Company B

Roster: Company B, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers

History of Company B
1861-1862

The bombardment of Fort Sumter 12-14 April 1861 (Currier & Ives, public domain).

Bombardment of Fort Sumter 12-14 April 1861 (Currier & Ives, public domain).

The initial recruitment for members to fill Company B of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania – the city in which the 47th’s founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, would later go on to serve three terms as mayor. Following the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, many of Company B’s earliest recruits entered the fray as members of Allentown’s famed Allen Rifles. Responding to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers, they joined with the Jordan Artillerists, and marched off to help defend the nation’s capital as Company I of the 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry.

After completing their Three Months’ Service with the 1st Pennsylvania, many reenlisted from Allentown in September of that same year to form Company B of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. This newly formed company was led by Emmanuel P. Rhoads, grandson of Peter Rhoads, Jr., former president of the Northampton Bank. Often referred to as “E.P.,” Rhoads had performed his own Three Months’ Service as a First Lieutenant with the Allen Rifles. After mustering out at Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Rhoads reenlisted again with Company B of the 47th Pennsylvania.

Camp Curtin (Harpers Weekly, 1861; public domain).

Camp Curtin (Harper’s Weekly, 1861; public domain).

According to A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, authored by Lewis Schmidt, Rhoads was promoted to the rank of Captain on 30 August 1861, and the members of Company B were mustered into the 47th on the final two days of August 1861 at Harrisburg’s Camp Curtin, a large staging area for Union troop formation and training.

Company B was one of the first two of four companies from the city of Allentown in total to muster in for duty with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Company I was the second.

Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics, the 47th Pennsylvanians headed for Washington, D.C. Stationed about two miles from the White House, they made their new home at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 21 September. Henry D. Wharton, a Musician with the regiment’s C Company, penned the following update for the Sunbury American newspaper on 22 September:

After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.

After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.

We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday [21 September 1861] without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on dis-covering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.

Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent men and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.

I am happy to inform you that our young townsman, Mr. William Hendricks, has received the appointment of Sergeant Major to our Regiment. He made his first appearance at guard mounting this morning; he looked well, done up his duties admirably, and, in time, will make an excellent officer. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.

On 24 September, the men of Company B became part of the federal military service, mustering in with great pomp and gravity to the U.S. Army with their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

On 27 September – a rainy day, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvania was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.

The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to General W.F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.

Once again, Company C Musician Henry Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:

On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….

We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….

There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville, a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….

Sometime during this phase of duty, as part of the 3rd Brigade, the 47th Pennsylvanians were moved to a site they initially christened “Camp Big Chestnut” for the large chestnut tree located within their lodging’s boundaries. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.

On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. Also around this time, companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops. In his letter of 13 October, Henry Wharton described their duties, as well as their new home:

The location of our camp is fine and the scenery would be splendid if the view was not obstructed by heavy thickets of pine and innumerable chesnut [sic] trees. The country around us is excellent for the Rebel scouts to display their bravery; that is, to lurk in the dense woods and pick off one of our unsuspecting pickets. Last night, however, they (the Rebels) calculated wide of their mark; some of the New York 33d boys were out on picket; some fourteen or fifteen shots were exchanged, when our side succeeded in bringing to the dust, (or rather mud,) an officer and two privates of the enemy’s mounted pickets. The officer was shot by a Lieutenant in Company H [?], of the 33d.

Our own boys have seen hard service since we have been on the ‘sacred soil.’ One day and night on picket, next day working on entrenchments at the Fort, (Ethan Allen.) another on guard, next on march and so on continually, but the hardest was on picket from last Thursday morning ‘till Saturday morning – all the time four miles from camp, and both of the nights the rain poured in torrents, so much so that their clothes were completely saturated with the rain. They stood it nobly – not one complaining; but from the size of their haversacks on their return, it is no wonder that they were satisfied and are so eager to go again tomorrow. I heard one of them say ‘there was such nice cabbage, sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, &c., out where their duty called them, and then there was a likelihood of a Rebel sheep or young porker advancing over our lines and then he could take them as ‘contraband’ and have them for his own use.’ When they were out they saw about a dozen of the Rebel cavalry and would have had a bout with them, had it not been for…unlucky circumstance – one of the men caught the hammer of his rifle in the strap of his knapsack and caused his gun to fire; the Rebels heard the report and scampered in quick time….

On Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by Schmidt as “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” Four days later, Company B’s drummer boy, Alfred Eisenbraun, was dead – the third “man” from the regiment to die since the 47th Pennsylvania’s formation. (The first was another drummer boy, John Boulton Young of C Company, who was felled by smallpox at the Kalorama eruptive fever hospital in Georgetown on 17 October.)

A former tobacco stripper and son of a frakturist-tombstone carver, 15-year-old Musician Eisenbraun had been shipped back to Georgetown on 22 or 23 October with other ailing members of his regiment after he had contracted typhoid fever in late September or early October. He died there at the Union’s General Hospital at Georgetown’s Union Hotel on Saturday, 26 October, and was laid to rest at the Military Asylum Cemetery (now the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home Cemetery) in Washington, D.C.

Soldiering On

In late October 1861 according to Schmidt, the men from Companies B, G and H woke at 3 a.m., assembled a day’s worth of rations, marched four miles from camp, and took over picket duties from the 49th New York:

Company B was stationed in the vicinity of a Mrs. Jackson’s house, with Capt. Kacy’s Company H on guard around the house. The men of Company B had erected a hut made of fence rails gathered around an oak tree, in front of which was the house and property, including a persimmon tree whose fruit supplied them with a snack. Behind the house was the woods were the Rebels had been fired on last Wednesday morning while they were chopping wood there.

In his letter of 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed still more details about life at Camp Griffin:

This morning our brigade was out for inspection; arms, accoutrements [sic], clothing, knapsacks, etc, all were out through a thorough examination, and if I must say it myself, our company stood best, A No. 1, for cleanliness. We have a new commander to our Brigade, Brigadier General Brannen [sic], of the U.S. Army, and if looks are any criterion, I think he is a strict disciplinarian and one who will be as able to get his men out of danger as he is willing to lead them to battle….

The boys have plenty of work to do, such as piquet [sic] duty, standing guard, wood-chopping, police duty and day drill; but then they have the most substantial food; our rations consist of fresh beef (three times a week) pickled pork, pickled beef, smoked pork, fresh bread, daily, which is baked by our own bakers, the Quartermaster having procured portable ovens for that purpose, potatoes, split peas, beans, occasionally molasses and plenty of good coffee, so you see Uncle Sam supplies us plentifully….

A few nights ago our Company was out on piquet [sic]; it was a terrible night, raining very hard the whole night, and what made it worse, the boys had to stand well to their work and dare not leave to look for shelter. Some of them consider they are well paid for their exposure, as they captured two ancient muskets belonging to Secessia. One of them is of English manufacture, and the other has the Virginia militia mark on it. They are both in a dilapidated condition, but the boys hold them in high estimation as they are trophies from the enemy, and besides they were taken from the house of Mrs. Stewart, sister to the rebel Jackson who assassinated the lamented Ellsworth at Alexandria. The honorable lady, Mrs. Stewart, is now a prisoner at Washington and her house is the headquarters of the command of the piquets [sic]….

Since the success of the secret expedition, we have all kinds of rumors in camp. One is that our Brigade will be sent to the relief of Gen. Sherman, in South Carolina. The boys all desire it and the news in the ‘Press’ is correct, that a large force is to be sent there, I think their wish will be gratified….

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.” As a reward – and in preparation for bigger things to come, Brannan obtained new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.

The guard duties in rainy weather and frequent marches, however, gradually began to wear the men down; a number of 47th Pennsylvanians fell ill with fever. Several contracted Variola (smallpox), which was also sickening Confederate troops stationed nearby. Sent back to Union Army hospitals in Washington, D.C., at least two members of the regiment died there while receiving treatment.

1862

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

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

Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862, marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church. Sent by rail to Alexandria, they then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before they were marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.

According to Schmidt and letters home from members of the regiment, those preparations ceased on Monday, 27 January, at 10 a.m. when:

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.

Reloading then resumed. By that afternoon, when the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers. The officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

The regiment’s men arrived in Key West in February and were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvanians introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men attended to their spiritual needs by attending services at local churches. While here, the men of the 47th drilled in heavy artillery and other tactics – often as much as eight hours per day. They also felled trees, built roads and strengthened the installation’s fortifications.

Their time was made more difficult by the prevalence of disease. Many of the 47th’s men lost their lives to typhoid and other tropical diseases, or to dysentery and other ailments spread from soldier to soldier by poor sanitary conditions. Private Solomon Diehl of Company B was one of those struck down in this manner.

Ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina from mid-June through July, the 47th Pennsylvania camped near Fort Walker and then quartered in the Beaufort District, Department of the South. Duties of 3rd Brigade members at this time involved hazardous picket duty to the north of their main camp. According to Pennsylvania military historian, Samuel P. Bates, the 47th’s soldiers were known for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing,” and “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan.”

Illustration of the Union Navy's base of operations, Mayport Mills, circa 1862 (public domain).

Illustration of the Union Navy’s base of operations, Mayport Mills, circa 1862 (public domain).

On 30 September the 47th was sent on a return expedition to Florida where B Company participated with its regiment and other Union forces from 1 to 3 October in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff. Led by Brigadier-General Brannan, the 1,500-plus Union force disembarked from gunboat-escorted troop carriers at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek. With the 47th Pennsylvania in the lead and braving alligators, skirmishing Confederates and killer snakes, the brigade negotiated 25 miles of thickly forested swamps in order to capture the bluff and pave the way for the Union’s occupation of Jacksonville, Florida.

From 21-23 October, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackey’s Point under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again. This time, however, their luck would run out. Their brigade was bedeviled by snipers and faced massive resistance from an entrenched Confederate battery, which opened fire on the Union troops as they headed through an open cotton field. Those trying to reach the higher ground of the Frampton Plantation were pounded by Confederate artillery and infantry hidden in the surrounding forests.

Charging into the fire, Union forces fought the Confederates where they found them, pushing them into a four-mile retreat to the Pocotaligo Bridge. At this juncture, the 47th then relieved the 7th Connecticut, but after two hours of exchanging fire while attempting, unsuccessfully, to take the ravine and bridge, the men of the 47th were forced by their dwindling ammunition to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.

Losses for the 47th Pennsylvania at Pocotaligo were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died; another two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded, including Privates Martin W. Leisenring and Obadiah Pfeiffer. Several resting places for 47th soldiers remain unidentified, their locations lost to sloppy Army or hospital records management, or because one comrade was forced to hastily bury or leave behind the body of another while dodging fire or retreating.

Ormsby_Mitchel

General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, circa 1862. Photograph: Matthew B. Brady (public domain).

On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania headed back to Hilton Head, where members of the regiment were assigned to serve on the honor guard during the funeral of General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South.

Mitchel, who had died of yellow fever 30 October, had gained fame in 1846 as an astronomer at the University of Cincinnati after finding The Mountains of Mitchel on Mars.

Built on the Drayton Plantation on land known today as Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Mitchelville turned a cotton field formerly tended by slaves into the first self-governed community of freedmen. Photograph: Samuel Cooley, U.S. National Archives (public domain).

Built on the Drayton Plantation on land known today as Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Mitchelville turned a cotton field formerly tended by slaves into the first self-governed community of Freedmen. Photograph: Samuel Cooley, U.S. National Archives (public domain).

The town of Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s self-governed community created after the Civil War, was also named for him.

Members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were awarded the high honor of firing the salute over the grave of the departed general.

1863 

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

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

Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 for the men of the 47th Pennsylvania was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. Captain Rhoads and his B Company men joined with Companies A, C, E, G, and I in duties at Key West’s Fort Taylor while the soldiers from Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.

It was a noteworthy year not just for the casualties incurred on duty or wrought by disease – but for the clear commitment of the men of the 47th to preserving the Union. Many chose to reenlist when their terms of service expired, opting to finish the fight rather than returning home to families and friends.

1864 

19th U.S. Army Map, Phase 3, Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield (8 April 1864, public domain).

On 25 February, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania began a phase of service during which their regiment would make history. Boarding another steamer, the Charles Thomas, Company B and their fellow 47th traveled from New Orleans to Algiers, Louisiana. Arriving on 28 February, they then moved by train to Brashear City before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, and became the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.

From 14-26 March, the 47th marched for Alexandria, Louisiana. On 8 April, they engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield), losing 60 of their friends to fierce gun and cannon fire. In the confusion, some were reported as killed in action, but apparently survived.

The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.

On that day, now known as the Battle of Pleasant Hill, 68-year-old Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls of Company C was wounded, as was Sergeant William Pyers of the same company, who had picked up the American flag when Walls fell. The 47th also nearly lost its second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, who had been severely wounded.

In B Company, John Fries and Tilghman H. Reinsmith were wounded; Edward Fink was killed. Others were captured, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war (POWs) by Confederate forces until released during a prisoner exchange 22 July or in later exchanges in August and November. At least two members of the 47th died while in captivity there while still others remain missing to this day, possibly having been hastily interred on or between battlefields – or in unmarked prison graves.

Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore, where they resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. Retreating further to Alexandria, they and their fellow Union soldiers scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.

Known as

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for the Union officer who ordered its construction, Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 facilitated the passage of Union gunboats. Photo: Public domain.

On 23 April, the 47th made the Cane River Crossing via Monett’s Ferry, and assumed responsibility for building a dam across the Red River from 30 April through 10 May.

Beginning 13 May, the regiment moved to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June. Along the way, disease claimed still more men. Private Josiah Brader of Company B was taken by typhoid on 9 July after surviving Union General Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign across Louisiana. Charles Schwenk died a few weeks earlier on June 20 in Baton Rouge. Joseph Smith was left behind as his regiment was shipped back up north, and died in New Orleans on 2 September.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign 

Undaunted by their travails in Bayou country, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued their fight to preserve the Union during the summer of 1864. After receiving orders on the 4th of July to return to the East Coast, they did so in two stages.

Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed for the Washington, D.C. area beginning 7 July while the men from Companies B, G and K remained behind on detached duty and to await transportation. Led by F Company Captain Henry S. Harte, they finally sailed away at the end of the month aboard the Blackstone, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.

Due to the delay, the boys from B Company missed out on a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, and also missed the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864, it was here at this time and this place that the now full-strength 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would engage in their greatest moments of valor.

Records of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers confirm that the regiment was assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia in early August 1864, and engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a mimic warbeing waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early.

From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in the Battle of Berryville, and engaged in related post-battle skirmishes with the enemy over subsequent days.

Image of the victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces. Kurz & Allison, circa 1893. Public domain, courtesy of the Library of Congress: LC-DIG-pga-01855 (digital file from original print) LC-USZC4-1753 (color film copy transparency).

Victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces. Kurz & Allison, circa 1893. Public domain, U.S. Library of Congress.

Inflicting heavy casualties during the Battle of Opequan (also known as “Third Winchester”) on 19 September, Sheridan’s gallant men forced a stunning retreat of Jubal Early’s Confederates – first to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September) and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack. Their victories helped Abraham Lincoln win a second term as President.

On 23-24 September 1864, Colonel Tilghman Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander mustered out upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately for the 47th, they were replaced by others equally beloved for their temperament and front line experience.

Sheridan’s Army also began the first Union “scorched earth” campaign during this period, starving Confederate forces and their supporters into submission by destroying Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed by many today as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the turning of the war further in favor of the Union. Early’s men, successful in many prior engagements but now weakened by hunger, strayed from battlefields in increasing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864.

From a military standpoint, it was an impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to Bates:

When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – “Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’”

The Union’s counterattack pounded Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were 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” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:

When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.

Through it all, the casualty rates for the 47th continued to climb. Captain Edwin G. Minnich and Privates John Schimpf, Thomas Steffen, and James Tice of Company B were among those killed in action while Corporal August C. Scherer and others died later from their battle wounds. Charles Bachman, Harrison Geiger, Allen L. Kramer, Henry H. Kramer were among those who survived their wounds, but Private Franklin Rhoads, reportedly succumbed to disease after being captured and transported from the Cedar Creek battlefield area to the Confederate Army’s Salisbury, North Carolina prison camp. He was just 18 years old.

Given a slight respite after Cedar Creek, the men of the 47th were quartered at the Union’s Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December before receiving orders to assume outpost duty at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia just five days before Christmas.

1865 – 1866

By February of 1865, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah.

Matthew Brady's photograph of spectators massing for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865, at the side of the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. (Library of Congress: Public domain.)

Matthew Brady’s photograph of spectators massing for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865, at the side of the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. (Library of Congress: Public domain.)

By 19 April, the regiment was back in Washington, D.C., ordered there to defend the nation’s capital again – this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. While serving in the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps (Dwight’s Division), the 47th also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May. Captain Levi Stuber of Company I was also promoted to the rank of Major with the regimental command staff during this time.

Letters home during this period and interviews conducted in later years with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania confirm that at least one member of the 47th was given the honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while still others were assigned to guard duties at the prison where the alleged Lincoln assassination conspirators were held and tried.

Taking one final swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June as part of the Department of the South’s 3rd Brigade (Dwight’s Division) and at Charleston beginning in June.

Ruins seen from the Circular Church, Charleston, SC, 1865. Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (111-B-4667, public domain).

Charleston, South Carolina as seen from the Circular Church, 1865. Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (111-B-4667, public domain).

Duties during this time were Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including rebuilding railroads and other key aspects of the region’s infrastructure that had been damaged or destroyed during the long war.

Finally, on Christmas Day in 1865, the majority of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Company B began to be mustered out, a process which continued through early January 1866.

Following a stormy voyage home and a train trip to Philadelphia, the now very experienced 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers received their Honorable Discharge papers at Camp Cadwalader, and were returned to their loved ones and neighbors.

The leaders of their regiment at the close of the Civil War were Colonel John Peter Shindel Gobin, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Abbott and Major Levi Stuber.

Sources:

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

2. Burial Ledgers, in Record Group 15, The National Cemetery Administration, and Record Group 92, U.S. Departments of Defense and Army (Quartermaster General). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: 1861-1865.

3. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1861-1865.

4. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.

5. Claims for Widow and Minor Pensions, in U.S. Civil War Widows’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

6. Interment Control Forms, in Record Group 92, U.S. Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92). College Park: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

7. Pennsylvania Veterans’ Burial Index Cards. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

8. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, U.S. Adjutant General’s Office. 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: Self-published, 1986.

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