Born on 16 November 1834 in Pennsylvania, William Henry Nagle was the son of William (or Wilhelm) Nagle and Sarah Ann (Hauck) Nagle. In 1850, he resided with his parents and siblings in Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. The family surname was occasionally reflected on records of the period as “Nagl.”
One source of information about William indicates that he may have been a resident of Phillipsburg, Warren County, New Jersey at the dawn of the Civil War, traveling the short distance to enlist. However, U.S. Census records do not seem to support this. Instead, federal records show that he resided in Northampton County in 1850 and 1860.
What is known for certain is that William Nagle married Louisa August Kimball at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Easton on 6 December 1860.
Civil War Military Service
William Henry Nagle became one of the many Pennsylvanians who joined the fight to preserve their nation’s Union during the American Civil War. He enrolled for military service on 14 August 1861 at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania with the Regimental Band of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and officially mustered in on 24 September 1861 while the regiment was stationed in Washington, D.C. He served with his regiment in defense of the nation’s capital, as well as during the opening months of the 47th’s southern campaign through the Carolinas and Florida.
On 27 September, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By afternoon, they were on the move. Armed with Mississippi rifles supplied by the Keystone State and led by the regimental band, the 47th Pennsylvania marched to Camp Lyon, Maryland on the eastern side of the Potomac. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in charging, double-quick, across a chain bridge, and marched on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.
The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to General W. F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.
Company C Musician Henry Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:
On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….
We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….
There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [sic], a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….
Sometime during this phase of duty, as part of the 3rd Brigade, the 47th Pennsylvanians were moved to a site they initially christened “Camp Big Chestnut” for the large chestnut tree located within their lodging’s boundaries. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.
On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. Also around this time, companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops. In his letter of 13 October, Henry Wharton described their duties, as well as their new home:
The location of our camp is fine and the scenery would be splendid if the view was not obstructed by heavy thickets of pine and innumerable chesnut [sic] trees. The country around us is excellent for the Rebel scouts to display their bravery; that is, to lurk in the dense woods and pick off one of our unsuspecting pickets. Last night, however, they (the Rebels) calculated wide of their mark; some of the New York 33d boys were out on picket; some fourteen or fifteen shots were exchanged, when our side succeeded in bringing to the dust, (or rather mud,) an officer and two privates of the enemy’s mounted pickets. The officer was shot by a Lieutenant in Company H [?], of the 33d.
Our own boys have seen hard service since we have been on the ‘sacred soil.’ One day and night on picket, next day working on entrenchments at the Fort, (Ethan Allen.) another on guard, next on march and so on continually, but the hardest was on picket from last Thursday morning ‘till Saturday morning – all the time four miles from camp, and both of the nights the rain poured in torrents, so much so that their clothes were completely saturated with the rain. They stood it nobly – not one complaining; but from the size of their haversacks on their return, it is no wonder that they were satisfied and are so eager to go again tomorrow. I heard one of them say ‘there was such nice cabbage, sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, &c., out where their duty called them, and then there was a likelihood of a Rebel sheep or young porker advancing over our lines and then he could take them as ‘contraband’ and have them for his own use.’ When they were out they saw about a dozen of the Rebel cavalry and would have had a bout with them, had it not been for…unlucky circumstance – one of the men caught the hammer of his rifle in the strap of his knapsack and caused his gun to fire; the Rebels heard the report and scampered in quick time….
On Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by Schmidt as “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” Less than a month later, in his letter of 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed more details about life at Camp Griffin:
This morning our brigade was out for inspection; arms, accoutrements [sic], clothing, knapsacks, etc, all were out through a thorough examination, and if I must say it myself, our company stood best, A No. 1, for cleanliness. We have a new commander to our Brigade, Brigadier General Brannen [sic], of the U.S. Army, and if looks are any criterion, I think he is a strict disciplinarian and one who will be as able to get his men out of danger as he is willing to lead them to battle….
The boys have plenty of work to do, such as piquet [sic] duty, standing guard, wood-chopping, police duty and day drill; but then they have the most substantial food; our rations consist of fresh beef (three times a week) pickled pork, pickled beef, smoked pork, fresh bread, daily, which is baked by our own bakers, the Quartermaster having procured portable ovens for that purpose, potatoes, split peas, beans, occasionally molasses and plenty of good coffee, so you see Uncle Sam supplies us plentifully….
A few nights ago our Company was out on piquet [sic]; it was a terrible night, raining very hard the whole night, and what made it worse, the boys had to stand well to their work and dare not leave to look for shelter. Some of them consider they are well paid for their exposure, as they captured two ancient muskets belonging to Secessia. One of them is of English manufacture, and the other has the Virginia militia mark on it. They are both in a dilapidated condition, but the boys hold them in high estimation as they are trophies from the enemy, and besides they were taken from the house of Mrs. Stewart, sister to the rebel Jackson who assassinated the lamented Ellsworth at Alexandria. The honorable lady, Mrs. Stewart, is now a prisoner at Washington and her house is the headquarters of the command of the piquets [sic]….
Since the success of the secret expedition, we have all kinds of rumors in camp. One is that our Brigade will be sent to the relief of Gen. Sherman, in South Carolina. The boys all desire it and the news in the ‘Press’ is correct, that a large force is to be sent there, I think their wish will be gratified….
On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by the regiment’s founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.” As a reward—and in preparation for bigger things to come, Brannan obtained new Springfield rifles for every infantryman of the 47th Pennsylvania.
In January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered to Annapolis, Maryland and southward via the steamer Oriental from 27 January to February 1862. Upon arrival, they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida and protect civilians loyal to the Union.
During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, many of the regiment’s soldiers attended to their spiritual needs by attending services at a local church.
During this phase of duty, soldiers from the regiment felled trees, built new roads and helped to strengthen the fortifications at the federal installation while continuing to drill and hone their fighting skills.
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 regimental band on Wednesday evening, 26 February.
From mid-June through July, the 47th Pennsylvanians were ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina and attached to the Beaufort District, Department of the South. Assigned duties, at times, were hazardous as men were sent out on picket assignments, risking injury or death from sniper fire.
By September of 1862, William Henry Nagle had become a victim of budget cuts, mustered out honorably with his fellow band members—as a Corporal, Musician 2nd Class—by General Order No. 91 of the U.S. War Department following a decision by the U.S. Congress to disband all regimental bands in order to reduce war expenditures. As he and his fellow musicians of the Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry packed and readied for their return home in early September 1862, the 47th’s Commanding Officer, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, expressed both disappointment and respect in a letter to the ensemble:
Headquarters 47th Regt. P.V.
Beaufort, S.C., Sept. 9, 1862
Gentlemen of the Band,
In accordance with an enactment of Congress and an order from the War Department, you have been regularly mustered out of the service of the United States, and are consequently detached from the regiment. I had vainly hoped when you were with us, united to do battle for our country, that we should remain together, to share the dangers and reap the same glory, until every vestige of the present wicked rebellion should be forever crushed, and we unitedly return again to our homes in peace, and receive of our fellow creatures the welcome plaudit, ‘well done’.
But fate has decreed otherwise, and you are about to bid ‘farewell’, and in taking leave of you, gentlemen, I beg leave to compliment you on your good deportment and manly bearings whilst connected with the regiment, and when you shall have departed from amongst us the sweet strains of music which emanated from you and so often swelled the breeze during dress parade, shall still ring in our ears.
Invoking heaven’s choicest gifts upon you collectively and individually, I bid you god speed on your homeward voyage and through all your future career. May your future course through life be as bright and happy as your past has been prosperous and safe.
I am, Gents,
Your obedient servant,
T. H. Good
Col. 47th Regt. Penna. Vols.
Return to Civilian Life
After returning from the war, William H. Nagle lived with his wife and children in Easton. Those children were: Edward Everett Nagle (born: July 26, 1861, Easton; died: January 31 1935, Easton); Charles Kase Nagle (born: September 29, 1864, Easton; died: August 25, 1932, Easton); William Henry (“Wilie”) Nagle (born about 1866, Easton; died: December 4, 1867, Easton); Mary Elizabeth (“Mamie”) Nagle (born: October 30, 1872, Easton; died: December 17, 1878, Easton); Louisa M. Nagle (born: May 17, 1874, Easton; died: September 7, 1915, Easton); Herbert Houck Nagle (born: September 14, 1880, Easton; died: December 23,1924, Easton); and Nellie May Nagle (born: August 22, 1883, Easton; died: April 1, 1938, Easton).
During the 1870s and 1880s, William H. Nagle supported his family while working as a retail grocer. He passed away in Easton on June 26, 1896, and was interred at the Easton Cemetery. (Note: Although his Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Card lists his year of death as 1895, his headstone shows the death year as 1896.)
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. I. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
2. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
3. Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Card (William H. Nagle). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Department of Veterans Affairs.
4. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published. 1986.
5. “The Civil War Bands,” in “Band Music from the Civil War Era.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Library of Congress, retrieved from LOC website, September 2015.
6. U.S. Census (1860, 1870, 1880) and U.S. Veterans’ Schedule (1890). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.