Captain William H. Kleckner

Born in Pennsylvania on 17 January 1841, William H. Kleckner was a son of Pennsylvania native John Kleckner and Lehigh County, Pennsylvania native Anna Emma (Deibert) Kleckner, who had wed at the Lutheran Church in Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania on 20 January 1835. A year before William’s birth, his parents, John and Emma Kleckner (also known as “Emmy”) made their home in Northampton Township, Lehigh County in 1840 with the following older, Pennsylvania-born siblings of William:

  • Tilghman: The son of John Kleckner and his first wife, Catherine (who had passed away in 1833), Tilghman was born on 13 May 1825, entered the butchering trade as an adult, passed away in Allentown on 1 May 1875, and was interred at Allentown’s Union-West End Cemetery;
  • Susan: The daughter of John Kleckner and his second wife, Emmy, Susan was born in 1835, wed coach maker Charles H. Kramer at the Reformed Church in Whitehall Township, Lehigh County on 5 May 1853, resettled with her husband in Ohio, passed away in 1883 in Miami County, Ohio, and was interred at the Riverside Cemetery in Troy, Miami County;
  • Matilda: Born sometime around 1836, she married George Goundie, a bookkeeper, at the Reformed Church in Whitehall Township, Lehigh County on 23 October 1853, died on 16 June 1895, and was interred at the Allentown Cemetery; and
  • Emmalina: Born in Pennsylvania on 7 December 1839, she later wed Edwin Shafer (alternate spelling: “Shaffer”), who served with the 41st Pennsylvania during the Civil War, and was widowed by him before passing away herself from a cerebral hemorrhage on 6 January 1915 in Allentown. She was interred on 11 January 1915 at Allentown’s Union-West End Cemetery.

William H. Kleckner’s father supported the growing Kleckner family on the wages of a tailor. Roughly three years after William was born, his younger brother Alvin arrived, followed by George Casper (born in Allentown on 12 August 1846) and Eliza (“Lydia”) Kleckner (born in Allentown on 31 May 1848).

Several years later, a double tragedy appears to have struck the Kleckner family. In 1850, family patriarch John Kleckner contracted consumption, fell seriously ill with the disease for two weeks, and died at home in Allentown in May 1850. The Kleckner’s son, Alvin, also appears to have died sometime during the same decade; his name was shown on the 1850 federal census but appears not to have been recorded on the 1860 federal census.

Emma (Deibert) Kleckner, suddenly widowed with children ranging from toddler to teenage years, remarried to Henry Enders sometime during the mid-1850s. Leaving her son, William H. Kleckner, and his older siblings behind in Pennsylvania, Emma then relocated to Ohio with her youngest children, Eliza and George, and her new husband. Sometime after this relocation, the spelling of Eliza and George’s surname was changed from “Kleckner” to “Cleckner.” By 1858, their mother and her second husband had welcomed their own son, Robert Enders, to their Shelby County home.

Meanwhile, by 1860, William H. Kleckner had found work as a boatman, and was residing at the home of William and Sarah Halderman in Allentown’s First Ward.

Sometime during this phase of his life, William Kleckner also began serving with a local militia unit known as the Jordan Artillerists. Commanded by Captain William H. Gausler, the Artillerists were famous statewide for their competition-winning, precision drills, and were awarded the honor of guarding the Jones House in Harrisburg when President Lincoln spoke there to an audience of 5,000 soldiers on 22 February 1861.

Civil War Military Service

Alma Pelot's photo of the Confederate flag flying above Fort Sumter 16 April 1861 (public domain, Library of Congress).

Alma Pelot’s photo of the Confederate flag flying above Fort Sumter 16 April 1861 (public domain, Library of Congress).

When Fort Sumter fell to Confederate forces in mid-April 1861, William H. Kleckner was ready, willing and able to help protect his community and country. An early responder to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help defend the nation’s capital, he enrolled and mustered in for duty on 20 April 1861 at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County as a Private with Company I of the 1st Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment which had presciently been authorized and equipped by the citizens of Lehigh and Northampton counties at a community gathering just one week before – on 13 April 1861. At that time, those same citizens voted to place Tilghman H. Good in charge of the new regiment, assigning him the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Commander of the 4th Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard at the time, Good had previously served as Captain of the Allen Rifles, a long-time Lehigh County militia unit which had been formed nearly two decades earlier (in 1849). The men from Good’s Allen Rifles were folded into the new regiment, as were William H. Kleckner and his fellow Jordan Artillerists.

Initially ordered to guard railroad lines, the men of Company I and their fellow 1st Regiment Volunteers were assigned to defend Baltimore, where they helped to bolster the support of Union supporters in Maryland for two weeks before moving on to Catonsville and Franklintown. Ordered back to Baltimore in early June and then Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Gausler and his men (as part of the 1st Pennsylvania) became part of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division headed by General Patterson.

While occupying Frederick City, Maryland, Gausler and his Company I soldiers volunteered to procure supplies from Point of Rocks, which they did – while under fire from Confederate troops.

On 8 July 1861, the 1st Pennsylvania was ordered to garrison the Union’s key supply base at Martinsburg, Virginia. With their terms set to expire on 20 July and a growing awareness by Union Army leaders that of potential manpower shortages, General Patterson then asked the 1st Pennsylvanians to extend their service until they could be relieved. They agreed and, upon fulfillment of their Three Months’ Service plus a slight extension of time, Private William H. Kleckner and the other men of Company I were honorably discharged on 27 July 1861.

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

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

William Kleckner then promptly re-upped for a three-year term, re-enrolling with a number of his fellow Jordan Artillerists on 20 August 1861 at Allentown, Lehigh County. Mustering in again at Camp Curtin on 30 August 1861, William H. Kleckner was awarded the rank of Sergeant with Company B of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a new regiment formed by his former 1st Pennsylvania commanding officers, Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Major William H. Gausler.

Serving in this enlistment under Captain Emmanuel P. (“E. P.”) Rhoads, military records at the time described Sergeant Kleckner as being a 21-year-old carpenter and resident of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania who was 5’6” tall with brown hair, blue eyes and a light complexion.

Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics at Camp Curtin, the soldiers of Company B and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were transported south by rail to Washington, D.C. Stationed roughly two miles from the White House, they pitched their tents at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 21 September. The next day, C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton penned the following update to the Sunbury American newspaper:

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.

On 24 September, the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry finally became part of the U.S. Army when its men were officially mustered into federal service. On 27 September, the 47th Pennsylvanians were 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 Volunteers were on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 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.

Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had just crossed, they made camp 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.

On October 11, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads after having been ordered with the 3rd Brigade to Camp Griffin. In a mid-October letter home, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to lead the entire 47th Regiment) reported that 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.

On Friday morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review 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.”

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

As a reward for their performance that day – and in preparation for the even bigger things which were yet to come, Brigadier-General Brannan ordered that brand new Springfield rifles be obtained for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

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 Fall’s 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 railcars 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.

By the afternoon of Monday, 27 January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had commenced boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, William Kleckner and his fellow officers were among the last to board. Then, 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.

In early February 1862, the soldiers of Company B arrived in Key West with their fellow members of the regiment, and were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. On 14 February, the regiment made its presence known to area residents via a parade through the city’s streets.

Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics, they also strengthened the fortifications at the federal installation. The 47th’s early days here were not easy. Several members of the regiment fell ill, largely due to poor sanitary conditions and water quality.

From mid-June through July, the 47th was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men made camp before being housed in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly rotated among the regiments present there at the time, putting soldiers at increased risk from sniper fire. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, during this phase of their service, the men of the 47th “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing.”

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).

During a return expedition to Florida beginning 30 September, the 47th joined with the 1st Connecticut Battery, 7th Connecticut Infantry, and part of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry in assaulting Confederate forces at their heavily protected camp at Saint John’s Bluff overlooking the Saint John’s River area. Trekking and skirmishing through roughly 25 miles of dense swampland and forests after disembarking from ships at Mayport Mills on 1 October, the 47th captured artillery and ammunition stores (on 3 October) that had been abandoned by Confederate forces during the bluff’s bombardment by Union gunboats.

Pocotaligo Depot, Charleston & Savannah Railroad, South Carolina as sketched by Theodore R. Davis for Harper’s Weekly, 25 February 1865 edition (public domain).

Pocotaligo Depot, Charleston & Savannah Railroad, South Carolina as sketched by Theodore R. Davis for Harper’s Weekly, 25 February 1865 edition (public domain).

From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel T. H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th engaged the heavily protected Rebel troops in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina – including at Frampton’s Plantation and the Pocotaligo Bridge – a key piece of southern railroad infrastructure which Union leaders felt should be destroyed.

The challenging environment of the Charleston & Savannah Railroad was illustrated by Harper's Weekly in 1865.

The challenging environment of the Charleston & Savannah Railroad was illustrated by Harper’s Weekly in 1865.

Harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge, they met resistance from an entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field. Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests. The Union soldiers grappled with Confederates where they found them, pursuing the Rebels for four miles as they retreated to the bridge. There, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut. But the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.

Losses for the 47th Pennsylvania were significant. Captain Charles Mickley of G Company was killed in action. Captain George Junker of Company K was mortally wounded. Others died later from their wounds or were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability.

On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South who had succumbed to yellow fever on 30 October. The Mountains of Mitchel, a part of Mars’ South Pole discovered by Mitchel in 1846 while working as a University of Cincinnati astronomer, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were both later named for him. Men from the 47th Pennsylvania were given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.

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 was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I garrisoned Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.

As with their previous assignments, the men discovered that disease would be their constant companion and foe – which makes it all the more remarkable that, during this phase of service, the majority of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers chose to re-enlist when their three-year service terms were up. Many, who could have returned home with their heads held legitimately high after all they had endured, re-enlisted precisely because they hoped to preserve the Union of their beloved nation.

Sergeant William H. Kleckner became one of those men who opted to sign up for another three-year tour of duty. Re-enrolling at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida, he re-mustered with Company B of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers at Fort Taylor on 12 October 1863. Although military records indicate that the date of his promotion from Sergeant to 1st Sergeant remains unknown, it is very likely that this promotion occurred on or near this date since a number of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were advanced in rank upon re-enlistment in 1863.

1864

On 25 February 1864, the 47th set off for a phase of service in which the regiment would make history. Steaming for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, the men arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – this time to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, the 47th would become the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign spearheaded by Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.

From 14-26 March, the 47th passed through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. Often short on food and water, the remaining members of the regiment encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.

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

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

Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the back-and-forth volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (Mansfield). The fighting waned only when darkness fell. The exhausted, but uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.

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.

Casualties were severe. The regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander, was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also seriously wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. A number of enlisted men were killed in action or died later from their wounds.

Still others from the 47th were captured by Confederate troops, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war until they were released during prisoner exchanges on 22 July and in September and November. At least two members of the regiment never made it out of that Texas prison camp alive; another died while being held as a POW at a Confederate Army hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Following what some historians have called a drubbing by the Confederate Army and others have called a technical Union victory (or at least a draw), the 47th Pennsylvania fell back to Grand Ecore, where the men resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. Retreating further to Alexandria, they then scored another victory against the Confederates, this time at Cane Hill.

Known as "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 was designed to facilitate passage of Union gunboats to and from the Mississippi River. Photo: Public domain.

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 passage of Union gunboats. Photo: Public domain.

On 23 April, the 47th and their fellow brigade members crossed the Cane River via Monett’s Ferry and, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, helped to build a dam from 30 April through 10 May, which enabled federal gunboats to successfully traverse the rapids of the Red River.

Beginning 16 May, 1st Sergeant William H. Kleckner and B Company moved with most of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June.

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, 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 beginning in August, the month of September saw the promotion of several men from Company B and the departure of others, including B Company Captain Emmanuel P. Rhoads, who mustered out upon expiration of his three-year term of service at Berryville, Virginia on 18 September 1864. For the remaining members of the 47th, the fighting was not yet over; those still on duty were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor.

Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864

Together with other regiments under the command of Union General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the members of Company B and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”). The battle is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory here helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.

It was also on this day – 19 September 1864 – that William H. Kleckner was promoted from 1st Sergeant to the rank of 1st Lieutenant.

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.

The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. After advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. After finally reaching and fording the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with Early’s Confederate Army. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Confederate artillery stationed on high ground.

The 47th Pennsylvania and the 19th Corps were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but casualties mounted as another Confederate artillery group opened fire on Union troops trying to cross a clearing. When a nearly fatal gap began to open between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units led by Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell. Russell, hit twice – once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania opened its lines long enough to enable the Union cavalry under William Woods Averell and the foot soldiers of General George Crook to charge the Confederates’ left flank.

The 19th Corps, with the 47th in the thick of the fighting, then began pushing the Confederates back. Early’s “grays” retreated in the face of the valor displayed by Sheridan’s “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Rebels retreated to Fisher’s Hill, eight miles south of Winchester (21-22 September), and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one. Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek.

Moving forward, the surviving members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two more of their respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and Good’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George Alexander, who mustered out 23-24 September upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, they would be replaced with leaders who were equally respected for their front line experience and temperament, including Major John Peter Shindel Gobin, formerly of the 47th’s Company C, who had been promoted up through the regimental staff to the rank of Major (and who would be promoted again on 4 November to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and responsibility of regimental commanding officer).

Battle of Cedar Creek, October 1864

During the Fall of 1864, General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents – civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops began peeling off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day.

From a military standpoint, it was an impressive, but heartrending engagement. 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 punched 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.

Once again, the casualties for the 47th were high. 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, and 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.

Following these major engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December. Rested and somewhat healed, the 47th was then ordered to outpost and railroad guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia. Five days before Christmas they trudged through a snowstorm in order to reach their new home.

1865 – 1866

With the New Year came new rewards and responsibilities for William H. Kleckner. On 4 January 1865, he was commissioned as Captain of his company (Company B, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers). Assigned in February to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, the men of the 47th moved back to Washington, D.C., via Winchester and Kernstown.

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 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were once again responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital – this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Encamped near Fort Stevens, they received new uniforms and were resupplied.

Letters home and later newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania indicate that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their imprisonment and trial.

As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May.

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

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

On their final southern tour, the remaining men of Company B and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Attached again to Dwight’s Division, this time they were with the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Relieving the 165th New York Volunteers in July, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania next quartered in Charleston at the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury.

Duties during this period of service 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, beginning on Christmas day of that year, the majority of the men of Company B, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers – including Captain William H. Kleckner – began to honorably muster out at Charleston, South Carolina, a process which continued through early January. Following a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvania disembarked in New York City. The weary men were then shipped to Philadelphia by train where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were officially given their discharge papers.

Return to Civilian Life

Allentown, Pennsylvania (c. 1865, public domain).

Allentown, Pennsylvania (c. 1865, public domain).

After his honorable discharge from the military, Captain William H. Kleckner returned home to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. There, in Allentown on 26 August 1866, he married Sarah Jane Moyer.

By 1870, he and Sarah Jane were residing in Allentown with their children: Frederick (age 3) and Katie (3 months old). He supported his family through work as a carpenter.

Center Square at 7th Street (Allen House Hotel at right; Allentown Bank and Board of Trade, looking north, top), Allentown, Pennsylvania 1876 (public domain).

Center Square at 7th Street (Allen House Hotel at right; Allentown Bank and Board of Trade, looking north, top), Allentown, Pennsylvania 1876 (public domain).

In 1871, Captain William H. Kleckner was elected to the position of High Constable with the Allentown Police Department. He served under his former Civil War regimental commanding officer, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, during Good’s first two terms as Allentown’s mayor from 1869 to 1873, during which time he directed the work of 11 subordinate constables. He also then served again as Allentown’s High Constable from 1873 to 1874 under Allentown’s next mayor, Dr. Theodore C. Yeager, who died in 1874 before completing his term in office.

The city’s Board of Trade paid tribute to Constable Kleckner in its Past, Present, and Future in the City of Allentown, Pa., published in 1886:

The head of his police force during [Mayor Tilghman Good’s] first two terms was the late Captain William H. Kleckner, a well-known Allentonian with much force of character, a creditable military record and deservedly esteemed for the many sterling qualities he possessed. Captain Kleckner was also high constable, an elective office, during the mayorality of Dr. Theodore C. Yeager, and died in July, 1886, regretted by all.

Employed as carpenter in 1880, William H. Kleckner continued to reside in Allentown with his wife, Sarah, and their Allentown-born children: Katie (born 27 August 1872) and John (age 9). William’s sister-in-law, Maria Moyer (1838-1906), also lived with them at this time.

Within a few years, William H. Kleckner’s health took a turn for the worse. The 17 October 1883 edition of The Allentown Democrat reported the scaling back of his professional life:

BUSINESS CHANGE. – The Central Restaurant, south-east corner of the public square, for some years past kept by Capt. William H. Kleckner, was yesterday taken by Messrs. Calvin George and William Psotta, Capt. K having sold out to them because of failing in health.

Death and Interment

Sadly, William Kleckner never regained his full health. On 1 July 1886, he passed away in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. He was interred at the Allentown Cemetery on Linden Street. His last will and testament, witnessed by son-in-law George Goundie, was simple – that his estate be managed by his executors in a manner which would provide security for his family.

Just over a year later, William Kleckner’s mother, Emma (Deibert) Kleckner Enders died in Sidney, Shelby County, Ohio. She was interred at the Graceland Cemetery in Sidney, Shelby County.

Then, nearly half a century after her parents’ passing and two years after taking her own life in despair following her husband’s sudden death from coronary thrombosis six months earlier, Katie (Kleckner) Knerr once again displayed the Kleckner family’s commitment to the civic good. In 1936, her estate established the Knerr Memorial, which created new housing opportunities for the staff of graduate nursing students at the Allentown Hospital.

Katie (Kleckner) Knerr and her husband, Henry Knerr, a trustee of the Allentown Hospital from 1920 until his death in 1934, were both laid to rest at the Allentown Cemetery on Linden Street where her parents were also interred.

 

Sources:

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

2. Business Change (notice re: William Kleckner’s Central Restaurant), in The Allentown Democrat. Allentown: 17 October 1883.

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.

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

5. Fister, Gordon B. Half-Century: The Fifty-Year Story of the Allentown Hospital 1899 – 1949. Allentown: The Board of Trustees of the Allentown Hospital Association, 1949.

6. John Kleckner, in U.S. Federal Mortality Census Schedules, in Daughters of the American Revolution collections (T655), and Non-Population Census Schedules for Pennsylvania, 1850-1880 (Mortality, M1838). Washington, DC.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

7. Kleckner Family Death Certificates. Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Health, Department of Vital Statistics.

8. Kleckner Family Baptismal, Marriage, Death and Burial Records, in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records (various churches). Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

9. Past, Present, and Future in the City of Allentown, Pa.: Published under the auspices of the Board of Trade: Historical and Social Features, Natural, Mercantile, Manufacturing, Financial and Commercial Resources and Facilities Together with Representative Industries and Business Houses. Allentown: Daily Chronicle and News, 1886.

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

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

12. The Unofficial History of the Allentown Police Department. Website: http://apdhistory.weebly.com/.

13. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C., Ohio, and Pennsylvania: 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.

14. William H. Kleckner and Sarah J. Kleckner, in U.S. Civil War Pension Index (application no: 509052, file from PA by the vet on 24 March 1884; application no: 388240, certificate no.: 348417, filed from PA by the vet’s widow on 2 February 1889). Washington, DC: U.S. National Archives.

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