internal Revenue for the agency’s district which included the city of Reading. The 2 March 1867 edition of the Reading Times reported his appointment as follows:

CONFIRMED. – The many friends of Col. G. W. Alexander will learn with pleasure that the U.S. Senate has confirmed his appointment as Assessor of the Internal Revenue of this District. We congratulate him upon his success.

The following year (1868), proved to be a more difficult time for George W. Alexander than even those of the Civil War. On 6 January 1868, G. W.’s daughter, Sallie, passed away in Reading after being injured during a fall at school. She was interred on 10 January 1868 at the Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading.

Within months after Sallie’s passing, he then became the subject of an investigation by the federal Treasury Department. While Philadelphia newspapers stoked the fires of negative coverage, a number of Berks County residents, stood by him, believing that the charges that had been filed against him were false and possibly even the result of a conspiracy. The 20 August 1868 edition of The Evening Telegraph in Philadelphia reported:

CASES BEFORE THE RECORDER. – A man named John Larens, arrested upon a warrant issued by Alderman Mengle, of Berks county, had a hearing before Recorder Given upon the charge of conspiring with United States Commissioner Rollins and others to effect the removal of George W. Alexander from the Collectorship of the Eighth District of Pennsylvania. Held in $2500 bail to appear in Berks county.

Beginning 1 December 1868, George W. Alexander was tried for allegedly aiding and abetting, in his capacity as a federal revenue inspector, the removal and concealment of whiskey to avoid paying taxes. The Evening Telegraph of Philadelphia reported the proceedings in its 2 December 1868 edition as follows:

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT – Judge Cadwalader. – In the United States District Court yesterday, George W. Alexander was put on his trial, on the charge of removing whisky to a place other than a bonded warehouse; also, with aiding and abetting in the removal, and with aiding in the concealment of whisky, with intent to evade the revenue law.

It will be remembered that at the time of the commission of the alleged offense the defendant was the Assessor of Internal Revenue in the First Collection District at Reading, in this State, and consequently the case has attracted much attention.

Mr. Valentine, Assistant United State District Attorney, stated yesterday, in opening the case, that in the Eighth Collection District were two distilleries – one belonging to David C. Keller, at Exeter Station, six miles from Reading, and the other to Tobias Barto, near Reading – that in consequence of an arrangement between the Assessor and Keller and Barto the distilleries were run up to their full capacity, but that a return of about one bushel of grain of every ten was … made to the Government officers, the distillers, of course, paying handsomely in the way of black-mail for this privilege of defrauding the revenue.

The first witness called was David C. Keller, who testified that in the early part of 1868 he called on Assessor Alexander, when an arrangement was effected by which both his distillery and Barto’s were to be run to their full capacity, but only a small return made to the Government; the two Assistant Assessors, Frank Morritt and Diller Groff, were made parties to the scheme; the arrangement worked for a while, but subsequently certain revenue detectives visited the district and discovered the plot.

In the afternoon, Tobias Barto, the Sheriff of Berks county, referred to by the witness Keller, was on the stand, and underwent a long examination … and his testimony was to the same effect as that given by Keller in respect to the interviews when all three were present.

This morning Joseph G. Holmes was the first witness on the stand…. [in September 1866] he was appointed inspector at Keller’s distillery; in March, 1868, was storekeeper at the same place; was there as storekeeper until the 22d of July, 1868; there was a rectifying establishment about 200 yards from the distillery; a hole was dug under the floor … a tub was put in … and liquor put in the tub; Colonel Alexander was about while the hole was being dug; afterwards saw Alexander at the distillery … afterwards at the rectifying place; the lid of the tub was opened … in Alexander’s presence by Keller; they took a rod and measured it; it was about two-thirds full…. Alexander said it was a good arrangement; the place held about 45 barrels…. Keller came out of the distillery and said that he had paid Alexander money; went to see Alexander; saw him at his home … he acknowledged having received money from Keller, but did not state the amount; left without getting any money from him; saw him three or four times at the distillery….

Levi K. Meixell testified – Live in Exeter township, Berks county; was assistant assessor appointed in August, 1867; held the office in March last; in March, April, and May, 1868, Col. Keller made returns to me; he did not swear to them; about the 15th of April I went to Reading to the revenue office; saw Colonel Alexander privately; he asked me if I swore Keller to the returns which had been reported; told him ‘no;’ he then said that I should not, that it was not necessary; that was all that passed at that time; he gave me instructions in September, 1867, when I was sworn in, to go to the distillery every other day, and report upon the number of bushels of mash, etc.; fifteen bushels of mash were then put in every other day; Keller said so; they only ran for a short time; then stopped to repair; about November they began running again…. they only reported ten bushels of grain a day at the time I had these instructions.

Cross-examined – Keller said that the previous assessor had never sworn him to his returns.

Samuel Barto testified – I live in Reading with my father, Sheriff Barto; recollect last spring that the defendant was at our house in company with Keller; it was at night; had gone to bed; father got up and opened the door; I also went down; Colonel Keller, Colonel Alexander, and my father were in the sitting-room when I got down; I stood in the entry; the door was ajar; heard what was being said; heard this, ‘Barto, you’ve made no money, and I’ve made no money, I want you to make up what you’ve lost;’ Colonel Alexander said this; as my object in coming down was only to see who was there; I then went up stairs [sic].

Revenue Detective James J. Brooks testified – in March last was special agent of Treasury Department; I made the affidavit upon which the defendant was arrested – upon the 24th day of June was deputized myself to serve the warrant; the warrant was issued for the arrest of George W. Alexander, Della B. Groff, and Frank Morritt; went to Reading to serve the warrant; Alexander was on the same train; had a conversation with him; told him I was going to arrest some important individuals; he didn’t ask me who they were, and I didn’t tell him; that night I went to Keller’s house; saw him.

Here an exception was made by the defendant’s counsel that the character of the evidence being given was not relevant – and, after consultation, the prosecution withdrew it.

Had an interview with Alexander some time [sic] after meeting him in the cars; called him out of the house and informed him of the warrant; it was about the 30th of June; I told him I must arrest him and take him to Philadelphia; he plead [sic] so hard that I did not at once do it; I really pitied him until I learned that it was not the first time that he had thus taken on; didn’t serve the warrant; told him to come down to Philadelphia, waive an examination, and give bail for his trial at court…. defendant didn’t come down; went up again in July and told him that he must come down; he did come then, and saw the District Attorney; he then went back; next saw him when the final hearing took place.

Here the prosecution closed, and the Court took a recess.

The 5 December 1868 edition of The Evening Telegraph noted that, while George W. Alexander had been convicted, the Judge (George Cadwalader, a former general with the Union Army in the Civil War) had asked the jury to recommend mercy in Alexander’s case:

THE CONVICTION OF ALEXANDER – The trial of George W. Alexander, Assessor of the eighth district of this State, upon a charge of aiding and abetting in the unlawful removal of whisky with intent to defraud the revenue, was concluded yesterday in the United States District Court. The evidence was voluminous and the pleadings lengthy, the case altogether occupying the attention of the Court for the greater portion of the week. Last evening the jury rendered a verdict of guilty, but afterwards, at the request of his Honor Judge Cadwalader, accompanied it with a recommendation to mercy.

The morning papers erroneously stated that the recommendation was brought in at the first, with the verdict, but so far from this being the case, it was not until the judge had said that he would be gratified if the jurors would unite with him in the recommendation, that they acceded. The trial, throughout, was conducted with fairness, and the verdict was eminently just. The public, tired of the constant peculations of the Revenue officials, and indignant in the easy manner in which they have hitherto escaped judgment watched this case with intense interest, in the hope that at least one of the evidently guilty ones would be punished as an example to the others. They were not again disappointed, and to the results of the trial the efforts of the new District Attorney, John P. O’Neill, Esq., were mainly conducive. He can feel the proud satisfaction of knowing that the people are all tendering him praise. Let but one or two more of the public pilferers receive their deserts, and a bright prospect arises that taxes will diminish before a revenue honestly collected.

George W. Alexander was sentenced to three years in prison.

After the Storm

This 1928 advertisement used an early 1900s photo of G. W. Alexander’s hat factory (public domain).

Although he was ashamed of his situation and worried about his fate and the fate of his family, George W. Alexander did not allow that period of adversity to overwhelm or destroy him. Instead, he persevered and, within a few short years, became not only a contributing member of society, but a respected civic leader and successful entrepreneur.

By 1870, George W. Alexander and his wife, Hattie, were shown on the federal census as residents of Reading’s 1st Ward. Also living with them were their daughters Lillie and Sallie. The federal census taker that year described G. W. as “Manufacturer Cotton Laps.”

By 1880, G. W. Alexander and his wife had moved to West Reading in Berks County. Residing there with the couple that year were their daughters Lillie and Nettie.

G. W. Alexander & Co., Franklin Street, West Reading, 1887 (Sanborn Map & Publishing Co., public domain; click to enlarge).

That same year (1880), G. W. Alexander built and operated a hat factory in the same borough where he was now residing—a manufacturing firm that bore his name and became increasingly successful with each passing year. An 1887 fire insurance map produced by the Sanborn Map & Publishing Company shows the layout of the factory on Franklin Street in West Reading, Pennsylvania, and notes that it was commonly referred to either as “G. W. Alexander & Co.” or “West Reading Wool Hat Manufacturing.”

After the factory was severely damaged by fire sometime around 1890, G. W. Alexander rebuilt it, and then continued to nurture its growth. Sometime during the factory’s operation, G. W.’s son, Edgar, joined the family firm. According to the 5 June 1892 edition of the Reading Eagle:

Alexander & Co.’s hat factory is one of the principal industrial establishments and a most interesting place to visit. The firm is engaged in manufacturing fur hats and its plant is equipped with all the latest improved machinery put in at great expense. Forty hands are employed and excellent wages are made by the employees. The venture made by the firm in entering the fur hat trade is already a success and they contemplate an increase of their factory so as to probably employ 100 men in all.

West Reading is illuminated now, through the joint efforts of Col. Alexander, J. G. Yarnell and Daniel Moser, who formed a company for this purpose, and lamp posts, on which coal oil lamps are placed, are located all over the place, and the service is very satisfactory to all. Families are charged 75 cents per quarter to defray the expense connected with the illumination, and thus far there have been no objections, and the charge is cheerfully paid.

Alexander and his son did even better than anticipated. Ramping up production and sales, they were able to expand their work force to 300.

On 12 April 1896, George Alexander was widowed by Hattie. After passing away in Reading, Berks County, she was interred at the Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading in Section B-1, Lot 96.

By 1900, George W. Alexander was residing in the 1st Precinct of Spring Township, Berks County with his children Edgar and Lillie. The father and son hatters continued to operate the family factory, which had made a name for itself in the manufacture of soft fur headwear.

Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania, 1881 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Unfortunately for his daughter, Nettie A. Alexander, the future was less bright. According to the 1880 federal census, Nettie suffered from a disease of her spine. Unmarried, she passed away in Reading on 19 March 1900, and was interred with her mother and sister, Sallie, in the Alexander family plot at Reading’s Charles Evans Cemetery.

Her father followed her in death just three years later, passing away in Reading on 5 May 1903. The Daily Courier of Connellsville, Pennsylvania reported the death of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ former second in command as follows:

Reading, May 6 – Colonel George W. Alexander, senior member of Alexander & Co., one of the largest fur hat manufacturers in this district and lieutenant colonel of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil war, is dead.

His death was also reported in the 6 May 1903 edition of The Allentown Leader:

Col. George W. Alexander, one of Reading’s best known citizens, and senior member of the firm of Alexander & Co., had manufacturers, died Tuesday at his home there, of paralysis of the heart, aged 74 years.

Col. Alexander was born in New Hampshire and came to Reading in 1860. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was captain of the Reading Artillerists. He enlisted for three months and upon the expiration of his term of service he returned as captain of the First Pennsylvania Volunteers. He afterwards re-enlisted, and with six companies proceeded to Fort Jefferson and completed the fortifications and mounted the guns at that place. This required one year. He later participated in the Red River Expedition under General Banks and was in all the battles in the Shenandoah Valley under General Sheridan.

At the Battle of Cedar Creek he was wounded in the legs and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

He was a member of the Chandler Lodge, F. and A.M., and a fireman. He is survived by one son and one daughter, Edgar W. Alexander and Miss Lillie Alexander.

Note: The paragraphs above regarding G. W. Alexander’s military service contain numerous errors. A Lieutenant Colonel and the regiment’s second in command since the 47th’s inception, he mustered out in September 1864 before the Battle of Cedar Creek took place. Nearly killed in action during the Red River Campaign, it was during the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana on 9 April 1864 that he sustained the wounds to his legs.

Colonel George Warren (“G. W.”) Alexander was interred at the Charles Evans Cemetery (Section B-1, Lot 96, Grave 3) in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania on 9 May 1903. A large monument was erected there at his grave to honor his service to his community and nation.

The entry for George W. Alexander in the burial records of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Reading noted that the officiating minister chose Psalms 107:7 for G. W. Alexander’s funeral:

And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation.

* Note: G. W. Alexander’s son, Edgar W. Alexander, continued to operate the family’s hat factory after his father’s passing. After incorporating in 1905, he sold the factory to Philadelphia businessmen in 1912. Renamed the “Reading Hat Factory,” it became known for its manufacture of Boy Scout, cowboy, military and other stiff hats—a few of which may be found as collectibles at various auction sites.

The $400,000 estate left by Edgar Alexander benefited his widow and, most notably, his sister, Lillie O. Alexander. (Lillie suffered a “nervous shock” after Edgar passed away in November 1912.) The Reading Times reported that Lillie was awarded the use of the Alexander properties plus the interest on roughly a third of the monetary holdings of the estate—a portion larger than even that given to E. W.’s widow. E. W.’s daughter, Nettie I. Alexander (also known as “Mrs. J. Harry Moyer”), was awarded only $1,000 with the stipulation that the bequest be reduced further—to just $1—if she attempted to contest the will.

And the Alexander will was contested—twice. A former Alexander staffer was forced in 1916 to repay money taken from Lillie’s portion of the estate. His claim that Edgar’s father (G. W. Alexander) had authorized him to take $45,000 in bonds was ruled invalid by the courts.

Three years earlier, E. W.’s daughter, Nettie (Lillie’s niece), reported by the Reading Times to have been given only a minor bequest due to ‘her wicked tongue’ which made her ‘unnatural in her conduct to her mother,’ fought back in a highly publicized case rivaling the storytelling of the 1980s-era evening soap operas, “Dallas” and “Dynasty.” It was ‘the largest estate ever contested in the Berks court’ (at the time). Nettie’s lawyers claimed that her father, E. W. Alexander, was ‘delusional’ and possibly ‘insane’, and abusive toward others during not only the latter part of his life, but even during her formative years—and that Nettie’s mother may also have had physical or mental health issues:

‘This is not only a case of disinheritance … but the decedent has libeled her in his will… Nettie I. Moyer’s infancy was but commonplace, and at the age of six her mother was injured and taught to keep her mother from all nervous or physical shocks. Her mother would go nowhere without her…. She was with her mother as her nurse in her last illness; she had actually devoted her whole life to her…. It was the chastity and decency of the household that the daughter insisted upon and protested about that began it all – the arguments they had about the father’s treatment of the orphaned girl who lived in their home, whom Nettie said he should look upon as if she were in her place and after which reprimand he said that he was sorry and would do better. When he fell again, his ideas changed and he said that ‘men are weak.’ His actions … ended with his having hit his daughter [Nettie], striking her unconscious, for which her husband refused to forgive him. It was when she moved away that he said it would break up his home and that he would never forgive her. There are only two rational conclusions that can be taken from this testimony in this case: First that he was a hard drinker and the intemperate use of the intoxicants impaired his brain cells.’

The lawyers for Nettie further alleged that E. W. Alexander had once ridden his horse “into the Mansion House to have a drink on horseback.”

Note: One factor not mentioned in the news coverage of the estate’s legal proceedings, but which may have impacted E. W. Alexander’s health, was the possibility of mercury poisoning. The phrase “mad as a hatter” was coined in England as awareness dawned that mercury vapors inhaled by hat factory workers often lead to mental illness. Whether or not mercury was used by G. W. Alexander & Son is unclear, but it is possible that it was since mercury was used by many American hat manufacturers up until the early 1940s.

The lawyers representing the Alexander estate and G. W. Alexander’s point of view noted that families were rarely happy with the instructions contained in wills, but that decedents had the right to distribute their money and property as they saw fit:

‘The very object of a will is to produce inequality, and to provide for the wants of a testator’s family; to protect those who are helpless and to reward those who have been affectionate and to punish those who have been disobedient…. From the whole evidence it plainly appears that the testator was displeased with the contestant because he heard that she had made comments concerning her mother and himself which to his mind appeared unnatural in a daughter. His general mental soundness and good judgment are not questioned. Even if in this particular the testator had been prejudiced or mistaken or illogical or even if such comments were justified by his conduct, there is no evidence in the case from which an insane delusion can be inferred.’

When Nettie lost, she appealed the judge’s ruling to the state Supreme Court in March 1914. She lost again in July 1914. Newspapers reported that, while Nettie was “cut off without a cent,” those who had been kind to or faithful employees of E. W. Alexander were rewarded for their compassion and dedication.

Eventually, the Alexander estate would come to be remembered by Reading citizens in a positive light. Following the resolution of the court cases and the deaths of the estate’s beneficiaries (G. W. Alexander’s daughter, Lillie O. Alexander, passed away on 18 August 1918), the remainder of the Alexander estate was distributed among Reading’s Home for Friendless Children and Home for Widows and Single Women, Humane Society, Reading Tuberculosis Society (Reading Sanitorium for the Treatment of Tuberculosis), Reading Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and the Topton Orphan’s Home.


1. Allentown Leader, The. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Various Dates:

  • “Allentown Greets Heroes of the 47th: Reunion Here Tuesday of Gallant Civil War Fighters: Sketch of Regiment by Maj. Gausler.” Allentown: The Allentown Leader, Saturday, 19 October 1912.
  • “Col. Alexander Dead: Lieut. Col. of the Famous 47th Passes Away in Reading.” Allentown: The Allentown Leader, 6 May 1903.

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

3. Berks County Death Records. Berks County, Pennsylvania: Register of Wills, 1900-1918.

4. Burial Records (George W. Alexander, Sallie Lydia Alexander), in St. Luke’s Lutheran Church Records, and in other church record collections, in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania: 1903.

5. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

6. “Col. G. W. Alexander” (death notice). Connellsville, Pennsylvania: The Daily Courier, 6 May 1903.

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

8. Johner, Patricia E. Paths of Glory: The Unfinished Life of Colonel Richard White,” in “Clark House News.” Indiana, Pennsylvania: The Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County, Pennsylvania, June 2012.

9. Marriage Record (George W. Alexander and Harriet N. Appleton), in Massachusetts Vital Records. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society.

10. Montgomery, Morton L. Biographical and Historical Annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania. Chicago, Illinois: J. H. Beers & Co., 1909.

11. News from Port Royal, S.C.: Arrival of the Steamers Bienville and Hale.” New York New York: The New York Herald, 16 December 1862.

12. Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Card. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

13. “Reading Loses Old Resident” (obituary of E. W. Alexander). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 27 November 1912.

14. Reading Times. Reading, Pennsylvania: Various Dates:

  • “A Condensed History of the Reading Artillerists.” Reading: Reading Times, 20 October 1859.
  • “Alexander Bonds Must Be Returned: Supreme Court Refuses John S. Thompson’s Petition for Reargument.” Reading: Reading Times, 7 October 1916.
  • “Alexander Estate to Reward Many Steady Employees: Daughter, by Supreme Court Decision, Is Cut Off without a Cent for Contesting the Will: Family and Charity Will Share Generously in $345,000 Legacy.” Reading: Reading Times, 3 July 1914.
  • “Alexander Will Gives $400,000 to Relatives.” Reading: Reading Times, 5 December 1912.
  • “Arguments for Alexander Will May Go to Jury for Decision: Attorney for Estate Says Testament Is Man’s Dearest Right and Rarely Ever Suits His Relatives.” Reading: Reading Times, 30 December 1913.
  • “At Col. Alexander’s Hat Factory.” Reading: Reading Times, 9 May 1898.
  • “Barred Child from His Bier.” Reading: Reading Times, 7 November 1913.
  • “Confirmed” (notice of the U.S. Senate confirmation of G. W. Alexander to serve as the Assessor of the Internal Revenue for the agency’s district in Reading). Reading: Reading Times, 2 March 1867.
  • “Charities Share in Part of the Alexander Will: Final Disposition Made in Estate of Hat Manufacturer.” Reading: Reading Times, 7 February 1919.
  • “Daughter Contests Alexander Will.” Reading: Reading Times, 14 July 1913.
  • “Daughter Tells Family History: Mrs. Moyer’s Testimony as to Reason of Estrangement with Colonel [E. W.] Alexander.” Reading: Reading Times, 11 October 1913.
  • “E. W. Alexander, Pasts [sic] V. Head, and Lodgeman Dead.” Reading: Reading Times, 25 November 1912.
  • “Home” (notice of G. W. Alexander’s return home in September 1864 from military service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers). Reading: Reading Times, 20 September 1864.
  • “Left” (notice of G. W. Alexander’s 20 September 1861 departure for service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers). Reading: Reading Times, 21 September 1861.
  • “Miss Alexander Ill.” Reading: Reading Times, 26 November 1912.
  • “Miss Alexander’s Will: Three Public Bequests Out of a $75,000 Estate.” Reading: Reading Times, 23 August 1918.
  • “No Real Sports Left in Reading.” Reading: Reading Times, 19 December 1913.
  • Reading Artillerists’ Meeting Notice. Reading: Reading Times, 12 September 1861.
  • “Soldier’s Honors for Alexander.” Reading: Reading Times, 30 November 1912.

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

16. Telegraph (Evening Edition), The. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Various Dates:

  • “The Alexander Case.” Philadelphia: The Evening Telegraph, 2 December 1868.
  • “Cases Before the Recorder.” Philadelphia: The Evening Telegraph, 20 August 1868.
  • “The Conviction of Alexander.” Philadelphia: The Evening Telegraph, 5 December 1868.

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

18. U.S. Census (1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900). Washington, D.C., New Hampshire and Pennsylvania: U,S. National Archives and Records Administration.

19. “West Reading: A Description of the City’s Largest Suburb: It Wants to Be Incorporated — A Thriving Place” (mentions G. W. Alexander’s hat factory and his role in bringing coal lamp lighting to city streets). Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Eagle, 5 June 1892.

20. West Reading Wool Hat Mfg./G. W. Alexander & Co. (fire insurance map), in “Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps,” 1887. University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Libraries.

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