A Voyage North and a Memorable Encounter with Abraham Lincoln

Pres. Abraham Lincoln at Fort Stevens, July 1864 (public domain illustration).

Pres. Abraham Lincoln at Fort Stevens, 12 July 1864 (public domain illustration).

With the Union’s Red River Campaign across Louisiana finally over by June of 1864, their supplies replenished, their dead buried, and the traumatic injuries of their wounded on the mend by early July, it was time for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to move on. Still part of the 2nd Brigade of Brigadier General William Dwight’s 1st Division in Brigadier General William H. Emory’s 19th U.S. Army Corps, Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I received orders on the 4th of July to leave Companies B, G and K behind and march for Algiers, Louisiana. Boarding the U.S. Steamer McClellan there on Thursday, 7 July 1864, the bulk of 47th Pennsylvanians then sailed away from the docks at 1 p.m.

According to a diary entry made that day by Corporal George R. Nichols of E Company, the regiment was forced to leave behind those three companies because the McClellan simply did not have enough space for the entire regiment. Noting that they had been ordered to begin packing at 6 a.m. that morning for the march to the steamer, he said “about Nine hundred men was Shoved on her.”

Note: Left behind in Morganza, Louisiana under the command of F Company Captain Henry S. Harte to await additional transportation, Companies B, G, and K sailed later that same month aboard the Blackstone, made a brief stop at Bermuda Hundred, arrived in the Washington, D.C. area on 28 July 1864, and reconnected with the remainder of the regiment and the 19th Corps three days later in Maryland at Monocacy.

Carrying sealed orders with instructions that they be opened and read only after the McClellan had traveled “beyond the bar,” Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I sailed in the dark – figuratively and literally. “The passage down the Mississippi was mostly at night, so I am unable to give you a description of it. An expedition was on the move but what point no one outside of headquarters was able to tell. It was a secret move,” wrote C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton to his hometown newspaper. He and his superiors were among the many who speculated that the regiment was headed for new duties near Mobile, Alabama which would place them under the command of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Note: This speculation proved to be completely off the mark, and would result in the utterly incorrect “documentation” by numerous genealogists, historians and news reporters which persists even today that the 47th Pennsylvania had participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea and the burning of Atlanta when the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were nowhere near Sherman and his troops during those incidents.

The initial secrecy was a smart move, observed Wharton, “for the destination of former expeditions was known weeks before embarking, and by the time the troops reached the point to which they were ordered, the rebs were ready to receive them.” New Orleans, he added, was “filled with traitors and spies, ready to do the bidding of Jefferson D.,” making it “necessary that the greatest precaution be used when anything extraordinary is going on.”

After obtaining a new pilot for the steamer at Pilottown, the McClellan continued on. Once the pilot had helped the steamer to clear the bar, the orders were indeed finally opened and, according to Captain Gobin, “the consternation was great when it was discovered we were bound for the Army of the Potomac.”

U.S. Steamer McClellan_Alfred Waud_c. 1860-1865

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c. 1860s, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Still steaming for Washington, the 47th Pennsylvanians lost another of their brotherhood when, on 8 July, Private Jonas Snyder of I Company died from consumption (tuberculosis) and related complications. The 45-year-old Carbon County native was buried at sea with full military honors – sixty miles off America’s coast in the Gulf of Mexico. In recounting the ceremony for Private Snyder, Wharton noted that:

His body was prepared for burial by nicely sewing it up in blankets, with weights attached to make it sink. The funeral was conducted by Chaplain Rodrock, who read the beautiful sea service from the prayer book of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The ‘Flag of our Union’ was at half mast, the boat stopped, and as the sun was hiding in the west, the body was launched into the sea, sinking to rise no more, until the great day comes when the soul must give an account for the ‘deeds’ done in the body.

As the 47th Pennsylvanians grieved their latest loss, the hearts of citizens in Washington City were also troubled as General Jubal Early’s Confederate troops marched their way. According to historian Lewis Schmidt, as the first members of the 19th Corps began arriving at Fortress Monroe in Virginia, “their orders were changed and they were sent on to the Capital.”

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, 10 July, the 47th Pennsylvanians began rounding the tip of Florida, sailing past Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, and on past Key West at 2 p.m. An intense yellow fever epidemic among the locals and remaining soldiers stationed there eliminated all hopes of a short sojourn at Fort Taylor.

According to Captain Gobin, “Pleasant weather attended the voyage,” and the McClellan finally steamed into Hampton Roads, Virginia on the afternoon of 11 July. But before the ship’s anchor could even hit the water, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were receiving new orders – directed to march for Washington, which they did the next morning. Little did they know they would soon have yet another memorable story to be passed down to their grandchildren – and their grandchildren’s grandchildren.

An Encounter with Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Arriving on Horseback at Fort Stevens, 8 July 1864 (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Nespaper, 13 August 1864, public domain).

Lincoln Arrives on Horseback at Fort Stevens, 12 July 1864 (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 13 August 1864, public domain).

In an essay penned in 1907 for the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, The Honorable John Peter Shindel Gobin (now a former Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania), recalled how the majority of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers suddenly realized they were seeing Abraham Lincoln in the flesh during the summer of 1864 – and how an incident that same day which “might have been exceedingly serious in the prosecution of the war” nearly took the life of their beloved Commander-in-Chief as it brought Lincoln “under the actual fire of the enemy in their attack upon Fort Stevens, July 12th, 1864”:

We landed at the Navy Yard, were met by an officer with instructions to move out at once, leaving a detail to look after baggage and horses. Up the avenue and out Seventh St. we at once proceeded, and at intervals were met by handsomely uniformed officers, who urged us to hurry up double quick.

Officers and men moving along discussed the cause of all this, but with no intimation of trouble or information or instructions of what was needed until we heard the sound of artillery and later of musketry.

There appeared to be no unusual commotion in Washington – few people on the streets – nothing to indicate the presence of an enemy, until the sound of firing was heard. The day was very hot the column marched along until Fort Stevens was reached, when, to the great surprise of every one, it was evident that a fight was going on at the front. We halted, and then began the inquiry, ‘What’s up? Are those Johnnies? Where’s Grant?’

Fort Stevens, explained Gobin, “was an earthwork in a line of fortifications built for the defense of Washington. It was a strong earthwork, and apparently easily protected. The guns were mounted en-barbette and were all of heavy caliber.” While waiting for new orders, members of the 47th struck up a conversation with an officer from another Union regiment and were told, “’Old Abe’s in the Fort.’”

This was so startling, as it was repeated from file to file, that everybody made a rush to get near enough to see him. There was no mistaking him. His tall figure and high hat made him prominent, and I think every man of the regiment had a look at him.

Our Corps badge resembled that of the 5th Corps, and to many inquiries, ‘Do you belong to the 5th Corps?’ the answer was, ‘No, to the 19th.’ Considerable curiosity was evinced to know where the 19th Corps was from, and great surprise was expressed as to how we had gotten there from New Orleans, as it was stated, just in time.

In the meantime, numerous officers had been circulating around, various orders had been received, but nobody seemed to know what to do with us, and the regiment stood awaiting definite instructions.

At last it came, to move out to the left and deploy, move forward and connect with Bidwell’s Brigade. As we came into line and moved out, a young staff officer rode down the line, shouting, ‘You are going into action under the eye of the President! He wants to see how you can fight.’ The answer was a shout and a rush. We met with but little opposition. A sparse picket line of dismounted cavalry got out of the way readily, other regiments came in on our left. We did not meet Bidwell’s Brigade, but passed over their battle ground, until, after nightfall, we passed over some of the ground they had fought over, and recognized the red cross of the 1st Division, 6th Corps, as being the fighters. They had evidently been on the extreme left of the line in action. We bivouacked that night near the remains of a burnt house which was said to be Montgomery Blair’s.

The fighting was virtually over before we arrived, but the camp was full of stories during the night as to what had occurred at Fort Stevens while the President was there. Evidently that fort was within the range of the artillery and the skirmishers of the Rebel Army, and it was rumored that General H. G. Wright had positively ordered the President to get out of the range of danger after an officer had been shot by his side.

Mr. Chittenden, Register of the Treasury, in his account of it says that when he reached the Fort, he found the President, Secretary Stanton and other civilians. A young colonel of the artillery, who appeared to be the officer of the day, was in great distress because the President would expose himself and paid little attention to his warnings.  He was satisfied the Confederates had recognized him, for they were firing at him very hotly, and a soldier near him had just fallen with a broken thigh. He asked my advice, says Chittenden, for he said the President was in great danger. After some consultation the young officer walked to where the President was looking over the edge of the parapet and said, ‘Mr. President, you are standing within range of 500 Rebel rifles. Please come down to a safer place. If you do not it will be my duty to call a file of men and make you.’

‘And you would do quite right, my boy,’ said the President, coming down at once, ‘you are in command of this fort. I should be the last man to set an example of disobedience.’ He was shown to a place where the view was less extended, but where there was almost no exposure. As Mr. Chittenden was present and speaks from personal knowledge, I assume this to be a correct statement.

I have recently seen a publication in which an officer, claiming to be on the staff of General Upton, describes the President as having halted at the side of the road, and with having been struck by a stray bullet. No mention of it is made in any of the accounts hitherto published of his presence. Certain it is, he was in the Fort and not in the road when we reached there. There were no other troops except those in the trenches and in the Fort at that time, and my recollection is that it must have been after dinner, the fight well over as, although we went in immediately and rapidly, we had no serious casualties. Our Brig.-General came to us, as he said, as soon as he could get a horse, and halted us for the night.

 The 47th Pennsylvanians could breathe a sigh of genuine relief when they were all finally reunited in late July of 1864. President Abraham Lincoln was still safe – and the boys from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I had gotten a very good look at him.

 

Sources:

1. Gobin, Companion J. P. S. Lincoln Under Fire, in records of the Memorial Meeting held on 13 February 1907, in Abraham Lincoln. Philadelphia: Commandery of the State of Pennsylvania, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1907-1911.

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

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

 

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Honoring the Battle-Tested Soldier: The Meaning and Value of the Designation “Veteran Volunteer”

A regiment, battalion, or company shall bear the title of ‘veteran’ only in case at least one-half its members, at the time of muster into United States Service, are ‘veteran volunteers.’ – excerpt from General Order No. 216, U.S. War Department, 14 July 1863

 

Second State Colors, 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers (presented to the regiment 7 March 1865).

Second State Color, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry with stripe designating the unit as “P.V.V.” (Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers”). Presented to Company C Captain Daniel Oyster, 7 March 1865.

Those words above are at the very heart of what it meant when military units fighting for the Union during America’s Civil War were honored with the coveted and highly respected label of “Veteran Volunteer,” and further clarify the intent of General Order No. 191, which spelled out the expectations of the U.S. War Department for, and the benefits which accrued to, the individual soldiers and regiments ultimately awarded this designation.

A literal “badge of honor,” the appellation “Veteran Volunteer” conferred upon its recipients the right to sew volunteer service chevrons (or service stripes) on their uniforms and regimental flags, signaling to all whom they encountered that they were battle-tested, long-serving and long-suffering combatants dedicated to the fight to preserve America’s Union.

In the case of the men who served with the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the designation was conferred most frequently in the latter part of 1863 and early 1864 during the regiment’s service in Florida. Assigned to garrison Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas, the 47th Pennsylvanians had already, by the fall of 1862, defended Washington, D.C. and played key roles in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff and Jacksonville, Florida, and had been severely bloodied during the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina in late October of that same year.

In addition to having completed their initial three-year terms of service by the time they re-enlisted in 1863 or 1864, many had also fulfilled their “Three Months’ Service,” having been among the first responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s initial April 1861 call for volunteers to defend the nation’s capital following the fall of Fort Sumter.

U.S. General Order No. 191, issued by the U.S. War Department, 25 June 1863:

In order to increase the armies now in the field, volunteer infantry, cavalry, and artillery may be enlisted, at any time within 90 days from this date in the respective States, under the regulations hereinafter mentioned. The volunteers so enlisted, and such of the three-years troops now in the field as may re-enlist in accordance with the provisions of this order, will constitute a force to be designated ‘Veteran Volunteers.’ The regulations for enlisting this force are as follows:

I. The period of service for the enlistments and re-enlistments above mentioned shall be for three years or during the war.

II. All able bodied men, between the ages of 18 and 45 years, who have been heretofore enlisted, and have served for not less than nine months, and can pass the examination required by the mustering regulations of the United States, may be enlisted under this order as veteran volunteers, in accordance with the provisions hereinafter set forth.

 III. Every volunteer enlisted and mustered into service under this order shall be entitled to receive from the United States, one month’s pay in advance and a bounty and premium of $402, to be paid as follows:

  1. Upon being mustered into the service, he shall be paid
    one month’s pay in advance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $13.00
    First installment of bounty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   25.00
    Premium . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    2.00
    Total payment on muster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  $40.00
  1. At the first regular pay-day, or two months after
    muster-in, an additional installment of bounty
    will be paid. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    $50.00
  2. At the first regular pay-day after six months’
    service, he shall be paid an additional
    installment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   $50.00
  3. At the first regular pay-day after the end of the
    first year’s service, an additional installment of
    bounty will be paid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   $50.00
  4. At the first regular pay-day after 18 months’
    service an additional installment of bounty will
    be paid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  $50.00
  5. At the first regular pay-day after two years’
    service an additional installment of bounty will
    be paid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    $50.00
  6. At the first regular pay-day after two and a
    half years’ service an additional installment of
    bounty will be paid,                                                     $50.00
  7. At the expiration of three years’ service the
    remainder of the bounty will be paid . . . . . . . . . .   $75.00

IV. If the government shall not require these troops for the full period of three years, and they shall be mustered honorably out of the service before the expiration of their term of enlistment, they shall receive, upon being mustered out, the whole amount of their bounty remaining unpaid, the same as if their whole term had been served. The legal heirs of volunteers who die in service shall be entitled to receive the whole bounty remaining unpaid at the time of the soldier’s death.

V. Veteran Volunteers enlisted under this order will be permitted at their option to enter old regiments now in the field, but their service will continue for the full term of their own enlistment notwithstanding the expiration of the term for which the regiment was originally enlisted. New organizations will be officered by persons who have been in service and have shown themselves properly qualified for command. As a badge of honorable distinction, ‘SERVICE CHEVRONS’ will be furnished by the War Department to be worn by the Veteran Volunteers.

VI. Officers of regiments whose term has expired will be authorized on proper application and approval of their respective Governors, to raise companies and regiments within the period of 60 days, and if the companies and regiments authorized to be raised shall be filled up and mustered in the service within the said period of 60 days, the officers may be commissioned of the date of their original commission, and for the time engaged in recruiting they will be entitled to receive the pa belonging to their rank.

VII. Volunteers or Militia now in service whose terms of service will expire within 90 days, and who then shall have been in service at least nine months, shall be entitled to the aforesaid bounty and premium of $402, provided they re-enlist before the expiration of their present term for three years or the war; and said bounty and premium shall be paid in the manner herein provided for other troops re-entering the service. The new term will commence from the date of re-enlistment.

VIII. After the expiration of 90 days from this date, volunteers serving in three year organizations who may re-enlist for three years or the war, shall be entitled to the aforesaid bounty and premium of $402, to be paid in the manner herein provided for other troops entering the service. The new term will commence from date of re-enlistment.

IX. Officers in service whose regiments or companies may re-enlist in accordance with the provisions of this order before the expiration of their present term, shall have their commission confirmed so as to preserve their date of rank as fixed by their original muster into United States service.

X. As soon after the expiration of their original term of enlistment as the exigencies of the service will permit, a furlough of 30 days will be granted to men who may enlist in accordance with the provisions of this order.

XI. Volunteers enlisted under the provisions of this order will be credited as three year men in the quotas of their respective states. Instructions for the appointment of recruiting officers and for enlisting Veteran Volunteers, will be immediately issued to Governors as states.

Secretary of War E. D. Townsend

 

Sources:

1. Reports of Committees of the Senate of the United States for the First Session of the Fifty-First Congress, 1889-90. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890.

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

 

 

Celebrating the Fourth Far from Home

The city was gaily dressed in flags, and the prettiest thing of the kind was that at the guard station, under Lt. Reese of Company C. Five flags were suspended from the quarters, with wreaths, while the whole front of the enclosure of the yard was covered with evergreens and the red, white, and blue. The Navy had their vessels dressed in their best ‘bib and tucker’, flags flying fore and aft, of our own and those of all nations. It was a pretty sight, and in a measure paid for the fatigue of the boys on their march. At 12 noon, both Army and Navy fired a national salute of thirty five guns. – Henry D. Wharton

 

The 1863 Fourth of July celebrations in Key West, Florida likely resembled those captured in this image from January 1880 in which former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and General Philip Sheridan arrived at the Russell House on Duval Street (Florida Memory Project, public domain).

The 1863 Fourth of July celebrations in Key West, Florida likely resembled those captured in this image from January 1880 in which former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and General Philip Sheridan arrived at the Russell House on Duval Street (Florida Memory Project, public domain).

It was the Fourth of July, 1863, and the native sons of Pennsylvania enrolled for Civil War military service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were stationed about as far from home as they could possibly be. The men serving with Companies A, B, C, D, and I were stationed at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida while those assigned to companies E, F, G, H, and K were toughing it out at Fort Jefferson, the Union’ remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas. The men from D Company had only just returned to Key West from Fort Jefferson a month earlier.

But life was not all about duty for the Keystone Staters in 1863. According to historian Lewis Schmidt,”July 4th fell on a Saturday, and the celebrations began at Key West at 9 AM when the five companies of the 47th stationed there were reviewed by Gen. Woodbury before the regiment’s office. Immediately after inspection, the regiment marched in a ‘street parade through the principal streets of the city in the heat of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the dust almost suffocating.’ After which each ‘detachment was taken to their quarters, dismissed, and then to enjoy themselves as best they could.'”

Henry D. Wharton, a member of Company C known for his detailed letters to his hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American, added, “The day passed off pleasantly, all seemed to enjoy themselves.” Afterward, said Wharton, “the city was as quiet as could be expected.”

 

 

Sources:

1. Letters from Henry D. Wharton, in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 1861-1865.

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