“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 fighting with General Sam Houston’s Texas troops during the Mexican War. William Gausler’s mother was Polly (Clader) Gausler, a granddaughter of Revolutionary War Patriot Jacob Clader. As a fatherless teen, William Gausler found work with the Lehigh Canal, spending more than a decade advancing from driver to boat commander until deciding to strike out on his own. He became the owner-operator of a 12-vessel fleet, moving passengers on the waterways between Wilkes-Barre and Philadelphia and 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, 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
On 22 February 1861, Gausler’s men were assigned with the Allen Rifles to guard Jones House in Harrisburg while President Lincoln addressed the 5,000 soldiers who had assembled to hear him speak. A Republican politically, Gausler was a supporter of Lincoln’s.
Although he would ultimately be forced by a sudden flood to close his lumber business, Gausler had become so respected for his military leadership skills that he was next appointed in mid-April 1861 to serve as Captain of a newly formed military unit, Company I, 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry.
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 supporters 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 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 based at Martinsburg, Virginia. With their terms set to expire on 20 July, General Patterson asked the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers 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, Gausler received “a personal letter from Governor Curtin, appointing him a field officer and authorizing him to assemble a recruited regiment.” He would join with his good friend, Tilghman H. Good, in founding and staffing the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
After receiving authorization from Pennsylvania Governor Andrew 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, 10 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, the 47th was ordered south to Washington, D.C. where it was stationed at “Camp Kalorama” on 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, 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 Pennsylvania joined Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade. 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 W. F. Smith’s headquarters, they had completed a roughly eight-mile trek to become part of the larger Army of the Potomac. Under Smith’s leadership, Gausler and his men would help to defend the nation’s capital until late January 1862.
1862 – 1863
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 railcars 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.
From mid-June through July, they 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.
During a return expedition to Florida, beginning 30 September, the 47th joined with the 1st Connecticut Battery, 7th Connecticut Infantry, and part of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry in assaulting the heavily protected Confederate force at Saint John’s Bluff. Skirmishing through 25 miles of swampland and forests after disembarking from ships at Mayport Mills on 1 October, the 47th captured abandoned artillery and ammunition on 3 October.
Companies E and K were then sent on detached duty with other Union troops to move deeper into Rebel territory. Sailing up the Saint John’s River, they took control of Jacksonville, Florida (5 October), and captured the Confederate steamer, Gov. Milton (6 October) before sailing back down to safer Union-controlled territory.
From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Good and Lieutenant Colonel George Warren Alexander, the 47th took on the heavily protected Confederate forces near Pocotaligo, South Carolina. A total of 18 enlisted men died at or near Frampton’s Plantation and the Pocotaligo Bridge during the Battle of Pocotaligo with another 114 wounded. Captain Charles Mickley was one of those killed in action; Captain George Junker was mortally wounded.
Having 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, 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.
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 P. 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.
On 25 February, Major Gausler and the 47th set off for a new period of duty in which the regiment would make history. Steaming first for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, the 47th arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February and was then sent by train to Brashear City. Shipped aboard the steamer Franklin via the Bayou Teche, the 47th finally joined up with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, becoming the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign spearheaded by Union General Nathaniel P. Banks (from 10 March to 22 May 1864 across Louisiana).
From 14-26 March, the 47th marched toward Alexandria. On 8 April, 2nd 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 battle 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, 68-year-old Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was wounded in action during the fierce fighting at Pleasant Hill, along with Sergeant William Pyers and the regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander.
Still others were captured during the battle, and marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, where they were held as prisoners of war by the Confederate Army until they were released during a series of prisoner exchanges beginning on 22 July and lasting through November.
At least one member of the 47th Pennsylvania never made it out alive from Camp Ford.
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 1st 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).
However, 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. Basler, Roy P. Collected Works. Abraham Lincoln Association/Springfield, Illinois. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953.
2. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol. I. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
3. The Express-Times. Easton, Pennsylvania: 23 October 1913.
4. Evening Star. Washington, DC: 11 May 1864.
5. 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.
6. “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.
7. 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.
8. 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.