Private Abraham N. Wolf – Millwright and “Inventive Genius”

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

Public servant. Problem solver. Change agent. History maker. Abraham Nicholas Wolf was all of these personae and more to those who knew and respected him. Born in Northampton County, Pennsylvania on 22 April 1837, he was a son of Abraham and Polly Wolf, native Pennsylvanians who had been born, respectively, in 1806 and 1811.

He grew up to be a skilled millwright and talented inventor, described by one local newspaper, upon his passing, as an “inventive genius.”

Formative Years

During the 1840s and 1850s, Abraham N. Wolf resided with his parents, his younger sister, Margarett (1841-1918), and an older brother and sister in Northampton County, where his father supported the family on the wages of a laborer.

The federal census of 1850 brought those relationships further into focus, noting that family patriarch and matriarch Abraham and Polly Wolf lived in Northampton County’s Moore Township with 13-year-old Abraham N. Wolf and his siblings Harrison, Harriet, and George, who had been born, respectively in 1840, 1844, and 1848. Also residing with the Wolfs at this time was 37-year-old Elizabeth Bittenbender.

By 1860, the growing Wolf clan resided in Moore Township’s village of Petersville, and included Abraham N. Wolf’s younger siblings Augustus (1851-1937) and Amanda, aged 10 and 4, respectively. Also residing at the home at this time were Abraham N. Wolf’s new wife Sarah (1836-1893) and their 8-month old son Fairman M. Wolf (1859-1935), who had been born on 30 September 1859, as well as 10-year-old Alexander Trexler. Family patriarch Abraham Wolf supported the larger household as a carpenter while his son, Abraham N. Wolf, brought in additional monies from his work as a local millwright – a trade he had begun at Easton as an apprentice to John Apple.

* Note: Abraham N. Wolf’s first wife, Sarah (Trexler) Wolf was a daughter of Emanuel Uriah Trexler (b. 7 October 1814 or 1816) and Caroline (Hoover) Trexler (1813-1873), and was born on 23 August 1836.

By 1861, Abraham N. Wolf, his wife and son were residents of Longswamp Township in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Sometime around the early to the middle part of this decade, his younger sister, Margarett, also began her own family when she wed William Engler (1826-1896).

It would not be long, however, before the worsening relations between America’s North and South would interfere with their happy lives.

Civil War Military Service

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

At the age of 24, Abraham Nicholas Wolf became one of the Keystone State’s early responders to President Lincoln’s call for help to defend the nation during its greatest national crisis. On 20 August 1861, he enrolled for Civil War military service in the city of Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. He then officially mustered in for duty at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 30 August as a Private with Company B of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

* Note: Led by Emmanuel P. Rhoads, grandson of Peter Rhoads, Jr., former president of the Northampton Bank, Company B was one of the first two of four companies from the city of Allentown to muster in for duty with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. The company’s initial recruitment began in Allentown – the city in which the 47th’s founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, would later go on to serve three terms as mayor. 

Private Abraham Nicholas Wolf, of Company B, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, shown standing with his Mississippi rifle, c. 1861 (public domain).

Military records at the time described Abraham N. Wolf as being a six-foot tall millwright and resident of Longswamp Township in Berks County, Pennsylvania who had dark hair, a dark complexion and gray eyes.

Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics, Private Abraham Wolf and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians headed for Washington, D.C. Shipped by rail, they then marched to two different encampments over a two-day period, finally settling at “Camp Kalorama” on 21 September on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown – roughly two miles from the White House.

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.

…. 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. Three days later, 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, they were 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 [sic], 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.” Later that month, 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).

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). Sent back to Union Army hospitals in Washington, D.C., at least two members of the 47th died there while receiving treatment.

1862

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 and 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.

By the afternoon of 27 January 1862, Private Abraham N. Wolf and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians had commenced boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the enlisted men and officers all 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, many nurtured their spiritual side as they attended services at local churches. During these early days in Key West, they also drilled regularly in heavy artillery and basic infantry tactics – often as much as eight hours per day. In addition, they felled trees, built roads and strengthened the installation’s fortifications. But once again, their time was made more difficult by the prevalence of disease, including typhoid fever and dysentery.

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).

On 30 September, the 47th was sent on a return expedition to Florida where B Company participated with its regiment and other Union forces in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1-3 October. 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. These efforts helped pave the way for the Union’s occupation of Jacksonville, Florida.

Pocotaligo-Coosawhatchie Expedition, 21-23 October 1862 (Union Army map, public domain).

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 ran out. Bedeviled by snipers and facing massive resistance from an entrenched Confederate battery, the Union forces were pounded by shells and minie ball fire as they headed through an open cotton field. Those trying to reach the higher ground of the Frampton Plantation were forced to contend with the unwanted attentions of Confederate artillery and infantry troops 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. 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.

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 M. 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. 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 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

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

On 25 February, Private Abraham N. Wolf and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians began a phase of service during which their regiment would make history. Boarding another steamer, the Charles Thomas, they 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.

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

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.

Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, 9 April 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 7 May 1864, public domain).

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. (Pyers had picked up the American flag when Walls fell.) The 47th also nearly lost its second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, who sustained severe wounds to both of his legs.

In B Company, John Fries and Tilghman H. Reinsmith were wounded; Edward Fink was killed. Still 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 prisoner exchanges in July, August or November. Sadly, at least two members of the 47th died while in captivity there; still others remain missing to this day, 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.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, the officer overseeing its construction, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 eased Union gunboat passage (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 marched for Morganza, Louisiana. Meanwhile, back home, Private Abraham N. Wolf’s sister, Margarett, was welcoming her son John A. Engler (1864-1898) to her Bethlehem, Pennsylvania home.

As the men of the 47th Pennsylvania continued their march (finally arriving in New Orleans on 20 June), disease claimed still more men.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign 

Undaunted by their Bayou battles, 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, the latter group finally sailed away at the end of the month aboard the Blackstone, and arrived in Virginia on 28 July. They then reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.

Unfortunately, due to this delay, Private Abraham N. Wolf and the other boys from B Company missed out on a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln; in addition, they also missed fighting with the 47th in the Battle of Cool Spring at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.

Attached with the 47th Pennsylvania to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August 1864, Private Wolf did, however, reconnect with his regiment in time to engage in the brief fighting of the Battle of Berryville, Virginia (early September). But by the end of that month, he was once again a civilian. Opting for an Honorable Discharge from the 47th Pennsylvania upon expiration of his three-year term of service, he formally mustered out with a group of officers and enlisted men at Berryville on 18 September 1864.

A number of the comrades he left behind would die just weeks later during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia on 19 October while others would continue to fight on, not receiving their honorable discharges until Christmas Day, 1865.

Return to Civilian Life

Upon returning home to his wife and children, Abraham N. Wolf began to make the most he possibly could of his life as a non-combatant in America’s Civil War. Resuming his profession of millwright, he relocated his family to Lebanon County where, over the next six years, he refined his skills and built his professional network.

* Note: While Abraham N. Wolf was away in Lebanon, his sister, Margarett (Wolf) Engler, gave birth to another son, William Franklin Engler (1868-1938), who would go on to become a member of the Catasauqua City Council during the 1930s.

The Decades of Creativity (1870s-1890s)

U.S. Patent application illustration for a flour mill, Abraham N. Wolf (1882, U.S.255,747, public domain).

Sometime around 1870, Abraham N. Wolf returned to the Lehigh Valley, where he began to make a name for himself not only as a prosperous millwright – but as an inventor and civic leader in Allentown who was “actively identified with the town’s progress,” according to his obituary. A congregant at St. John’s Lutheran Church, he served on the Allentown City Council, representing the First Ward from 1870 to 1881, and was active with the Order of Red Men, Yeager Post, No. 13, G.A.R., Encampment No. 18, Union Veteran Legion, and Washington Camp, P. O. S. of A.

The “days before patent rollers were in vogue and millwrights occupied a high place as mechanics,” Abraham N. Wolf “invented many improvements in milling machinery,” and was awarded 10 patents during this prolific period of his life, according to this same obituary. Multiple federal patent office documents illustrate his tireless ingenuity.

So successful was he that The New York Times announced, via its 28 September 1876 edition, that he had been honored with a Centennial Award during the United States Centennial Commission’s Exhibition of that year, receiving special commendation for his patented “simple and ingenious arrangement of the gates” of a turbine water-wheel and flume.

According to the criteria for the 1876 Exhibition, the Centennial Awards were “decreed by the United States Centennial Commission, in compliance with the Act of Congress,” and were “based upon inherent and comparative merit,” involving “considerations relating to originality, invention, discovery, utility, quality, skill, workmanship, fitness for the purposes intended, adaptation to public wants, economy and cost.” The judges were “selected for their known qualifications and character” and were “experts in departments to which they [were] assigned.” Award recipients received “a diploma with a uniform Bronze Medal, and a special report of the Judges on the subject of the Award.”

Augustus Wolf (1851-1937), brother of Abraham N. Wolf (public domain).

In 1879, he joined forces with his younger brother, Augustus Wolf, to design and patent a Machine for Separating Middlings (US214,073), and then worked with him to have that patent reissued in 1880 (USRE9170).

* Note: Augustus Wolf (1851-1837), the younger brother of inventor Abraham N. Wolf, also became a notable figure in Pennsylvania history. An inventor like his brother, he also designed and patented several pieces of milling machinery, which enabled him to then found “one of Chambersburg’s largest manufacturing concerns.” Initially operated as Wolf and Hamaker, the company’s name was later changed to Augustus Wolf and Company, and then renamed as “Wolf Company” in 1900 after his son assumed leadership of the firm. A 32nd degree Mason and charter member of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Chambersburg, Augustus Wolf also served his adopted hometown as a member of the city council, as light commissioner, and as water commissioner. Following his death at the Masonic Home in Elizabethtown, Lancaster County on 21 March 1937, his remains were returned to Chambersburg for his funeral on 23 March and his interment at the Cedar Grove Cemetery in that city.

In describing this machine for their U.S. Patent application, the brothers wrote:

214,073. MACHINES FOR SEPARATING MIDDLINGS, &c. Augustus Wolf and Abraham N. Wolf, Allentown; said A. N. Wolf assignor to said Augustus Wolf and David L. Hamaker, East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, Pa. Filed Jan. 24, 1879.

To all whom it may concern:

Be it known that we, AUGUSTUS WOLF and ABRAHAM N. WOLF, of Allentown, in the county of Lehigh and State of Pennsylvania, have invented certain improvements in Machines for Separating Middlings, &c., of which the following is a specification.

This invention relates to that class of machines for separating middlings from the bran on the one hand and fine flour on the other in which suction or blast is employed by means of a fan or blower.

The novelty consists in the simultaneous reciprocatory shaking movement imparted to an upper and lower combined sieve-frame and receiver attachment, said frames carrying the several sieves being provided with adjustable cord-beaters or whippers, which act against the under side [sic] of the bolting cloth on the sieve-frames, and minor improvements, herein more fully set forth.

The accompanying drawings, with letters of reference marked thereon, and a brief description, will enable those skilled in the art to make and use the same.

Figure I is a perspective view of one side and front end of the machine, with the two side doors removed and the upper sieve lifted out to show the interior arrangement. Fig. 2 shows the outside of the other or rear end. Fig. 3 is to represent a longitudinal plan view, the frame being removed; Fig. 4, a vertical section in front, with the fan removed to show the several discharge-openings. Fig. 5 is a perspective view of the upper sieve removed.

Short uprights T on each side in the lower section of the cross-pieces A’ A” are used for pivot-fastenings, on which the central portion of an elbow-lever, N, imparts an oscillating or shaking motion to two frames, C’ C. These frames are connected to the ends of said elbow-levers by a pint at two points on each side, respectively. The lower frame, C’, is connected, by rigid pitmen P, with an eccentric or crank attachment made in the shaft or spindle J or the fan incased at K, driven by any gear or power by connecting it with the strap pulley I. These coupled frames have air and vibrating spaces between their ends and the ends of the box which incloses [sic] them, and are jointly supported parallel with each other on the oscillating lever-arms N. On the lower edge of these frames and rounded end pieces there is shown a sheet-metal concave receiver, L L’, having a cross-section of nearly half a circle. There is also a cross-piece or cord-holder, D, extending from one side to the other at one end, to which three or more cords, E, are affixed and carried through slots to the outside of the case or box, and connected with rollers F F’, for tightening the cords. A pawl and ratchet may be applied to hold them in the adjustment made. These are reversed in position, as shown, and tend to elevate the closed end of the sieves G G’. Fig. 5 shows one of these sieves and its position when set into the upper frame C. Said sieve G has a raised edge along the two sides and across the back, the other end being open, the cross-piece joining the two sides being beneath the bolting-cloth, so that the coarser matter on the sieve passes unobstructed through a slot in the outer frame, C, and falls down upon the lower sieve, G’, made in the same manner as the one shown. Each has a bridge-piece, H H’, centrally on top of the frame to strengthen it, under which space is left for the matter to pass under it.

The finer flour sifted through the upper and finer meshes of the bolting-cloth drops down into the receiver L, and discharges through a tube at O into a suitable receiver or conveyer on the outside. The material now passes over the lower sieve, G’, which separates the middlings from the bran. These middlings are discharged from the receiver L’ through a central end opening, R, Fig. 4, while the tailings pass from the open end of the sieve into an oblique spout in Q, and discharge on one side at 8. Adjusting valves W may also be made in the receiver L’.

The ground wheat is fed in through the top of the box, A, at one end by the ordinary tube or hopper B, and falls upon a deflecting device, b, on the inside, to distribute it over the front part of the sieve G. The fan case K has an adjusting valve V. The air is discharged at M, and circulates under, through, and over the sieves, and finds ingress chiefly through the end opening in the receiver I’.

The suction blast may be made to act in the direction of the arrow, Fig. 3, and, together with the whipping cords or cleaners E, is so readily adjusted as to cause the material to bounce up more or less forcibly, as the open end of each sieve rests on the cross-piece D only, and the other end is more or less elevated by the tension of the cords, which are also on top of the cross-piece, so that the cords are in close contact with the cloth on the frame of the sieve, which is otherwise disconnected with the outer frames C, in which they fit and receive their reciprocator shaking motion aforesaid.

What we claim is –

1. The combination of frames C C’, sieves G G’, concave receivers I, I’, elbow-levers N, pitmen P, fan K, and crank shaft J, all arranged and operating substantially as set forth.

2. In combination with the frames C C’, the cord-holding cross-piece D, the cords E, adjusting rollers F F’, and detachable sieves G G’, set on said cords and cross-piece within the frames and receiving from them a reciprocating motion and whipping of the cords, the whole operating substantially as and for the purpose set forth.

AUGUSTUS WOLF.
A.
N. WOLF

Additional inventions patented by Abraham N. Wolf included:

All the while, his wife, Sarah, kept their Allentown household on track. By 1880 that household included their children Fairman M. Wolf (aged 20), Nora (aged 12), and Abraham Lincoln Wolf (aged 6), as well as Abraham N. Wolf’s 68-year-old mother, Polly Wolf, and 20-year-old Lillian Wilson (possibly Fairman’s future wife).

* Note: Fairman Wolf married sometime around the early to mid-1880s. He and his wife, Lillian, welcomed the birth of seven children, four of whom died in early childhood from diphtheria: George A. (1886-1891), Frederick A. (1886-1892), Theodore F. (1890-1897), and Edna May (1894-1897). Daughter Nora survived, and went on to marry Clifford Rice at her parents’ home in Siegfried, Pennsylvania in July 1907. Fairman Wolf, his wife Lillian and their four children who died in childhood were interred the Greenwood Cemetery in Howertown, Northampton County, Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, as the years rolled on, the lives of inventor Abraham N. Wolf and his family began to progress less and less smoothly. Following the respective births of grandchildren, George and Frederick Wolf in on 13 January and 23 December 1886, and the 13 April 1890 birth of grandson, Thomas F. Wolf, Abraham N.Wolf then joined with his son Fairman (the boys’ father) in mourning their respective deaths from diphtheria on 29 October 1891, 23 August 1892, and 19 August 1897.

In addition, like many of his former comrades from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Abraham N. Wolf was starting to feel the effects of his difficult Civil War military service. On 24 September 1891, he filed for his U.S. Civil War Pension. He was subsequently awarded a pension and pension rate boost when he and his attorney filed a second application 5 January 1892. The index card for his records notes that he was an invalid at the time of his filing.

Several months later, he attended the wedding of his daughter, Nora, when she married 26-year-old Montgomery County, Pennsylvania native Richard Horace Schaffer (1866-1946) on 28 March 1892. A teacher who resided in South Bethlehem, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, the groom was a son of Elias Schaffer. They were united in marriage in Allentown by the Rev. Stephen A. Repass, Minister of the Gospel at St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Just over a year later, though, change rocked the Wolf clan yet again, making Abraham N. Wolf a widower when his wife Sarah passed away in Allentown on 28 January 1893. He chose that city’s Union-West End Cemetery for her final resting place.

Three months later, on 23 March 1893, their son Abraham Lincoln Wolf married 20-year-old Nora Kate Cherington (1872-1960), a native of Millcreek in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania who was a daughter of Thomas D. and Kate Cherington. They were united in marriage in the city of Lebanon by Rev. by T. E. Schmauck, Minister of the Gospel. Marriage records noted that Abraham L. Wolf was employed as a millwright like his father before him.

Not quite a full year later, on 3 March 1894, Abraham N. Wolf then remarried, taking as his wife a 60-year-old Nazareth, Northampton County resident – Louisa (Miltenberger) Schall Wolf (1833-1915). Born on 7 March 1833, she was a daughter of the late George Miltenberger (1808-1869) and Mary A. (Dreisbach) Miltenberger (1812-1874) and the widow of John Schall (1812-1874). They were united in marriage at Whitehaven, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania by Herman H. Bruning. Marriage records at the time labeled Abraham N. Wolf not an inventor, but simply a “machinist.”

Joy prevailed that year, however, thanks to the birth of two grandchildren, Ruth C. Schaffer, daughter of Nora (Wolf) Schaffer and her husband, Richard) and, on 14 November 1894 in Northampton County, Edna May Wolf, daughter of Fairman M. and Lillian Wolf.

But, once again, that joy was short lived.

Illness, Death and Interment

Sometime around the end of January 1895, Abraham N. Wolf fell ill; as the illness worsened, he then developed encephalitis. An inflammation of brain tissue most often caused by a viral infection (and less commonly a bacterial or fungal infection), this condition was frequently referred to during the 19th century as “brain fever.” Because he was ill for six weeks, it is possible that his infection was a secondary form of the disease – one in which an infection started elsewhere in his body and traveled to his brain – versus a primary form of the disease in which the infection attacked the brain or spinal cord as happens with viral or bacterial meningitis.

Before he passed away, he likely experienced a headache, high fever (103°F or above), sensitivity to light and exhaustion, and possibly also a stiff neck, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, and/or coma.

He died at his home in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on Thursday, 7 March 1895. His funeral service, which was held at his home at 10:00 on the morning of 11 March, was led by the Rev. Dr. Stephen A. Repass, the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Allentown.

Abraham N. Wolf was then buried next to his first wife, laid to rest at Allentown’s Union-West end Cemetery. His death was widely reported in newspapers in and beyond the city, including The Allentown Leader the next day:

INVENTIVE GENIUS DEAD, Dr. Wolf in His Time Won Much Fame as a Millwright. Abraham N. Wolf died at his home at Second and Walnut Streets, yesterday afternoon, of brain fever, aged 58 years. He was sick six weeks. Mr. Wolf was famous as a patentee and an old soldier, he is survived by his second wife Louisa and three children, Firman [sic] M. Wolf, of Siegfried’s Bridge; Mrs. Richard Schaeffer, of this city and Abraham N. Wolf, Jr., of Myerstown; one brother, August Wolf, of Chambersburg, and four sisters, Mrs. Edward Swab [sic, possibly “Schwab”], of East Mauch Chunk; Mrs. Harriet Richter and Maggie Engler, of Catasauqua, and Mrs. Stephen Hauser, of this city. Mr. Wolf was born in Northampton County. He became a millwright under the tutorship of John Apple at Easton. After the war he spent six years in Lebanon. About 1870 he returned to Allentown and established an extensive business as mill wright. Those were the days before patent rollers were in vogue and millwrights occupied a high place as mechanics. He invented many improvements in milling machinery and held 10 patents. From ’70 to ’81 he represented the First Ward in select council. He was identified with various business interests and was actively identified with the town’s progress. He was a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church. Funeral will take place Monday morning at 10 o’clock. Services at the house. Rev. Dr. S. A. Repass will officiate. Interment in West End Cemetery.

A Family Continues to Mourn and Give Back to a Beloved Nation

In 1896 and 1897, the Wolf clan greeted the arrival of new members Archibald R. Schaffer (1896-1918) and Fred E. Schaffer (1897-1982). Grandsons of Abraham N. Wolf, they were the sons of Nora (Wolf) Schaffer and her husband, Richard, and were both natives of the city of Allentown in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

But the Wolf family’s sorrows also continued to multiply throughout the decade, as one grandchild of Abraham N. Wolf’s after another lost their battles with a terrible disease – a disease for which, tragically, an innovative treatment would be readily available just a few short years later. According to The Allentown Leader’s 20 August 1897 edition:

Diphtheria is making fearful inroads into the family of Mr. and Mrs. Fairman Wolf, of 112 South Second Street. Two weeks ago [on 6 August 1897] their youngest child [Edna May] died of the disease. At that time none of the seven surviving children was afflicted. Several days ago another child, Thomas F., was stricken. The disease developed rapidly into a malignant type and the boy died early this morning [19 August 1897]. Two more children are down with the same dreaded illness. Several years ago Mr. and Mrs. Wolf lost two other children [George A. Wolf on 20 October 1891 and from diphtheria. The house is quarantined. The funeral of Thomas will be held to-morrow morning. It will be strictly private. Interment will be made at Howertown.

Both children were laid to rest next to their late siblings at the Greenwood Cemetery in Howertown.

Then, during the morning of 9 February 1898, John A. Engler, son of Margarett (Wolf) Engler and a nephew of Abraham N. Wolf, lost his own battle with disease. According to this obituary which ran the same day in The Allentown Leader:

John A. Engler, of Railroad Street, North Catasauqua, died early this morning after a month’s illness with typhoid pneumonia. Mr. Engler was about 32 years old and was employed as a carpenter at the new Atlas cement works. After a fire at the works, about six months ago, he worked nearly night and day to get things in shape for resumption of that part of the works and it is thought that he there contracted the start of the disease. Mr. Engler was married to Miss Elizabeth Eckert in November of last year, who survives, together with a mother, Mrs. William Engler, and these brothers and sisters, a twin brother, Steward, a student of the ministry at Dickinson Theological Seminary, Williamsport; Mrs. Benjamin McClellan, of Harrisburg; William F., Lillie and Mrs. James McFetridge, of Catasauqua; Mrs. Oscar Diehl, of New Florence, Marietta Co., Pa., a step-sister, and Eugene Engler, of Northampton County, a step-brother. The deceased was a member of Bruce Commandery, No. 214, Knights of Malta; Washington Camp, No. 301, P.O.S. of A., of Catasauqua; Flemington Lodge, I.O.O.F., of Flemington, N.J.; the Knights of Pythias, of Chambersburg, Pa.; the Patriotic Sons’ Glee Club and a prominent member of Emanuel Evangelical Church, of Catasauqua. The funeral arrangements are not completed.

He was laid to rest in what is now Section 3 of the Fairview Cemetery in West Catasauqua, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

By 1907, the family’s losses were softened somewhat when Fairman Wolf’s daughter, Nora, wed Clifford Rice at the Wolf family home in Siegfried. According to the 2 July 1907 edition of The Allentown Leader, Mr. Rice [held] a lucrative position with one of the cement companies and his bride [had] been a teacher in the public schools of Alliance for several years.” They then began their lives together “on North Main Street in Siegfried.”

Before another decade was over, however, Fairman Wolf’s stepmother, Louisa (Miltenberger) Schall Wolf, the second wife of inventor Abraham N.Wolf, passed away on 7 April 1915. She was then interred at Fairview Cemetery, Moorestown, Northampton County next to the grave of her first husband John Schall.

She was followed in death shortly thereafter by his paternal aunt, Margarett (Wolf) Engler, who passed away in Catasauqua on 6 January 1918, and was interred at Catasauqua’s Fairview Cemetery.

Three months later, Fairman Wolf’s nephew, Archibald Schaffer, son of Nora (Wolf) and Richard Shaffer, headed off to war. The 4 March 1918 edition of The Allentown Leader provided the following details of his service and life:

HOME ON FURLOUGH. Sergt. Archie Schaffer, the well known [sic] athlete of this city, who is connected with the 109th Machine Gun Battalion stationed at Camp Hancock, Ga., is home at 1211 Hamilton Street on a ten-day furlough. He left this city with Co. B, of the old 4th Regt. but after the breaking up of the regiment he was transferred to a Philadelphia Regt. He is physical instructor of his company. Ha is also a gas instructor in his company teaching the men how to use the gas masks. The temperature there is as high as 90 degrees in the shade. He will be entertained by Camp No. 118, P. O. S. of A. at their home on Tuesday evening.

Sadly, six month later, Archie Schaffer was also gone. One of many felled that year during World War I, he was killed in France on 6 September 1918 during the Oise-Aisne Offensive. The 16 October 1918 edition of The Allentown Democrat reported on his death as follows:

ARCHIE SCHAFFER KILLED IN FRANCE Machine Gun Battalion Sergeant was Well-Known Athlete Another hero has been added to the honor roll of this city, and the blue star in the service … that hangs from a window of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard H. Schaffer, 211 Hamilton Street, will be replaced by a gold star, signifying that a brave life has been given from there for the cause of democracy. This token will be displayed in memory of Sergeant Archie R. Schaffer, of the machine gun battalion attached to the 110th regiment, A.E.F. [American Expeditionary Forces], who was killed in action, September 6. Mr. and Mrs. Schaffer were informed last night by the war office at Washington of their son’s death on the battlefields of France. Born in the lower end of the city 23 years ago, Sergeant Schaffer was one of the most popular young men in the city. He joined old Co. B when he was seventeen years of age and was on the border with his company during the Mexican trouble. He was an active member of the Y. M. C. A. and was one of the most popular athletes in the valley. He was noted especially for his prowess as a distance runner and football player, but also possessed exceptional ability in other lines of sport. Shortly before he left for the Mexican border he was united to a young lady from Slatington. Since the young sergeant reached France his wife gave birth to a child. Besides the grief stricken young widow and infant son there survive the parents and these brothers and sisters, Raymond, Fred, William and John and Ruth and Miriam, all of this city. The ranks of the members of Camp 11, P. O. S. of A, have rapidly been depleted, the greater part of the organization’s membership being in various branches of the service, but Sergeant Schaffer’s death is the first of the camp’s young soldiers to make the supreme sacrifice and in his honor a large golden star will be placed on the service flag in the camp’s headquarters at Race and Hamilton Sts.

This great sacrifice continues to be honored by a simple gravestone at Allentown’s Greenwood Cemetery.

On 29 April 1935, the Wolf clan’s ranks thinned again when Fairman M. Wolf, son of Abraham N. Wolf, passed away in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. He was interred in that county in Howertown’s Greenwood Cemetery.

Abraham Lincoln Wolf, son of Abraham N. and Sarah Wolf, went on to live a long full life with his wife, Nora (Cherington Wolf), as did Fred E. Schaffer, the grandson of Abraham N. Wolf and son of Nora (Wolf) Shaffer and Richard Schaffer.

Abraham Lincoln Wolf and his wife, Nora, were each laid to rest at Reeds Cemetery in Stouchsburg, Berks County, Pennsylvania after their respective deaths in 1948 and 1960.

Fred E. Schaffer married and made a life in Arkansas with Aida M. (Cressman) Schaffer. Aida passed away in 1978; Fred followed her in death in 1982. They rest now in that state in the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Charleston, Franklin County.

 

Sources:

1. Archie Schaffer Killed in France, in The Allentown Democrat. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 16 October 1918.

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

3. Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

4. Death of Abraham N. Wolf, the Well Known Millwright, in The Allentown Democrat. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 13 March 1895.

5. Home on Furlough (notice regarding Archie Schaffer’s World War I military service), in The Allentown Leader. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 4 March 1918.

6. Inventive Genius Dead: Dr. Wolf in His Time Won Much Fame as a Millwright, in The Allentown Leader. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 8 March 1895.

7. Machine for Separating Middlings (Patent No. 214,073), in Specifications and Drawings of Patents Issued from the United States Patent Office for April, 1879. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1879.

8. Mr. and Mrs. Fairman Wolf Lose a Second Child Inside of Two Weeks, in The Allentown Leader. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 20 August 1897.

9. Obituary Notes (John A. Engler), in The Allentown Leader. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 9 February 1898.

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

11. U.S. Census and U.S. 1890 Veterans’ Schedule. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900.

12. Walker, Francis A., Ed. United States Centennial Commission: International Exhibition, 1876: Reports on Awards, Group XX. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1878.

13. Abraham N. Wolf, in The Centennial Awards: Announcements of the Judges, in The New York Times. New York, New York: 28 September 1876.

14. Wolf, Abraham N. and Louisa Wolf, in U.S. Civil War Pension Index. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1891-1895.

15. Wolf Family Marriage License Applications and Marriage Ledger Entries, in Lehigh County Marriage Docket. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Clerk of the Orphans’ Court, 1892, 1893 and 1894.