Black History Month: An Early Encounter with the Evil of Slavery and a Celebration of Washington’s Birthday (February 1862)

Woodcut depicting the harsh climate at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during the Civil War (public domain, U.S. Library of Congress).

“I was a servant until I was 13 years old and then my master put me into the field to make sugar and molasses. I tried to escape, but my master came on the ship and took me back.”

— Walter Bowten, a 27-year-old black man who requested help from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers after successfully escaping from slavery in February 1862

Attached to the command of Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan and assigned to garrison Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Florida in early February 1862, the members of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were soon brought face to face with the realities of life behind enemy lines in America’s Deep South as the United States was about to enter into the second year of its Civil War. Familiarized early on with the open, corrosive hatred of supporters of secession and the Confederacy, they also learned about the ugliest practices of slavery firsthand from a young man who had been whipped simply because his clothing had torn during a period of hard labor.

Taking turns with members of Brannan’s other regiments (the 90th and 91st New York Volunteers) in guarding roughly 200 to 300 blockade runners, gunboat operators and other Confederate prisoners, as well as 57 secessionists from Ship Island, the 47th Pennsylvanians also drilled daily in heavy artillery tactics, felled trees, helped to build new roads, and strengthened the fortifications in and around the Union Army’s presence in Key West.

* Note: Although several earlier historians have speculated that the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry was ordered to Florida because its members were incompetent militarily or because they were being punished for some unspecified wrongdoing, this belief is unfounded. Brigadier-General Brannan personally selected the 47th Pennsylvania to accompany him on what he knew would be a difficult mission—terminating Florida’s role as “the supplier of the Confederacy.” Florida’s livestock farmers were among the earliest to feed Confederate States Army troops, becoming one of the largest sources of cattle for CSA regiments, as well as suppliers of pork products while other food producers contributed fruit and fish. In addition, Florida was a major producer of American salt—a key ingredient critical to the preservation of food for CSA troops on the move.

Furthermore, President Abraham Lincoln and his generals realized that, if they were to prevent Europe from helping the Confederate States of America turn the tide of war in its favor by landing ammunition and food-laden ships on the coast of Florida, Union troops would need to capture and then maintain control of Florida’s coastal and interior waterways. So, they began to beef up the presence of Union Army and Navy forces at key locations around the state, including at Fort Taylor in Key West and Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, as well as via offshore shipping blockades; they then also increased the heavy artillery training of their fort-based troops to further persuade Confederate and European leaders that any attempted sea-based attack or supply delivery would be so costly that it would not be worth the risk.

As the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers settled in further to their new assignments, they also began to make their presence felt in another important way—by trooping regularly at the fort and through the town. On Friday, February 7 alone, the 47th Pennsylvanians marched behind their Regimental Band in three separate regimental parades, followed by an evening drill in front of their barracks.

To safeguard against potential misbehavior by soldiers stationed far from home, military discipline was also instilled and reinforced through a series of proclamations by superior officers at the brigade, regimental, or unit levels, such as General Order No. 2, which announced that water permits would be “issued to the quartermaster Sgt. of each company each evening at 6:45 for the succeeding day” due to a critical shortage of safe drinking water:

“A sufficient number of men will be detailed to carry water, but they will not be excused from other duty. No bathing will be allowed after 5:30 AM. The right wing of the regiment will bathe tomorrow morning from 5 to 5:30 AM. They will be in charge of a commanding officer of each company. The commanding officer will see that the men avail themselves of bathing as it is essential to the health and welfare of the regiment. All bathing in daytime is absolutely prohibited. Hours of service and roll call are: Reveille at daybreak; police immediately after; call for drill 5:30; recall 7; breakfast 7:15; surgeon’s call 7:45; guard mounting 9; call for drill 10; recall 11; dinner 12; 1st Sgt. call 1; call for 3:30; recall 5; dress parade 5:30; tattoo at 8; taps 8:30. These calls will be beat by the drum at the central guard quarters five minutes before the time stated.”

Captain Richard A. Graeffe, Company A, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (c. 1863, public domain).

Special Order No. 18 authorized Captain Richard Graeffe, the commanding officer of Company A, to direct two men to immediately report to the regiment’s master baker for extra duties as bakers’ helpers while General Order No. 3 directed the commanding officers of individual companies to ensure that their respective sergeants had enough time to complete their administrative duties before submitting their required reports to the brigade’s headquarters each morning by 10 a.m. (Regimental Order No. 2 was subsequently modified to reflect the rescheduling of tattoo and taps to 9 and 9:30 p.m., respectively.) Around this same time, Private Abraham N. Wolf was awarded a temporary boost in authority with his assignment as “boss carpenter”—an additional duty he would continue to perform until June 20.

Following an early inspection by their superiors on Sunday, February 9, many 47th Pennsylvanians walked into the main part of the city to attend church services. C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton described the experience a week later in another of his letters to the Sunbury American:

“With several members of our company I attended Episcopal Church last Sabbath—The church building is a large and beautiful one, and the people deserve great credit for erecting it. The Minister is a strong Union man, and it struck me, on last Sabbath, that he lost no opportunity of displaying his Union sentiments. Some time ago some members of the Church were very disloyal, and when the Minister read the prayer “to behold and bless Thy servant, the President of the United States, and all others in authority,” they would close the prayer book, and look daggers at him, wondering whom they should hang first – the Minister or Abe Lincoln. General Brannan (Captain at the time), hearing of it, put an end to this disrespect, made them take the oath of allegiance, and now they now can say ‘Amen’ as loud and as heartily as the best Union men on the island…. For the sake of the Church, I am happy to state that only a few of its members were weak enough to show their fondness for Jeff Davis—the rest of the members were very glad that Gen. Brannan took the matter in hand.

The population of the island is about four thousand, consisting of negroes, Spaniards, and a few whites. With the exception of five storekeepers, the occupation of its inhabitants is fishing, dealing in fruit and selling hot coffee and cool drinks. There are as many coffee and cool drink saloons here as there are Lager Bier saloons in the Everlasting State of Williamsport, and from that you can readily perceive there is no need of being thirsty. As for intoxicating drinks, they are prohibited—the island being under martial law it is impossible to get even a smell, and it is well that it is so, for in this climate there is no telling what amount of sickness its use might produce. The buildings used for stores are very large and airy, but I can assure you that in the stores of either Friling & Grant or E. Y. Bright & Son, there are more goods than in all the stores on this island put together. Oranges, coming from Cuba and Nassau islands, are very plenty, and can be bo’t [sic] at three for a sixpence; not such as you folks get at home, but real fresh, juicy fellows that melt in one’s mouth equal to the best ice cream made in H. B. Masser’s patent ice cream freezers. Fish are very plenty [sic], and can be bought cheap. Thanks to Sergeant Smelser [alternate spelling “Smeltzer”], our company is living high in the fish line. He is Company Quarter-Master Sergeant, and on every fish market morning, Peter is at the wharf, and there exchanges our surplus pork and beef for fish; so that the boys have a variety and are content.

Horse and cattle are very small. They come from Cuba. The horses are not near as big as Peter B. Masser’s black ponies, and I have seen at home two year old cattle larger than those they use here for beeves.

There is an article here, that I believe bothers the whole human race, and that is mosquitoes. Those on this island are not of the common kind, but regular tormentors. – Fix your net work as you may, you will receive their sting before morning. They are great on a serenade too, and if one is impolite enough to go to sleep as they are in the middle of a glee, the leader will give you a tickler with his sting that it is impossible to resist; but for my part, I can easily dispense with that kind of music, and often wish that they would favor some one else who can appreciate their talents better than I can.

The Fort on this island (Fort Taylor) is a very large one, and is now of the most importance to the Government. It is not near finished, but so much so that the rebels dare not venture within the range of its guns. – When finished it will have one hundred and eighty guns, and with those on the embankment on the moat, fronting the town, it will have two hundred and seventy five. Some time since the fort came within an ace of being taken by the rebels, but Capt. Brannan saved it be stratagem. Men were working at the fort, so, to prevent suspicion, the Captain every morning would march a guard from the garrison to the fort, and in that manner before the rebels were aware of it, he had full possession of it. Mulraner, formerly a Sergeant of the Captain’s, who became rich in the rum business, hoisted a secesh flag on his hotel, and sent an impudent note to the Captain requesting him to honor the seven stars by firing a salute from the fort. The reply was that if the rag was not taken down on the return of the messenger, the Commander would open the guns of the fort on the town, and send Mulraner and his friends to Tortugas to work in the hot sand and give them time to repent of their folly, preparatory to dangling at the end of a rope. The flag was taken down — Mulraner vamoosed [sic] the ranch, and is now in command of a company of rebels somewhere near Pensacola. It is tho’t [sic] that when Gen. Brannan arrives Mulraner’s property, which is valuable, will be confiscated.

There are a large number of men-of-war here, and every day more are added to their number. Fifty-seven prisoners were brought in during the last week from Ship Island, besides two prizes, one loaded with turpentine, and the other with arms and machinery that were on the road to New Orleans, for a large steamer that is building there for use of the rebels.

You need not be surprised to here [sic] of an expedition being sent out from here – everything looks like it – so many vessels in port, more expected and troops arriving every day. There are three regiments here now, the 90th and 91st New York, and our own, besides the Regulars in the fort. If we do go, there will have to be a strong force left behind; for, in my opinion, the most of the Union men here are as treacherous as the men who use the stiletto to stab a friend, at night, from behind.

With the exception of fish and fruit, everything they use comes from the North. They would starve if it were not for the ‘mud ills,’ and yet they would try to break up the Government that protects them. Lumber is worth one hundred dollars per thousand feet. Carpenters’ wages are three dollars per day but I think they would starve at that, as I see no employment for them. The boys are very well, and are enjoying themselves with the sea bathing. We have received the American and Gazette three times since our arrival, and they are very welcome visitors, much more so than were the morning papers in Virginia. It is very strange we receive no letters; if the ‘folks at home’ knew how anxious we are to get them they would be a little more punctual.”

Following completion that same Sunday (February 9) of the brigade’s dress parade, which began at 5:30 p.m., B Company Lieutenant Allen G. Balliet marched roughly 40 members of the 47th Pennsylvania to Key West’s Methodist Church for evening services during which a sermon was delivered by the 91st New York Volunteers’ regimental chaplain. That same day, H Company Captain James Kacy issued Company Order No. 7:

“Sgt. R. S. Gardner will have under his command tents #1 and 2 and will be held personally responsible for the clean up of the men in person, clothing, arms, accoutrements, and quarters. Sgt. James Hahn will have under him tents #3 and 4 and be held responsible the same as #1 and 2. Sgt. Lynch will have under his control tents #5 and 6 and will be likewise held responsible. The Sgts. Gardner, Hahn and Lynch will have the men of the company on the parade ground at 5:30 AM and when one of them is on guard, the other two will attend to this drill duty and divide the squad between their respective commands.”

As the days of February rolled by, the commanding officers of the 47th Pennsylvania made a concerted effort to stabilize the living arrangements for their subordinates, housing the bulk of their men in military barracks southeast of Palm Avenue and White Street at Peary Court on the eastern side of Key West. Lodged in three buildings on the northeast side and three buildings on the southwest side of the Union Army’s parade grounds were the regiment’s field and staff officers, as well as the entire membership of the Regimental Band. Additionally, two 125-foot by 20-foot buildings accommodated a portion of enlisted members of the 47th Pennsylvania with the remainder housed in adjacent military tents—effective Tuesday, February 18. Known as Sibley tents, these were large, round, canvas structures which were 12 feet tall by 18 feet in diameter, supported by center poles and warmed by central fireplaces. Housing 16 to 19 men each, seven tents each were erected by the 47th Pennsylvania’s ten companies. One tent per company was placed at the head of each company’s “street” to house that company’s officers with the other six tents per company allotted to the enlisted men, each of whom who were arranged on the inside “like the spokes of a wheel,” according to Schmidt, “with their feet to the fireplace.”

According to Regimental Chaplain William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock, “The barracks were large and commodious two story [sic] buildings forming three sides of a quadrangle, the opening toward the sea.” Also located in this section of the city were the army’s hospital and cemetery.

As Henry Wharton indicated in his letter (above), serving with the 47th Pennsylvania under Brannan were the 90th New York, which was commanded by Colonel Joseph S. Morgan and which would later fight alongside the 47th Pennsylvania during the Union’s 1864 Red River Campaign across Louisiana and 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign across Virginia, and the 91st New York, commanded by Colonel J. Van Sandt. In addition, five companies of U.S. Army “regulars” also called Fort Taylor home at this time. (The 7th New Hampshire, which was stationed at Fort Jefferson in Florida’s Dry Tortugas, would be brought into closer proximity with the 47th Pennsylvania a few months later when Brannan and his men were ordered to move to South Carolina.)

There were also a significant number of enslaved and formerly enslaved men, women and children in the region. According to Schmidt:

“There was a slave camp about one mile from the military camps, where 150 Blacks were engaged in manufacturing salt; it was reported that 50,000 bushels of salt were made on the island each year by solar evaporation…. The manufacture of salt was terminated later in 1862, and was not restarted until 1854, to prevent any salt from the facility finding its way into the Confederacy….

Another building of note on the island of Key West during the war was the ‘slave barracoons’, used to house Blacks taken from captured slavery vessels, and described as being a long low building about 300 feet by 30 feet. Lt. Geety reported that there were 1500 slaves there at one time, and 400 died in four months [sic] time; a rate per day that the 90th New York Regiment would approach in August-September as a result of a Yellow Fever epidemic, during which time the barracoons, located at Whitehead’s Point in the southernmost area of Key West would be converted into a temporary hospital.”

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

On Friday, February 14, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers made their presence known once again to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. Two days later, their commanding officers insisted that they get better acquainted with the residents of their new community by attending services at local churches. That same Sunday evening, a young black man named Walter Bowten entered the camp to request protection. Provided food and a tobacco-filled pipe, he was also given a regimental uniform to replace his tattered, soiled clothing. His mind at greater ease, he then explained that he had escaped slavery from Providence Island, and recounted his life experience to one of the regiment’s bilingual members, who documented the man’s story in German. The following translation was provided by regimental historian Lewis Schmidt:

“My name is Walter Bowten and I was born in 1835. My parents were born slaves but they worked to free themselves. I was a servant until I was 13 years old and then my master put me into the field to make sugar and molasses. I tried to escape, but my master came on the ship and took me back…. Where my master lives is not much of a place, it is only one island where tangerines, oranges, lemons and coconuts grow. I do not have a cent of money from my master and would rather be with the white folks than with a mulatto. I had to work every day from morning until night, and on Sunday we had to work until 8 in the morning. We had two changes of clothing, one for work and one change for good, and when the clothing was torn, our master would threaten and whip us. Our master would not let us go to the soldiers and said he would shoot us, but we came away anyway.”

Regrettably, the attempts of the 47th Pennsylvanians to protect Bowten were thwarted the next day by other soldiers at the fort who seized Bowten while the 47th Pennsylvania was marching in another of its regimental parades. Bowten was subsequently ordered to be held at the fort, according to Schmidt, “until a ship which had gone to Havana for a load of sugar would return.”

Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, U.S. Army (public domain).

On Friday, February 21, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched, for the first time in Key West, in a dress parade that was observed by Brigadier-General Brannan, who had just arrived at Fort Taylor that day. Brannan later took the time to ride his horse along the various “company streets” of the 47th Pennsylvania’s encampment, “tipping his hat” as he passed his cheering subordinates, according to Schmidt.

Another brigade parade was then held at 10 a.m. the next day—Washington’s Birthday—a day of great joy that began with prayer and a reading of President George Washington’s farewell address

“Friends and Fellow Citizens,

The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference of what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety, and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government in the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many hours it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefitting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rival ships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings [sic] which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof of how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the Union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisors, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till charged by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot directly be overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true, and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing it and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less for to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice toward all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distance period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges toward another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation to another produces a variety of evils.
Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gliding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils? Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation an excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old an affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, 1793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied to that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probably that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

United States
19th September, 1796

Geo. Washington”

Professor Thomas Coates, the “Father of Band Music in America,” led the Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry from August 1861 to September 1862 (public domain).

The parade then began on Washington’s birthday, 1862 with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and the other units commanded by Brannan marching through Key West to the home of a Union-supporting judge who was known for proudly flying the American flag. Stopping behind its Regimental Band as it struck up “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry then marched to Fort Taylor, where its members witnessed the firing of a national, 34-gun salute by the fort’s artillery guns, followed by a salute fired by the guns of the man-of-war, Pensacola.

The celebration continued well into the evening, as brigade members were treated to a formal band concert and formal address by C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin. Brigade members then competed against one another in foot, wheelbarrow and sack races, as well as a pig chase. C Company Colonel Jacob K. Keefer came in second in that foot race while C Company Private P. M. Randall somehow managed to take second in the sack race after falling down near the end and rolling across the finish line.

Joseph Eugene Walter, cornetist, Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1861.

On Monday, February 24 and Wednesday, February 26, the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band again performed in concert with the band giving “a ball for the officers, which was “numerously attended by the Knights of the spur and tinsel,” according to Wharton, who also noted the unfortunate circumstance that “there were only enough ladies in attendance to form six setts.”

On Friday, February 28, the entire regiment reported for an 8 a.m. inspection in response to Regimental Order No. 39, which had been issued by the commanding officers of the 47th Pennsylvania per Brigadier-General Brannan’s General Order No. 5. The regiment also received the following additional instruction via Brannan’s General Order No. 11:

“I. Officers and soldiers are required to live within the limits of their respective commands and on no account to sleep out thereof without special permission of the Brigadier General commanding. No non-commissioned officers or soldier will be allowed in the town without a written pass from his commanding officer. Non-commissioned officers furnished with permits from their commanding officers will be allowed in town. But the provost guard has strict orders to arrest any Private who on any pretext is found in town after the tattoo beating [the signal from regimental musicians that lights should be extinguished and all loud talking or other noise should cease within 15 minutes when Taps will be played] except by special permit from headquarters.

II. The attention of commissioned officers is specially directed to article 29, paragraph 237 to 257 relating to: Honor to be paid by the troops. Any non-commissioned officer or soldier when approaching a commanding officer will invariably salute, if armed by touching his musket at the position of shoulder arms, if unarmed by raising the outer hand horizontally to his cap peak. Should the officer address him he will stand in the respectful position of attention until the officer shall have concluded. On an officer entering the quarters of any party of non-commissioned officers, the senior officer will call the party to attention; and on his approaching any party of men commanded by a non-commissioned officer they will immediately be called to attention and if armed brought to the position of shoulder arms. Should an officer approach any soldier or party of soldiers sitting or lying down they will immediately rise and remain in the position of attention until he shall have passed…. A sentry on post on the approach of an officer will first halt, second face outward from his post, third come to the position of shoulder arms. Should the officer prove to be a general or field officer he will further come to the position of present arms and so remain at the requisite salute until the officers shall have passed his post. The sentry on the guard room door of all guards will turn out his guard at the approach of the general commanding, the field officer of the day, and all armed parties. Regimental guards will further turn out to the commanding officer of their respective regiments….

III. No officer or soldier on guard duty will leave his guard room on any business whatever without being fully equipped. Neither will any soldier be permitted to leave the camp or station of his regiment or company unless properly dressed in accordance with the regulations of that headquarters.

IV. Public property is on no account to be used otherwise then in the service of the government nor will any soldier be permitted to act as an officer’s servant unless he be duly mustered as such.

… VII. All communications for these headquarters are invariably to be made through the chief of staff, signed by Gen. Brannan.”

This last day of February 1862 also brought a brief change for C Company 1st Lt. William Reese, a 32-year-old former Juniata County shoemaker, who was temporarily transferred to the staff of the Chief of Topographical Engineers of Brannan’s 3rd Brigade—a position he held until March 25, 1862.

 

Sources:

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

2.Florida’s Role in the Civil War: ‘Supplier of the Confederacy.” Tampa, Florida: Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida (College of Education), retrieved online January 15, 2020.

3. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

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

5. President George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796), in Our Documents.” Washington, DC: U.S. National Archives, et. al., retrieved online January 18, 2020.

6. United States War Department (multiple contributors). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Series I, Vol. VI. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.

7. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.

 

January-Early February 1862: New Year, New Civil War Mission — A Pennsylvania Regiment Heads for Florida

Unknown regiment, Camp Griffin, Virginia, Fall 1861 (public domain, U.S. Library of Congress).

“He was the light and life of our company, and his death has caused a blight and sadness to prevail, that only the rude wheels of time can efface….” — Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin to the parents of drummer boy John Boulton Young, mid-October, 1861

“I passed the night in ‘watching,’ but somewhat differently from the watch meetings at home. I spent from 8 to 12 at night on the outposts, and we were in expectation of an attack all the time…. At 12, I was relieved and moved with my men back to the main reserve where we built a huge fire, and six to eight officers of us gathered around the fire and spent the time in telling yarns, cracking jokes.” — Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin to his own parents in a letter penned on New Year’s Day, 1862

“Will write again if I am spared to do so.” — C Company Sergeant John Gross Helfrich to his parents in a letter penned on January 12, 1862

 

As America’s Civil War dragged on, the contemplation of life’s biggest questions became an increasing preoccupation for more than a few members of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Initially elated by their August 1861 enrollment for service in the fight to preserve their nation’s Union, many were propelled heart and headlong into a valley of grief just weeks later by the untimely deaths of John Boulton Young and Alfred Eisenbraun, two of the regiment’s beloved drummer boys.

Their equilibrium was gradually restored by their work as Union Army soldiers, however, and their spirits were raised further by the approaching Christmas season—largely thanks to surprise shipments by families and friends of “care packages” stuffed with favored foods and other items of comfort. Naturally, though, many members of the regiment began ruminating again as the New Year’s Eve of 1861 gave way to the New Year’s Day of 1862—as shown by this January 1, 1862 letter written to family by C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin:

“I went on picket yesterday morning, and was relieved this morning. So the entire programme [sic] of the departure of the old and advent of the New Year was open to me. I passed the night in ‘watching,’ but somewhat differently from the watch meetings at home. I spent from 8 to 12 at night on the outposts, and we were in expectation of an attack all the time. This kept me constantly in the line, among the men preparing for an attack. At 12, I was relieved and moved with my men back to the main reserve where we built a huge fire, and six to eight officers of us gathered around the fire and spent the time in telling yarns, cracking jokes. Officers from the 7th Maine, 49th & 53d New York were present. Occasionally a shot or two would bring us all to our feet, but as all would be quiet again down we would go into the fire again. About four oclock [sic] this morning, I spread my blanket on the ground, and with a stone for a pillow, slept peaceably my first sleep for 1862. I got to Camp about 9 a.m. and found your letters awaiting me.

…. I would like to have been at home on Christmas, and had set my heart upon going, but somehow or other Col Good and Gen Brannen [sic] both do not want me to leave at present. The fact is we are daily expecting an engagement and they seem to think my company will not do as well as they expect it to unless I am there. I have the crack company in the Regiment. Yesterday was muster day and Sam Miller received the premium for having the cleanest arms in the Regiment….

…. I will make a desperate effort to spend my birthday at home. Mother if I get there I want you to cook a dish of schnitz und knep [sic]. I have been wishing for them all day. Yesterday I went into a house on the line and bought a mince pie and cup of coffee of a girl there. They were first rate, but Mother could beat them.”

* Note: Schnitz und knepp, which translates from the Pennsylvania German to English as “apples and buttons,” was a traditional fall recipe for Pennsylvania Dutch families during the 1800s, and remains so today. Made in a large kettle with dried apples, ham, and dumplings, and flavored with brown sugar and other seasonings, its aroma, taste, and warmth have long come together to create the very definition of “comfort food” on the chilly fall days of the Great Keystone State.

“I had not intended mentioning the following but for fear some of the boys may and an incorrect story gets out, I will tell you the other night while on picket, Mark Shipman fired upon one man crawling up to him, or he supposed he was. Sergeant Piers [sic] and I went out to the line to see the cause of the report, and someone attempted to shoot at us, but his cap snapped. The fellow made tracks in a hurry before we could catch him, but I think he got badly frightened anyhow. You do not say anything about this and do not be alarmed as he could not hit us. It was too dark. And if he had fired, or his gun gone off, we could have shot him, by the flash. We have not lost a man on picket in our entire division.

…. The wind is blowing a perfect hurricane around the house. I have my house papered all over now, and I tell you it is the best this side of Gen Smiths head quarters [sic]. Jake Keaffer [sic] just came in. He was on picket with me last night and tried for about two hours to catch some guinea hens for a New Year dinner. They were too wild for him and so he filled his haversack with potatoes out of a hole he found. He wont [sic] starve in this country. Remember me to all friends and all write soon.

Then, barely a week into the New Year, the regiment’s most persistent and dangerous foe to date resumed its assault, claiming H Company Private Jacob S. R. Gardner as one of the first of what would be a stunning number of casualties for the 47th Pennsylvania in 1862. Unable to withstand the “one-two punch” he absorbed from contracting measles after having just survived a battle with Variola (smallpox), the former Perry County laborer died on January 8. His brothers, Sergeant Reuben Shatto Gardner and Corporal John A. Gardner, who had both been serving side-by-side with him in H Company, saw to the shipping arrangements which sent Jacob’s body back home for interment at the Newport Cemetery in Newport, Pennsylvania, but they did not accompany the transport. Instead, they tamped down their grief and returned to duty—a difficult act that would continue to be repeated by numerous other heartbroken brothers for years to come across a bitterly divided United States.

Meanwhile, at dawn on the same day of Private Gardner’s passing, the bulk of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry had just begun to carry out the latest directive from superior officers. Marching from Camp Griffin toward the Army of the Potomac’s central commandthe headquarters of Brigadier-General William F. (“Baldy”) Smith, the 47th Pennsylvanians met up with six additional Union infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment, and a ten-piece artillery unit. Moving on as part of this larger force, they continued on to Lewinsville, where they picked up the support of an additional 233 Union wagons.

Heading out again, they trekked on for eight miles until reaching Peacock Hill, where they chased off a significantly smaller group of Confederate States Army troops from picket duty, and then proceeded to remove 200 bushels of corn and 30 loads of hay.

Sergeant-Major William M. Hendricks, central regimental command, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (c. 1863, public domain).

In his subsequent recap of the event, Sergeant-Major William M. Hendricks noted, “We just marched up to a corn crib, and off went the roof, and the wagons were backed up and filled.” The 47th Pennsylvanians were back in camp that same day by 4 p.m.

According to Gobin in his own letter home, which was penned on the same day of the expedition:

“Yesterday our division of about ten thousand men went out to Hunters Mill, and got 252 wagon loads of forage. We drove in the Rebel pickets and waited a long time for them to come at us, but they did not show themselves. The march was a hard one. I was very tired, but one nights [sic] sleep, and all as sound as ever.”

On Friday, January 10, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were informed that they had performed their duties so admirably up to this point that they had been chosen by Union Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan to join a new expedition under his leadership. Shortly thereafter, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began packing up their regiment’s tents, Springfield rifles, ammunition, cooking utensils, and other equipment critical to any Union Army unit on the move.

Excerpt of letter from Sergeant John Helfrich, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, January 12, 1862 (used with permission from Colin Colfield).

In the midst of all of this, C Company Sergeant John Helfrich carved time out to pen the following letter:

“Camp Griffin,
Jan. 12th 1862

Dear Parents,

I will again address you, in order to inform you of my getting along, and at the same time I will remark that this will to all probability be the last letter that I may be able to write, while at this place, as we have orders to leave at almost any moment. The place of our destination I can not [sic] name for certain, however, it is rumored that we would go to Florida.

While I am writing, I am informed that we will first go either to Baltimore or Anapolis [sic], and there join the fleet just about being fitted out for some southern seaport. Our going is a certainty, as Gen. Brannan, has gone to either of the above named places to make the necessary arrangements, preparatory to our going.

Yesterday, (Saturday) our regiment was paid for the preceeding [sic] two month service. The monthly wages of a sergeant is seventeen and those of a private thirteen, dollars.

Our company has first passed through the usual Sunday morning inspection, when each man is [to] have a suit of clean clothes in his knapsack, and must also have his arms, and accoutrements, in perfect good condition. This inspection, greatly promotes the healthy, as well as the good appearances of the soldier, and in fact is indispensable.

Our company is in excellent health not a man is at present in the hospital. The health of the regt. has always been pretty good during the first four month [sic] we are now in service, which is verified by the fact that there occurred but seven cases that proved fatal, out of our nine hundred men, and we can not [sic] find language to express our thanks to the Great giver of this our greatest and blessing, that a mortal being can enjoy, and it is our prayer that He may continue to bless us in the future.

I would very much like to see my friends and relations first before we go, but time, and circumstances, will not permit me to do so. I hope however that the time may soon be at hand, when peace may again be restored to our former blessed land, and when those who are now separated from their Parents and friends, fighting for their country, cause and honor, may again be permitted to return home, and enter the circle of their Parents, families, and friends, left and home in peace and prosperity.

Enclosed find ten dollars of my wages. I would send you more, but perhaps I may need it myself, from this until next payday. I must now close by saying that I am well, hoping that you and all the rest of the family are enjoying the same. Remember me kindly to all my friends at home and abroad.

A friendly goodby [sic] to you all.

Your son,

John G. Helfrich

Will write again soon if I am spared to do so.

J. G. Helfrich”

The City of Richmond, a sidewheel steamer which transported Union troops during the Civil War (Maine, c. late 1860s, public domain).

Lined up and ready to move out early on the morning of Wednesday, January 22, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers “gave three cheers for Camp Griffin” after listening to the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band play “Auld Lang Syne,” according to regimental historian Lewis Schmidt. Marching forth at 8:30 a.m., the men of B Company brought up the rear as the regiment slogged through snow and deep mud for three miles in order to reach the Vienna railroad depot in Falls Church, Virginia. Arriving at 9:30 a.m., they boarded a train and departed at 11 for Alexandria, Virginia where, a half hour later, they marched behind their band to the strains of “Yankee Doodle.”

Arriving at the docks nearby, they quickly began loading their equipment on the City of Richmond, a steamship which ultimately transported them along the Potomac River to the Washington Arsenal, where they disembarked sometime around 4 p.m. Marched from the arsenal area’s docks to the munitions storage area, regimental leaders replenished the ammunition supplies of the regiment, one company at a time—a process which took roughly two hours. They were then marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Naval Academy Barracks and temporary hospital, Annapolis, Maryland (c. 1861-1865, public domain).

The next day (January 23), the 47th Pennsylvanians reloaded their equipment onto and then boarded a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad train. Departing for Annapolis, Maryland at 2 p.m., they arrived around 10 p.m., were assigned quarters in barracks at the U.S. Naval Academy, and turned in for the night. They then spent that Friday through Monday (January 24-27) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the 210-foot steamship S.S. Oriental. Those preparations ceased on Monday, January 27, at 10 a.m., however, in order to make time for a very public dismissal of one member of the regiment—Private James C. Robinson—who was dishonorably discharged from the 47th Pennsylvania (effective on that same date). According to regimental historian Schmidt and letters home from members of the regiment:

“The regiment was formed and instructed by Lt. Col. Alexander ‘that we were about drumming out a member who had behaved himself unlike a soldier.’ …. The prisoner, Pvt. James C. Robinson of Company I, was a 36 year old miner from Allentown who had been ‘disgracefully discharged’ by order of the War Department. Pvt. Robinson was marched out with martial music playing and a guard of nine men, two men on each side and five behind him at charge bayonets. The music then struck up with ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as the procession was marched up and down in front of the regiment, and Pvt. Robinson was marched out of the yard.”

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were transported to Florida aboard the steamship S.S. Oriental in January 1862 (public domain).

Reloading then resumed and, that same afternoon (January 27), the enlisted members of the 47th Regiment, Volunteer Infantry began to board the Oriental, followed by their superior officers. Ferried to that Philadelphia-built steamship by smaller steamers, they sailed away for America’s Deep South at 4 p.m., per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan. 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. Their ship, which was captained by Benjamin F. Tuzo, was rocked by rough seas for much of their trip; consequently, many members of the regiment suffered from intense seasickness—particularly as the Oriental made its way down the stormy coast of the Carolinas and passed the Bahamas and Great Abaco Island.

On February 2, Regimental Chaplain William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock gathered his flock together for Sunday services, which began with the tolling of the ship’s bell at 11 a.m., a selection of hymns performed by the Regimental Band, and an opening prayer and scripture reading by Rodrock. Following the regiment’s singing of “From All That Dwell Below the Skies” (accompanied by the band to the music of “Old Hundred”), Rodrock presented that week’s sermon, which was based on the Bible’s “Acts of the Apostles,” chapter 17, verse 23. The service then closed with the singing of “Lord Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing” and the Doxology, followed by Rodrock’s benediction.

That day and the next, the men’s spirits were boosted further by the sight of dolphins swimming alongside the Oriental.

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

Arriving in the waters off Key West, Florida at 8 p.m. on Monday, February 3, the 47th Pennsylvanians were forced to endure a waiting game aboard ship until a pilot could be brought aboard to bring the ship into a safe place in the harbor—a process the pilot began at 7 a.m. the next morning.

According to Schmidt, “The deck was crowded with the regiment’s men, with the band playing as they passed some of the men-at-war…. Arriving in the harbor at 8 AM, the bands playing ‘national songs’ and numerous onlookers, including many ‘colored women,’ along the shore watching the ship sail into port.”

“After disembarking at 9 AM on the dock about one mile west of Fort Taylor, the regiment marched down the main street of the city in their regular order of column of divisions, and stacked their weapons, waiting until the unit would be notified where to make camp…. At 12 in the afternoon, the men were ordered to fall in and stand to attention, and with their 23 member band playing and the ladies of Key West waving their handkerchiefs, and with quite a crowd of followers, the 1000 men marched to their new camp ‘one fourth mile out of the city, near the beach,’ across from the barracks of the 90th New York Regiment.”

Led to the area of Key West that is now known as Palm and White streets, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were, in fact, initially housed just 350 feet from the ocean—a locale which may sound breathtakingly luxurious to the modern day reader until one realizes that the 47th Pennsylvanians’ first nights were “spent in blankets on the beach, with knapsacks for pillows”—a vexing, sandy state of affairs which persisted until their tents were unloaded and assembled on Thursday, February 6.

Even so, the members of the regiment still managed to make an early, favorable impression on Key West residents, including a New York Herald reporter who “commented on the fact that the 47th was equipped with the best weapons available, and was the best looking Volunteer Regiment he had ever seen.’’

Adjutant and 1st Lieutenant Washington H. R. Hangen (c. 1862-1864, public domain).

This was in very large part due to the leadership of Colonel Tilghman H. Good, the founder and commanding officer of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, who had been placed in charge not just of the 47th Pennsylvania, but of all of the men who had been assigned to serve under Brannan in Key West, including two volunteer regiments from New York and U.S. Army artillery units. Good would continue to perform this role until Brannan was able to reach Florida and assume command of his brigade. The 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Adjutant Washington H. R. Hangen was then also appointed as Adjutant General for Brannan’s brigade.

And those tents which took so long to be delivered and assembled? They were officially designated as “Camp Brannan” in honor of the brigadier-general who had requested that the 47th Pennsylvania be assigned to his command.

* NOTE: Three months after dropping the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers off in Key West, the steamship Oriental ran aground and sank north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Its boiler may still be seen from shore while walking along the beach at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Sources:

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

2. Faust, Drew G. “The Civil War soldier and the art of dying,” in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 3-38. Houston, Texas: Southern Historical Association (Rice University), 2001.

3. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

4. Helfrich, John G. Personal Letters, 1862. Mesa, Arizona: Personal Collection of Colin Cofield.

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

6. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.

 

 

December 1861: A Young Regiment’s First Christmas and New Year’s Day Away from Home

First State Color, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (issued 20 September 1861, retired 11 May 1865).

Barely four months old when December 1861 arrived, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry continued its occupation of Virginia—just one of the many Union regiments attached to the Army of the Potomac charged with defending the nation’s capital from potential invasion by Confederate States Army troops during the first year of America’s Civil War. Encamped at Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen during late September and early October, the 47th Pennsylvania had spent a significant portion of its time reinforcing and expanding upon the basic training in Hardee’s light infantry tactics that it had received upon its muster at Camp Curtin.

On one typical day—Friday, October 4—the regiment drilled from just after reveille until roughly 7 a.m., repeated the drill between 10 and 11 a.m. and then again between 2 and 3 p.m., and then marched in a formal regimental parade from 5 to 6 p.m. Two days later, the regiment demonstrated its readiness yet again when its members were formally inspected by senior officers of its brigade. At midnight the next day—Monday, October 7—the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was ordered to engage the enemy.

Following behind the 79th New York Volunteers and trailed by the 33rd and 49th New York, as well as a Union cavalry unit and three Union artillery batteries, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched away from Camp Advance at 3 a.m.—excited to do more than mere drilling. Before they could reach their intended destination, however, the 79th New York Volunteers ran smack into Confederate skirmishers three miles outside of Lewinsville.

As battle lines began to form, the 47th Pennsylvania was ordered to move to the front and both sides of the road to shield the brigade’s other units. Initially stationed at the front, the 47th Pennsylvania’s F Company and A Company were shifted to protective positions at the brigade’s left and right, respectively, and Company D and Company I were then shifted to protect the brigade’s front. Advancing in this formation up and down three miles of the undulating, forested Virginia countryside, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers pushed the Confederate troops back toward Prospect Hill, where they stopped and held their brigade’s position for the remainder of the day and night.

Forming a new battle line the next morning at 8 a.m., the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were assigned, again, to guard both sides of their brigade. When neighboring Confederate troops failed to attack by 10 a.m., they were ordered to begin fortifying their brigade’s position, and proceeded to carve out a five-mile road and fell a substantial number of trees in order to construct earthen breastworks in front of the brigade’s artillery batteries. They were also assigned to dig holes to create rifle pits for brigade snipers—work which continued until they were relieved by a regiment from Vermont at sundown. Allowed to sleep until daylight via a procedure known as “laying on their arms,” they essentially held their rifles while napping lightly.

Unknown regiment, Camp Griffin, Virginia, fall 1861 (public domain, U.S. Library of Congress).

Ordered on toward Manassas Gap early that same week, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were next stationed between Lewinsville and Falls Church as part of this mission. Moving back and forth around this area, they reached as far as the Leesburg Turnpike, which was roughly two miles from the Chain Bridge they had first crossed when entering Virginia in September. Moving out again the next day, the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing (Companies A, C, D, F, and I) were ordered to head for a new camp site in Fairfax County, Virginia. Marching to a site two miles outside of Falls Church, they began pitching regimental tents at “Camp Big Chestnut”—so named due to the looming presence of a large chestnut tree located there. This encampment would ultimately come to be known as Camp Griffin.

Meanwhile, the men from H Company and other units of the 47th Pennsylvania’s left wing were ordered out on a new, five-mile expedition. During this time, a six-man detail from H Company, commanded by Lieutenant William W. Geety, was sent out on reconnaissance toward the Richmond Turnpike, but nearly met with disaster when Confederate cavalry approached within 300 feet of that detail’s position around midnight. Fortunately, this detachment was saved by a thick fog which descended and obscured its position from the enemy’s view.

On Thursday, October 10, Geety’s party was joined by the regiment’s third-in-command, Major William H. Gausler, who ordered Geety to perform further reconnaissance. Spotting enemy pickets a quarter mile away from the main encampment of the 47th Pennsylvania’s expedition, Geety promptly returned to Gausler to report his findings. Men from G Company were then placed on picket duty, which they performed until they were relieved at 1 a.m. the next day.

According to regimental historian, Lewis Schmidt, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, the 47th Pennsylvania’s founder and commanding officer, reported to his superiors “that the work associated with being out on advanced picket duty was very difficult, and that the enemy pickets at times were too close to his camp, which gave his troops constant unrest.” Further adding to their stress, they were forced to wait so long for their tents to be brought from their former encampment that they ended up having to pitch those tents “during constant alarms from the enemy pickets.”

They’d barely finished when the rains came. Geety later reported that they’d endured such a hard downpour that he’d “slept in a puddle all night”; those of his subordinates who weren’t sent out on picket duty again spent the next two days trying unsuccessfully to dry their clothes.

Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, Co. C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1862 (public domain).

Many hours were, in fact, passed in similarly miserable conditions—so much so that camp life became a test of endurance. According to Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, the commanding officer of the 47th Pennsylvania’s C Company, Friday, November 29 was “the most disagreeable time we have yet experienced.” Assigned to picket duty, he had been ordered to march his subordinates out and position them away from camp some distance in order to head off potential enemy attacks on the Army of the Potomac’s massive encampment by Confederate troops stationed in their vicinity.

“It rained hard all day and night, and was very cold. I had command of the first relief, which went to the special reserve at 12 midnight. By that time most of us were wet through, so I took possession of a minister’s house, near by, where I quartered my men until morning.”

Additional letters written by other 47th Pennsylvanians around this same time evoke similar shivers of empathy, transporting present day readers back in time and into the muddy shoes and heavy, sodden uniforms of the cold, sniffling soldiers who wearily set pen to paper once they were finally permitted to crawl back into their dry tents at camp.

Consequently, disease became an even more formidable foe than the Confederate States Army—and a fearsome one at that, scything multiple members of the regiment from its ranks, including two drummer boys, aged thirteen and fifteen, and a seasoned sergeant within days of each of their respective hospitalizations, followed by Daniel Foose, a 19-year-old private from Perry County’s H Company who was felled by typhoid or bilious fever; David Losch, a 22-year-old Allentown native and private from I Company; Daniel Biceline, a 23-year-old H Company private also felled by typhoid; and Private William Young of G Company.

Easing their distress somewhat was the long overdue news that members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry would finally be paid for the first time since enrolling for service. When the money arrived, many members of the regiment began transferring what they could home to parents and wives. C Company men sent $900 to their loved ones in Sunbury while those from Company A and Company D sent a whopping $2,500 and $2,000, respectively, to Northampton and Perry counties.

Additionally, the regiment was still stationed close enough to Pennsylvania that a significant number of 47th Pennsylvanians were able to personally return to their hometowns on brief furloughs while others were buoyed by family members who had the means to travel to their Virginia encampment for short visits.

Christmas

Quartermaster James C. VanDyke procured a holiday surprise for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (Sunbury American, 21 December 1861, public domain).

As a result, it was with a mixture of heavy hearts and hope that members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry welcomed the dawn of Christmas Day in 1861.

Among those making the time more bearable for his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians was former Northumberland County sheriff James VanDyke who, according to the December 21 edition of the Sunbury American, “came home on a short visit and returned to Camp Griffin 47th Regiment … taking with him three or four large boxes filled with various articles of comfort, for the inner as well as the outer man….”

The newspaper also included this important detail:

“Among the edibles, was a barrel of ‘sour krout,’ presented by William I. Greenough, Esq.”

In addition to being a beloved taste of home for the often hungry members of the regiment, the sauerkraut likely also served an important cultural function for the numerous German-Americans and German immigrants who had enrolled with the 47th. When paired with pork and eaten on New Year’s Day as part of an annual tradition, sauerkraut has been said to attract prosperity for the remainder of the year because it is made from green cabbage (green being the color of money) while eating pork ensures progress and good luck because pigs “root forward” with their snouts rather than backward with their feet as chickens do, according to a 2015 article by Billy Penn News.

Pvt. Abraham Nicholas Wolf, Company B, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1861 (public domain).

Food and other “articles of comfort” were, in fact, on the minds of pretty much all members of the regiment as they were about to spend their first Christmas and New Year’s holidays away from loved ones. While penning a letter to his family during regimental church services on Sunday, December 29, Private Abraham N. Wolf told his wife, Sarah, that the Regimental Band was playing a hymn as he wrote to her.

Noting that he’d received the gift box she’d sent him, Wolf’s joy was child-like when he added that “everything was in it yet what you said was in it and it came on the second day of Christmas.” Just that morning, he’d fried “fried some of the sausages” that she’d sent him “and took some sausages along for dinner” later because he’d been scheduled for duty—chopping wood for the regiment—“and they tasted pretty good to me for it was something new to me for it was from home.” And then he added that the day before:

“… the chicken cooked for dinner and so we had a good dinner for it was the best dinner that I had since I left home. And this morning I ate the last part of the chickens but I have some of your molasses candy yet which you sent to me. And I have the big cake yet. And that pocket handkerchief which your mother sent to me I got too.”

Their joy and respite were brief, however; by mid-January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were on the move again. When they finally stopped and were able to take in their new surroundings, they would suddenly gain an entirely different perspective on the meaning of “far from the comforts of home.”

 

For more Christmas and New Year’s-related content, please check out this sampling of our prior posts on 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story:

To see an image and read more of Abraham Wolf’s letter, read the article, 1861: Abraham Nicholas Wolf Jr. to Sarah (Trexler) Wolf,” by Spared and Shared.

 

Sources:

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

2. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

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

4. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.

 

 

A Nation Comes Together, Time and Again, to Give Thanks

Samuel Adams (John Singleton Copley, circa 1772, public domain).

Well before the outbreak of America’s devastating Civil War, the concept of Thanksgiving was on the minds of the nation’s founding fathers. Among those who grasped the importance of inspiring shared feelings of unity and gratitude between residents of the United States was Samuel Adams, who drafted the nation’s first Thanksgiving proclamation, which was then officially issued by the Continental Congress on 1 November 1777:

“FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth ‘in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.’

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.”

Nearly twelve years later, on 3 October 1789, President George Washington also urged Americans to come together to express their gratitude, and proclaimed that that year’s celebration would be held on 26 November:

“By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war — for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

Thanksgiving, November 1863 (Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, 5 December 1863, public domain).

Nearly three quarters of a century later, Pennsylvania’s Civil War governor, Andrew Gregg Curtin, urged his fellow Keystone State residents to pray that God would “bestow upon our Civil Rulers, wisdom and earnestness in council and upon our military leaders zeal and vigor in action, that the fires of rebellion may be quenched, that we, being armed with His defense, may be preserved from all perils, and that hereafter our people living in peace and quietness, may, from generation to generation, reap the abundant fruits of His mercy; and with joy and thankfulness praise and magnify His holy name.”

A year later, President Abraham Lincoln penned the following words as part of his own sobering, yet hopeful proclamation:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

So, with our common heritage in mind, and as an expression of deep gratitude for the ongoing support of our many wonderful readers and volunteers who have helped us build a loyal following for 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story, we present this collection of links to our most popular Thanksgiving-related content. With our best wishes from “our house” to yours, wherever you reside in this our United States of America, may you have a peaceful, bountiful and joyous holiday season. And in the New Year to come, may we all, finally, embrace the belief that one’s ability to show kindness and compassion in the face of adversity is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Thanksgiving Post Collection — 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story

 

Sources:

1. Basler, Roy P., editor, et. al. Collected works, Vol. 6. The Abraham Lincoln Association/Springfield, Illinois. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953.

2. Curtin, Andrew Gregg. Proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving – 1862,” in Pennsylvania Archives: Fourth Series, Vol. VIII: “Papers of the Governors, 1858-1871,” Samuel Hazard, John Blair Lynn, William Henry Egle, et. al., editors. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1902.

3. Snyder Family Recipes: Turkey, Filling and Gravy (Thanksgiving and Christmas),” in 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Snyder Family Archives: © 2017-present. All rights reserved.

4. Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1863: A primary source by Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Nast.” New York, New York: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of History, retrieved online 1 November 2017.

5. Thanksgiving Proclamation 1777 By the Continental Congress: The First National Thanksgiving Proclamation.” Plymouth, Massachusetts: Pilgrim Hall Museum, retrieved online 4 November 2019.

6.Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789,” in “Education — Primary Sources.” Mount Vernon, Virginia: George Washington’s Mount Vernon, retrieved online 4 November 2019.

7. Wharton, Henry D. Letter from the Sunbury Guards: Key West, Fla., 23 August 1863 (Henry Wharton’s Thanksgiving Update, 1863). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 5 September 1863.

 

October 1861: Drummer Boys, Disease, and Death

U.S. Soldiers’ Asylum Home Cemetery, Washington, D.C., circa 1861 (public domain).

“[T]he impact and meaning of the war’s casualties were not simply a consequence of scale, of the sheer numbers of Union and Confederate soldiers who died. Death’s significance for the Civil War generation derived as well from the way it violated prevailing assumptions about life’s proper end — about who should die, when and where, and under what circumstances.”

— Drew Gilpin Faust, Ph.D., President Emeritus and the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor, Harvard University and author, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War

 

Less than a month after leaving the great Keystone State for the Eastern Theater of America’s shattering Civil War, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry encountered their most fearsome foe — the one they would consistently find the most difficult to defeat throughout the long war — disease.

It was an enemy, in fact, that turned out to be the deadliest not just for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, but for the entire Union Army as it fought to preserve the nation’s Union while ending the practice of slavery across the United States. Per The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, sixty-two percent of all Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War were felled by disease, rather than by the shrapnel-spewing blasts of Confederate cannon or the accurately targeted minié balls of CSA rifles.

Surprising as this may seem to this century’s students of American History, it shouldn’t be, according to infectious disease specialist Jeffrey S. Sartin, M.D.:

“The American Civil War represents a landmark in military and medical history as the last large-scale conflict fought without knowledge of the germ theory of disease. Unsound hygiene, dietary deficiencies, and battle wounds set the stage for epidemic infection, while inadequate information about disease causation greatly hampered disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Pneumonia, typhoid, diarrhea/dysentery, and malaria were the predominant illnesses. Altogether, two-thirds of the approximately 660,000 deaths of soldiers were caused by uncontrolled infectious diseases, and epidemics played a major role in halting several major campaigns. These delays, coming at a crucial point early in the war, prolonged the fighting by as much as 2 years.”

With respect to the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, the two diseases which wreaked such devastating havoc early on were Variola (smallpox) and typhoid fever.

Variola

A transmission electron micrograph of an 1849 strain of Variola shows several smallpox virions. Note the “dumbbell-shaped” structure. Located inside the virion, this is the viral core, and contains the DNA of the virus (Temple University, public domain via Wikipedia).

Variola, more commonly known as “smallpox,” was an acute infectious disease that, even in the mildest of cases in 1861, was highly contagious. Notable for the high fever it caused, it also produced individual, boil-like eruptions across the human body. Known as “pocks,” these eruptions would quickly become fluid-filled pustules — even with the weakest strains of the disease — that would, if sufferers survived, eventually burst, leaving them badly scarred.

If, however, the soldier contracted the most virulent form of the disease — Variola confluens — as happened with at least one member of the 47th Pennsylvania — the suffering and likelihood of death was much, much greater. Far more severe than the strain that would have typically sickened the average child or adult during the mid-1800s, Variola confluens produced patches of pustules, rather than individual pocks. Forming on the face in such large swaths, the skin of the soldier who had been unfortunate to contract this strain of the disease would have appeared to have been burned or blistered. In addition to the horrific facial disfigurement, that soldier would also likely have experienced hair loss, severe pain and damage to his mucous membranes, mouth, throat, and eyes as the fever ravaged his body and continued to climb. If the disease devolved into the hemorrhagic phase prior to his death, the pocks on his face and mucous membranes would then also have begun to bleed.

Most likely exposed to the disease sometime while they were encamped in Virginia with their regiment, the first of the 47th Pennsylvanians to contract Variola would not initially have noticed any symptoms during this disease’s ten to fourteen-day incubation period. The first symptoms they would have experienced would have been due to rigor (sudden chills as the onset of fever began, alternating with shivering and sweating). As this primary fever increased, their temperatures would have risen to 103° or 104° Fahrenheit or higher over a two-day period, quickening the pulse and causing intense thirst, headache, constipation, vomiting, and back pain. As their conditions worsened, they might also have experienced convulsions and/or a redness on their abdomens or inner thighs — markings which might have appeared to be a rash of some sort or the beginnings of scarlet fever, but which were, in fact, a series of small, flat, circular spots on the body caused by bleeding under the skin and known as “petechiae.”

It would only have been on roughly the third day, post-incubation period, that these same men would have noticed that their faces were erupting with boils, but even then, they might have missed this sign because such pocks typically appeared as a single patch of redness on the sufferer’s forehead, near the roots of the hair. Within hours of this first eruption, however, the soldiers would most certainly have realized that something was wrong as they began scratching to relieve the itching on patches that had spread across their faces and bodies — particularly when the pocks began to fill with fluid and swelled to pea-sized bumps.

Likely sent to the regiment’s hospital sometime around this time, these 47th Pennsylvanians would have been transferred to the eruptive fever hospital on the Kalorama Heights in Georgetown before the week was out because, by day eight or nine, their skin would have become inflamed and swollen as the fluid in the pocks changed from clear to yellow, began to smell, and spread to their mouths, throats, noses, and eyes, putting their breathing and vision at risk. Increasingly hoarse, despite the increase in saliva they were experiencing, their bodies would then also have been overtaken by secondary fever, followed possibly by delirium and then coma.

If they somehow managed to survive until the disease’s latter phase, the pustules would have eventually dried up (typically on the twelfth day, post-incubation); if they didn’t, death most likely would have ensued due to myocardial insufficiency caused by the weakening of their heart muscles.

Typhoid Fever

An image of Salmonella typhi, the bacteria which cause typhoid fever (U.S. Armed Forces. Institute of Pathology, public domain).

Often confused with the insect-borne typhus fever, typhoid fever is caused by bacteria. Poorly understood well into and beyond the mid-19th century, despite having sickened countless numbers of individuals since the time of Hippocrates, according to American University historian Thomas V. DiBacco, typhoid fever’s method of transmission remained unidentified until 1856. That year, it finally dawned on scientists that fecal matter contaminated with Salmonella typhosa, one of the strains of bacteria now known to cause food poisoning, was at the root of the “persistently high fever, rash, generalized pains, headache and severe abdominal discomfort,” and intestinal bleeding of the patients physicians were failing to save.

Spread by the unsanitary conditions so common to the close living quarters shared by America’s Civil War-era soldiers, as well as by their respective regimental company cooks who were often forced to prepare meals with unclean hands when their regiments stopped briefly during long marches, the typhoid fever-causing Salmonella typhosa bacterium would typically enter a soldier’s body “through food, milk or water contaminated by a carrier,” but might also have been contracted just as easily via a bite from one of the many flies swarming around a regiment’s latrine facilities or horses.

And, because the “worst manifestations” of the disease did not appear until two or three weeks into an individual’s illness, according to DiBacco, typhoid fever was able to spread like wildfire not just during its incubation period, but even when soldiers were aware that others within their respective companies were ill because “typhoid victims were disposed to think the malady less serious as time went by.”

It is this latter fact alone that, perhaps, explains why outbreaks of typhoid fever continued to plague the 47th Pennsylvania throughout the duration of the war when Variola did not.

The First ”Men” to Die

Court House, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1851 (James Fuller Queen, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The first “man” to die from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was John Boulton Young, a 13-year-old drummer boy who was known affectionately as “Boulty” (alternatively, “Boltie”). A member of the regiment’s C Company, he served under Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, but was known to, and beloved by, the majority of the roughly one thousand men who served with the 47th.

Born on 25 September 1848 in Sunbury, Pennsylvania as the second oldest son of Pennsylvania natives, Michael A. and Elizabeth (Boulton) Young, Boulty was still in school at the time of his enlistment for Civil War military service in his hometown on 19 August 1861. He clearly lied about his age on military paperwork that day, indicating that he was 14, rather than 12 — a fiction which was maintained by Gobin and his fellow C Company officers throughout the boy’s tenure of service.

* Note: According to historians at the American Battlefield Trust, “For most of the war, the minimum enlistment age in the North was legally held at 18 for soldiers and 16 for musicians, although younger men could enlist at the permission of their parents until 1862. In the South, the age limit for soldiers stayed at 18 until 1864 when it was legally dropped to 17.”

Just four feet tall at the time of his official muster in at the rank of Musician (drummer boy) at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg on 2 September, Boulty was so small that his superiors needed to customize both his uniform and his drum to make it easier for him to function as a member of the 47th Pennsylvania.

The Kalorama Eruptive Fever Hospital (also known as the Anthony Holmead House in Georgetown, D.C. after it was destroyed in a Christmas Eve fire in 1865 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

After completing basic training and traveling by train with his regiment to the Washington, D.C. area in mid-September, Boulty subsequently endured several long marches, including at least one undertaken in a driving rain. By late September or early October of 1861, Boulty had contracted such a challenging case of Variola (smallpox) that regimental surgeons ordered his superiors to ship him from Virginia, where the 47th Pennsylvania was encamped as part of the Army of the Potomac, to the eruptive fever hospital on the Kalorama Heights in Georgetown, District of Columbia.

Diagnosed by the physicians there with Variola confluens, the most virulent form of the disease, he died at that hospital on 17 October 1861. His body was then quickly prepared and transported for burial. Initially interred in Washington, D.C. at the Soldiers’ Asylum Cemetery (now known the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home Cemetery), his remains were disinterred in early 1862, and returned to Pennsylvania for reburial at Penn’s Cemetery in his hometown of Sunbury.

To learn more about Boulty’s life before and during the Civil War, as well as what happened to the surviving members of his family, read his biographical sketch, The First “Man” to Die: Drummer Boy John Boulton Young.

Alfred Eisenbraun

Allentown, circa 1840 (public domain).

The second “man” from the 47th Pennsylvania to die was also a drummer boy — 15-year-old Alfred Eisenbraun, who served with the regiment’s B Company. A native of Allentown, Pennsylvania who was born in June of 1846, he was a son of Johann Daniel Eisenbraun, a noted Frakturist and tombstone carver who had emigrated from Württemberg, Germany to the United States in 1820, and Lehigh County, Pennsylvania native Margaret (Troxell) Eisenbraun.

Unlike “Boulty,” however, Alfred Eisenbraun had already left his studies behind, and had joined his community’s local workforce in order to help support his family. Employed as a “tobacco stripper,” he separated tobacco leaves from their stems before stacking those leaves in piles for the creation of cigars or chewable tobacco. As he did this, he likely would have been “breathing foul air, in rooms bare and cold or suffocatingly hot”, possibly “in a damp basement, musty with mould [sic] or lurking miasma,” according to Clare de Graffenried, a 19th-century U.S. Bureau of Labor employee who researched and wrote extensively about child labor.

So, it comes as no surprise that a boy in Eisenbraun’s situation would have viewed service with the military as a vast improvement over his existing job — especially if the pay was higher — which it most certainly was. Just barely 15 when he enrolled for Civil War service in his hometown on 20 August 1861, Eisenbraun officially mustered in at the rank of Musician (drummer boy) with the 47th Pennsylvania’s Company B at Camp Curtin on 30 August. Military records at the time described him as being 5’5″ tall with black hair, black eyes and a dark complexion. His commanding officer was Captain Emmanuel P. Rhoads.

Like Boulty, Eisenbraun completed basic training, traveled by train with his regiment to the Washington, D.C. area in mid-September, and then endured several long marches, including the same one that was undertaken in a driving rain. And, like Boulty, Eisenbraun also fell ill in late September or early October.

The Union Hotel in Georgetown, District of Columbia became one of the U.S. Army’s general hospitals during the American Civil War (image circa 1861-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

But unlike Boulty, Eisenbraun was felled by typhoid fever. According to regimental historian Lewis Schmidt, the teen “had been sick almost from the time the regiment left Camp Curtin” in mid-September. After initially receiving treatment from regimental physicians through at least mid-October, he was sent back to the Washington, D.C. area to receive more advanced care. Per Schmidt, two of Eisenbraun’s fellow B Company members “visited Alfred at the fort on the 21st … and found him getting better, pleased to see them, and happy to engage in some conversation.”

But on Thursday morning, 24 October, after Captain Rhoads headed over to the fort’s hospital nearby, he was informed that Eisenbraun “and all the other sick men had been moved to the General Hospital in Georgetown.” Assuming that Eisenbraun’s condition had improved, since he’d apparently been deemed well enough to travel, Rhoads returned to his camp site, confident that he’d see the boy again — but he was wrong.

Eisenbraun, it turned out, had been transported to the former Union Hotel in Georgetown, which had been converted into one of the U.S. Army’s general hospitals. He died there from typhoid fever on 26 October 1861. Like Boulty, he was laid to rest at the Soldiers’ Asylum Cemetery in Washington, D.C.; unlike Boulty, however, his remains were never brought home.

To learn more about Alfred’s life before and during the Civil War, read his biographical sketch, Alfred Eisenbraun, Drummer Boy – The Regiment’s Second “Man” to Die.

The Third to Die: Sergeant Franklin M. Holt

Court House, Amherst, New Hampshire, circa 1858 (public domain).

Franklin M. Holt had already distinguished himself before becoming the first “true man” from the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters to die. The regiment’s third fatality, he was also one of a handful of non-Pennsylvanians serving with this all-volunteer Pennsylvania regiment.

Born in New Hampshire in 1838, Frank Holt was a son of Cambridge, Massachusetts native, Edwin Holt, and Mont Vernon, New Hampshire native, Susan (Marden) Holt. A farmer like his father, he left his home state sometime around the summer of 1860, and took a job as a “map agent” in Monmouth County, New Jersey. But by the spring of 1861, he had relocated again, and had adopted the Perry County, Pennsylvania community of New Bloomfield as his new hometown.

That same spring, when President Abraham Lincoln issued his call for 75,000 volunteers to help defend the nation’s capital following the fall of Fort Sumter to troops of the Confederate States Army, Holt enrolled with Company D of the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry, completing his Three Months’ Service from 20 April to 26 July 1861 under the leadership of Henry D. Woodruff.

Realizing that the fight to preserve America’s Union was far from over, Holt re-enlisted in the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry’s D Company, which was also commanded by Captain Woodruff. Following his re-enrollment on 20 August in Bloomfield, he then re-mustered at Camp Curtin on 31 August at the rank of sergeant and, like drummer boys John Boulton Young and Alfred Eisenbraun, completed basic training before traveling with the regiment to the Washington, D.C. area for service with the Army of the Potomac.

Enduring a climate of torrential rain and pervasive, persistent dampness during his early days of service, Holt ultimately also fell ill with Variola (smallpox) and, like drummer boy Young who had also contracted the disease, he was transported to the eruptive fever hospital on the Kalorama Heights in Georgetown, District of Columbia, where he was treated by at least one of the same physicians who treated Boulty. Despite having apparently been diagnosed with a less severe form of the disease (according to military records which noted that Holt was sickened by Variola rather than the Variola confluens that felled Boulty), Sergeant Holt died at Kalorama on 28 October 1861.

“Kind, gentlemanly courteous, and honest in all his transactions,” according to the New Bloomfield Democrat, Holt had also “won for himself the esteem of all who knew him” prior to his untimely death. Like the two young drummer boys before him, he too was buried quickly at the Soldiers’ Asylum Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Although his remains were also never returned home, Holt was ultimately honored by members of his family, who erected a cenotaph in his honor at the Meadow View Cemetery in Amherst, New Hampshire.

To learn more about Frank’s life before and during the Civil War, read his biographical sketch, Holt, Franklin M. (Sergeant).

To learn more about Civil War Medicine, in general, as well as the battle wounds and illnesses most commonly experienced by members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, please visit the Medical section of this website.

 

Sources:

1. Affleck, M.D., J. O. Smallpox,” in “1902 Encyclopedia.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th and 10th editions (online), 2005-2019.

2. Alfred Eisenbraun (obituary). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh Register, 30 October 1861.

3. Alfred Eisenbraun (obituary), in “Gestörben.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, 6 November 1861.

4. Allen Eisenbraun (death notice), in “Deaths of Soldiers.” Washington, D.C.: The Evening Star, 28 October 1861.

5. Barker, M.D., Lewellys Franklin. Monographic Medicine, Vol. II: The Clinical Diagnosis of Internal Diseases,” p. 431 (“Variola confluens”). New York, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1916.

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

7. Burial Ledgers (Eisenbraun, Alfred; Holt, Franklin M.; Young, J. Bolton), in Records of The National Cemetery Administration and U.S. Departments of Defense and Army (Quartermaster General), 1861. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

8. Casualties and Costs of the Civil War.” New York, New York: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

9. Civil War General Index Cards (Eisenbraun, Alfred and Eisenbrown, Allen), in Records of the U.S. Department of the Army. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and Fold3: 1861.

10. Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865 (Eisenbraun, Alfred; Holt, Franklin M.; Young, J. Bolton). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

11. “Death of a Young Soldier” (obituary of John Boulton Young). Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania: Star of the North, Wednesday, 30 October 1861 (reprinted from the Sunbury Gazette).

12. “Deaths of Soldiers” (death notice for John Boulton Young). Washington, D.C.: The National Republican, 18 October 1861.

13. de Graffenried, Clare. “Child Labor,” in Publications of the American Economic Association, Vol. 5, No. 2. New York, New York: March 1890 (accessed 22 March 2016).

14. DiBacco, Thomas V. When Typhoid Was Dreaded.” Washington, D.C.: The Washington Post, 25 January 1994.

15. “The Drummer Boy’s Monument” (monument erected to John Boulton Young). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 6 February 1864.

16. Fabian, Monroe H. John Daniel Eisenbrown, in “Pennsylvania Folklife Book 62,” in Pennsylvania Folklife Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 2. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: 1975.

17. Faust, Drew G. The Civil War soldier and the art of dying,” in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 3-38. Houston, Texas: Southern Historical Association (Rice University), 2001.

18. Holt Eulogy. New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania: New Bloomfield Democrat, 1861.

19. Inkrote, Cindy. “Civil War drummer boy was different kind of hero.” Sunbury, Pennsylvania: The Daily Item, 4 October 2009.

20. Letters of John Peter Shindel Gobin, 1861-1900. Various Collections (descendants of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, et. al.).

21. “Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865: 47th Regiment” (Companies B, C, and D) in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

22. Sartin, M.D., Jeffrey S. Infectious diseases during the Civil War: The triumph of the ‘Third Army,’ in Clinical Infectious Diseases, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 580-584. Cary, North Carolina: Oxford University Press, April 1993.

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

24. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania (Allentown and Sunbury, Pennsylvania; Amherst, New Hampshire; Monmouth, New Jersey): 1840-1930.

25. U.S. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, 1861 (Eisenbraun/Eisenbraum, Alfred; Holt, Franklin/Frank M; Young, J. Bolton/Jno. B.). Washington, D.C.: United States Army and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

 

In Their Own Words: Soldiers Reflect on Life as Christmas and the New Year Approach During the U.S. Civil War

 

Personal Letter from Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, Commanding Officer of Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (14 December 1862)

Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (circa 1862, public domain).

Beaufort, So. Ca.
December 14, 1862

Dear Friends,

This is the last letter you will receive from me dated as above. For some time, our Regt. has been ordered to Key West again and we leave for there tomorrow. We are even now all packed up and I am writing amid the piles of rubbish accumulated in a five months residence in Camp. Gen. Brannen [sic] expects to go North and his object evidently is to get us out of this Department so that when he is established in his command, he can get us with him. If we remained here Gen Hunter would not let us go as he is as well aware as is Brannen [sic] is that we are the best Regiment in the Department. Although I do not like the idea of going back there, under the circumstances we are content. At all events we will have nice quarters easy times, and plenty of food. But for my part I would rather have some fighting to do. Since we have become initiated I rather like it. At Key West we will get none, and have a nice rest after our duties here. I will take all my men along – not being compelled to leave any behind. Direct my letters hereafter to Key West, Fla.

I supposed the body of Sergt Haupt has arrived at home long ere this. When we left Key West [Last?] Oyster & myself  bought a large quantity of shells, and sent them to Mrs Oyster. If we got home all right [sic] Haupt was to make boxes for us. He having died, you and Mrs Oyster divide the shells, and you can take [two illegible words] and give them to our friends. Some to Uncle Luther [sp?], Jacob Lawk [sp?], Louisa Shindel and all friends. I can send some more when we get to Key West if they want them.

Arrangements are being made to run a schooner regularly between here and Key West, so your boxes sent to us will follow us. Neither Mrs Wilsons nor yours has been received yet.

I think I will send a box home from  here containing a few articles picked up at St. John’s Bluff and here. They examine all boxes closely but I think I can get some few articles through. The powder horn bullet pouch and breech sight I got at St. John’s Bluff the rest here. I will write, as soon as we get to Key West. Let me hear from you often. With love to all I remain

Yours,
J. P. Shindel Gobin

P.S. Get Youngman & [illegible name] to publish the change of your address.

 

Letter to the Sunbury American Newspaper from Henry D. Wharton, Musician, Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (published 10 January 1863)

USS Seminole and USS Ellen accompanied by transports (left to right: Belvidere, McClellan, Boston, Delaware, and Cosmpolitan) at Wassau Sound, Georgia (circa January 1862, Harper’s Weekly, public domain).

[Correspondence for the AMERICAN.]
Letter from the Sunbury Guards,
FORT TAYLOR, KEY WEST, Florida.  }
December 21, 1862.

DEAR WILVERT:– Again at Key West. On Monday, December 15th we left Beaufort, S.C., on board the Steamer Cosmopolitan and proceeded to Hilton Head, where Gen. Brannen [sic] came on board to bid farewell to his regiment. Capt. Gobin addressed him in a neat little speech, which the General tried to reply to, but his feelings were too full and tears were in his eye as he bid the old word, ‘Good Bye.’ The boys gave him tremendous cheers as he left the vessel and the Band discoursed sweet music ‘till he reached the shore. The members of our regiment felt badly on leaving his command; but the assurance that we will soon be with him, in another department, makes them in a better humor; for with him they know all their wants are cared for, and in battle they have a leader on whom they can depend.

On the passage down, we ran along almost the whole coast of Florida. Rather a dangerous ground, and the reefs are no playthings. We were jarred considerably by running on one, and not liking the sensation our course was altered for the Gulf Stream. We had heavy sea all the time. I had often heard of ‘waves as big as a house,’ and thought it was a sailor’s yarn, but I have seen ‘em and am perfectly satisfied; so now, not having a nautical turn of mind, I prefer our movements being done on terra firma, and leave old neptune to those who have more desire for his better acquaintance. A nearer chance of a shipwreck never took place than ours, and it was only through Providence that we were saved. The Cosmopolitan is a good river boat, but to send her to sea, loadened [sic] with U.S. troops is a shame, and looks as though those in authority wish to get clear of soldiers in another way than that of battle. There was some sea sickness on our passage; several of the boys ‘casting up their accounts’ on the wrong side of the ledger.

Fort Jefferson, Dry Torguas, Florida (interior, c.irca 1934, C.E. Peterson, photographer, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

We landed here on last Thursday at noon, and immediately marched to quarters. Company I. and C., in Fort Taylor, E. and B. in the old Barracks, and A. and G. in the new Barracks. Lieut. Col. Alexander, with the other four companies proceeded to Tortugas, Col. Good having command of all the forces in and around Key West. Our regiment relieves the 90th Regiment N.Y.S. Vols. Col. Joseph Morgan, who will proceed to Hilton Head to report to the General commanding. His actions have been severely criticized by the people, but, as it is in bad taste to say anything against ones superiors, I merely mention, judging from the expression of the citizens, they were very glad of the return of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

The U.S. Gunboat ‘Sagamore’ has had good luck lately. She returned from a cruise on the 16th inst., having captured the English sloop ‘Ellen’ and schooners ‘Agnes,’ ‘By George’ and ‘Alicia,’ all hailing from Nassau N.P. The two former were cut out in India river by a boat expedition from the Sagamore. They had, however, previously discharged their cargoes, consisting principally of salt, and were awaiting a return cargo of the staple, (cotton) when the boats relieved them from further trouble and anxiety. The ‘By George’ was sighted on the morning of the 1st, and after a short chase she was overhauled. Her Captain, in answer to ‘where bound!’ replied Key West, but being so much out of his course and rather deficient in the required papers, an officer was placed in charge in order that she might safely reach this port. Cargo – Coffee, Salt, Medicines, &c. The “Alicia,’ cotton loaded, was taken in Indian river inlet, where she was nicely stowed away waiting a clear coast. The boats of the Sagamore also destroyed two small sloops. They were used in Indian river, near Daplin, by the rebels in lightering cargoes up and down the river. There are about twenty more prizes lying here, but I was unable to get the names of more than the following:

Schooner ‘Dianah.’ assorted cargo.
“         ‘Maria.’           “             “
“         ‘Corse.’           “             “
“       ‘Velocity.’        “             “
“  ‘W.E. Chester.’  sixty bales of cotton.

Woodcut depicting the harsh climate at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during the Civil War (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Key West has improved very little since we left last June, but there is one improvement for which the 90th New York deserve a great deal of praise, and that is the beautifying of the ‘home’ of dec’d. soldiers. A neat and strong wall of stone encloses the yard, the ground is laid off in squares, all the graves are flat and are nicely put in proper shape by boards eight or ten inches high on the ends sides, covered with white sand, while a head and foot board, with the full name, company and regiment, marks the last resting place of the patriot who sacrificed himself for his country.

Two regiments of Gen. Bank’s [sic] expedition are now at this place, the vessels, on which they had taken passage for Ship Island, being disabled, they were obliged to disembark, and are now waiting transportation. They are the 156th and 160th N.Y.S. Vols. Part of the 156th are with us in Fort Taylor.

Key West is very healthy; the yellow fever having done its work, the people are very much relieved of its departure. The boys of our company are all well. I will write to you again as soon as ‘something turns up.’ With respects to friends generally, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H. D. W.

 

Excerpts of Diary Entries from Henry Jacob Hornbeck, Private, Company G, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (December 1863 and Early January 1864)

Key West, Florida (circa 1850, courtesy of the Florida Memory Project).

December 1863. The workers at the fortification in Key West demanded back pay and a raise in December; their rate was $1.40 per day. The town had some excitement in December as a spark from a railway locomotive set the mess hall on fire, burning it to the ground; and nature retaliated with a violent storm, which caused heavy damage, putting the railroad out of service.

Friday December 25th. …. rose at 3 a.m. & proceeded to Slaughter House, had two Cattle & two Sheep cut up and served to the troops. Conveyed Fresh Meat to a number of citizens this morning, being Gen’l Woodburys [sic] gift, then had breakfast. Went to Fort Stables, had the horse fed, visited Mrs. Abbot in Fort Taylor, also Mrs. Heebner, from both of whom we rec’d Christmas Cakes & a drink, which were excellent…. We took dinner at Capt. Bells at 2 p.m. which was a splendid affair. A fine turkey served up, and finished up our dinner with excellent Mince pie, after the dinner we again took a ride about the Island, took the horse to Fort Stables and returned to office. At 5 p.m. a party of Masqueraders (or what we term in our State Fantasticals) paraded the street headed with music, a very comical party. Took a walk tonight, Churches finely decorated. Retired early at ½ past 8 p.m. Weather beautiful….

1864

January 1st Thursday. Rose as usual. After breakfast, went to office, kept busy all day on account of many steamers lying in port, waiting to coal. After supper took a walk about the city with Frank Good and Wm. Steckel. Heard music in a side street, went there and found the Black Band playing at the Postmaster’s residence. The Postmaster then called all the soldiers in, and gave us each a glass of wine.

He is a very patriotic man and very generous. I believe his name is Mr. Albury. We then went to barracks and retired.

January 2nd Friday…. After breakfast, work as usual in office. After dinner took a horseback ride to Fort Taylor…. Retired at 9 o’clock. Weather cool.

January 3rd Saturday…. Received our extra duty pay this afternoon. Purchased toilet articles. After supper went to the camp, took a walk about city, then went barracks & retired. Latest reports are that Burnside was defeated with great loss and the Cabinet broke up in a row. Retired at 10. Weather fine.

Sunday January 4th…. After breakfast, washed & dressed. After dinner John Lawall, Wm. Ginkinger & myself went to the wharf. I then returned to barracks and P. Pernd. E. Crader and myself went out on the beach, searching sea shell. Returned by 4 o’clock. I then cleaned my rifle. Witnessed dress parade. Then went to supper. After supper went to the Methodist Church, heard a good Sermon by our Chaplain. Retired at 9 o’clock.

Monday January 5th…. After breakfast went to office, busy, wrote a letter to Reuben Leisenring. At 11 o’clock the U.S. Mail Steamer Bio arrived from New York, having come in 5 days, papers dating 30th inst. The reports of a few days ago, are not confirmed, therefore they are untrue. She also has a mail on board.

Tuesday January 6th…. Received no letter yesterday, very small mail for our regiment. Busy all day in office. After supper, Wm. Smith, Allen Wolf & myself took a walk about the city, then went to barracks. Retired at 10 o’clock. Wrote a letter this afternoon to Uncle Ebenezer, sent him also by mail a small collection of sea shells. Weather fine.

 

 

Sources:

1. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

2. Hornbeck, Henry Jacob. Diary Excerpts, 1862-1864, in 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Retrieved online 1 December 2017.

3. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.

 

 

Sheridan’s Tide-Turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The Battle of Cedar Creek and Its Aftermath (Virginia, October-December 1864)

Alfred Waud’s sketch, Surprise at Cedar Creek, captured the flanking attack on the rear of Union Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th Corps by Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate army, and the resistance by Emory’s troops from their Union rifle-pit positions, 19 October 1864 (public domain).

Sheridan having driven the enemy out of the valley, and taken the productions of the valley so that instead of going there for supplies the enemy would have to bring his provisions with him if he again entered it, recommended a reduction of his own force, the surplus to be sent where it could be of more use. I approved of his suggestion, and ordered him to send Wright’s corps back to the James River. I further directed him to repair the railroad up the Shenandoah Valley towards the advanced position which we would hold with a small force. The troops were to be sent to Washington by way of Culpeper, in order to watch the east side of the Blue Ridge, and prevent the enemy from getting into the rear of Sheridan while he was still doing his work of destruction.

The valley was so very important, however, to the Confederate army that, contrary to our expectations, they determined to make one more strike, and save it if possible before the supplies should all be destroyed.

– President Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

 

Those were the thoughts of President Ulysses S. Grant in 1885 as he recalled his days of strategic planning as head of the Union Army during America’s fateful Fall of 1864. Having just described how one of his leading commanding officers, Major-General Philip H. Sheridan, had won the Battles of Berryville, Opequan and Fisher’s Hill that September, he began to set the stage for his retelling of what would be one of the bloodiest and most important moments of the U.S. Civil War – the Battle of Cedar Creek.

Reinforcements had been sent to [Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal] Early, and this before any of our troops had been withdrawn. Early prepared to strike Sheridan at Harrisonburg; but the latter had not remained there.

On the 6th of October Sheridan commenced retiring down the valley, taking or destroying all the food and forage and driving the cattle before him, Early following. At Fisher’s Hill Sheridan turned his cavalry back on that of Early, which, under the lead of Rosser, was pursuing closely, and routed it most completely, capturing eleven guns and a large number of prisoners. Sheridan lost only about sixty men. His cavalry pursued the enemy back some twenty-five miles.

Custer’s Division Retiring from Mount Jackson, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 7 July 1864 (Alfred Waud, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Recalling the Fall 1864 movements of his troops from the vantage point of his own memoirs (penned in 1888), Sheridan noted that on 6 October 1864:

The cavalry as it retired was stretched across the country from the Blue Ridge to the eastern slope of the Alleghanies [sic], with orders to drive off all stock and destroy all supplies as it moved northward. The infantry proceeded [sic] the cavalry, passing down the Valley pike, and as we marched along the many columns of smoke from burning stacks, and mills filled with grain, indicated that the adjacent country was fast losing the features which hitherto had made it a great magazine of stores for the Confederate armies.

During the 6th and 7th of October, the enemy’s horse followed us up, though at a respectful distance. This cavalry was now under command of General T. W. Rosser, who on October 5 had joined Early with an additional brigade from Richmond. As we proceeded the Confederates gained confidence, probably on account of the reputation with which its new commander had been heralded, and on the third day’s march had the temerity to annoy my rear guard considerably. Tired of these annoyances, I concluded to open the enemy’s eyes in earnest, so that night I told Torbert I expected him to give Rosser a drubbing next morning or get whipped himself, and that the infantry would be halted until the affair was over; I also informed him that I proposed to ride out to Round Top Mountain to see the fight. When I decided to have Rosser chastised, Merritt was encamped at the foot of Round Top, an elevation just north of Tom’s Brook, and Custer some six miles farther north and west, near Tumbling Run. In the night Custer was ordered to retrace his steps before daylight by the Back road, which is parallel to and about three miles from the Valley pike, and attack the enemy at Tom’s Brook crossing, while Merritt’s instructions were to assail him on the Valley pike in concert with Custer. About 7 in the morning, Custer’s division encountered Rosser himself with three brigades, and while the stirring sounds of the resulting artillery duel were reverberating through the valley Merritt moved briskly to the front and fell upon Generals Lomax and Johnson on the Valley pike. Merritt, by extending his right, quickly established connection with Custer, and the two divisions move forward together under Torbert’s direction, with a determination to inflict on the enemy the sharp and summary punishment his rashness had invited.

The engagement soon became general across the valley, both sides fighting mainly mounted. For about two hours the contending lines struggled with each other along Tom’s Brook, the charges and counter charges at many points being plainly visible from the summit of Round Top, where I had my headquarters for the time.

The open country permitting a sabre fight, both sides seemed bent on using that arm. In the centre [sic] the Confederates maintained their position with much stubbornness, and for a time seemed to have recovered their former spirit, but at last they began to give way on both flanks, and as these receded, Merritt and Custer went at the wavering ranks in a charge along the whole front. The result was a general smash-up of the entire Confederate line, the retreat quickly degenerating into a rout the like of which was never before seen. For twenty-six miles this wild stampede kept up, with our troopers close at the enemy’s heels; and the ludicrous incidents of the chase never ceased to be amusing topics around the camp-fires of Merritt and Custer. In the fight and pursuit Torbert took eleven pieces of artillery, with their caissons, all the wagons and ambulances the enemy had on the ground, and three hundred prisoners….

After this catastrophe, Early reported to General Lee that his cavalry was so badly demoralized that it should be dismounted; and the citizens of the valley, intensely disgusted with the boasting and swaggering that had characterized the arrival of the ‘Laurel Brigade’ in that section, baptized the action (known to us as Tom’s Brook) the ‘Woodstock Races,’ and never tired of poking fun at General Rosser about his precipitate and inglorious fight.

On the 10th my army, resuming its retrograde movement, crossed to the north side of Cedar Creek. The work of repairing the Manassas Gap branch of the Orange and Alexandria railroad had been begun some days before, out from Washington, and, anticipating that it would be in readiness to transport troops by the time they could reach Piedmont, I directed the Sixth Corps to continue its march toward Front Royal, expecting to return to the Army of the Potomac by that line. By the 12th, however, my views regarding the reconstruction of this railroad began to prevail, and the work on it was discontinued. The Sixth Corps, therefore, abandoned that route, and moved toward Ashby’s Gap with the purpose of marching direct to Washington, but on the 13th I recalled it to Cedar Creek, in consequence of the arrival of the enemy’s infantry at Fisher’s Hill, and the receipt, the night before, of the following despatch [sic], which again opened the question of an advance on Gordonsville and Charlottesville:

‘(Cipher.)
WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 12, 1864, 12 M.
MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN:

Lieutenant-General Grant wishes a position taken far enough south to serve as a base for further operations upon Gordonsville and Charlottesville. It must be strongly fortified and provisioned. Some point in the vicinity of Manassas Gap would seem best suited for all purposes. Colonel Alexander, of the Engineers, will be sent to consult with you as soon as you connect with General Augur.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General.’

As it was well known in Washington that the views expressed in the above despatch [sic] were counter to my convictions, I was the next day required by the following telegram from Secretary Stanton to repair to that city:

‘WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 13, 1864.
MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN
(through General Augur):

If you can come here, a consultation on several points is extremely desirable. I propose to visit General Grant, and would like to see you first.

EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War’

I got all ready to comply with the terms of Secretary Stanton’s despatch [sic], but in the meantime the enemy appeared in my front in force, with infantry and cavalry, and attacked Colonel Thoburn, who had been pushed out toward Strasburg from Crook’s command, and also Custer’s division of cavalry on the Back road. As afterward appeared, this attack was made in the belief that all of my troops but Crook’s had gone to Petersburg. From this demonstration there ensued near Hupp’s Hill a bitter skirmish between Kershaw and Thoburn, and the latter was finally compelled to withdraw to the north bank of Cedar Creek. Custer gained better results, however, on the Back road, with his usual dash driving the enemy’s cavalry away from his front, Merritt’s division then joining him and remaining on the right.

In 1883, Union Army veterans gathered for a reunion at Belle Grove House, the site of former Major-General Philip H. Sheridan’s headquarters in the lead-up to the 19 October 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek Virginia (U.S. National Park Service, public domain).

The day’s events pointing to a probability that the enemy intended to resume the offensive, to anticipate such a contingency I ordered the Sixth Corps to return from its march toward Ashby’s Gap. It reached me by noon of the 14th, and went into position to the right and rear of the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers], which held a line along the north bank of Cedar Creek, west of the Valley pike. Crook was posted on the left of the Nineteenth Corps and east of the Valley pike, with Thoburn’s division advanced to a round hill, which commanded the junction of Cedar Creek and the Shenandoah River, while Torbert retained both Merritt and Custer on the right of the Sixth Corps, and at the same time covered with Powell the roads toward Front Royal. My headquarters were at the Belle Grove House, which was to the west of the pike and in rear of the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers]. It was my intention to attack the enemy as soon as the Sixth Corps reached me, but General Early having learned from his demonstration that I had not detached as largely as his previous information had led him to believe, on the night of the 13th withdrew to Fisher’s Hill; so, concluding that he could not do us serious hurt from there, I changed my mind as to attacking, deciding to defer such action till I could get to Washington, and come to some definite understanding about my future operations.

Grant, discovering that his directive to Sheridan “to halt, and improve the opportunity it afforded by the enemy’s having been sufficiently weakened, to move back again and cut the James River Canal and Virginia Central Railroad” had been disrupted by Union Major-General Henry W. Halleck’s interference in the transmittal of those orders to Sheridan, promptly reached out to Sheridan to clarify his thinking:

[W]hen Sheridan received what purported to be a statement of what I wanted him to do it was something entirely different. Halleck informed Sheridan that it was my wish for him to hold a forward position as a base from which to act against Charlottesville and Gordonsville; that he should fortify this position and provision it.

Sheridan objected to this most decidedly; and I was impelled to telegraph him, on the 14th as follows:

‘City Point, Va.,
October 14, 1864, 12:30 P.M.

MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN,
Cedar Creek, Va.

What I want is for you to threaten the Virginia Central Railroad and canal in the manner your judgment tells you is best, holding yourself ready to advance, if the enemy draw off their forces. If you make the enemy hold a force equal to your own for the protection of those thoroughfares, it will accomplish nearly as much as the destruction. If you cannot do this, then the next best thing to do is to send here all the force you can. I deem a good cavalry force necessary for your offensive, as well as defensive operations. You need not therefore send here more than one division of cavalry.

U.S. GRANT,
Lieutenant General’

Sheridan having been summoned to Washington City, started on the 15th leaving Wright in command. His army was then at Cedar Creek, some twenty miles south of Winchester.

The next morning [16 October 1864], while at Front Royal, Sheridan received a dispatch from Wright, saying that a dispatch from Longstreet to Early had been intercepted. It directed the latter to be ready to move and to crush Sheridan as soon as he, Longstreet, arrived. On the receipt of this news Sheridan ordered the cavalry up the valley to join Wright.

Meanwhile, Sheridan directed “all of the cavalry under General Torbert to accompany” him to Front Royal on 15 October, “again intending to push it thence through Chester Gap to the Virginia Central railroad at Charlottesville, to destroy the bridge over the Rivanna River, while I passed through Manassas Gap to Rectortown, and thence by rail to Washington.”

On my arrival with the cavalry near Front Royal on the 16th, I halted at the house of Mrs. Richards, on the north bank of the river, and there received the following despatch [sic] and inclosure [sic] from General Wright, who had been left in command at Cedar Creek:

‘HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION,
OCTOBER 16, 1864.

GENERAL:

I enclose you despatch [sic] which explains itself. If the enemy should be strongly re-enforced in cavalry, he might, by turning our right, give us a great deal of trouble. I shall hold on here until the enemy’s movements are developed, and shall only fear an attack on my right, which I shall make every preparation for guarding against and resisting.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H.
G. WRIGHT, Major-General Commanding. 

MAJOR-GENERAL P. H. SHERIDAN,
Commanding Middle Military Division.

[INCLOSURE.]

TO LIEUTENANT-GENERAL EARLY:

Be ready to move as soon as my forces join you, and we will crush Sheridan.

LONGSTREET, Lieutenant-General.’

The message from Longstreet had been taken down as it was being flagged from the Confederate signal-station on Three Top Mountain, and afterward translated by our signal officers, who knew the Confederate signal code. I first thought it a ruse, and hardly worth attention, but on reflection deemed it best to be on the safe side, so I abandoned the cavalry raid toward Charlottesville, in order to give General Wright the entire strength of the army, for it did not seem wise to reduce his numbers while reinforcement for the enemy might be near, and especially when such pregnant messages were reaching Early from one of the ablest of the Confederate generals. Therefore I sent the following note to General Wright:

‘HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION,
Front Royal, October 16, 1864.

GENERAL:

The cavalry is all ordered back to you; make your position strong. If Longstreet’s despatch [sic] is true, he is under the impression that we have largely detached. I will go over to Augur, and may get additional news. Close in Colonel Powell, who will be at this point. If the enemy should make an advance, I know you will defeat him. Look well to your ground and be well prepared. Get up everything that can be spared. I will bring up all I can, and will be up on Tuesday, if not sooner.

P. H. SHERIDAN, Major-General.

MAJOR-GENERAL H. G. WRIGHT,
Commanding Sixth Army Corps.’

U.S. Army Major-General Philip H. Sheridan’s horse, Rienzi, was also known as “Winchester.” The famed steed is shown here in Washington, D.C. post-Civil War (Smithsonian Institute, public domain).

At 5 o’clock on the evening of the 16th I telegraphed General Halleck from Rectortown, giving him the information which had come to me from Wright, asking if anything corroborative of it had been received from General Grant, and also saying that I would like to see Halleck; the telegram ending with the question: ‘Is it best for me to go to see you?’ Next morning I sent back to Wright all the cavalry except one regiment, which escorted me through Manassas Gap to the terminus of the railroad from Washington. I had with me Lieutenant-Colonel James W. Forsyth, chief-of-staff, and three of my aides, Major George A. Forsyth, Captain Joseph O’Keefe, and Captain Michael V. Sheridan. I rode my black horse, Rienzi, and the others their own respective mounts.

Before leaving Cedar Creek I had fixed the route of my return to be by rail from Washington to Martinsburg, and thence by horseback to Winchester and Cedar Creek, and had ordered three hundred cavalry to Martinsburg to escort me from that point to the front. At Rectortown I met General Augur, who had brought a force out from Washington to reconstruct and protect the line of railroad, and through him received the following reply from General Halleck:

‘HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES,
WASHINGTON, D.C., OCTOBER, 16, 1864.

TO MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN,
Rectortown, Va.

General Grant says that Longstreet brought with him no troops from Richmond, but I have very little confidence in the information collected at his headquarters. If you can leave your command with safety, come to Washington, as I wish to give you the views of the authorities here.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General, Chief-of-Staff.’

In consequence of the Longstreet despatch [sic], I felt a concern about my absence which I could hardly repress, but after duly considering what Halleck said, and believing that Longstreet could not unite with Early before I got back, and that even if he did Wright would be able to cope with them both, I and my staff, with our horses, took the cars for Washington, where we arrived on the morning of the 17th at about 8 o’clock. I proceeded at an early hour to the War Department, and as soon as I met Secretary Stanton, asked him for a special train to be ready at 12 o’clock to take me to Martinsburg, saying that in view of existing conditions I must get back to my army as quickly as possible. He at once gave the order for the train, and then the Secretary, Halleck, and I proceeded to hold a consultation in regard to my operating east of the Blue Ridge. The upshot was that my views against such a plan were practically agreed to, and two engineer officers were designated to return with me for the purpose of reporting on a defensive line in the valley that could be held while the bulk of my troops were being detached to Petersburg. Colonel Alexander and Colonel Thom, both of the Engineer Corps, reported to accompany me, and at 12 o’clock we took the train.

We arrived about dark at Martinsburg, and there found the escort of three hundred men which I had ordered before leaving Cedar Creek. We spent that night at Martinsburg, and early next morning mounted and started up the Valley pike for Winchester, leaving Captain Sheridan behind to conduct to the army the Commissioners whom the State of New York had sent down to receive the vote of her troops in the coming Presidential election. Colonel Alexander … and Colonel Thom … were both unaccustomed to riding [and] we had to go slowly, losing so much time, in fact, that we did not reach Winchester till between 3 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon, though the distance is but twenty-eight miles. As soon as we arrived at Colonel Edwards’s headquarters in the town, where I intended stopping for the night, I sent a courier to the front to bring me a report of the condition of affairs, and then took Colonel Alexander out on the heights about Winchester, in order that he might overlook the country, and make up his mind as to the utility of fortifying there. By the time we had completed out survey it was dark, and just as we reached Colonel Edwards’s house on our return a courier came in from Cedar Creek bringing word that everything was all right, that the enemy was quiet at Fisher’s Hill, and that a brigade of Grover’s division was to make a reconnaissance in the morning, the 19th, so about 10 o’clock I went to bed greatly relieved, and expecting to rejoin my headquarters at my leisure next day.

According to Grant, however, the intelligence provided to Sheridan was seriously flawed:

On the 18th of October Early was ready to move, and during the night succeeded in getting his troops in the rear of our left flank, which fled precipitately and in great confusion down the valley, losing eighteen pieces of artillery and a thousand or more prisoners [Battle of Cedar Creek]. The right under General Getty maintained a firm and steady front, falling back to Middletown where it took a position and made a stand. The cavalry went to the rear, seized the roads leading to Winchester and held them for the use of our troops in falling back, General Wright having ordered a retreat back to that place.

Sheridan having left Washington on the 18th, reached Winchester that night. The following morning he started to join his command. He had scarcely got out of town, when he met his men returning, in panic from the front and also heard heavy firing to the south. He immediately ordered the cavalry at Winchester to be deployed across the valley to stop the stragglers. Leaving members of his staff to take care of Winchester and the public property there, he set out with a small escort directly for the scene of the battle. As he met the fugitives he ordered them to turn back, reminding them that they were going the wrong way. His presence soon restored confidence. Finding themselves worse frightened than hurt the men did halt and turn back. Many of those who had run ten miles got back in time to redeem their reputation as gallant soldiers before night.

Still not provided with adequate intelligence by his staff by the following morning, Sheridan began his day at a leisurely pace, clearly unaware of the potential disaster in the making:

Toward 6 o’clock the morning of the 19th, the officer on picket duty at Winchester came to my room, I being yet in bed, and reported artillery firing from the direction of Cedar Creek. I asked him if the firing was continuous or only desultory, to which he replied that it was not a sustained fire, but rather irregular and fitful. I remarked: ‘It’s all right; Grover has gone out this morning to make a reconnaissance, and he is merely feeling the enemy.’ I tried to go to sleep again, but grew so restless that I could not, and soon got up and dressed myself. A little later the picket officer came back and reported that the firing, which could be distinctly heard from his line on the heights outside of Winchester, was still going on. I asked him if it sounded like a battle, and as he again said that it did not, I still inferred that the cannonading was caused by Grover’s division banging away at the enemy simply to find out what he was up to. However, I went down-stairs and requested that breakfast be hurried up, and at the same time ordered the horses to be saddled and in readiness, for I concluded to go to the front before any further examinations were made in regard to the defensive line.

We mounted our horses between half-past 8 and 9, and as we were proceeding up the street which leads directly through Winchester, from the Logan residence, where Edwards was quartered, to the Valley pike, I noticed that there were many women at the windows and doors of the houses, who kept shaking their skirts at us and who were otherwise markedly insolent in their demeanor, but supposing this conduct to be instigated by their well-known and perhaps natural prejudices, I ascribed to it no unusual significance. On reaching the edge of town I halted a moment, and there heard quite distinctly the sound of artillery firing in an unceasing roar. Concluding from this that a battle was in progress, I now felt confident that the women along the street had received intelligence from the battlefield by the ‘grape-vine telegraph,’ and were in raptures over some good news, while I as yet was utterly ignorant of the actual situation. Moving on, I put my head down toward the pommel of my saddle and listened intently, trying to locate and interpret the sound, continuing in this position till we had crossed Mill Creek, about half a mile from Winchester. The result of my efforts in the interval was the conviction that the travel of the sound was increasing too rapidly to be accounted for by my own rate of motion, and that therefore my army must be falling back.

At Mill Creek my escort fell in behind, and we were going ahead at a regular pace, when, just as we made the crest of the rise beyond the stream, there burst upon our view the appalling spectacle of a panic-stricken army – hundreds of slightly wounded men, throngs of others unhurt but utterly demoralized, and baggage-wagons by the score, all pressing to the rear in hopeless confusion, telling only too plainly that a disaster had occurred at the front. On accosting some of the fugitives, they assured me that the army was broken up, in full retreat, and that all was lost; all this with a manner true to that peculiar indifference that takes possession of panic-stricken men. I was greatly disturbed by the sight, but at once sent word to Colonel Edwards, commanding the brigade in Winchester, to stretch his troops across the valley, near Mill Creek, and stop all fugitives, directing also that the transportation be passed through and parked on the north side of the town.

As I continued at a walk a few hundred yards farther, thinking all the time of Longstreet’s telegram to Early, ‘Be ready when I join you, and we will crush Sheridan,’ I was fixing in my mind what I should do. My first thought was to stop the army in the suburbs of Winchester as it came back, form a new line, and fight there; but as the situation was more maturely considered a better conception prevailed. I was sure the troops had confidence in me, for heretofore we had been successful; and as at other times they had seen me present at the slightest sign of trouble or distress, I felt that I ought to try now to restore their broken ranks, or, failing in that, to share their fate because of what they had done hitherto.

About this time Colonel Wood, my chief commissary, arrived from the front and gave me fuller intelligence, reporting that everything was gone, my headquarters captured, and the troops dispersed. When I heard this I took two of my aides-de-camp, Major George A. Forsyth and Captain Joseph O’Keefe, and with twenty men from the escort started for the front, at the same time directing Colonel James W. Forsyth and Colonels Alexander and Thom to remain behind and do what they could to stop the runaways.

For a short distance I traveled on the road, but soon found it so blocked with wagons and wounded men that my progress was impeded, and I was forced to take to the adjoining fields to make haste. When most of the wagons and wounded were past I returned to the road, which was thickly lined with unhurt men, who, having got far enough to the rear to be out of danger, had halted without any organization, and begun cooking coffee, but when they saw me they abandoned their coffee, threw up their hats, shouldered their muskets, and as I passed along turned to follow with enthusiasm and cheers. To acknowledge this exhibition of feeling I took off my hat, and with Forsyth and O’Keefe rode some distance in advance of my escort, while every mounted officer who saw me galloped out on either side of the pike to tell the men at a distance that I had come back. In this way the news was spread to the stragglers off the road, when they, too, turned their faces to the front and marched toward the enemy, changing in a moment from the depths of depression to the extreme of enthusiasm. I already knew that even in the ordinary condition of mind enthusiasm is a potent element with soldiers, but what I saw that day convinced me that if it can be excited from a state of despondency its power is almost irresistible. I said nothing except to remark, as I rode among those on the road: ‘If I had been with you this morning this disaster would not have happened. We must face the other way; we will go back and recover our camp.’

My first halt was made just north of Newtown, where I met a chaplain digging his heels into the sides of his jaded horse, and making for the rear with all possible speed. I drew up for an instant, and inquired of him how matters were going at the front. He replied, ‘Everything is lost; but all will be right when you get there’; yet notwithstanding this expression of confidence in me, the parson at once resumed his breathless pace to the rear. At Newtown I was obliged to make a circuit to the left, to get round the village. I could not pass through it, the streets were so crowded, but meeting on this detour Major McKinley, of Crook’s staff, he spread the news of my return through the motley throng there.

According to Grant, “When Sheridan got to the front he found Getty and Custer still holding their ground firmly between the Confederates and our retreating troops.”

Everything in the rear was now ordered up. Sheridan at once proceeded to intrench [sic] his position; and he awaited an assault from the enemy. This was made with vigor, and was directed principally against Emory’s corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers], which had sustained the principal loss in the first attack. By one o’clock the attack was repulsed. Early was so badly damaged that he seemed disinclined to make another attack, but went to work to intrench [sic] himself with a view to holding the position he had already gained….

Union General Phil Sheridan’s ride to the front, 19 October 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 5 November 1864, Library of Congress, public domain).

What Sheridan encountered as he approached Newtown and the Valley pike from the south made him urge Rienzi on:

I saw about three-fourths of a mile west of the pike a body of troops, which proved to be Rickett’s and Wheaton’s divisions of the Sixth Corps, and then learned that the Nineteenth Corps [to which the 47th Pennsylvania had been assigned] had halted a little to the right and rear of these; but I did not stop, desiring to get to the extreme front. Continuing on parallel with the pike, about midway between Newtown and Middletown I crossed to the west of it, and a little later came up in rear of Getty’s division of the Sixth Corps. When I arrived, this division and the cavalry were the only troops in the presence of and resisting the enemy; they were apparently acting as a rear guard at a point about three miles north of the line we held at Cedar Creek when the battle began. General Torbert was the first officer to meet me, saying as he rode up, ‘My God! I am glad you’ve come.’ Getty’s division, when I found it, was about a mile north of Middleton, posted on the reverse slope of some slightly rising ground, holding a barricade made with fence-rails, and skirmishing slightly with the enemy’s pickets. Jumping my horse over the line of rails, I rode to the crest of the elevation, and there taking off my hat, the men rose up from behind their barricade with cheers of recognition. An officer of the Vermont brigade, Colonel A. S. Tracy, rode out to the front, and joining me, informed me that General Louis A. Grant was in command there, the regular division commander General Getty, having taken charge of the Sixth Corps in place of Ricketts, wounded early in the action, while temporarily commanding the corps. I then turned back to the rear of Getty’s division, and as I came behind it, a line of regimental flags rose up out of the ground, as it seemed, to welcome me. They were mostly the colors of Crook’s troops, who had been stampeded and scattered in the surprise of the morning. The color-bearers, having withstood the panic, had formed behind the troops of Getty. The line with the colors was largely composed of officers, among whom I recognized Colonel R. B. Hayes, since president of the United States, one of the brigade commanders. At the close of this incident I crossed the little narrow valley, or depression, in rear of Getty’s line, and dismounting on the opposite crest, established that point as my headquarters. In a few minutes some of my staff joined me, and the first directions I gave were to have the Nineteenth Corps [to which the 47th Pennsylvania was attached] and the two divisions of Wright’s corps brought to the front, so they could be formed on Getty’s division prolonged to the right; for I had already decided to attack the enemy from that line as soon as I could get matters in shape to take the offensive. Crook met me at this time, and strongly favored my idea of attacking, but said, however, that most of his troops were gone. General Wright came up a little later, when I saw that he was wounded, a ball having grazed the point of his chin so as to draw the blood plentifully.

Wright gave me a hurried account of the day’s events, and when told that we would fight the enemy on the line which Getty and the cavalry were holding, and that he must go himself and send all his staff to bring up the troops, he zealously fell in with the scheme; and it was then that the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] and two divisions of the Sixth were ordered to the front from where they had been halted to the right and rear of Getty.

After this conversation I rode to the east of the Valley pike and to the left of Getty’s division, to a point from which I could obtain a good view of the front, in the mean time [sic] sending Major Forsyth to communicate with Colonel Lowell (who occupied a position close in toward the suburbs of Middletown and directly in front of Getty’s left) to learn whether he could hold on there. Lowell replied that he could. I then ordered Custer’s division back to the right flank, and returning to the place where my headquarters had been established I met near them Rickett’s division under General Kiefer and General Frank Wheaton’s division, both marching to the front. When the men of these divisions saw me they began cheering and took up the double quick to the front, while I turned back toward Getty’s line to point out where these returning troops should be place. Having done this, I ordered General Wright to resume command of the Sixth Corps, and Getty, who was temporarily in charge of it, to take command of his own division. A little later the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] came up and was posted between the right of the Sixth Corps and Middle Marsh Brook.

Sheridan Rallying His Troops, Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

All this had consumed a great deal of time, and I concluded to visit again the point to the east of the Valley pike, from where I had first observed the enemy, to see what he was doing. Arrived there, I could plainly seem him getting ready for attack, and Major Forsyth now suggested that it would be well to ride along the line of battle before the enemy assailed us, for although the troops had learned of my return, but few of them had seen me. Following his suggestion I started in behind the men, but when a few paces had been taken I crossed to the front and, hat in hand, passed along the entire length of the infantry line; and it is from this circumstance that many of the officers and men who then received me with such heartiness have since supposed that that was my first appearance on the field. But at least two hours had elapsed since I reached the ground, for it was after mid-day when this incident of riding down the front took place, and I arrived not later, certainly, than half-past 10 o’clock.

After re-arranging the line and preparing to attack I returned again to observe the Confederates, who shortly began to advance on us. The attacking columns did not cover my entire front, and it appeared that their onset would be mainly directed against the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania], so, fearing that they might be too strong for Emory on account of his depleted condition (many of his men not having had time to get up from the rear), and Getty’s division being free from assault, I transferred a part of it from the extreme left to the support of the Nineteenth Corps. The assault was quickly repulsed by Emory, however, and as the enemy fell back Getty’s troops were returned to their original place. This repulse of the Confederates made me feel pretty safe from further  offensive operations on their part, and I now decided to suspend the fighting till my thin ranks were further strengthened by the men who were continually coming up from the rear, and particularly till Crook’s troops could be assembled on the extreme left.

In consequence of the despatch [sic] already mentioned, ‘Be ready when I join you, and we will crush Sheridan,’ since learned to have been fictitious, I had been supposing all day that Longstreet’s troops were present, but as no definite intelligence on this point had been gathered, I concluded, in the lull that now occurred, to ascertain something positive regarding Longstreet; and Merritt having been transferred to our left in the morning, I directed him to attack an exposed battery then at the edge of Middletown, and capture some prisoners. Merritt soon did this work effectually, concealing his intention till his troops got close in to the enemy, and then by a quick dash gobbling up a number of Confederates. When the prisoners were brought in, I learned from them that the only troops of Longstreet’s in the fight were of Kershaw’s division, which had rejoined Early at Brown’s Gap in the latter part of September, and that the rest of Longstreet’s corps was not on the field. The receipt of this information entirely cleared the way for me to take the offensive, but on the heels of it came information that Longstreet was marching by the Front Royal pike to strike my rear at Winchester, driving Powell’s cavalry in as he advanced. This renewed my uneasiness, and caused me to delay the general attack till after assurances  came from Powell, denying utterly the reports as to Longstreet, and confirming the statements of the prisoners.

Launching another advance sometime mid-afternoon during which Sheridan “sent his cavalry by both flanks, and they penetrated to the enemy’s rear,” Grant added:

The contest was close for a time, but at length the left of the enemy broke, and disintegration along the whole line soon followed. Early tried to rally his men, but they were followed so closely that they had to give way very quickly every time they attempted to make a stand. Our cavalry, having pushed on and got in the rear of the Confederates, captured twenty-four pieces of artillery, besides retaking what had been lost in the morning. This victory pretty much closed the campaign in the Valley of Virginia. All the Confederate troops were sent back to Richmond with the exception of one division of infantry and a little cavalry. Wright’s corps was ordered back to the Army of the Potomac, and two other divisions were withdrawn from the valley. Early had lost more men in killed, wounded and captured in the valley than Sheridan had commanded from first to last.

Battlefields of Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek, Virginia (U.S. Engineers’ Map, Lieutenant-Colonel G. L. Gillespie, 1873, public domain).

Sheridan recalled this phase of the battle as follows:

Between half-past 3 and 4 o’clock, I was ready to assail, and decided to do so by advancing my infantry line in a swinging movement, so as to gain the Valley pike with my right between Middletown and the Belle Grove House; and when the order was passed along, the men pushed steadily forward with enthusiasm and confidence. General Early’s troops extended some little distance beyond our right, and when my flank neared the overlapping enemy, he turned on it, with the effect of causing a momentary confusion, but General McMillan [and his troops, which included the 47th Pennsylvania] quickly realizing the danger, broke the Confederates at the re-entering angle by a counter charge with his brigade, doing his work so well that the enemy’s flanking troops were cut off from their main body and left to shift for themselves. Custer, who was just then moving in from the west side of Middle Marsh Brook, followed McMillan’s timely blow with a charge of cavalry…. [T]he troops broken by McMillan had gained some little distance to their rear, but Custer’s troopers sweeping across the Middletown meadows and down toward Cedar Creek, took many of them prisoners before they could reach the stream….

My whole line as far as the eye could see was now driving everything before it, from behind trees, stone walls, and all such sheltering obstacles, so I rode toward the left to ascertain how matters were getting on there. As I passed along behind the advancing troops, first General Grover, and then Colonel Mackenzie, rode up to welcome me. Both were severely wounded, and I told them to leave the field, but they implored permission to remain till success was certain. When I reached the Valley pike Crook had reorganized his men, and as I desired that they should take part in the fight, for they were the very same troops that had turned Early’s flank at the Opequon and at Fisher’s Hill, I ordered them to be pushed forward; and the alacrity and celerity with which they moved on Middletown demonstrated that their ill-fortune of the morning had not sprung from lack of valor.

Meanwhile Lowell’s brigade of cavalry, which, it will be remembered, had been holding on, dismounted, just north of Middletown ever since the time I arrived from Winchester, fell to the rear for the purpose of getting their led horses. A momentary panic was created in the nearest brigade of infantry by this withdrawal of Lowell, but as soon as his men were mounted they charged the enemy clear up to the stone walls in the edge of Middletown; at sight of this the infantry brigade renewed its attack, and the enemy’s right gave way. The accomplished Lowell received his death-wound in this courageous charge.

All our troops were now moving on the retreating Confederates, and as I rode to the front Colonel Gibbs, who succeeded Lowell, made ready for another mounted charge, but I checked him from pressing the enemy’s right, in the hope that the swinging attack from my right would throw most of the Confederates to the east of the Valley pike, and hence off their line of retreat through Strasburg to Fisher’s Hill. The eagerness of the men soon frustrated this anticipation, however, the left insisting on keeping pace with the centre [sic] and right, and all pushing ahead till we regained our old camps at Cedar Creek. Beyond Cedar Creek, at Strasburg, the pike makes a sharp turn to the west toward Fisher’s Hill, and here Merritt uniting with Custer, they together fell on the flank of the retreating columns, taking many prisoners, wagons, and guns, among the prisoners being Major-General Ramseur, who, mortally wounded, died the next day.

On 22 October 1864, President Abraham Lincoln wrote this letter congratulating Major-General Philip Sheridan for his recent victory at Cedar Creek (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

When the news of the victory was received, General Grant directed a salute of one hundred shotted [sic] guns to be fired into Petersburg, and the President at once thanked the army in an autograph letter [which simply stated]:

‘Executive Mansion
Washington, Oct. 22, 1864

Major General Sheridan

With great pleasure I tender to you and your brave army, the thanks of the Nation, and my own personal admiration and gratitude, for the months operations in the Shenandoah Valley, and especially for the splendid work of Oct. 19, 1864.

Your Obt. Servt.
Abraham Lincoln’

Several weeks later, President Lincoln then promoted Sheridan to the rank of Major-General with the U.S. Army.

I received notice of this in a special letter from the Secretary of War, saying, ‘that for the personal gallantry, military skill, and just confidence in the courage and patriotism of your troops, displayed by you on the 19th day of October at Cedar Run, whereby, under the blessing of Providence, your routed army was reorganized, a great National disaster averted, and a brilliant victory achieved over the rebels for the third time in pitched battle within thirty days, Philip H. Sheridan is appointed a major-general in the United States Army.’

The direct result of the battle was the recapture of all the artillery, transportation, and camp equipage we had lost, and in addition twenty-four pieces of the enemy’s artillery, twelve hundred prisoners, and a number of battle-flags. But more still flowed from this victory, succeeding as it did the disaster of the morning, for the re-occupation of our old camps at once re-established a morale which for some hours had been greatly endangered by ill-fortune.

It was not till after the battle that I learned fully what had taken place before my arrival, and then found that the enemy, having gathered all the strength he could through the return of convalescents and other absentees, had moved quietly from Fisher’s Hill, in the night of the 18th and early on the morning of the 19th, to surprise my army, which, it should be remembered, was posted on the north bank of Cedar Creek, Crook holding on the left of the Valley pike, with Thoburn’s division advanced toward the creek, and Duval’s (under Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes) and Kitching’s provisional divisions to the north and rear of Thoburn. The Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] was on the right of Crook, extending in a semi-circular line from the pike nearly to Meadow Brook, while the Sixth Corps lay to the west of the book in readiness to be used as a movable column. Merritt’s division was to the right and rear of the Sixth Corps, and about a mile and a half west of Merritt was Custer covering the fords of Cedar Creek as far west as the Middle road.

General Early’s plan was for one column under General Gordon, consisting of three divisions of infantry (Gordon’s, Ramseur’s, and Pegram’s), and Payne’s brigade of cavalry, to cross the Shenandoah River directly east of the Confederate works at Fisher’s Hill, march around the northerly face of the Massanutten Mountain, and again cross the Shenandoah at Bowman’s and McInturff’s fords. Payne’s task was to capture me at the Belle Grove House. General Early himself, with Kershaw’s and Wharton’s divisions, was to move through Strasburg, Kershaw, accompanied by Early, to cross Cedar Creek at Roberts’s ford and connect with Gordon, while Wharton was to continue on the Valley pike to Hupp’s Hill and join the left of Kershaw, when the crossing of the Valley pike over Cedar Creek became free.

Lomax’s cavalry, then in the Luray Valley, was ordered to join the right of Gordon on the field of battle, while Rosser was to carry the crossing of Cedar Creek on the Back road and attack Custer. Early’s conceptions were carried through in the darkness with little accident or delay, Kershaw opening the fight by a furious attack on Thoburn’s division, while at dawn and in a dense fog Gordon struck Crook’s extreme left, surprising his pickets, and bursting into his camp with such suddenness as to stampede Crook’s men. Gordon directing his march on my headquarters (the Belle Grove House), successfully turned our position as he gained the Valley pike, and General Wright was thus forced to order the withdrawal of the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] from its post at the Cedar Creek crossing, and this enabled Wharton to get over the stream there unmolested and join Kershaw early in the action.

After Crook’s troops had been driven from their camps, General Wright endeavored to form a line with the Sixth Corps to hold the Valley pike to the left of the Nineteenth [including the 47th Pennsylvania], but failing in this he ordered the withdrawal of the latter corps, Ricketts, temporarily commanding the Sixth Corps, checking Gordon till Emory [and his troops, including the 47th Pennsylvania] had retired. As already stated, Wharton was thus permitted to cross Cedar Creek on the pike, and now that Early had a continuous line, he pressed his advantage so vigorously that the whole Union army was soon driven from its camps in more or less disorder; and though much disjointed resistance was displayed, it may be said that no systematic stand was made until Getty’s division, aided by Torbert’s  cavalry, which Wright had ordered to the left early in the action, took up the ground where, on arriving from Winchester, I found them.

When I left my command on the 16th, little did I anticipate that anything like this would happen. Indeed, I felt satisfied that Early was, of himself, too weak to take the offensive, and although I doubted the Longstreet despatch [sic], yet I was confident that, even should it prove true, I could get back before the junction could be made, and at the worst I felt certain that my army was equal to confronting the forces of Longstreet and Early combined. Still, the surprise of the morning might have befallen me as well as the general on whom it did descend, and though it is possible that this could have been precluded  had Powell’s cavalry been closed in, as suggested in my despatch [sic] from Front Royal, yet the enemy’s desperation might have prompted some other clever and ingenious scheme for relieving his fallen fortunes in the Shenandoah Valley.

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers – Valor and Unprecedented Loss

Headstone of Sergeant William Pyers, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Co. C, Winchester National Cemetery, Virginia; he was killed in the fighting at the Cooley Farm during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (courtesy of Randy Fletcher, 2014).

Two days after the last shot was fired during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, Henry Wharton recapped the valor and horror of the day for his hometown newspaper – the Sunbury American:

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
NEAR MIDDLETOWN, Va., Oct 21, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

On Wednesday morning, October 19, at 4 o’clock, the rebels under Early made an attack and by a flank movement nearly undone the glorious work and victories achieved during the last month. Early’s forces were reported, the evening previous to the attack, to have left Fisher’s Hill and were moving up the valley towards Staunton. The report cause less vigilance on the part of some one in command, and at the hour mentioned the Johnneys [sic] came on the left flank of the 8th corps, taking them by surprise, and pouring in such a deadly fire that they were forced to leave their breastworks. The 19th corps was ordered to their support that they (the 8th) might form their broken ranks, which they did, but the terrific fire of the enemy forced them back, and as they were unsupported, they fell from line to line, pouring into the rebel ranks the deadliest fire, until they fell back to 6th corps, who had just come up. The fighting then was desperate, but by some means our flanks were exposed, and our forces fell back 1 mile east of Middletown. Here our men made a decided stand and held their position.

Up to this time we had lost twenty-two pieces of artillery, a portion of our wagon train, ambulances and a number of prisoners. At this critical moment Gen Sheridan who had been on to Washington, arrived. – His presence was received by the troops with cheers that made the valley ring. Gen Custer was so elated that he dismounted and embraced his beloved commander. A General rode up to Sheridan and said, ‘Sir, we are badly whipped, but the boys are not, and to-night they will encamp on their old ground,’ and turned his horse and rode in front of the entire line. When he reviewed his troops and had matters fixed to suit himself, orders was [sic] given to charge. This was done and with such impetuosity that the Johnnies could not stand it, and then commenced the tallest running that has yet been done on the sacred soil by any of the chivalry. Our infantry followed in pursuit across Cedar Creek to Strasburg, when they halted, the cavalry, however, following up the retreat to Harrisonburg, and perhaps further for aught I know to the contrary. We recaptured all our guns, besides twenty-six pieces of the enemy, that they had just brought from Richmond. We re-captured our wagons with one hundred and fifty of theirs, any quantity of small arms and four thousand prisoners. The road to Strasburg showed plainly their eagerness to escape. – Ambulances, caissons, torn horses, small arms, &c., filled the road. The retreat of Early, at Winchester, was a big thing on ice; but this beats anything I ever saw and is beyond my powers of description. It was a great and glorious victory, and shows what confidence the men have in that great little man, Major-General Phil Sheridan.

This victory was, to us, of company C, dearly bought, and will bring with it sorrow to more than one in Sunbury. It is my painful duty to inform you of the news [sic] and I will now give you our loss in killed wounded and missing.

KILLED.
Sergeant William Pyers,
“                   John Bartlow,
Privates – Theodore Kiehl, Jasper Gardner, John E. Will, James Brown, George Keiser.

WOUNDED.
Captain D. Oyster, right arm.
Bellas Rodrigue, slight.
Joseph Walters, slight.
George Blain, thigh.
Jacob Grubb, two wounds in leg.
Jesse G. Green, two wounds in leg.
David Weikel, arm and side.
William Michaels, wrist.
Alex. Given, abdomen.
Richard O’Rourke, face and shoulder.
John Lunken, nose.
Perry Colvin, twice in head, slight.
George Hepler, slight, head.
H.
Keiser, thumb.
P.
Swinehart, side.
William Finck, leg.

Pennsylvania Monument, Salisbury National Cemetery, site of the former Confederate prison camp where so many 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers died from starvation or disease, and were buried in unmarked mass graves (Section C, North side elevation looking south, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

MISSING.
1st Sergeant William Fry, prisoner.
Martin Berger, prisoner.
George D. John.
Isaac Kramer, prisoner.
* B. A. Shiffer,        “ [prisoner].
Joseph Smith,       “ [prisoner].
John W. Firth, lately released from Tyler, Texas.

The loss in the 47th Reg’t. was one hundred and seventy-one (171) killed, wounded and missing. The wounded are getting along well, and I am assured by the Surgeons that none of them are dangerous. – The rest of the boys are well. Please remember me to friends.

Yours, Fraternally,
H.
D. W.

* Mr. Shiffer [sic, alternate spelling: “Shiffin”] has since written a letter to this place, stating that he was at Baltimore, and was wounded in the thigh. – ED.

In subsequent days and weeks, regimental rosters were revised again and again, as Wharton and other clerks added more men to the list of those who had been killed in action, confirmed the Confederate prison camp locations of the 47th Pennsylvanians who had been captured in battle, and changed the status of the most gravely wounded to “deceased.” By the time the tallies were finally completed, it was clear that the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had sustained a grievous casualty rate equal to roughly two of its ten companies.

  • Acker, Joseph (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Andrews, Valentine (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Bachman, Charles (Sergeant, Company B; wounded; survived)
  • Baldwin, Isaac (Corporal, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Bartholomew, John (Private, Company I; killed in action)
  • Beavers, Henry (Private, Company E; captured and held as a POW at a Confederate prison camp until his release 8 March 1865; discharged 14 June 1865 by General Order)
  • Berger, Martin M. (Private, Company C; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died 6 January 1865)
  • Becher, John (Private, Company G; killed in action)
  • Berksheimer, Marcus (Private, Company E; killed in action)
  • Berliner, Lewis (Private, Company K; killed in action)
  • Bower, Lewis (Private, Company A; died at a Confederate prison camp 1 March 1865)
  • Bower, Thomas J. (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Bridinger/Birdinger, Samuel E. (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Burger, William (Sergeant; Company K; suffered a compression of the brain after being struck in the head by shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell or musket ball; died at the Union Army’s Satterlee General Hospital in Philadelphia 5 November 1864)
  • Burke, Andrew (Private, Company E; initially reported as killed in action, was determined to have sustained gunshot wounds to the head and upper right arm; died from battle wound-related complications 23 December 1864 at the Union Army hospital at Frederick, Maryland)
  • Cope, Peter (Private, Company K; although the Union Army’s Registers of Deaths of Volunteer Soldiers stated that Private Peter Cope of K Company was killed in action during the Battle of Cedar Creek, historian Samuel P. Bates indicated that this soldier was discharged 22 June 1865 by General Order of the U.S. War Department)
  • Crawford, Daniel S. (Private, Company A; severely wounded in the right leg; discharged 31 May 1864 on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability, following earlier amputation of leg)
  • Darrohn, John A. (Corporal, Company B; wounded 4 October 1864 in the lead-up to the Battle of Cedar Creek; died from wound-related complications at the Union Army’s hospital at Winchester, Virginia 12 November 1864)
  • Detweiler, Charles (Private, Company A; wounded in action; died at a Union Army hospital in Philadelphia from battle wound-related complications 12 February 1865)
  • Egolf, John (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Eichman, William Henry (Corporal, Company E; wounded and captured by Confederate forces; held as a POW until his release 11 May 1865; discharged 1 June 1865 per General Order)
  • Fegely, Harrison (Private, Company K; wounded; transferred 17 January 1865 to Company E, 21st Regiment, 1st Battalion, Veteran Reserve Corps)
  • Fetherolf, David K. (1st Lieutenant, Company K; wounded; discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 17 November 1864; died at home 19 August 1865)
  • Foreman, Henry (Private, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Frack, Joseph (Private, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Fraunfelder, Levi (Private, Company A; captured and held at a Confederate POW camp until his release 1 February 1865)
  • Fry, William (1st Sergeant, Company C; captured and held as a POW at the notorious Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia; released 4 March 1865, but died at home due to disease-related complications 28 March 1865)
  • Gatence, Lawrence (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Geho, Addison Kaiser (Private, Company F; killed in action)
  • Geidner, Evan (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Geiger, Harrison (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Gildner/Guildner, Francis (Private, Company I; killed in action)
  • Given, Alexander (Private, Company C; wounded in the abdomen and/or the left knee joint; died from battle wound-related complications 1 December 1864 at the Union Army’s Jarvis General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland)
  • Goebel, John Joseph (Captain, Company G; sustained gunshot wound to his left hip which fractured the neck and head of his left femur; died from a battle wound-related complication – irritative fever – at the Union Army hospital at Winchester, Virginia 5 November 1864)
  • Golio, Reuben (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Grader, Rainey (Private, Company F; killed in action)
  • Grubb, Jacob C. (Private, Company C; sustained two gunshot wounds to his leg(s); died from battle wound-related complications at the Union Army hospital in Winchester, Virginia 9 November1864)
  • Haggerty, Peter Jacob (Private, Company E; captured and held as a POW at a Confederate prison camp until his release 1 March 1865; discharged by General Order 29 June 1865
  • Haltiman, Peter H. (Private, Company B; wounded; died at Baltimore, Maryland 20 November 1864 from battle wound-related complications – possibly paemia/septicemia)
  • Hahn, George (Corporal, Company E; wounded in action; survived)
  • Harper, Edward (Corporal, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Heenan, Michael (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Hochstetter, Jacob C. (Private, Company H; captured and held as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being transferred to the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he was held as a POW until his release)
  • Huff, James (Corporal, Company A; captured and held as POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from starvation 5 March 1865)
  • Jones, Harrison (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Klotz, Moses F. (Private, Company K; sustained fatal head wound in combat)
  • Knauss, Allen (Corporal, Company I; wounded; discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 7 September 1865)
  • Knauss, Charles Henry (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Kolb, Hiram (Private, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Kramer, Allen (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Kramer, Henry H. (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Kramer, Isaac (Private, Company C; wounded in action and captured by Confederate forces; held as a POW until his release; discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 18 August 1865)
  • Koch, Ambrose (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Kunker, John (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Landis, William (Private, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Lasker, Julius (Private, Company G; killed in action)
  • Liddick I, John (Private, Company H; wounded; died from battle wound-related complications 8 November 1864 at a Union Army hospital in Baltimore, Maryland)
  • Lunken, John (Private, Company C; alternate surname spelling: “Sunker”; wounded in action in the nose; survived)
  • Lutz, James (Private, Company I; declared missing in action and supposed dead, then declared killed in action)
  • Martin, William (Private, Company I; wounded; survived)
  • Mayers, William H. (Sergeant, Company I; wounded; survived)
  • McCalla, Daniel (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • McIntire, John (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Menner, Edward (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Metcalf, Isaac (Private, Company F; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from disease-related complications 25 December 1864)
  • Michael, Charles H. (Private, Company F; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from starvation 11 December 1864)
  • Miller, Joseph (Private, Company A; captured and held at a Confederate POW camp until his release 12 April 1865)
  • Miller, Thomas (Corporal, Company B; wounded in action; died from battle wound-related complications at the Union Army hospital at Winchester, Virginia 25 October 1864)
  • Minnich, Edwin G. (Captain, Company B; killed in action)
  • Moll, William (Private, Company F; wounded; survived)
  • Moser, Franklin (Private, Company E; wounded; declared missing in action and supposed dead)
  • Moser, Owen (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Moyer I, William H. (Private, Company F; captured by Confederate forces during or after the Battle of Cedar Creek; died from starvation 22 January 1865 while being held as POW at the Confederate prison camp at Florence, South Carolina)
  • Newhard, Allen (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Ochs, Jacob (Private, Company E; wounded in the foot; discharged from Baltimore on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 19 June 1865)
  • Oyster, Daniel (Captain, Company C; sustained severe gunshot wound to right shoulder; survived)
  • Parks, Francis A. (Sergeant, Company E; killed in action)
  • Peterson, John (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Powell, Jr., Daniel (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Remaly, Samuel (Private, Company A; wounded in action; survived)
  • Repsher, Joseph (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Rhoads, Franklin (Private, Company B; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from disease-related complications 15 November 1864; buried in an unmarked trench grave 22 November 1864)
  • Rupley, John (Corporal, Company H; wounded; survived)
  • Sailor, Cyrus James (Private, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Sandt, Amandus (Corporal, Company A; shot in the hip; survived after being left to die by Confederate troops who had captured his brother, Edwin, who had stayed behind Union lines to care for him)
  • Sandt, Edwin (Private, Company A; narrowly avoided being shot thanks to a cartridge box which blocked a bullet’s path; captured behind Union lines by advancing Confederate forces while caring for his brother, Amandus, who had been shot in the hip; held initially as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being transferred to the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina; survived and returned to serve with regiment)
  • Scherer, August (Private, Company B; sustained gunshot wound to right thigh; died from battle wound-related complications at Newton University General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland 28 October 1864)
  • Schimpf, John (Private, Company B; killed in action)
  • Schlagle, Henry J. (Private, Company I; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from catarrh and starvation on 27 or 28 December 1864)
  • Schneck, Lewis (Private, Company K; killed in action)
  • Scott, Frederick J. (Corporal, Company E; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Danville, Virginia, where he died 23 February 1865)
  • Shaffer, Stephen (Private, Company H; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died 8 January 1865)
  • Shapley, Henry (Private, Company H; captured and held as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being transferred to the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from starvation and harsh treatment 10 December 1864)
  • Shelley, Joseph (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Shiffin, Henry (Private, Company C; wounded in action; survived, and transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps February 1865)
  • Small, Jerome (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Smith, Joseph (Private, Company C; although Henry Wharton indicated this soldier was captured and held as a prisoner of war, other records show he was killed in action)
  • Smith, Joseph (Private, Company H; died from disease-related complications at a Union Army hospital near Cedar Creek, Virginia 11 November 1864)
  • Stephens, Joseph (Private, Company I; killed in action)
  • Strauss, James (Corporal, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Stuart, Charles F. (Private, Company C; captured and held as a POW at a Confederate prison camp until his release 4 March 1865)
  • Swinehart, Peter (Private, Company C; wounded in the side; died from battle wound-related complications 1 December 1864)
  • Tagg, James (Private, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Tice, James (Private, Company B; killed in action)
  • Walk, Josiah (Private, Company F; wounded; survived)
  • Werkheiser, Lewis (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Zellner, Benjamin F. (Private, Company K; shot in the leg and sustained bayonet wound; survived; also survived previous wounds sustained at the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, 9 April 1864, as well as his capture and confinement as a POW following that battle at both the Confederate prison camps at Tyler, Texas and Andersonville, Georgia)
  • Ziegler, Thomas (Private, Company I; sustained gunshot wound to the left leg; survived)

The Battle’s Impact on the Overall Prosecution of the War

Reporting on the battle two weeks later in its 5 November 1864 edition, Harper’s Weekly described Sheridan’s leadership in glowing terms:

PHIL SHERIDAN RIDING TO THE FRONT.

The victory gained at Cedar Creek that day [19 October 1864] surpassed in interest the victory gained precisely one month earlier at Winchester. It was a victory following upon the heels of apparent reverse, and therefore reflecting peculiar credit on the brave commander to whose timely arrival upon the field the final success of the day must be attributed.

The General was at Winchester in the early morning when the enemy attacked – fifteen miles distant from the field of operations. General Wright was in command. The enemy had approached under cover of a heavy fog, and flanking the extreme right of the Federal line, held by Crook’s Corps, and attacking in the centre [sic], had thrown the entire line into confusion, and driven it for several miles. The stragglers to the rear were fearfully numerous, and the enemy was pushing on, turning against the Federals a score of guns already captured from them.

This was the situation a little before noon when Sheridan came on the field, rising, says one of his staff, so that the devil himself could not have kept up. A staff-officer meeting him pronounced the situation of the army to be ‘awful.’

‘Pshaw,’ said Sheridan, ‘it’s nothing of the sort. It’s all right, or we’ll fix it right!’

Sheridan hastened to his cavalry on the extreme left. Galloping past the batteries,’ says the World correspondent, ‘to the extreme left of the line held by the cavalry, he rode to the front, took off his hat and waved it, while a cheer went up from the ranks not less hearty and enthusiastic than that which greeted him after the battle of Winchester. Generals rode out to meet him, officers waved their swords, men threw up their hats in an extremity of glee. General Custer, discovering Sheridan at the moment he arrived, rode up to him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek. Waiting for no other parley than simply to exchange greeting, and to say, ‘This retreat must be stopped!’ Sheridan broke loose and began galloping down the lines, along the whole front of the army. Every where [sic] the enthusiasm caused by his appearance was the same.’

The line was speedily reformed; provost marshals brought in stragglers by the scores; the retreating army turned its face to the foe. An attack just about to be made was repulsed, and the tide of battle turned. Then Sheridan’s time was come. A cavalry charge was ordered against right and left flank of the enemy, and then a grand advance of the three infantry corps from left to right on the Enemy’s centre [sic]. ‘On through Middletown,’ says the correspondent above quoted, ‘and beyond, the enemy hurried, and the Army of the Shenandoah pursued. The roar of musketry now had a gleeful, dancing sound. The guns fired shafted salutes of victory. Custer and Merritt, charging in on right and left, doubled up the flanks of the foe, taking prisoners, slashing, killing, driving as they went. The march of the infantry was more majestic and more terrible. The lines of the foe swayed and broke before it every where [sic]. Beyond Middletown, on the battle-field fought over in the morning, their columns were completely overthrown and disorganized [sic]. They fled along the pike and over the fields like sheep.’

Thus on through Strasburg with two brigades of cavalry at their heels. Two thousand prisoners were gathered together, though there was not a sufficient guard to send them all to the rear. The guns lost in the morning were recaptured, and as many more taken, making fifty in all, and, according to Sheridan’s report, the enemy reached Mount Jackson without an organized regiment.

The scene at Sheridan’s head-quarters at night after the battle was wildly exciting. ‘General Custer arrived about 9 o’clock. The first thing he did was to hug General Sheridan with all his might, lifting him in the air, whirling him around and around, with the shout: ‘By ___, we’ve cleaned them out and got the guns!’ Catching sight of General Torbert, Custer went through the same proceeding with him, until Torbert was forced to cry out: ‘There, there, old fellow, don’t capture me!’

Sheridan’s ride to the front, October 19, 1864 will go down in history as one of the most important and exciting events which have ever given interest to a battle scene; and to this event will be attributed the victory of the day. Says General Grant, ‘Turning what bid fair to be a disaster into a glorious victory stamps Sheridan what I have always thought him, one of the ablest of Generals.’

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were also later recognized for their service that costly but important day, commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” on 19 October 1864.

Fisher’s Hill, Virginia, c. 1892 (William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Co., U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

As Sheridan looked back on his 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign from the vantage point of his 1888 memoirs, he also described the aftermath of Cedar Creek post-battle:

Early’s broken army practically made no halt in its retreat after the battle of Cedar  Creek until it reached New Market, though at Fisher’s Hill was left a small rear-guard of cavalry, which hastily decamped, however, when charged by Gibbs’s brigade on the morning of the 20th. Between the date of his signal defeat and the 11th of November, the enemy’s scattered forces had sufficiently reorganized to permit his again making a reconnaissance in the valley as far north as Cedar Creek, my army having meanwhile withdrawn to Kernstown, where it had been finally decided that a defensive line should be held to enable me to detach troops to General Grant, and where, by reconstructing the Winchester and Potomac railroad from Stephenson’s depot to Harper’s Ferry, my command might be more readily supplied. Early’s reconnaissance north of Cedar Creek ended in a rapid withdrawal of his infantry after feeling my front, and with the usual ill-fortune to his cavalry; Merritt and Custer driving Rosser and Lomax with ease across Cedar Creek and on the Middle and Back roads, while Powell’s cavalry struck McCausland near Stony Point, and after capturing two pieces of artillery and about three hundred officers and men, chased him into the Luray Valley.

Early got back to New Market on the 14th of November, and, from lack of subsistence, being unable to continue demonstrations to prevent my reinforcement of General Grant, began himself to detach to General Lee by returning Kershaw’s division to Petersburg, as was definitely ascertained by Torbert in a reconnaissance to Mount Jackson. At this time General Grant wished me to send him the Sixth Corps … but when I informed him that … Early still retained four divisions of infantry and one of cavalry, it was decided, on my suggestion, to let the Sixth Corps remain till the season should be a little further advanced, which the inclemency of the weather would preclude infantry campaigning. These conditions came about early in December….

Ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers spent much of November and December trying to heal minds as well as bodies. Five days before Christmas of 1864, they trudged through a snowstorm in order to reach their new home – Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia – where they were assigned to outpost and railroad guard duties.

Attached to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah in February 1865, they then moved back to Washington, D.C. via Winchester and Kernstown, setting the stage once again for the 47th Pennsylvanians to play a role in one of the most pivotal moments in American history.

 

Sources:

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

2. Battle of Cedar Creek, in CWSAC Battle Summaries. Washington, D.C.: Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (CWSAC), The American Battlefield Protection Program, retrieved online 1 September 2016.

3. Bluhm, Jr., Raymond K. Shenandoah Valley Campaign: March-November 1864. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army.

4. Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. New York, New York: C. L. Webster, 1885.

5. Irwin, Richard B. History of the Nineteenth Army Corps. New York, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892.

6. Mahon, Michael G. The Shenandoah Valley 1861-1865: The Destruction of the Granary of the Confederacy. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1999.

7. Phil Sheridan Riding to the Front. New York, New York: Harper’s Weekly, 5 November 1864.

8. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, in Records of the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office (Record Group 94). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1861-1865.

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

10. Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign, in Shenandoah at War. New Market, Virginia: Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, retrieved online 1 September 2016.

11. Sheridan, Philip Henry. Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army in Two Volumes, Vol. II. New York, New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1888.

12. Snyder, Laurie. From Louisiana to Virginia (1864): The Battle of Snicker’s Gap and Service with the Army of the Shenandoah, and Sheridan’s Tide-Turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The September Battles (Virginia, July-September 1864), in 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Retrieved online 10 September 2017.

13. The Battle of Cedar Creek, in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service, retrieved online 1 September 2017.

14. U.S. Civil War Veterans’, Widows’ and Orphans’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

15. Wert, Jeffry D. From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1997.

16. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1864.

17. Whitehorn, Joseph W. A. The Battle of Cedar Creek. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army, Center of Military History, 1992.