Alternate Spellings of Surname: Walls, Wals
Born in Pennsylvania sometime between 1796 and 1805, Benjamin F. Walls was a son of Revolutionary War Patriot William Walls, who served under General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.
He grew up to be a tall man, spotted easily not just among a crowd of the shorter men of his era – but on the farms and fields which became the blood-drenched battlefields of America’s Civil War.
Sometime during the 1830s, Benjamin Walls wed fellow Pennsylvania native Elizabeth C. Douglass. Together, they welcomed to the world three children, two of whom – William D. and Martha Walls (born in Juniata County, Pennsylvania on 27 November 1832 and 1 August 1836, respectively) – have well documented life histories.
At the time of the 1850 federal census, family patriarch Benjamin Walls and his wife were residents of Juniata County’s Lack Township, living there with their children William and Martha, as well as their older son J. Wall (aged 22). All three of the Wall men were described as farmers.
Before the decade was over, the Wall family household would begin to scatter. During the early to mid-1850s, Benjamin’s son William D. Walls married Hettie Brant; they then greeted the arrival of son John Walls (1857-1939) on 15 November 1857.
* Note: William and Hettie Walls went on to build a large family, which included daughters Mary (1862-1942), Carrie (1863-1943) and Catherine Walls (1865-1947) who were born, respectively, on 17 January 1861, 16 February 1863, and 17 April 1865, as well as son Harry Walls (1867-1935), daughter Arietta (“Etta”) Walls (1870-1940), son W. Howard Walls (1871-1917), daughter Minnie Walls (1872-1957), and son David Crawford Walls (1876-1935) who were born, respectively, on 7 March 1867, 6 April 1870, 24 August 1871, 30 September 1872, and 30 September 1876.
The census of 1860 further documented that Benjamin Walls and his wife Elizabeth C. Walls were successful farmers in Mifflintown, Lack Township, Juniata County, Pennsylvania, and that their daughter Martha, aged 23, was still living with them at this time. Historical records also noted that, by the dawn of the Civil War, Benjamin Walls owned real estate and personal property valued respectively at $3,500 and $800.
* Note: The federal census taker for this period spelled their surname incorrectly as “Wals.”
The worsening relations between America’s North and South, however, would make it impossible for Benjamin Walls and his wife to proceed smoothly along their prosperous, bucolic journey.
Civil War Military Service
Benjamin Walls made history when, in 1861, he became the oldest man accepted for service with Company C of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (also known as the “Sunbury Guards”). He enrolled on 19 August 1861 at Sunbury, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, and mustered in for Civil War service as a Private at Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania on 2 September 1861.
His entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg indicates that he was 56 years of age at the time of enlistment, making his year of birth 1805 – a date which appears to match that on the records of the cemetery where he was interred. A transcription of those records (created for PA Roots Web) states that Walls was 62 years, five months, and 29 days old at the time of his death in 1867, also making his year of birth 1805.
Accounts by the Juniata Sentinel of Walls’ 1865 nomination by the Republican Party for County Commissioner also seem to bear this out, indicating that he was 60 years old at the time his name was put forth (meaning he would have been aged 56 at the time of mustering).
However, Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5 states that Walls was actually 65 years of age at the time of his enlistment – making his year of birth 1796. (The book’s author, Samuel P. Bates, based this statement on information provided in Incidents of War by Colonel John Peter Shindel Gobin, a Sunbury attorney who became the esteemed commanding officer of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers after having first served as Company C’s captain. A learned man, Gobin was also later was elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate.)
According to Bates, Gobin described the circumstances of Walls’ enlistment as follows:
At Harrisburg the surgeon had pronounced him too old for service and Mr. Walls exclaimed, “By the lord, I have yet to learn that a man ever becomes too old to serve his country.”
In September 1864, according to historian Lewis Schmidt, a different surgeon would decline Walls’ request to continue fighting with the 47th when he attempted to re-enlist – at the age of 68.
Benjamin Walls and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers received training in light infantry tactics while stationed at Camp Curtin during late August and early September of 1861. In short order, Walls was named as the Regimental Color Sergeant, a coveted, highly respected position among officers and enlisted men alike. His job was to protect the American flag and ensure that it never touched the ground or captured by enemy hands – even in the most heated of battles.
Military records describe Walls as being six feet tall with gray hair, gray eyes and a light complexion.
The flag he carried prominently into battle was presented on 20 September 1861 to the regiment by Andrew Curtin, the 15th Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:
In Defense of the Nation
Sergeant Walls and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were then sent by train to Washington, D.C., where they were stationed about two miles from the White House at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 21 September. The next day, Company C Musician Henry D. Wharton penned the following update to the Sunbury American newspaper:
After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.
After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.
On 24 September, Walls and his fellow 47th Keystone Staters were officially mustered into federal service with the U.S. Army. Assigned to the 3rd Brigade of W.F. Smith’s Army of the Potomac on 27 September and armed with Mississippi Rifles supplied by their beloved Keystone State, the 47th was given marching orders to head for Camp Lyon, Maryland on the eastern side of the Potomac River. Arriving in late afternoon, they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in marching double-quick across a chain bridge, and then headed off toward Falls Church, Virginia.
Arriving at Camp Advance around dusk after a roughly eight-mile trek, the Sunbury Guards pitched their tents in a deep ravine near Fort Ethan Allen, a new federal military facility still under construction. Here, as part of the 3rd Brigade and General Isaac Smith’s Army of the Potomac, the 47th Pennsylvania helped to defend the nation’s capital.
On October 11, after having been ordered with the 3rd Brigade to “Camp Big Chestnut” (so named because of a prominently located chestnut tree and later renamed as Camp Griffin), Color Sergeant Benjamin Walls and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads.
On Friday morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th participated 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.”
And on 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to 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 their performance that day, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan ordered that brand new Springfield rifles be obtained and distributed to every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.
Ordered to move from Camp Griffin back to Maryland, Benjamin Walls and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862, marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church. Sent by rail to Alexandria, they then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before they were marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.
By the afternoon of Monday, 27 January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had commenced boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the enlisted men boarded first, followed by their superior officers. Then, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
In early February 1862, they arrived at Fort Taylor.On 14 February, the regiment made itself known to area residents via a parade through the city’s streets.
On garrison duty, they drilled daily in military strategy, including heavy artillery tactics. Their time was made more difficult by the presence of tropical diseases, as well as the always likely dysentery from soldiers living in close quarters.
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 the main camp, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers 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.
On 30 September 1862, C Company and the 47th Pennsylvania were sent back to Florida where they participated with other Union forces in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October. Led by Brigadier-General Brannan, the 1,500-plus Union force disembarked from gunboat-escorted troop ships 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.
From 21-23 October, Company C and the 47th engaged Confederate forces in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackey’s Point under the brigade command of 47th Pennsylvania founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, and regimental command of Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th took point once again. This time, however, the Union’s luck ran out. Bedeviled by snipers, the brigade faced massive resistance from an entrenched Confederate battery, as well as withering fire upon entering a cotton field. Those headed for the Frampton Plantation’s higher ground were pounded by Rebel artillery and infantry from the surrounding forests.
Undaunted, the Union forces charged into the fire, and forced the Rebels into a four-mile retreat to the Pocotaligo Bridge. At this juncture, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut but, after two hours of exchanging fire while attempting to take the ravine and bridge, the 47th ran low on ammunition, and withdrew to Mackey’s Point. Two officers and 18 enlisted men from the 47th were killed during the expedition; two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded.
On 23 October 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South, General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, who had succumbed to yellow fever 30 October. Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, was later named for him. The men of the 47th Pennsylvania were the soldiers given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.
By 1863, Captain J. P. S. Gobin and the men of C Company were once again based with the 47th Pennsylvania in Florida. Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. The men of C Company joined with Companies A, B, E, G, and I in guarding Key West’s Fort Taylor while 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 – and because most of the soldiers from the 47th Pennsylvania chose to re-enlist when their original three-year terms of service expired.
On 25 February 1864, the Sunbury Guards and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began a phase of service during which the entire 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 Alexandria, Louisiana. On 8 April, they 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, 60 members of the 47th were cut down during a long, intense, back-and-forth volley of fire. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. The exhausted, but uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. Post-midnight, the Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.
C Company’s Private Jeremiah Haas was one of the many killed that day; Private Thomas Lothard was one of the even larger number wounded.
The next day, Regimental Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls, the oldest serving man in the entire 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, was wounded during the Battle of Pleasant Hill, as was Sergeant William Pyers of the same company.
The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had been ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines that day (9 April 1864), 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 shifted to the left 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 the engagement, the 47th Pennsylvania recaptured a Massachusetts artillery battery that had been lost earlier to Rebel forces. Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was shot in the left shoulder as he was mounting the 47th’s flag on one of the recaptured caissons. As he fell, Sergeant William Pyers saved the American flag.
Both of the Sunbury Guardsmen survived and continued to fight – Walls until his three-year term of service expired on 18 September 1864, Pyers until he was killed in action just over a month later during the Battle of Cedar Creek.
Historians report that, much as Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls wished to re-enlist, a regimental surgeon would not permit a man of such advanced age to continue serving. So, Walls was Honorably Discharged from duty on 18 September, and sent home to his wife, Elizabeth.
After the War
Benjamin Walls and his wife, Elizabeth, both lived to see the end of the Civil War but, sadly, neither lived to see the completion of the American Reconstruction. On 24 December 1865, Elizabeth widowed Benjamin, passing away at the age of 70.
On 16 July 1867, Benjamin joined her in death, passing away in Juniata County, Pennsylvania. A mention in the 2 October 1867 Juniata Sentinel confirms his death, indicating that elections would be held that year at the school house near the Lack Township home of “Benjamin Walls, dec’d.”
His final Will and Testament also confirms this year of death. Completed by him on 14 May 1867 in the presence of two witnesses: John W. Sarvis, who was the husband of his granddaughter, Mary (Walls) Sarvis, and Andrew Smith. The will was certified as genuine by R. P. McWilliams of Juniata County on 13 August 1867. The will conveys Benjamin Walls’ concern for the welfare of his two children, particularly so for his daughter, Martha, for whom he appointed a guardian to ensure that she would live out her remaining years in comfort:
In the name of God amen. I, Benjamin F. Walls, of Lack Township Juniata County and State of Pennsylvania Farmer being of feeble health but of sound and despising mind and memory, do make and publish this my last Will and Testament (hereby Revoking all former will by me at any time made. In manner following that is to say, First, I order that all my just debts funeral expenses and charges for [penning? pressing?] this my will be in the first place fully paid and satisfyed [sic] as soon after my deceasea [sic?] may be [committed?].
Second, I will and bequeath to my daughter Martha the House and Garden now occupied by me together with the privilege of the Springhouse Spring &c. Necessary for the use of the same, during her natural life. That as long as she lives my son William D. Walls is to furnish my said daughter with her firewood delivered at the house free of all charge. I further bequeath to my said daughter three 3, good beds, and beding [sic] for the same, and also that she be allowed to Keep on the farm not more then [sic] Six (6) head of [herd?] cattle. She shall also be allowed to keep not more then [sic] Six (6) head of Sheep and three (3) Hogs to Have sufficient stable room for her stock in Winter and sufficient feed for them during Winter and pasture for her Cows in the summer. William shall furnish her with sufficient grain to fatten three hogs each year. She is also to have an equal shear [sic] of the poltry [sic] with there [sic] production and increase. Also as Mutch [sic] Frute [sic] as she needs, when there is any, of all kinds that grows on the place. I also will and bequeath to my said daughter the interest of all the Money I have out, and coming to me except what is coming to me from my said son William, which will dispose hereafter). I further will and direct that William furnish or supply my said Daughter with all the grain Potatoes &c. that she may need for her support, as long as she may live. My intention is that my said Daughter shall have a good and liberal Support off the farm, during her life. My said son is also to [keep] Martha’s house in good repare [sic] at his own expense. I further will and direct that what cattle sheep or hogs I may have more than what Martha is allowed to Keep, be sold and the proceeds paid to Martha’s guardian hereinafter mentioned, and applyed [sic] to her use. I also direct that the furniture and household affairs be divided between Martha and William so as to be satisfactory to both.
Third, I further do hereby constitute and appoint my friend James Smith as Guardian for my said Daughter Martha, that he take charge of her Money, put it out to interest collect the interest and invest for her benefit and to have the Exclusive Controle [sic] of all her financial and to see that the provisions of this my will are faithfully carried out, and to manage his affairs in all her interests, and that he be honestly compensated for all trouble, and further if my son William should at any time want to use the Money that may be in the hands of James Smith, as Guardian of my daughter, he is to have it in preference to any one, els [sic], by giving his obligations for the same.
Fourth, I further will and bequeath to my son William D. Walls, all my Real Estate (Except what I have left to Martha during her lifetime to have and to hold the same in his own right and to sell and convey the same as effectually as if I had made a deed to him for the same. And I further will and direct that all the money or other indebtedness that is coming to me from my said son be forgiven him as it is not my intention that he should ever pay anything of any part and I further direct that my son have tombstones put to my grave and that of my wife, and I further will and direct that at the death of my daughter Martha, all the Money property and effects whatsoever that may be remaining of her estate go to my said son if living if not then to his heirs as assigns.
Fifth, I do further will and bequeath to Mrs. Pracilla Logan that now lives with me, the sum of Fifty (50) Dollars to be paid to her by my Executors as soon after my decease as may be conveniently done, that amount to be in full satisfaction of any wages she might claim as due her. She shall be allowed to take everything away with her that she brought here with her, and that she leave as soon after my death as she can, not to stay over ten months at the furthest. I would further will and bequeath to my son my Horses and saddle and he is to do all the milling for my daughter as long as she lives. And I do hereby nominate constitute and appoint my friend James Smith and my Son William D. Walls both of Lack Township Executors of this my Will and Testament in witness where of I the said Testater have to this my last Will and Testament set my hand and sealed the 14th day of July A.D. 1867.
Sergeant Benjamin F. Walls was interred in July 1867 at the McWilliams Cemetery in Juniata County – a true American hero who, after having gone above and beyond the call of duty, continued to offer his time and talents to better his community and country.
Both of Walls’ children went on to live long, full lives. William D. Walls (1832-1910) honored the terms of his father’s will. Taking over as head of the family farm, he ensured that his younger sister, Martha Walls (1836-1921) was able to enjoy a comfortable, stable life. He also served his community as Sheriff in 1877.
Sadly, however, the health of William and his wife began to fail. After his wife, Hettie (Brant) Walls (1836-1897) widowed him, William D. Walls succumbed to valvular heart disease in Lack Township, Juniata County, Pennsylvania on 30 April 1910. He was interred at the East Waterford Cemetery in Tuscarora Township, Juniata County on 3 May 1910. The informant on his death certificate was his son, John Walls, of Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Martha, who had resided with her older brother and his family in Lack Township until his passing, continued to reside in Lack Township with her brothers’ children, John and Carrie Walls. On 1 March 1921, Martha Walls suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and succumbed to complications from that stroke in Lack Township, Juniata County on 13 May 1921.
Her occupation was described on her death certificate as “Lady”; the informant was her niece, Carrie Walls. This same death certificate indicated that Martha Walls was still unmarried at the time of her passing.
Martha Walls, daughter of Civil War hero Benjamin F. Walls, was laid to rest at the East Waterford Cemetery in East Waterford, Juniata County, Pennsylvania on 16 May 1921.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
2. Burial Data Transcriptions for Benjamin Walls, et. al., in McWilliams Presbyterian Cemetery Records. PA Roots Web: Vi P. Limric.
3. Jordan, L.L.D. John W. A History of the Juniata Valley and Its People, Vol. 1. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1913.
4. Juniata Sentinel. Juniata County: 13 September 1865, 2 October 1867.
5. Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Index Card (Benjamin F. Walls). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
6. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
7. Sunbury American. Sunbury: (1865-1873).
8. Three Veterans in Line: Granfather, Father and Son All Old-Time Warriors, in The Allentown Leader. Allentown: 5 February 1910.
9. U.S. Census. Lack Township, Juniata County, Pennsylvania: 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1900, 1910, 1920.
10. U.S. Civil War Pension Index (application no.: 98210, certificate No.: 60536, filed by the veteran on 16 December 1865). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives.
11. Walls, Benjamin F., in Register of Wills, 1867. Juniata County, Pennsylvania: Office of the Register of Wills, 14 May 1867.
12. Walls, Martha, William D. Walls and the children of William D. Walls, in Death Certificates. Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.