“Major Gausler was a man of great force of character. He was not in the field for fun, and prosecuted the war with all the energy of his fiery nature.”
— The Allentown Leader, 19 March 1914 (front page)
Born on 9 May 1830 in Rittersville, Lehigh County, William H. Gausler was the son of David Gausler (alternately spelled as “Gossler”), a shoemaker and hotel manager who had been killed while serving as a member of General Sam Houston’s Texas troops during the Mexican-American War. William Gausler’s mother, Polly (Clader) Gausler, was a granddaughter of Revolutionary War Patriot Jacob Clader.
As a fatherless teen, William Gausler found work with the Lehigh Canal, and spent more than a decade advancing from driver to boat commander until deciding to strike out on his own to become the owner-operator of a 12-vessel fleet that transported passengers along the waterways between Wilkes-Barre and Philadelphia, and which also moved cargo between White Haven and Allentown.
In his Reminiscences of the Lehigh and Delaware Canal from 1840 to 1856 published in the January 1912 edition of The Penn Germania, Gausler wrote:
I commenced to drive a horse on the towpath of the Lehigh Canal in 1840 for board and clothes, and by 1856, when the Lehigh Valley Railroad was built, I was proprietor and owner of a line of twelve transportation boats plying between Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre.
I was at first employed as driver by John Bachman, of Freemansburg, Pa…. I drove the horse of the boat “Bear” that brought the first load of iron ore from South Easton to Catasauqua, Pa., for the Crane Iron Furnace Company in September, 1840. On January 8, 1841, the canal from White Haven to Easton was completely destroyed by a freshet, which nearly bankrupted the company…. Mr. Bachman, my employer, lost both of his boats … and discharged me without pay, after which I was taken in by a daughter of John Warg of the same place. I drove a cart horse to repair the canal, during the winter of 1841, and boarded in a shanty at Laubach’s farm below East Allentown, Pa.
In this freshet all the bridges, with the exception of the chain bridge at Lehigh Gap, were swept down the river and 90 percent of the canal boats at Freemansburg … were lost…. It took nearly all summer till boating could be resumed from Penn Haven to Bristol. The White Haven end was not finished until 1842….
The cause of the freshet was the breaking of the high dams above Mauch Chunk. The swell of water and ice swept everything before it and ruined nearly everybody living near the Lehigh River…..
Sadly, tragedy struck the Gausler family again in 1849 when William’s brother, Augustus A. Gausler, died in a drowning accident near the canal—at “the Chain Dam above Easton.” By this time, William Gausler had already begun to take firmer control of his professional future. Gausler, who had continued to work for John Warg until accepting a job with James Cook in 1846, bought his first boat in 1847, “and freighted lumber for Nathan Dresher and the father of Col. H.C. Trexler….” By 1849, he had “a line of eight boats, and freighted store goods from Vine Street wharf, Philadelphia … to Wilkes-Barre, via White Haven, over the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad.”
In 1852, he married Allentown resident Sarah (Schimpf) Gausler. Together, they welcomed to the world two sons, Augustus C. and Edward A. Gausler, and three daughters, Emma, Nina and Jennie. Emma would go on to marry, becoming Mrs. Willam Leeds; Nina became Mrs. George C. Child.
In 1856, Gausler began operating a lumber business (that would eventually be closed due to another sudden flood), and was also actively engaged in civic affairs, serving as the commanding officer of a local militia unit, the Jordan Artillery. Also known as the “Jordan Artillerists,” the Allentown-based unit dressed in the same uniforms worn by federal troops (but with plumed hats), was equipped with Springfield rifles, and trained regularly in the procedures outlined in the Hardee Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics manual. So proficient had his men become, it is reported that other militia men declined to engage in competition with the Jordan Artillerists, fearing they would be soundly trounced.
Gausler also played a role in organizing the Menninger Band. Initially led by William H. H. Menninger in connection with the Jordan Artillerists, the ensemble would ultimately survive and be transformed into the Allentown Band.
A Looming Civil War
As the 1850s gave way to the 1860s, William Gausler and his fellow Lehigh Valley residents regularly read local newspaper accounts of the worsening relations between America’s North and South. Five days before Christmas in 1860, on 20 December, their fears were realized when South Carolina broke the nation’s heart and became the first state to secede from the United States. Like rapidly toppling dominos, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama then followed on 9, 10 and 11 January 1861, as did Georgia on 19 January 1861, Louisiana on 26 January, and Texas on 1 February.
In January of the New Year, when Pennsylvania leaders learned that President-Elect Abraham Lincoln would make a stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as part of a February 1861 whistle-stop tour that he was making en route to his inauguration in Washington, D.C., and that Lincoln’s life was at risk because southern sympathizers had threatened to kill him before he could take office, Captain William Gausler and his men were called upon to help ensure a peaceful transition of power. (A Republican politically, Gausler was a supporter of Lincoln’s.)
Assigned with the Allen Rifles to guard Jones House in Harrisburg, where Lincoln was slated to address a crowd, the Jordan Artillerists were among the 5,000 soldiers who heard Lincoln speak in person on 22 February 1861. According to historian Roy Basler’s Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, as Lincoln addressed the crowd from the balcony, the president-elect still clearly wanted to find a way to preserve America’s Union without having to call upon federal troops, saying, “While I have been proud to see to-day the finest military array…allow me to express the hope that in the shedding of blood their services may never be needed, especially in the shedding of fraternal blood.”
Lincoln also addressed the Pennsylvania General Assembly later that same day.
Captain Gausler, who had become so respected for his military leadership skills by the time of Lincoln’s visit, was next appointed to serve as captain of a newly formed military unit—Company I, 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry.
It was mid-April 1861—and it was the dawn of the American Civil War.
Company I, 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry — Three Months’ Service
Combining Gausler’s Jordan Artillerists with the men from the Allen Rifles, Company I was hastily mustered into service at Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 20 April 1861 as part of the brand new 1st Regiment, which had been established on 13 April 1861 by the citizenry of Lehigh and Northampton counties in the face of rising tensions between America’s North and South.
Gausler’s surname would frequently be misspelled throughout the Civil War as “Gansler” in both Adjutant General records and press coverage of his wartime service.
Initially ordered to guard railroad lines, the men of Company I and their fellow 1st Regiment volunteers were assigned to defend Baltimore, where they helped to bolster the support of Union loyalists in Maryland for two weeks before moving on to Catonsville and Franklintown. Ordered back to Baltimore in early June and then Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Gausler and his men (as part of the 1st Pennsylvania) became part of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, which was headed by General Robert Patterson.
While occupying Frederick City, Maryland, Gausler and his Company I soldiers volunteered to procure supplies from Point of Rocks, which they did—while under fire from Confederate troops.
Historian James L. Schaadt reported in the January 1912 edition of The Penn Germania that Gausler used a brief furlough in early June to return to Allentown, where he “borrowed $300 from Blumer’s Bank, and loaned $3 to each of his men who had received no pay up to this time.” The loans, wrote Schaadt, were ultimately all repaid by the men.
On 8 July 1861, the 1st Pennsylvania was ordered to garrison the Union’s key supply depot, which was based in Martinsburg, Virginia (now in West Virginia). Less than two weeks later, with their terms set to expire on 20 July, the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers were asked by General Patterson to extend their service until they could be relieved. They agreed and upon fulfillment of their Three Months’ Service plus a slight extension of time, the men of Company I were honorably discharged, mustering out at Harrisburg on 26 July 1861.
While in Harrisburg, according to Schaadt, Captain Gausler received “a personal letter from Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin, appointing him a field officer and authorizing him to assemble a recruited regiment.” In response, Gausler joined his good friend, Tilghman H. Good, in founding and staffing the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry — Three Years’ Service
After receiving authorization from Governor Curtin to form the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Tilghman H. Good promptly began recruiting for his new regiment in August. With the help of William Gausler and others respected by Good, ten full companies were pulled together: “Companies A and E at Easton, B, G, I and K at Allentown, C at Sunbury, D at Bloomfield, Perry county, F at Catasauqua, and H at Newport, Perry county, and at Harrisburg,” according to historian Samuel P. Bates. “Companies B, E and G, as also a portion of Company I, had previously served in the First Regiment, during the three months’ service, D in the Second, A and a portion of I in the Ninth, C in the Eleventh, and K in the Twenty-fifth.”
Mustering in again at Camp Curtin, Tilghman H. Good was appointed Colonel of the 47th Pennsylvania with the following additional appointments also being made that same day: George Warren Alexander, Lieutenant-Colonel; William H. Gausler, Major; and James W. Fuller, Jr., Adjutant.
Following an all too brief training period in light infantry tactics, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered south to Washington, D.C. Their regiment was then moved to “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights, about two miles from the White House near Georgetown, beginning 21 September. The next day, C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton penned the following update to his hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American:
After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.
After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.
With great fanfare, Major William Gausler and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania volunteers became part of the U.S. Army just days later when they mustered into federal service on 24 September.
On 27 September, the 47th Pennsylvanians joined the 3rd Brigade of Brigadier-General Isaac Ingalls Stevens. By early afternoon, they were on the move. Armed with their Keystone State-supplied Mississippi rifles, Gausler and his men marched behind the 47th’s Regimental Band to Camp Lyon, Maryland. At 5 p.m., the 47th and 46th Pennsylvania regiments moved double-quick across the nearby chain bridge. The 47th then marched on toward Falls Church, Virginia.
Making a dusk arrival at Camp Advance, about two miles away, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers encamped in a deep ravine near the Union’s new Fort Ethan Allen. Now situated near the headquarters of Brigadier-General William Farrar Smith (also known as “Baldy”), they had completed a roughly eight-mile trek to become part of the larger Army of the Potomac. Their job was to help defend the nation’s capital.
In October of 1861, the 47th was ordered to proceed with the 3rd Brigade to Camp Griffin. On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. On Friday morning, 22 October, the 47th participated 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.”
Half of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were next ordered to join parts of the 33rd Maine and 46th New York in extending the reach of their division’s picket lines, which they did successfully to “a half mile beyond Lewinsville,” according to John Peter Shindel Gobin, captain of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Company C.
On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by the regiment’s founder, Colonel Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to historian Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges…. After the reviews and inspections, Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.”
As a reward, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan obtained new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, Major William Gausler and 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, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had commenced boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, Major Gausler and his fellow officers were among the last to board. Per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
Upon their arrival in early February 1862 at Key West, the 47th Pennsylvanians were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. On 14 February, they made their presence known to area residents via a parade through the city’s streets. That weekend, a number of the soldiers also mingled with residents at local church services.
While stationed in Key West, the men of the 47th drilled in heavy artillery and other battle strategies—often as much as eight hours per day. Their time here was also difficult due to the prevalence of disease. Many of the men lost their lives to typhoid fever, or to dysentery or other ailments spread from soldier to soldier by poor sanitary conditions.
But there were lighter moments as well. According to a letter penned by Henry Wharton on 27 February 1862, the regiment commemorated the birthday of former U.S. President George Washington with a parade, a special ceremony involving the reading of Washington’s farewell address to the nation and the firing of cannon at the fort, and a sack race and other games on 22 February. The festivities then continued two days later when the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band hosted an officers’ ball at which “all parties enjoyed themselves, for three o’clock of the morning sounded on their ears before any motion was made to move homewards.” This was then followed by a concert by the band on Wednesday evening, 26 February.
From mid-June through July, the 47th Pennsylvanians were sent to Hilton Head, South Carolina, and attached to the Beaufort District, Department of the South. But Major William Gausler would only be with his regiment for a short time during this phase of duty. Ordered to return home to Pennsylvania with F Company Captain Henry S. Harte to recruit additional men for the regiment, Gausler and Harte would be away from 15 July through early November; as a result, they both missed participating in their regiment’s first combat experiences, including the capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida from late September through early October of 1862 and the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina, during which the 47th Pennsylvania sustained heavy casualties while attempting to capture and destroy a railroad bridge on 22 October. A total of 18 enlisted men died that day at or near Frampton’s Plantation and the Pocotaligo Bridge with another 114 wounded. Captain Charles Mickley of the 47th’s G Company was one of those killed in action; Captain George Junker was mortally wounded.
Integration of the Regiment
On 5 and 15 October 1862, while Major Gausler was back in Pennsylvania on recruiting duty, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry became an integrated regiment, adding to its muster rolls several young 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.
Having finally secured the enlistment of an additional 54 men for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Major William Gausler returned to the 47th’s encampment in South Carolina to find many of his subordinates battered, but battle hardened by their recent combat experiences.
On 15 November 1862, Major Gausler and his men were ordered back to Key West, where the 47th Pennsylvania assumed duties as part of the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I garrisoned Fort Taylor; Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, which was remotely located off the coast of Florida and accessible only by boat.
In mid to late December 1862, Brigadier-General Brannan assigned Major Gausler, Colonel Good, and Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander 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.
Throughout the whole of 1863, Major William H. Gausler and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were part of the U.S. Army’s District of Key West and Tortugas under the command of Brigadier-General Daniel Phineas Woodbury.
During the 47th’s time here, Major Gausler was assigned to provost duty over Key West.
A noteworthy year for his regiment in terms of disease-related casualties, this phase of duty for the 47th Pennsylvania was made even more remarkable by the commitment displayed by the majority of men who served with this regiment. Many who could have returned home, their heads legitimately held high after all they had endured, chose instead to reenlist for additional three-year terms of service as their original service terms expired.
In a letter to the Sunbury American on 23 August 1863, Henry Wharton described Thanksgiving celebrations held by the regiment and residents of Key West and a yacht race the following Saturday at which participants had “an opportunity of tripping the ‘light, fantastic toe,’ to the fine music of the 47th Band, lead by that excellent musician, Prof. Bush.”
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 Brigadier-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, Colonel Tilghman Good, in consultation with his superiors, assigned Captain Richard Graeffe and a group of men from Company A to special duty, and charged them 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, men and women escaping slavery, 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.’
Schmidt notes that Graeffe’s hand drawings show there were roughly 12 buildings “primarily situated along the river, with a log palisade protecting those portions not bounded by the Caloosahatchee; the whole in a densely wooded area and entered through an opening on the southeast protected by the river on the west near the area of the wharf, and a log blockhouse on the east.” During this phase of duty, which lasted until sometime in February of 1864, Graeffe’s A Company men subsequently added more structures and fortifications. They also captured three Confederate sympathizers at the fort, including a blockade runner and spy named Griffin and an Indian interpreter and agent named Lewis. Charged with multiple offenses against the United States, they were transported to Key West, where they were kept under guard by the Provost Marshal—Major William Gausler, third-in-command of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
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, Colonel Good, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander and Major William Gausler had begun preparing to take the members of all of the other companies of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on 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 marched toward Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana, by way of New Iberia, Vermilionville, Opelousas, and Washington. 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 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 throughout their long, grueling trek through enemy territory, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill on the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon. On that day (8 April 1864), Second Lieutenant Alfred Swoyer and 59 others were cut down during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield). Rushed into combat ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, the men of the 47th engaged in an intense back-and-forth volley of fire. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. The exhausted, but uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.
The next day proved to be even more intense. On 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 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.
During this engagement, the 47th Pennsylvania also recaptured a Massachusetts artillery battery that had been lost during the earlier Confederate assault. While he was mounting the 47th Pennsylvania’s colors on one of the recaptured Massachusetts caissons, Color-Sergeant Benjamin F. Walls was shot in the left shoulder. As Walls fell, Sergeant William Pyers was also shot while retrieving the American flag from Walls and preventing it from falling into enemy hands.
In addition, the 47th nearly lost its second-in-command, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, who had been severely wounded in both legs, casualties among the enlisted men were also high, and a number of soldiers were captured and held as prisoners of war by Confederate forces at Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas until released during prisoner exchanges in July, August, September, or November. Tragically, at least three members of the 47th died while in captivity, and the burial locations of others remain a mystery to this day, their bodies having been hastily interred on or between battlefields—or possibly 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 11 days and engaged in the hard labor of strengthening regimental and brigade fortifications. They then moved back to Natchitoches Parish on 22 April, arriving in Cloutierville at 10 p.m. that same night, after marching 45 miles. While en route, they were attacked again—this time at the rear of their brigade.
But Major Gausler and two other officers from the 47th Pennsylvania would be unable to guide their subordinates when they needed it most.
The 11 May 1864 Evening Star in Washington, D.C. carried startling news for those who knew William H. Gausler. Gausler had been dismissed, along with First Lieutenants W. H. R. Hangen and William Rees, from military service “for cowardice in the actions of Sabine Cross Roads and Pleasant Hill on the 8th and 9th of April, and for having tendered their resignations while under such charges” (AGO Special Order No. 169, 6 May 1864).
The allegations against the 47th Pennsylvania’s officers would continue to trouble the hearts and minds of Colonel Good and his men for months as the situation went unresolved—despite official protests that were lodged by Good and others who condemned the allegations of cowardice against Gausler, Hangen, and Reese as grossly inaccurate and unfair.
The stain was finally removed from the regiment when President Abraham Lincoln stepped in. According to the History Book Club’s The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 8 (derived from Collected Works. The Abraham Lincoln Association, 1953), President Lincoln personally reviewed and reversed the Adjutant General’s findings against Gausler. On 14 October 1864, Lincoln wrote to U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:
Please send the papers of Major Gansler [sic], by the bearer, Mr. Longnecker. A. LINCOLN
An annotation to Lincoln’s collected works explains that “Mr. Longnecker was probably Henry C. Longnecker of Allentown, Pennsylvania,” and makes clear that, although Major W. H. Gausler had indeed been dismissed for cowardice, President Lincoln disagreed with the decision, and overturned it on 17 October 1864.
This same annotation presents confirmation of President Lincoln’s action and the resulting Special Orders (No. 350), issued by the U.S. Office of the Adjutant General:
By direction of the President, so much of Special Orders, No. 169 . . . as relates to Major W. H. Gansler [sic], 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, is hereby revoked, and he is honorably discharged, on tender of resignation.
The notation further explains, “Although the name appears as ‘Gansler’ in Special Orders, it is ‘Gausler’ on the roster of the regiment.”
A more detailed explanation of why Gausler was brought up on those charges was provided in Gausler’s obituary in The Allentown Leader, following his passing in 1914:
“He was court martialed for making a superior officer apologize on his knees at the point of a gun for slurring Pennsylvania German soldiers, but was pardoned by President Lincoln.”
After the War
In 1866, William H. Gausler lived in Philadelphia, where he tried his hand at operating a grocery store before becoming a successful purveyor of Queen’s ware (Wedgwood creamware). He operated the latter business venture under the name of Gausler, Hoffman & Co.
In 1880, William Gausler and his wife continued to enjoy a hectic home life filled with the sounds of their 10-year-old daughter, Jennie, and sons, William and Edward (aged 18 and 15, respectively), and daughter Emma (Gausler) Leeds and her five-year-old son, Harry Leeds.
In 1907, the surviving members of the 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers formed an “alumni association,” and elected their former captain, William H. Gausler, as the group’s first president. Gausler also became a favorite at 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer reunions.
By 1912, he was the oldest surviving officer of the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. At the regiment’s 41st annual reunion in October 1913, he was reported by Easton news media to have recounted the 47th Pennsylvania’s exploits for the surviving members of the regiment and their families in a special presentation to the gathering, and proclaimed that the 47th “was noted for discipline and second to no volunteer regiment in the Rebellion (Civil War).”
Less than six months later, the old soldier was gone, having passed away at his home at 2143 North Van Pelt Street in Philadelphia on 19 March 1914. According to his obituary in The Allentown Leader, he was preceded in death by his wife and had been in failing health, himself, for some time:
“Despite his age, he was a man of wonderful vigor until he met with an accident in returning from the great Gettysburg reunion of the Blue and the Gray early last July. As he was boarding a train at Harrisburg on his way home, it started suddenly and he was thrown violently on the platform. The injuries he received eventually caused his death.”
Laid to rest with full military honors, Major William H. Gausler was interred in Section S of Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.
1. “Abraham Lincoln visits Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and from there secretly travels directly to Washington,” Carlisle, Pennsylvania: “House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,” retrieved online 12 August 2021.
2. Basler, Roy P. Collected Works. Abraham Lincoln Association/Springfield, Illinois. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953.
3. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. I. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
4. “The Departure From Harrisburgh [sic].” New York, New York: The New York Times, 25 February 1861, p. 1.
5. Eash, Codie. “President-elect Lincoln’s Inaugural Journey through Pennsylvania,” in Pennsylvania and the Civil War, 1 March 2020.
6. Evening Star. Washington, DC: 11 May 1864.
7. Express-Times, The. Easton, Pennsylvania: 23 October 1913.
8. Gausler, W. H. “Reminiscences of the Lehigh and Delaware Canal from 1840 to 1856,” in The Penn Germania: A Popular Journal of German History and Ideals in the United States. Lititz and Cleona, Pennsylvania: H. W. Kriebel, editor. Holzapfel Publishing Co., 1912.
9. 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.
10. “Major Gausler Dead at His Phila. Home: Death Injury Received While Returning from Gettysburg Reunion.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 19 March 1914, p. 1.
11. Mathews, Alfred and Austin Hungerford. “History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” 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.
12. “News from Port Royal, S.C.: Arrival of the Steamers Bienville and Hale.” New York New York: The New York Herald, 16 December 1862.
13. 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.
You must be logged in to post a comment.