From Louisiana to Virginia (1864): The Battle of Snicker’s Gap and Service with the Army of the Shenandoah

Cool Spring Battlefield, Clark County, Virginia (2016, North Virginia Regional Park Authority, public domain).

Cool Spring Battlefield, Clarke County, Virginia (2016, North Virginia Regional Park Authority, public domain).

Battered but undeterred following their experience in the Union’s Red River Campaign across Louisiana and still attached to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the U.S. Army’s 19th Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers received new orders on the 4th of July 1864. Under the command of brigadier-generals James W. McMillan, William Dwight, Jr. and William Hemsley Emory (with McMillan continuing to report to Dwight and Dwight to Emory, who headed the 19th Corps), the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were directed to return to the East Coast.

They did – but they did so in two stages.

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c. 1860-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c. 1860-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

According to 47th Pennsylvania historian Lewis Schmidt, ‘’Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I, composing the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and half of the 4th division, sailed from Algiers … at 1 PM on Thursday, July 7. Companies B, G and K of the 4th and 5th divisions remained behind at Morganza, La. under command of Capt. Harte, for want of transportation, and would not arrive in Washington until July 28.”

The men from the 47th’s first detachment could not yet know it, but their transit would lead them into a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln.

As this first grouping readied for departure, Corporal George R. Nichols of E Company penned the following diary entry on 7 July:

Received orders to Pack up at Six O’clock AM and I was detailed on fatigue duty to Load wagons it was for a Mark [demerit]. We Marched to the dock. Embarked on Board of the Steamer McClellan. ar [sic] was packed on Board because about Nine hundred Men was Shoved on her at one O’clock PM. Started down the Mississippi River. Past a New Mail Steamer at five PM Bound for New Orleans Past forts St. Phillip and Jackson at 8 PM. came to anchor at ten Oclock and layed to for the Night’…. [continuing on Friday]: ‘Started this Morning at four Oclock AM. Crost the Bar about Seven. Shaped our course South East. At nine Oclock the orders was torn open, and then we knowed or destination. So we are Bound for Virginia. Well I am Glad. Maby I can See My Brother’ [with the Pennsylvania Bucktail Regiment].

En route, C Company scribe Henry D. Wharton continued chronicling the regiment’s movement:

The passage down the Mississippi was mostly at night, so I am unable to give you a description of it. At Pilottown we exchanged pilots; immediately below was hailed by the S river gunboat 48 with ‘steamer ahoy: what steamer’s that?’ which was answered satisfactorily, when with a wave of the hand we parted, our boat on its way to cross the bar, and then to find out by certain papers our destination. An expedition was on the move but what point no one outside of headquarters was able to tell. It was a secret move. This was right, 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 is filled with traitors and spies, ready to do the bidding of Jefferson D., and it is necessary that the greatest precaution be used when anything extraordinary is going on.

As the pilot was leaving, after safely steering ‘Little Mac’ past the Belize, the sealed orders were opened, when we learned our course was toward Fortress Monroe, to join in the good work going on in front of Richmond. Why our destination was kept so secret I cannot conjecture, unless it was a bait to catch spies, inducing them to forward word to Johnston that an advance was being made on Mobile, which might lead him to withdraw a portion of his troops from Sherman’s front an send them to the protection of the latter city.

When out on the gulf sixty miles, Jonas Snyder of Carbon County, Pa., a member of Company I, died. 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. 

[Note: Pvt. Jonas Snyder: 45 years old, 5’3”tall, former powder maker, died from chronic diarrhea on Friday, 8 July; however, his death was recorded in regimental books as having occurred on 19 July 1864.

A significant thinning of the ranks occurred during this phase of duty as other ailing members of the 47th Pennsylvania who had been left behind to convalesce in Louisiana and Mississippi lost their battles with disease and war wound recovery, or were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability. Among the deceased were B Company’s Josiah Braden, who died in New Orleans and rests at the Chalmette National Cemetery in St. Bernard Parish; H Company’s Private George H. Smith, who passed away while receiving medical care at the Union’s general hospital at Natchez, Mississippi and was laid to rest in the city cemetery there before being exhumed and reinterred at the Natchez National Cemetery; and G Company’s Sergeant James Crader, who also died at the Natchez hospital but whose body was ultimately returned to Pennsylvania for burial at Allentown’s Union-West End Cemetery. According to Schmidt:

Sgt. Crader, a 48 year old shoemaker, was the father of James W., Thomas K., and Edwin K. Crader who served with the same company. His son James W. Crader would receive a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant in 1865. A news article in the Allentown Morning Call of October 24, 1910, reported in contradiction, that Sgt. Crader was ‘on his way home sick’ when he died.

The deaths continued in mid-July as A Company Privates J. Williamson and Michael Andrew died, respectively, at Baton Rouge and New Orleans on 13 and 14 July; Williamson’s grave remains unidentified to this day, according to Schmidt, but may be located at one of the national cemeteries in Baton Rouge or Port Hudson, Louisiana. Andrew, a widowed father who left behind five children under the age of 16, was ultimately interred at the Chalmette National Cemetery.

“Also returning home on another ship about this same time, after being discharged with a surgeon’s certificate in June, was Pvt. Jacob Rinnick of Company E.” Per Schmidt, he:

died on board ship as a civilian, one day out of New York. The body was temporarily buried on Long Island in the Cypress Hill Cemetery, and later disinterred after a short burial. On Saturday, July 30, the remains were returned to Easton and interred in the City Cemetery after services in his father’s house. Another source reported that the burial took place at the German Reformed Church Burial Ground in Easton.

Privates Thaddeus Heckroth of B Company, Jerome Bryner of H Company and I Company’s William Münch were among those discharged via Surgeons’ Certificates. Heckroth and Bryner were released from duty while still in Louisiana while Münch was discharged while at sea.]

Meanwhile, as Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I were en route to the East Coast via the steamer McClellan, the Confederate threat to the nation’s capital mounted as troops led by Brigadier-General Jubal Early made their way north through the Shenandoah Valley toward Washington. “As a result,” explained Schmidt, “troops were diverted to the defenses of Washington, and as units of the First Division of the 19th Corps began to arrive at Fortress Monroe, their orders were changed and they were sent on to the Capital. This confusion in destinations caused the main detachment of the [47th Pennsylvania] to bypass Bermuda Hundred and proceed directly to Washington.”

Still steaming aboard the McClellan on Sunday, 10 July, the 47th Pennsylvanians purposefully avoided both Forts Taylor and Jefferson due to a raging yellow fever outbreak, according to Wharton, who added:

In one week from the day we started we reached Fortress Monroe [Thursday, July 14]. Gen. [McMillan] went ashore to report, where he received orders to push on to Washington. It was here we received the first intimation of the rebel raid into Maryland and the supposed danger to which Washington was exposed. The boys were anxious to move forward that they might participate in any punishment that would be given the rebels.

Arrival in Virginia

According to C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, “Pleasant weather attended the voyage,” and the McClellan finally steamed into Hampton Roads, Virginia on the afternoon of 11 July. The next morning, he and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians headed for Washington. While disembarked briefly at Fort Stevens, they saw President Lincoln in the flesh, and thrilled to the pomp befitting the arrival of a battle-tested regiment. Their trip down the Potomac while aboard the Creole was described by both Nichols and Wharton in their writings of 15 July as “splendid.”

As they passed Washington’s tomb, wrote Wharton, “the band of the 47th played ‘Hail Columbia’, and several national airs, while the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ on the stern of the McClellan was lowered and hoisted in salute.” After disembarking at the wharf on 7th Street, the regiment then marched up Pennsylvania Avenue, “out past the President’s house to Georgetown, and then on to this place where we bivouacked…. The 47th had disembarked and took up its line of march, arriving at Tenleytown, located about two miles north of Georgetown. The weather had been very hot, and the regiment remained in camp at Tenleytown until 3PM on Saturday.”

Nichols confirmed that the regiment started its march toward Washington at daylight, and observed that their new assignment:

Seems More like life hear then down South. We past fort Washington about 12 M. and Sighted the Capitol and Alexandria at the Same time. arrived at Washington at about one oclock PM disembarked about three Got coffee and crackers at the Sanitary Commissions. Started on the March at Six oclock PM. Marched through Washington and Georgetown to Tenlatown [Tenleytown] about Eight Miles and Bivouac for the Night at Nine oclock PM.

In his History of the Nineteenth Army Corps, Richard B. Irwin confirmed that the 47th Pennsylvania’s main detachment had indeed arrived at Tenleytown by mid-July:

About 3,600 men of Emory’s division had landed at Washington during the 12th and 13th of July, increasing the effective force of the Nineteenth Corps to about 4,200, most of whom spent the night in following the windings of the road that marks the long outline of northern fortifications.

 This grouping, explained Irwin, arrived as follows:

On the 13th of July the Clinton arrived at Washington with the 29th Maine and part of the 13th Maine, the St. Mary with the 8th Vermont, the Corinthian with the remaining six companies of the 114th New York, the Mississippi with the 90th and 116th New York and the 30th Massachusetts, the Creole with the 47th Pennsylvania. As the detachments landed they were hurried, in most instances by long and needless circuits to Tennallytown, where they found themselves at night without supplies or wagons, without orders, and without much organization.

 …. Out of this Grant brought order by assigning Wright to conduct the pursuit of Early. When, therefore, on the morning of the 13th Wright found Early gone from his front, he marched after him with the Sixth Corps, and ordered the detachment of the Nineteenth Corps to follow. Grant wished Wright to push on to Edwards Ferry to cut off Early’s retreat across the Potomac.

On 16 July, the 47th Pennsylvanians joined in crossing the Potomac with their fellow members of the 19th Corps, 1st Division, under Brigadier-General Emory, along with the U.S. 6th Corps at White’s Ford, the spot on the Potomac at which Early’s troops had just managed to evade the Union’s pursuit and escape to Leesburg, Virginia. The 19th Corpsmen then trekked roughly three miles past Leesburg into the Catoctin Mountains, pitched their tents at Clark’s Gap, and provided support to the Union forces led by Major-General David Hunter as Hunter’s group began flanking Early’s Army.

Unfortunately, Early’s men escaped once again, and headed again for the Shenandoah Valley – this time, marching through Snicker’s Gap.

According to the U.S. National Park Service:

A Union column, consisting of the VI Corps and elements of the XIX Corps under Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright, pursued Early’s army as it withdrew from the environs of Washington, D.C.  Wright’s force was joined by elements of Crook’s command, which had accompanied Hunter during his retreat through West Virginia.  On July 17, the Union cavalry passed through Snickers Gap and attempted to force passage of the Shenandoah River at Snickers Ford (Castleman’s Ferry). On the morning of July 18, the vanguard of the Union infantry moved through Snickers Gap. Col. Joseph Thoburn (of Crook’s command) led his division downstream to cross the river at Judge Richard Parker’s Ford. Early’s three nearby infantry divisions moved to defend the fords. In the afternoon, Rodes’s division attacked and shattered Thoburn’s right flank on the Cool Spring plantation. Thoburn made a stand behind a stone wall at the river’s edge and beat off three attacks until darkness enabled him to withdraw. Union pursuit of Early was delayed several days.

 On 18 July 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania became one of those Union regiments tasked with entering the Shenandoah Valley via Snicker’s Gap. While there, the regiment engaged the enemy in the Battle of Cool Spring, Virginia (also known as the Battle of Snicker’s Gap). Converging on Early’s larger Confederate Army of 8,000 from three sides (front, flank and rear) as part of the smaller Union force of 5,000 men, the 47th Pennsylvania helped inspire the Rebel retreat to Strasburg from 19-20 July.

Chain Bridge Across the Potomac Above Georgetown Looking Toward Virginia, 1861 (The Illustrated London News, public domain).

Chain Bridge across the Potomac above Georgetown looking toward Virginia, 1861 (The Illustrated London News, public domain).

Returning to Leesburg, the Union troops encamped at Goose Creek before heading back to Washington, D.C. on 22 July. After crossing the Chain Bridge the next day, the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I and their fellow 19th Corpsmen established a new camp “on the high ground overlooking the Potomac near Battery Vermont,” thereby ending “the ‘Snicker’s Gap war,” according to Irwin. (Casualties – Union: 422; Confederate: 397.)

Through the Eyes of a 47th Pennsylvanian

 In recounting the Battle of Cool Spring, Wharton delineated the actions of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers as follows:

The 6th Corps crossed the Potomac on Saturday, previous to which they overtook the rear guard of the enemy at Poolesville, a section of artillery with cavalry pressed forward and vigorously shelled the enemy from several positions. The corps overtook them at Snicker’s Gap. Though the gap might have been successfully held, it was evacuated without much delay, and our infantry took possession. The enemy held possession of the other bank of the Shenandoah River, one mile distant.

A part of Hunter’s command, to the number of five thousand, were ordered to the river, which they crossed in face of the enemy’s fire. After the force had crossed, the enemy attempted a flank movement on their right and left, but Adams’ Rhode Island Battery came into position on an eminence overlooking the valley below. They immediately opened upon the enemy with shot and shell from the three inch rifled guns, creating great havoc among them. The range was accurate and each shell burst in their midst. The enemy finding the damage to their infantry so great, attempted to silence the battery by firing upon them with twenty pound parrots, which however, lasted but a moment, as they in turn were fired upon and forced to silence. Night coming on our infantry recrossed the river to come under the batteries. At this point we lost a number in killed and wounded; a few were drowned in getting off the proper ford. Among the wounded I noticed Ed. M. Shindel, son of Rev. Jeremiah Shindel, and nephew of H. B. Masser, Esq. I am happy to state that his wound is so slight that it will scarcely keep him from duty….

Instead of going to Grant in front of Petersburg, as we expected, orders were issued sending the 6th and 19th Corps up through Maryland in quest of rebels. On the route I conversed with many farmers who had been deprived of property by the chivalry in their late raid and all of them agree in the abhorrence with which they hold the raiders, and are no ways particular in their speech concerning them. A gentleman told me they came not as warriors, but as the lower class of robbers, resorting to petty larceny, and were so mean that they even asked ladies for the ear drops worn as ornaments. At a farmer’s where they had stolen eight horses, a young lady sad that the ‘low fellows wanted papa to take the boots off his feet to give them.’

We are to move forward after the enemy, but whether it will be before the arrival of three of our companies, who could not get passage with us, I cannot tell. From what I can learn we will move towards the Point of Rocks. The raiders have, or are attempting to cross the Potomac at Rockville.

 The diary of E Company’s George Nichols adds further color to Wharton’s words, indicating that on that Saturday, the 47th:

Received three days Rations. Started on the March at three oclock PM. Plenty of Good cool water along the Road. I Picked Some Green appels and ate them the first I Seen for two years and Six Month on trees Marched the distance of fourteen Miles and Encamped at half past ten oclock PM.

 The next Sunday, Nichols reported that he was:

 acting left Genl. Guide to the Regtment and I are not compelled to carry a Gun so in the wagon it Goes. it will be easier for Me. we Started on the tramp at Eight AM very hot and dusty at twelve M. half of the Redgt. Was Stragling be hind and when we Got to the Potomac our company Musterd only Nine Men offercers and all. The rest was Played out. We came fourteen Miles to Kelleysford [sic] arrived at three PM. We are Ordered Back to Washington’. On Monday the ‘order [was] contermanded So we Started at four oclock AM croost the River to Virginia Side the Water was three feet deep. But we forderd her all the Same We Struck the leesburg pike whent through leesburg. hamiltonn and Perserville at four PM. We caught the Rear Guard of the army and at twelve oclock Midnight we came to our division after Marching about Twenty Eight Miles. We Passed through Snickers Gap and Encamped in the Vally at Twelve oclock PM.

Kelly's Ford on the Rappahannock River (Edwin Forbes, 10 February 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain)

Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River (Edwin Forbes, 10 February 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Wharton’s writings back up Nichols’ account of the Kelly’s Ford experience, and also confirm that the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I) did indeed engage in the Battle of Cool Spring/Snicker’s Gap:

The second day’s march brought us to the Potomac at Kelly’s Ford, which we crossed by wading, proceeded on our way to Leesburg, making Snicker’s Gap, where we joined the 6th Army Corps and the balance of our division of the 19th. The 6th boys are some on a march, but were completely taken by surprise when they learned we had crossed the Potomac that morning after sunrise, thinking it was impossible for troops to make what they did not, thirty miles on a hard pike.

On the Move Again

By late July, Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I from the 47th Pennsylvania were on the move again with Emory’s Army. Encamped the night of 26 July in Maryland “on the Frederick road, four miles north of Rockville, after a march of nineteen miles,” according to Irwin, they departed at 3 a.m. the next morning, marching another fifteen miles to a site just beyond Hyattstown. “On the 28th Emory took the road at five, marched to Monocacy Junction, where the Sixth Corps crossed the Monocacy, then filed to the right, and crossed at the upper ford, and passing through Frederick went into bivouac four miles beyond.”

They had trekked another 13 miles.

“On the 29th, an intensely hot day,” wrote Irwin, “Emory marched at eight, following the Sixth Corps, crossed the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry, marched nineteen miles, and went into bivouac at Halltown.” Following another 13-mile march on 31 July – back into and across the Catoctin Mountains – Emory ordered his exhausted men to make camp at 1 a.m. near Jefferson.

Just four hours later, they were awakened by bugle call and sent on the march again at 6 a.m. Thirteen miles later, they pitched their tents along the Emmitsburg Road, roughly two miles past Frederick. Their duties involved “holding the line of the Monocacy and observing the passes of the South Mountain,” according to Irwin.

Meanwhile, Captain Henry S. Harte and the men from Companies B, G and K were finally making their own East Coast arrival.

A Regiment Reunited

Having sailed from Louisiana aboard the Blackstone and, according to Schmidt, “after first stopping enroute [sic] at Bermuda Hundred, under temporary assignment to the Army of the James, with the Second Division of the 19th Corps,” Captain Harte and the men of Companies B, G and K arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and finally reconnected with the bulk of their regiment in Maryland at Monocacy on 2 August 1864.

On 6 August, Emory’s men crossed back over the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, preceded and followed, respectively, by the Union forces led by brigadier-generals George R. Crook and John B. Ricketts. “Hunter took up his position covering Halltown and proceeded to strengthen its entrenchments,” according to Irwin, while “Crook’s left rested on the Shenandoah, Emory extended the line to the turnpike road, and Wright carried it to the Potomac.”

But once again, a major shakeup in the top level of Union leadership was underway. Explained Irwin:

Grant had already proposed to unite in a single command the four distinct departments covering the theatre of war on the Shenandoah and on the upper Potomac; as the commander he had first suggested Franklin and afterward Meade. Now, since no action had followed either suggestion, he sent up Sheridan, meaning to place him in command of all the active forces of these four departments, for the purpose of overthrowing Early or expelling him from the Shenandoah. Upon learning this, Hunter, to remove the difficulty, asked to be relieved; and thus, on the 7th of August, Grant gained his wish, and an order was issued by the War Department, creating the Middle Military Division, to include Washington, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and part of Ohio, and Sheridan was assigned to the command.

 The stage was now set for Major-General Philip Sheridan’s tide-turning, 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

 

Sources:

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

2. Battle of Snicker’s Gap/Battle of Cool Spring, 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. 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.

5. Irwin, Richard Bache. History of the Nineteenth Army Corps. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893.

6. 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.

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

8. The Battle of Cool Spring. Washington, D.C.: Civil War Trust, retrieved online 1 September 2016.

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

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

 

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.

 

O Captain! My Captain! – American Artists and the Apotheosis of Abraham Lincoln

Washington & Lincoln (Apotheosis), J. A. Arthur, 1865 (public domain).

Washington & Lincoln (Apotheosis), J. A. Arthur, 1865, public domain.

O Captain! My Captain!
By Walt Whitman
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

 

Sources:

1. Washington & Lincoln (Apotheosis). Washington, D.C.: J. A. Arthur, 1865.

2. Whitman, Walt. O Captain! My Captain!, in Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891.