1st Lieutenant William Reese

1st Lt. William Reese, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (c. 1864, public domain)Alternate Spellings of Surname: Rees, Reese
Born in Pennsylvania on 29 March 1831, William Reese was the husband of Pennsylvania native Mary A. Reese (born sometime around 1830). Several unsourced family trees on Ancestry.com state that they married in 1850.

What is known for certain is that, in 1860, William and Mary Reese resided with their one-year-old son, William, in Mifflintown, Juniata County, Pennsylvania, where the elder William was employed as a laborer for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company (P.R.R.).

Civil War Military Service

The elder William Reese enrolled for military service during the first year of America’s great Civil War. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, William Reese officially mustered in for duty with Company C of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on 2 September 1861, and was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant with C Company that same day, signaling that he may have initially enrolled for service with the 47th at a lower rank (possibly Sergeant or 1st Sergeant), or that he had performed prior military service with another military unit or militia organization.

C Company, also known as the Sunbury Guards because it was a unit raised in and comprised largely of men from Sunbury, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, many of whom had served previously with the local militia unit of that same name, was commanded by Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, who would later go on to become Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Many of C Company’s men had responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s earlier call in mid-April 1861 for volunteer troops to help defend the nation’s capital following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces. Performing their Three Months’ Service from 23 April 1861 until their collective honorable discharge on 31 July, the Sunbury Guardsmen saw action at Falling Waters, Martinsburg and Bunker Hill.

Knowing that the fight was far from over, many of these same Sunbury Guardsmen then chose to re-up for three-year terms of service. Mustering in again at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, they joined the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, a newly established regiment founded by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, who would later go on to become a three-time mayor of the Borough of Allentown in Lehigh County.

By 17 September 1861, according to Captain Gobin, a total of 101 men had officially mustered in with Company C, including the youngest and oldest members of the entire regiment, John Boulton Young (aged 13) and Benjamin Walls (aged 65). In a letter home sent around this time, Captain Gobin provided these details about the regiment’s status:

We expect to leave tonight for Washington or Baltimore. Our company has been made the color company of the regiment, the letter being accorded to rotation used, C. It is the same as E in the 11th. Wm. M. Hendricks has been appointed Sergeant Major, so that Sunbury is pretty well represented in the regiment, having the Quartermaster, Sergeant Major and Color Company…. Boulton is lying by me as I write, just about going to sleep.

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

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

Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics during which time the 47th Pennsylvanians were housed at the reportedly pleasant Camp Curtin No. 2 (located on the field next to the main camp), the men of Company C were then shipped by rail with their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to Washington, D.C. where they were stationed roughly two miles from the White House at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 21 September.

“It is a very fine location for a camp,” wrote Captain Gobin. “Good water is handy, while Rock Creek, which skirts one side of us, affords an excellent place for washing and bathing.”

Henry Wharton, a musician from C Company penned the following update for the Sunbury American 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 [sic] they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.

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

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

On 24 September 1861, 2nd Lieutenant William Reese and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers formally mustered into the U.S. Army on in a ceremony filled with pomp and celebration. That same day, James VanDyke, Northumberland County’s ex-sheriff, was promoted from the ranks of Company C to serve with the regiment’s central command as Regimental Quartermaster.

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

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

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

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

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

There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [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 October 11, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a letter home in mid-October, Captain Gobin reported that the right wing of the 47th Pennsylvania (companies A, C, D, F and I) was ordered to picket duty after the left wing’s companies (B, G, K, E, and H) were forced to return to camp by Confederate troops:

I was ordered to take my company to Stewart’s house, drive the Rebels from it, and hold it at all hazards. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning, so waiting until it was just getting day, I marched 80 men up; but the Rebels had left after driving Capt. Kacy’s company [H] into the woods. I took possession of it, and stationed my men, and there we were for 24 hours with our hands on our rifles, and without closing an eye. I took ten men, and went out scouting within half a mile of the Rebels, but could not get a prisoner, and we did not dare fire on them first. Do not think I was rash, I merely obeyed orders, and had ten men with me who could whip a hundred; Brosius, Piers [sic], Harp and McEwen were among the number. Every man in the company wanted to go. The Rebels did not attack us, and if they had they would have met with a warm reception, as I had my men posted in such a manner that I could have whipped a regiment. My men were all ready and anxious for a “fight.”

In his own letter of this period (on 13 October to the Sunbury American), Henry Wharton described the typical duties of the 47th Pennsylvanians, 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….

Wharton also reported that all of the men were well; unfortunately, he would be proven wrong. On 17 October 1861, the 47th Pennsylvania’s beloved drummer boy, John Boulton Young, succumbed to Variola (smallpox) while he was hospitalized at the Union Army’s Kalorama eruptive fever hospital in Georgetown. The men were given little time to grieve, however, for on Friday morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th was ordered to participate in a Divisional Review, described by historian Lewis Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.”

In early November, Gobin observed that “the health of the Company and Regiment are in the best condition. No cases of small pox have appeared since the death of Boultie.” A few patients remained in the hospital with fever, but ultimately recovered.

Half of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, including Company C, were next ordered to join parts of the 33rd Maine and 46th New York in extending the reach of their division’s picket lines, which they did successfully to “a half mile beyond Lewinsville,” according to Gobin.

In another letter home on 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed more details about life at Camp Griffin:

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

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

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

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

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Then, on 21 November, 2nd Lieutenant William Reese and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians participated in a morning divisional headquarters review by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to historian Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges…. After the reviews and inspections, Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.”

As a reward for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ outstanding performance during this review and in preparation for the even bigger adventures yet to come, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan directed his staff to ensure that new Springfield rifles were obtained and distributed to every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

1862

As the 47th Pennsylvania was ordered to Florida and Sunbury families traveled to bid them farewell, Henry Wharton clerked for Brigadier-General Brannan (Sunbury American, 18 January 1862, public domain).

As the 47th Pennsylvania was ordered to Florida and Sunbury families traveled to bid them farewell, Henry Wharton clerked for Brigadier-General Brannan (Sunbury American, 18 January 1862, public domain).

With the New Year came new leadership responsibilities. On 14 January 1862, 2nd Lieutenant William Reese was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant while 1st Sergeant Daniel Oyster advanced to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.

Having been 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.

Shipped by rail to Alexandria, Virginia, they then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped. From there, they were then marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. Typically, rest areas such as this one were barracks-style way stations situated near major military transit hubs, which provided bathing facilities, dining areas, and rooms where soldiers could read or sleep before heading off to their duty assignments.

U.S. Naval Academy Barracks and temporary hospital, Annapolis, Maryland, c. 1861-1865 (public domain).

U.S. Naval Academy Barracks and temporary hospital, Annapolis, Maryland, c. 1861-1865 (public domain).

The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.

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

The regiment was formed and instructed by Lt. Col. Alexander ‘that we were about drumming out a member who had behaved himself unlike a soldier.’ …. The prisoner, Pvt. James C. Robinson of Company I, was a 36 year old miner from Allentown who had been ‘disgracefully discharged’ by order of the War Department. Pvt. Robinson was marched out with martial music playing and a guard of nine men, two men on each side and five behind him at charge bayonets. The music then struck up with ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as the procession was marched up and down in front of the regiment, and Pvt. Robinson was marched out of the yard.

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

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).

1st Lieutenant William Reese and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians arrived at Fort Taylor in Key West in February. On garrison duty, they drilled daily in military strategy, including in heavy artillery tactics. They also felled trees, built new roads, and bolstered the fortifications of the federal installation. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men mingled with locals while attending local church services.

Unfortunately, the bodies of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ill prepared for the tropical diseases so common to the new climate in which they found themselves. Disease became an ever-present foe as they battled typhoid and yellow fever while also contending with dysentery and related complications spawned by the poor quality of water available to them. The often unsanitary conditions of close camp living also did not help matters. Many of the 47th Pennsylvanians were hospitalized; a fair number died.

Next ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina from mid-June through July, they camped near Fort Walker and then quartered in the Beaufort District, Department of the South. Frequently on hazardous picket detail north of their main camp, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania became known for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing,” and “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan,” according to historian Samuel P. Bates.

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

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

On 30 September 1862, C Company and the 47th Pennsylvania were sent back to Florida where they participated with other Union forces in the assault on and capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October. Under the command of Brigadier-General Brannan, the 1,500-plus Union force left their gunboat-escorted troop carriers at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek. With the 47th Pennsylvania on point and braving alligators, snakes and Rebel troops, the men pushed through 25 dense miles of forests and swampland in order to capture the bluff and pave the way for the Union’s occupation of Jacksonville, Florida.

J.H. Schell's 1862 illustration showing the earthen works which surrounded the Confederate battery atop Saint John's Bluff along the Saint John's River in Florida (public domain).

J.H. Schell’s 1862 illustration showing the earthen works which surrounded the Confederate battery atop Saint John’s Bluff along the Saint John’s River in Florida (public domain).

In addition, two companies from the 47th Pennsylvania (E and K) also participated in the capture of the Gov. Milton, a Confederate steamer which had equipped the bluff and surrounding Rebel troop placements with men and supplies.

Around this same time, from 5-15 October 1862, a teenager and several young to middle-aged black men left the hardship they had known in Beaufort, South Carolina to enroll for service with Company F of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Initially assigned to kitchen duties, the regiment’s new members would be officially mustered in for service as Cooks and Under Cooks at Morganza, Louisiana in June 1864. More men of color would continue to be added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.

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

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

From 21-23 October 1862, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, 1st Lieutenant William Reese and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackey’s Point, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again, but they and the 3rd Brigade were less fortunate this time.

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 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.

The Union soldiers grappled with the 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 were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died. Another two officers and 114 enlisted from the 47th were wounded, a number of whom were so seriously injured that they were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability when deemed well enough to be sent home. Several resting places of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers still remain unidentified to this day, the information lost to the sloppy records of Army Quartermaster and hospital personnel, or to the trauma-impaired memories of soldiers who hastily buried or were forced to leave behind the bodies of comrades upon receiving orders to retreat.

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, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania spent most of 1863 garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. Captain Gobin and his C Company men joined with Companies A, B, 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 both for the number of men lost to disease rather than combat – and because the majority of the soldiers from the 47th Pennsylvania chose to re-enlist when their original three-year terms of service expired in order to preserve the Union of their beloved country.

1864

On 25 February 1864, 1st Lieutenant William Reese and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began a phase of service during which their regiment would make history. Boarding another steamer, the Charles Thomas, C Company and the 47th traveled from New Orleans to Algiers, Louisiana. Arriving on 28 February, they then moved by train to Brashear City before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, and became the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.

From 14-26 March, the 47th marched for the top of the L in the L-shaped state, passing through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington en route to Alexandria. Their progress was made more difficult due to the regiment’s lack of food and water and the harsh climate.

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

On 8 April, 1st Lieutenant William Reese and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield). Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, the 47th engaged in a back-and-forth volley of fire with Confederate troops, piling up 60 casualties in the process. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, the uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.

The next day, Sunbury Guardsman and 68-year-old Company C Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was wounded during the Battle of Pleasant Hill, as was Sergeant William Pyers. The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had been 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.

During this engagement, the 47th Pennsylvania also recaptured a Massachusetts artillery battery that had been lost during the earlier Confederate assault. It was while he was mounting the colors of the 47th Pennsylvania on one of the recaptured Massachusetts caissons that Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was shot in the left shoulder. As Walls fell, Sergeant William Pyers saved the American flag. Both men survived their wounds and continued to fight on – Walls until he was honorably discharged upon expiration of his term of service on 18 September 1864.

Others from the 47th were also killed or wounded, including Private John C. Sterner (killed), and Privates Cornelius Kramer, George Miller, and Thomas Nipple (wounded). In addition, the regiment nearly lost its second in command, Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander.

Still others were captured, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war by Confederate forces until released during prisoner exchanges in July, August, September, or November. At least two members of the 47th never made it out alive while still others remain missing to this day.

Their battle wounds not yet even healed, the 47th Pennsylvanians received a collective shock when the 47th’s Major William S. Gausler was discharged on 11 April 1864, allegedly for cowardice. Four days later, on 15 April, 1st Lieutenant William Reese was also discharged for alleged cowardice, per General Order No. 36 issued by Headquarters of the 19th U.S. Army Corps. The damning charges for both men were then reaffirmed on 6 May 1864, and were approved via the U.S. War Department’s Special Order No. 169, Paragraph 39.

The Controversy

Although the 11 May 1864 Evening Star reported Maj. William Gausler's dismissal, President Lincoln personally overturned the federal government's ruling against Gausler. Image: Public domain, U.S. Library of Congress.

Although the 11 May 1864 Evening Star reported Maj. William Gausler’s dismissal, President Lincoln personally overturned the federal government’s ruling against Gausler. Similar charges against 1st Lt. William Reese were also ultimately dismissed.  Image: Public domain, U.S. Library of Congress.

The 11 May 1864 Evening Star in Washington, D.C. carried startling news for those who knew William H. Gausler and William Reese. Gausler and Reese had been dismissed from military service with 1st Lieutenant W.H.R. Hangen “for cowardice in the actions of Sabine Cross Roads and Pleasant Hill on the 8th and 9th of April, and for having tendered their resignations while under such charges” (AGO Special Order No. 169, 6 May 1864).

Just over six months later, President Abraham Lincoln personally intervened in Major William Gausler’s case. On 14 October 1864, Lincoln directed U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to forward Gausler’s paperwork to him for review.

An annotation to Basler’s collection of Lincoln’s written works makes clear that, although Major William Gausler had indeed been dismissed for cowardice, President Abraham Lincoln disagreed with the decision by the War Department and U.S. Adjutant General, and ordered that their ruling be overturned on 17 October 1864.

In response to President Lincoln’s compassionate intervention, the U.S. Office of the Adjutant General issued Special Order (No. 350):

By direction of the President, so much of Special Orders, No. 169 . . . as relates to Major W. H. Gansler [sic], 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, is hereby revoked, and he is honorably discharged, on tender of resignation.

William Reese was also ultimately cleared of the charges against him – although he was forced to wait nearly a year to have his honor restored. Per Special Order No. 81, issued by the U.S. Office of the Adjutant General and War Department, 1st Lieutenant William Reese’s order of dismissal was revoked on 18 February 1865. This order was then confirmed in the regiment’s muster rolls:

This muster roll of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers confirms that the 1864 charge of cowardice against 1st Lieutenant William Reese was overturned in 1865. (Source: U.S. National Archives, public domain.)

This muster roll of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers confirms that the 1864 charge of cowardice against 1st Lieutenant William Reese was overturned in 1865. (Source: U.S. National Archives, public domain. Click image to enlarge.)

Return to Civilian Life

Sometime following his return to Pennsylvania, William Reese and his wife, Mary, began rebuilding their lives while growing a loyal following of patrons for the Reese House in Sunbury, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. One of their accomplishments, according to the 3 June 1871 edition of the Sunbury American, was their improvement of their establishment’s exterior:

AWNINGS. – Third street has put on quite a gay appearance with variagated [sic] awnings. Lieut. Reese has spread a very neat one in front of the Reese House, near the Depot, which gives that institution a very pleasant aspect, inviting customers to enter into his handsome Restaurant for a hot meal, or step into the handsomely furnished saloon and procure a saucer of the refreshing ice cream which is constantly kept on hand. Mr. David Fry’s handsome confectionery store room, next door to the Post Office, has also been treated to a handsome awning which adds greatly to his splendid establishment.

The 1 July 1871 edition of the Sunbury American then reported their resulting success:

THE ‘Reese House,’ at the depot, this place, has become a great resort to refresh the inner man. Mine host and hostess appear to understand how to cater for all that calls, as every one [sic] appears satisfied it is the place to procure the best refreshments. Turtle soup, clam soup, fish, and all kind of game in season, are served up at all hours. Hot meals only 40 cents. Ice cream every evening. Ladies room upstairs. Entrance on Third street.

The next week, on 8 July 1871, the Sunbury American described an exciting series of events:

BALLOON ASCENSION. – Lieut. Reese, proprietor of the Reese House, this place, during the past week had several paper balloon ascensions come off on Market street in the evenings. These balloons are procured from New York, and created quite a sensation among those who witnessed the ascension. A mammoth balloon, measuring some fifteen feet, will be sent up on this (Saturday,) evening, at 7½ o’clock.

Just over a month later, William Reese hosted a Northumberland County Bar Association reception for 50 lawyers, Court officers, County officials, members of the press and other leading citizens. A special cane was presented to Deputy Prothonotary Samuel K. Knowles, Esq., “whose uniform kindness, courtesy and valuable services have been highly appreciated by the legal fraternity of the county,” said William M. Rockefeller, Esq. Knowles was further praised for “the neat and accurate manner in which the dockets and records of the Court are now kept, and the correctness of all the entries made by the gentleman who now modestly stands before us as the recipient of the merited compliment, and how important it is to the community to have a competent person, who is well skilled in his business, to take charge of and keep the public records.”

Knowles then thanked the assembled guests for the “beautiful emblem of [their] generosity” and made a brief speech before the crowd adjourned to the reception, described by the newspaper as follows:

After the ceremony of presentation, an invitation was extended to the company to repair to the dining room where Captain Reese, the host, had prepared for another ceremony of a different nature. Here, before the company, stood tables bountifully ladened [sic] with all the luxuries of the season which the company disposed of in a manner which showed their high appreciation of mine host’s efforts. The popping of corks of Champagne bottles sounded like a miniature bombardment. A number of toasts were drank [sic] to His Honor Judge Jordan, Mr. Knowles, and several members of the Bar, which were happily responded to. The balance of the evening was then devoted to making complimentary speeches by Messrs. Snyder, Sober, Ryan, Kase, Oram, Davis and others. At an early hour the company dispersed, highly pleased with the entertainment extended to them by Mr. Knowles – and all felt that they had paid a merited tribute to a worthy and efficient officer. The whole entertainment was one highly creditable to Mr. Knowles, as well as mine host of the Reese House.

But change was in the air. The Saturday, 6 January 1872 edition of the Sunbury American reported the departure from Reese House by the Reese family in order to assume management roles at Shamokin’s Douty House:

A FINE ENTERTAINMENT. – Previous to Lieut. Reese and family leaving the Reese House in this place to take charge of the Douty House at Shamokin, Mrs. Reese and her son Andrew gave a fine entertainment in the way of a grand oyster supper to some of their most intimate friends, on Wednesday evening last. The table, as usual, abounded with all the luxuries of the season. Oysters were served in every style, while sparkling Champagne flowed freely around the festive board. After ample justice had been done to the great profusion of good things, a number of toasts were drunk to the prosperity and good fortune of mine host and hostess. At an early hour the party separated, highly pleased with the liberality of the proprietors of the Reese House, and regretting their leaving this place. The many friends of Mr. and Mrs. Reese will, no doubt, be happy to learn that they can hereafter be found at the Douty House, Shamokin, where it is hoped they will be as successful in catering for their guests; and that their worth will be as highly appreciated there as it has been in this place, is the wish of all their friends.

Master Andrew Reese will be the acting clerk at the Douty House, and will receive strangers in his usual and polite way.

The Reese House will hereafter be conducted by Mr. Fessler, of Pinegrove, who comes highly recommended. Mr. Michael Weaver, the polite and accommodating bar tender, who is well known to have but few equals in making up palatable drinks for the thirsty, will continue in his position at the bar of the Reese House.

Just over a month later, the 17 February 1872 edition of the Sunbury American confirmed that William Reese had applied for an “old stand” tavern license in the Borough of Shamokin, Northumberland County. The newspaper then reported on 2 March 1872 that William Reese had made improvements to the interior of Douty House:

THE DOUTY HOUSE AT SHAMOKIN. – We notice that this hotel has lately been refurnished with new furniture by the present proprietor Lieut. Wm. Reese. The house has undergone an entire change, and is one of the best furnished houses in that part of the State. Mr. Reese is an experienced landlord, and knows the wants of his guests. Those stopping at the Douty House will find it one of the ablest conducted establishments in the coal region.

But William Reese’s success was short lived. During the morning of 15 April 1872, a fire swept through Douty House. That same day, The Daily Post of Pittsburgh described what happened:

A special from Shamokin, Pa., Says that this morning a fire broke out in the Douty House in this borough, and quickly communicated to nine other houses adjoining The Douty House with all the other buildings were entirely consumed. The loss is estimated at $129,000, on which there is partial insurance. Thirteen families have been rendered homeless by the fire. Its origin is unknown.

The Sunbury American provided further details via its 20 April 1872 edition:

On last Monday morning, April 15, our borough was visited by the most destructive fire that was ever witnessed in this place. At about four and a half o’clock it was discovered that the ‘Douty House’ was on fire, and the alarm given, when hundreds of men, women, and children rushed to the scene. Having no fire engines to bring into service, the only expedient was to carry water in buckets. The fire gained so rapidly, that it was in a short time communicated to the building of Mr. Jeremiah Zimmerman, on the East side of Rock street, and when once started there, it was completely unmanageable. Water was freely used, and small buildings pulled down, but all of no avail. The fire raged furiously. The whole square, bounded by Sunbury street on the South, Dewart street on the North, Rock street on the East, as consumed, with the exception of the brick buildings of Mr. Wm. R. Kutzner, and a frame ware-house standing in the rear. On the north of thi square, it crossed Dewart street, and consumed two dwellings belonging to Messrs. Samuel Smink & Daniel Startzel. At the Northeast it crossed Shamokin street, and consumed a new dwelling, owned by Mr. James Seibert, and occupied by Mr. John L. Hammer. The property destroyed in the above described square, was owned by Messrs. Jeremiah Zimmerman & Samuel B. Smink, consisting of dwellings, smaller buildings occupied as places of business, and all their stabling. A dwelling owned by the Messrs. Fagely, occupied by Mrs. Cleaver, and the stabling, and a ware-house owned by Mr. Wm. R. Kutzner, all of which was totally consumed. The ‘Douty House,’ together with the office an stabling, were also burned to the ground. It was with great difficulty that the residence of Messrs. John B. & Wm. H. Douty was saved, having also been on fire. The Post Office and the ‘Brown Stone Front,’ were also on fire and with great difficulty saved. The residence of Mr. Wm. Fagely too, was in great peril. The brick building of Mr. Wm. R. Kutzner, was also on fire, and almost despaired of being saved. The United States Hotel, owned and occupied by Mr. Jacob Mowry, was several times on fire. The house occupied by Lewis Hummel, too, was at one time on fire. The last two buildings named, are situated at a considerable distance from the main fire, yet by the strong current of air that was blowing, they were endangered. During the progress of the fire, the heat was so intense that it was almost impossible at times to endure it, and apply water to prevent its further spread. Too much credit cannot be given those men and women, who worked so zealously to stay the flames. And too much contempt cannot be heaped upon those who went there for the purpose of plundering and stealing. The injury done by the fire is very great, and accomplished in a very short time, not having been more than about two and a half hours from its discovery, until no other danger was apprehended. The insurance on the destroyed property is very light.

May our citizens arouse, and at once procure fire engines, and thereby prevent another such destructive conflagration.

The loss is variously estimated from fifty thousand to ninety thousand dollars. Fourteen families were thrown out o the street, homeless, and much of their goods, carried away. – From the Shamokin Advertiser Extra.

It is clear from ongoing news coverage that William Reese and his family struggled to recover from the disaster over the next several years. The Juniata Sentinel and Republican published in its 12 August 1874 edition a notice from Sheriff W. H. Knouse that Thomas U. Parker “by his deed of 25th of January, 1869, conveyed lots numbered 75, 76 and 96 to William Reese by deed of general warranty, who paid to him the amount of purchase money in full ($250). Parker had, according to the notice, become “the owner of certain lots of ground situate the borough of Patterson, Juniata county, being lots numbered 96, 76, 75, 55, 56, 57, 58 and 59” due to Orphans’ Court proceedings following the death of Andrew Parker, Esq., and had satisfied various financial obligations regarding several of these lots with Andrew Parker’s heirs, but had failed to do so with others, including parcel No. 76. On 29 April 1874, Isaac Snyder petitioned the Orphans’ Court for resolution of the situation.

In response to the resolution by the Orphans’ Court:

William Reese for the consideration of $200, by his deed of March 15, 1869, conveyed to your petitioner lot No. 76, for which he paid the consideration in full, and on which said recognizance was a lien. – That your petitioner has been informed and expects to be able to prove that said recognizances have been fully paid to the said Mary J. Parker, now Mary J. Warner, and Annie E. Parker, and he therefore prays the Court to grant a rule on the said Mary J. Warner and Annie E. Parker to appear at the next Orphans’ Court on Monday, the 7th day of September, 1874, to show cause why said recognizance should not be satisfied, at 2 o’clock P.M.

The following year, in February 1875, William Reese signaled his plan to go into business with his son, Andrew M. Reese. According to the Sunbury American, they applied to the Northumberland County Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace for a “new stand” tavern license for William Reese & Son.

This experience, however, also proved to be a difficult one. On 2 August 1875, E. C. Gobin, Esq., reported on Northumberland County’s Court Proceedings for earl August 1875 via the 6 August edition of the Sunbury American, and noted that the Grand Jury had returned a “true bill” in the matter of the community versus William and Andrew M. Reese for selling liquor on a Sunday.

* Note: Issuance of such true bill decisions meant that members of the Grand Jury believed that sufficient evidence had been presented by prosecutors to show that accused citizens had committed the crimes for with which they were being charged.

The next day, the Grand Jury returned two more true bills against the William and Andrew M. Reese for selling liquor to minors and “selling liquor to persons visibly affected with intoxicating drink.”

The 13 August 1875 edition of the Sunbury American provided an update, reporting that William and Andrew M. Reese both pleaded guilty on 6 August to the earlier charge (selling liquor on Sundays), but had not yet been sentenced. They were both then convicted of “[f]urnishing intoxicating drinks to minors” on 7 August 1865, and were sentenced “to pay a fine of $25 each, and undergo an imprisonment in the county jail for the term of thirty days.” Also convicted on the charge of selling liquor on a Sunday, they were “sentenced to each pay a fine of $250, cost of prosecution, and stand committed till [sic] sentence of court are complied with.” As to the charge of “[s]elling liquor to persons visibly intoxicated,” William Reese was convicted but given a suspended sentence while Andrew M. Reese was declared not guilty.

By 1880, William and Mary Reese were documented by the federal census as residents and operators of a boarding house in Sunbury. Living with them at this time were servant 17-year-old Mary Harrison, 21-year-old carpenter A. McCollam, 21-year-old machinist Harry Reed, and 35-year-old stenographer G.S. Burrowes.

Sometime before the decade was out, William Reese had relocated to Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. He died there on 30 December 1889. The New Year’s Eve edition of The Evening Leader in Wilkes-Barre, reported his death with a simple one-line notice:

REESE. – In Wilkes-Barre, Dec. 30, 1889, William Reese, aged 58 years.

His remains were returned to Juniata County, where he was interred at the Union Cemetery in Mifflintown, Walker Township, on 2 January 1890.

The Harrisburg Telegraph reported on his funeral in its 3 January 1890 edition as follows:

William Reese, of Wilkes-Barre, a former prominent hotel keeper in many towns of the State, was buried yesterday at Mifflintown.

His former hometown newspaper, the Juniata Sentinel and Republican, subsequently reported the cause of his death in its 15 January edition:

REESE. – On the 30th ult., in Wilkes barre [sic], from muscular rheumatism and paralysis. Lieutenant William Reese, aged 58 years, 9 months and 4 days. 

 

Sources:

1. A Fine Entertainment, in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 6 January 1872.

2. Awnings and A Cane Presentation, in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 3 June 1871 and 12 August 1871, respectively.

3. Basler, Roy P., editor, et. al. Collected works. The Abraham Lincoln Association/Springfield, Illinois. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953.

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

5. 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.

6. Death Notice of William Reese, in Juniata Sentinel and Republican. Mifflintown: 15 January 1890.

7. Died: Reese, in The Evening Leader. Wilkes-Barre: 31 December 1889.

8. Fires: At Shamokin, Pa., in The Daily Post. Pittsburgh: 16 April 1872.

9. Funeral Notice of William Reese, in Harrisburg Telegraph. Harrisburg: 3 January 1890.

10. Jordan, LL.D., John W., editor. A History of the Juniata Valley and Its People, Vol. I. New York: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1913.

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

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

13. The Douty House at Shamokin, in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 2 March 1872.

14. The Fire – Fourteen Buildings Destroyed – Fourteen Families Thrown into the Street – Cause of Fire Unknown, in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 20 April 1872.

15. The Reese House and Balloon Ascension, in Sunbury American. Sunbury; 1 July 1871 and 8 July 1871, respectively.

16. U.S. Census. Washington and Pennsylvania: 1860, 1880.

17. William Reese & Son, in In the Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace of Northumberland County, in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 12 February 1875.

18. William Reese and Andrew M. Reese, in Court Proceedings: Reported by E. C. Gobin, Esq., in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 6 August 1875 and 13 August 1875.

19. William Reese, in In the Orphans’ Court of Juniata County. To Annie E. Parker and Mary J. Warner, formerly Mary J. Parker, in Juniata Sentinel and Republican. Mifflintown: 12 August 1874.

20. William Reese and Mary A. Reese, in U.S. Civil War Pension Index (application no: 492104, certificate no.: 327688; filed from Pennsylvania by the veterans’ widow, Mary A. Reese, on 6 December 1890). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives, 1890.

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