Brevet Captain William Henry Steckel

1st Lieutenant William Henry Steckel, Company G, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (circa 1863, public domain).

Born in Egypt, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 16 June 1841, William Henry Steckel was the fifth son of Pennsylvania natives Solomon Steckel, Jr. (1810-1865) and his wife, Sobina (Kern) Steckel (1816-1860). According to Charles Rhoads Roberts, who authored an invaluable History of Lehigh County, William Steckel “worked upon the home farm, alternated with attendance at the public schools, until twenty years of age,” at which point, like many of his fellow Lehigh Valley residents, he headed off to war.

Formative Years

Following his birth, William H. Steckel resided in North Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania with his parents and siblings: James (born circa 1835); Jacob E. (1836-1909); Charlotte (1838-1880); and Lewis P. (1839-1864), who was also born in Egypt. Before the decade was out, the Steckels welcomed the birth of three additional members of the family – Mary Melinda (1844-1847); Louise M. (1846-1916); and Eli (1849-1882).

The Stone Church in Egypt, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania was built in 1785 (photo taken circa 1914, public domain).

His father continued to support the growing family as a farmer, but tragedy soon struck. In 1847, William’s younger sister, Mary Melinda, passed away in Egypt on 28 November. She was just a toddler when laid to rest at the cemetery in their hometown. Sadly, her grave remains unmarked.

In 1850, federal census takers documented the Steckel family as residents of North Whitehall Township. Living with parents Solomon and Sobina were William and his siblings: James (aged 15); Jacob (aged 13); Henry (aged 12); “Shertala”, a 10-year-old girl who was most likely the Steckel’s daughter “Charlotte”; Lewis (aged 8); “Totala”, a 7-year-old girl who was most likely the Steckel’s daughter “Colletta”; Louisa (aged 4); Joseph (aged 2); and Eli (aged 1). Also residing at the home that year was 18-year-old Mary Roth.

In 1851, the family added two new members via the birth of twin daughters – Catharine M. (1851-1921) and Josephine E. (1851-1925). Before the decade was out, the final Steckel sibling – Sylvester C. (1859-1931) – also made his debut.

As the next decade began, William Steckel continued to reside at home with his parents in North Whitehall Township. Still also living with them were William’s siblings: James (aged24); Lewis P. (aged 23); Charlotte (aged 20); Colletta (aged 18); Joseph (aged 14); Elias (aged 12); John (aged 9); twins Catharine and Josephine (aged 7); and Sylvester C. (aged nine months). As the federal census taker jotted down their names on 2 July 1860, he described family patriarch Solomon Steckel as a “tenant farmer.” According to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s description of “Agricultural and Rural Life”:

After America gained independence, the Commonwealth’s agricultural economy entered its golden age, and the neat and prosperous Pennsylvania farm became the model for farms across the nation. During this period the Pennsylvania barn emerged as one of the state’s most distinctive architectural features and a symbol of the agricultural prosperity….

Pennsylvania agriculture during this time was extraordinary in its diversity. Farming was a collaborative operation in which families and neighbors worked together, and in which butter and cheese made by women became one of the Pennsylvania farm’s most important income generating products.

Increasing and improving farm production became a goal of agricultural reformers in the late eighteenth century….

By the 1850s canals, paved roads, and railroads were drawing a growing number of Pennsylvania farmers into the nation’s emerging market economy. To increase their production and reduce their work, a new generation of business-minded farmers utilized new forms of horse and water-powered machinery….

The family-owned farm was an important symbol to nineteenth-century Americans, but even in the Commonwealth, farm tenancy was common. The late 1800s were a period of prolonged hardship for American and Commonwealth farmers as the newly opened West flooded eastern markets with grain and meat. By the early 1900s, more than one-quarter of all Pennsylvania farms were operated by tenants, most working on the sharecrop system.

But this secure pattern of hard work performed in relative tranquility would soon come to an end for the Steckels and other families across the Lehigh Valley.

Civil War Military Service

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

South Carolina (20 December 1860). Mississippi (9 January 1861). Florida (10 January 1861). Alabama (11 January 1861). Georgia (19 January 1861). Louisiana (26 January 1861). Texas (1 February 1861). One by one, the secession of America’s southern states had begun. Trying to go about their daily lives as best as possible in the midst of a nation being torn asunder, William H. Steckel and his family and neighbors could only read the news of Fort Sumter’s fall to Confederate forces with the same alarm as their fellow Keystone Staters.

Unable to sit on the sidelines while his nation’s horizons continued to darken, William H. Steckel became one of the early responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help preserve the union of his country. After enrolling for Civil War military service at the age of 20 on 18 September 1861, he then mustered in that same day at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Entering at the rank of Private with Company G of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, he was described on military records as being a 5’ 8” tall resident of Lehigh County and laborer who had dark hair, brown eyes and a fair complexion.

* Note: The initial recruitment for members to fill Company G was conducted in Allentown, Lehigh County – the hometown of the regiment’s founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good. Company G was initially led by Captain Charles Mickley, a Mayflower descendant and native of Mickleys near Lehigh County’s Whitehall Township.

Following a brief light infantry training period at Camp Curtin, Private William Steckel and his company were sent by train with the 47th Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. where, beginning 21 September, they were stationed at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown, about two miles from the White House. Henry Wharton, a Musician with the regiment’s C Company, penned an update the next day to his hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American:

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 man 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.

Chain Bridge across the Potomac above Georgetown looking toward Virginia, 1861 (The Illustrated London News, public domain).

As a unit of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company G became part of the federal service when the regiment officially mustered into the U.S. Army on 24 September. Three days later, the 47th was assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the regiment 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 11 October 1861, Private William Steckel and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians engaged in a Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a letter home around this time, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to head the entire 47th Regiment) reported that companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops. 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 morning, 22 October, the 47th then engaged 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 late October, according to Schmidt, the men from Companies B, G and H woke at 3 a.m., assembled a day’s worth of rations, marched four miles from camp, and took over picket duties from the 49th New York:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review under the watchful eyes of Colonel 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, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan obtained brand new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.

1862

U.S. Naval Academy Barracks and temporary hospital, Annapolis, Maryland, c. 1861-1865 (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, they were sent by rail to Alexandria, and then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal. While there, they were reequipped before being marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped rail 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.

As the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental during the afternoon of 7 January, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers with the officers boarding last. Per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, they then departed for the Deep South at 4 p.m., and made their way toward 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).

In early February 1862, Company G and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West, where they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the regiment made its presence known as it paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men from the regiment then mingled with locals at area church services.

Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics and other military strategies, they felled trees, built new roads and helped to strengthen the facility’s fortifications.

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

Union Navy base of operations, Mayport Mills, circa 1862 (public domain).

Sent on a return expedition to Florida, Company G saw its first truly intense moments when it participated with the 47th Pennsylvania and other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October. Led by Brigadier-General Brannan, a 1,500-plus Union force disembarked at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats. Taking point, the 47th led the 3rd Brigade through 25 miles of dense, pine forested swamps populated with deadly snakes and alligators.

By the time the expedition ended, the brigade had forced the Confederate Army to abandon its artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and had paved the way for the Union to occupy the town of Jacksonville, Florida.

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

From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, Private William Steckel and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians experienced their first truly intense moments of combat as they 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 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 often brutal fighting as they attempted to take the ravine and bridge, they were ultimately forced to withdraw to Mackey’s Point by their depleted supplies of ammunition.

Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died, including Privates Benjamin Diehl, James Knappenberger, John Kuhns (alternate spelling: Kuntz), and George Reber. Privates Knappenberger and Kuhns were killed in action during the 47th’s early engagement at the Frampton Plantation; Thorntown, Pennsylvania resident George Reber sustained a fatal gunshot wound to his head.

An additional two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded in action, including Private Franklin Oland, who died from his wounds at the Union Army’s general hospital at Hilton Head, South Carolina on 30 October, and Private John Heil who sustained a gunshot wound (“Vulnus Sclopet”), and succumbed to his own battle wound-related complications at Hilton Head on 2 November 1862.

Jacob Henry Scheetz, M.D., Assistant Regimental Surgeon, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, who subsequently cared for the fallen at the U.S. Army’s General Hospital at Hilton Head, also confirmed for the record that one of those who had been cut down that day was G Company’s Captain Charles Mickley. His entry in the U.S. Army’s Register of Deaths of Volunteers noted that Captain Mickley had been “killed in action” at “Frampton SC” (the Frampton Plantation).

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

A 1987 article by Frank Whelan for Allentown’s Morning Call newspaper provided more information about what happened that day:

It was a venture designed to cut a railroad linking Charleston and Savannah, Ga. But poor planning by the overall Union commander, a Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel, seemed to doom it to failure from the start. The officers in charge of the brigades expected to meet 10,000 armed Southern troops when they landed.

Yet the men of the 47th knew none of this. Like any men before a battle, they got ready for it in various ways. Young Capt. Charles Mickley of G Company picked up a pen to write a Lehigh Valley friend the night before the assault.

He enclosed a check for $600, the pay he had received that day. He asked his friend to set it aside in a savings bank for his wife.

After taking care of that bit of business, Mickley expressed his apprehension. ‘Today at one o’clock our Reg. will embark on the Steamer Ben Deford to go on an Expedition which our Reg [sic] is to take part in. But where we are agoing [sic] to, we are as yet kept in the dark about . . . I must beg pardon by putting you to so much trouble to attend to my affairs but as you are well aware when one is absent from home he leaves his matters to men as one has confidence in. If you were a young man I would say go and fight for your country. But as you are past the Meridian of life to do soldiering; there must be Patriots at home as well as in the field. If such were not the case how should we get along in the field. CM.’

The next morning Capt. Mickley and his men in the 47th were no longer in the dark. Outside of a farm called Frampton Plantation, near Pocotaligo, he found himself face to face with hot Rebel fire. As shell and canister and grapeshot raked the line, the bold Mickley charged forward into what commanding officer Tilghman Good called ‘a perfect matting of vines and brush . . . almost impossible to get through.’ Less than 24 hours after he penned his letter home, Charles Mickley was lying dead on the first battlefield of his life. His new home would be Union Cemetery.

Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, an Allentown newspaper published in German, reported that Captain Charles Mickley had suffered a fatal head wound during the Battle of Pocotaligo on 22 October 1862 on “the railway between Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.” His “remains were brought immediately after his death to his home in Allentown.” Captain Mickley’s funeral, officiated by Rev. Derr and Rev. Brobst at the local Reformation Church, was widely attended by a “suffering entourage.”

In his report on the engagement, made from headquarters at Beaufort, South Carolina on 24 October 1862, Colonel Tilghman H. Good recounted still more details of the 10th Army’s ill-fated engagement:

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers in the action of October 22:

Eight companies, comprising 480 men, embarked on the steamship Ben De Ford, and two companies, of 120 men, on the Marblehead, at 2 p.m. October 21. With this force I arrived at Mackays Landing before daylight the following morning. At daylight I was ordered to disembark my regiment and move forward across the first causeway and take a position, and there await the arrival of the other forces. The two companies of my regiment on board of the Marblehead had not yet arrived, consequently I had but eight companies of my regiment with me at this juncture.

At 12 m. I was ordered to take the advance with four companies, one of the Forty-seventh and one of the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and two of the Sixth Connecticut, and to deploy two of them as skirmishers and move forward. After moving forward about 2 miles I discerned some 30 or 40 of the enemys [sic] cavalry ahead, but they fled as we advanced. About 2 miles farther on I discovered two pieces of artillery and some cavalry, occupying a position about three-quarters of a mile ahead in the road. I immediately called for a regiment, but seeing that the position was not a strong one I made a charge with the skirmishing line. The enemy, after firing a few rounds of shell, fled. I followed up as rapidly as possible to within about 1 mile of Frampton Creek. In front of this stream is a strip of woods about 500 yards wide, and in front of the woods a marsh of about 200 yards, with a small stream running through it parallel with the woods. A causeway also extends across the swamp, to the right of which the swamp is impassable. Here the enemy opened a terrible fire of shell from the rear, of the woods. I again called for a regiment, and my regiment came forward very promptly. I immediately deployed in line of battle and charged forward to the woods, three companies on the right and the other five on the left of the road. I moved forward in quick-time, and when within about 500 yards of the woods the enemy opened a galling fire of infantry from it. I ordered double-quick and raised a cheer, and with a grand yell the officers and men moved forward in splendid order and glorious determination, driving the enemy from this position.

On reaching the woods I halted and reorganized my line. The three companies on the right of the road (in consequence of not being able to get through the marsh) did not reach the woods, and were moved by Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander by the flank on the causeway. During this time a terrible fire of grape and canister was opened by the enemy through the woods, hence I did not wait for the three companies, but immediately charged with the five at hand directly through the woods; but in consequence of the denseness of the woods, which was a perfect matting of vines and brush, it was almost impossible to get through, but by dint of untiring assiduity the men worked their way through nobly. At this point I was called out of the woods by Lieutenant Bacon, aide-de-camp, who gave the order, ‘The general wants you to charge through the woods.’ I replied that I was then charging, and that the men were working their way through as fast as possible. Just then I saw the two companies of my regiment which embarked on the Marblehead coming up to one of the companies that was unable to get through the swamp on the right. I went out to meet them, hastening them forward, with a view of re-enforcing the five already engaged on the left of the road in the woods; but the latter having worked their way successfully through and driven the enemy from his position, I moved the two companies up the road through the woods until I came up with the advance. The two companies on the right side of the road, under Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander had also worked their way up through the woods and opened fire on the retreating enemy. At this point I halted and reorganized my regiment, by forming close column by companies. I then detailed Lieutenant Minnich, of Company B, and Lieutenant Breneman, of Company H, with a squad of men, to collect the killed and wounded. They promptly and faithfully attended to this important duty, deserving much praise for the efficiency and coolness they displayed during the fight and in the discharge of this humane and worthy trust.

The casualties in this engagement were 96. Captain Junker of Company K; Captain Mickley, of Company I [sic], and Lieutenant Geety, of Company H, fell mortally wounded while gallantly leading their respective companies on.

I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of both officers and men. They all performed deeds of valor, and rushed forward to duty and danger with a spirit and energy worthy of veterans.

As Good continued, he made clear that despite men falling around them, the 47th continued to fight on:

The rear forces coming up passed my regiment and pursued the enemy. When I had my regiment again placed in order, and hearing the boom of cannon, I immediately followed up, and, upon reaching the scene of action, I was ordered to deploy my regiment on the right side of the wood, move forward along the edge of it, and relieve the Seventh Connecticut Regiment. This I promptly obeyed. The position here occupied by the enemy was on the opposite side of the Pocotaligo Creek, with a marsh on either side of it, and about 800 yards distant from the opposite wood, where the enemy had thrown up rifle pits all along its edge.

On my arrival the enemy had ceased firing; but after the lapse of a few minutes they commenced to cheer and hurrah for the Twenty-sixth South Carolina. We distinctly saw this regiment come up in double-quick and the men rapidly jumping into the pits. We immediately opened fire upon them with terrible effect, and saw their men thinning by scores. In return they opened a galling fire upon us. I ordered the men under cover and to keep up the fire. During this time our forces commenced to retire. I kept my position until all our forces were on the march, and then gave one volley and retired by flank in the road at double-quick about 1,000 yards in the rear of the Seventh Connecticut. This regiment was formed about 1,000 yards in the rear of my former position. We jointly formed the rear guard of our forces and alternately retired in the above manner.

My casualties here amounted to 15 men.

We arrived at Frampton (our first battle ground) at 8 p.m. Here my regiment was relieved from further rear-guard duty by the Fourth New Hampshire Regiment. This gave me the desired opportunity to carry my dead and wounded from the field and convey them back to the landing. I arrived at the above place at 3 o’clock the following morning.

While Good was working on his reports to his superiors, his subordinates in the 47th Pennsylvania were settling back in at Hilton Head, where they had returned on 23 October. There, several men from the 47th were given the honor of serving as the funeral guard for, and firing the salute over the grave of, General Ormsby 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.

Following the death of Captain Mickley, 1st Lieutenant John Goebel then stepped in to fill G Company’s leadership void.

1863

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

By 1863, Private William H. Steckel and his fellow G Company men were once again based with the 47th Pennsylvania in Florida. Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November of 1862, much of 1863 was spent guarding federal installations there as part of the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I garrisoned Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s accessible-only-by-boat installation in Florida’s Dry Tortugas.

As with previous duty stations, disease was a constant companion and foe. But the time spent here was also notable for an entirely different reason. Many 47th Pennsylvanians whose terms of service were expiring at this juncture – and who could have justifiably returned home with their heads held high – chose instead to re-enlist in order to finish the fight. Among those opting to re-up were a significant number of men from the badly-battered G Company, including Private William Steckel, who re-enlisted on 20 October 1863.

1864

Steaming first for New Orleans via the Charles Thomas, the 47th arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February, and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, the 47th would become the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union General Nathaniel Banks.

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

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

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

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

Casualties were once again severe. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. .

Still others from the 47th were captured, marched 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war until released during prisoner exchanges on 22 July or in later months. At least two men from the 47th Pennsylvania never made it out of that prison alive; another died months later while being treated at a Confederate prison hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana.

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 the men resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. They then continued their retreat toward Alexandria, Louisiana.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, the officer overseeing its construction, this timber dam built across the Red River near Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 facilitated Union gunboat passage (public domain).

On 23 April, the 47th Pennsylvanians and their fellow brigade members engaged in the Battle of Cane River near Monett’s Ferry and, from 30 April through 10 May under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, helped to build a dam to enable federal gunboats to easily traverse the Red River’s fluctuating water levels.

Beginning 16 May, G Company moved with most of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June. On the 4th of July, they learned that their fight was not over as the regiment was given new orders to return to the East Coast.

Removed from command amid the controversy over the Union Army’s successes and failures during the Red River Expedition, Union General Nathaniel P. Banks was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. Banks subsequently spent much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for Louisiana.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

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

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

As a result, Private William Steckel and his fellow G Company soldiers missed out on a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, and also missed the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia during the opening days of that month, and then engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements over the next several weeks between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a mimic war being waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early. From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in the Battle of Berryville.

The opening weeks of September also saw the departure of a number of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who had served honorably, but whose three-year terms of service had expired.

Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864

Battle of Opequan (aka Third Winchester), Virginia, 19 September 1864 (public domain).

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

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

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

Victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces, Battle of Opequan, 19 September 1864 (Kurz & Allison, c. 1893, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

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

Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek. Moving forward, they and other members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two more of their respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and Good’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George Alexander, who mustered out 23-24 September upon expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, they were replaced by others equally admired both for temperament and their front line experience, including John Peter Shindel Gobin, Charles W. Abbott and Levi Stuber.

On 18 October 1864, G Company’s Captain John Goebel was commissioned, but not mustered, as a Major. He could not know it at the time, but he was about to answer his final bugle call.

Battle of Cedar Creek, 19 October 1864

Alfred Waud’s 1864 sketch, Surprise at Cedar Creek, which captured the flanking attack on the rear of Union Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th Corps by Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate army, and the subsequent resistance by Emory’s troops from their Union rifle-pit positions, 19 October 1864 (public domain).

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

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

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

Sheridan Rallying His Troops, Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The Union’s counterattack punched Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:

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

Once again, the casualties for the 47th were high. Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap, but Sergeant William Pyers, the C Company man who had so gallantly rescued the flag at Pleasant Hill, was cut down and later buried on the battlefield. Privates John Becher and Julius Lasker of Company G were also killed in action.

Captain John Goebel, who had suffered a grievous gunshot wound, died three weeks later, on 5 November 1864, of wound-related complications while receiving care at the Union Army’s post hospital at Winchester, Virginia. As had happened with his predecessor Captain Mickley, Captain Goebel’s body was brought home to the Lehigh Valley for interment on Union soil.

Following these major engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December. On 1 November 1864, William H. Steckel and Henry T. Dennis were promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and Privates Daniel V. Mertz and Benjamin F. Swartz both were promoted to the rank of Corporal.

Rested and somewhat healed, the newly-minted Sergeant William Steckel and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were ordered to outpost and railroad guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia. Five days before Christmas, they marched through a driving snowstorm to reach their new home.

Then, as 1864 waned and 1865 dawned, additional promotions were made in order to fill the leadership vacuum created by the deaths of regimental and company officers in the Battle of Cedar Creek. Among those given weightier responsibilities were 1st Sergeant Thomas B. Leisenring and Sergeant William H. Steckel, who were commissioned on New Year’s Day 1865, respectively, as Captain and 1st Lieutenant of G Company.

1865 – 1866

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

Assigned first to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah in February, the men of the 47th moved, via Winchester and Kernstown, back to Washington, D.C. By 19 April 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were again responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital – this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Encamped near Fort Stevens, they were resupplied and received new uniforms.

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

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

Ruins of Charleston, South Carolina as seen from the Circular Church, 1865 (U.S. National Archives, public domain).

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

Duties during this time were largely Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including the repair of railroads and other key infrastructure items which had been damaged or destroyed during the long war.

Despite the surrender by Confederate forces at Appomattox, danger still loomed for many Union soldiers, including 1st Lieutenant William Steckel who sustained an injury on 5 November, at Morris Island, South Carolina which caused him to partially lose the sight in his left eye. Even so, he continued to serve with the regiment until it mustered out at the close of the war. Prior to that muster out at Charleston on Christmas Day 1865, he was brevetted as a captain in recognition of his meritorious service with the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers.

The partial loss of sight sustained by 1st Lieutenant William Steckel, Company G, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers in November 1865 was documented by the U.S. Veterans’ Census of 1890 (public domain; click image to enlarge).

With this final muster out of the regiment completed by early January 1866, most members of the regiment sailed for home. Following a stormy voyage, they then disembarked in New York City, were shipped to Philadelphia by train and, at Camp Cadwalader from 9-11 January 1866, were officially given their discharge papers – after which most returned home to their respective communities to resume life with their family and friends.

William Henry Steckel’s life, however, followed a slightly different trajectory.

Return to Civilian Life

Ruins of the Catholic Cathedral, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865 (George N. Barnard, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

In 1866, William H. Steckel married Elizabeth Jane Green. A native of South Carolina who had been born in November 1839 and who was residing in Charleston, South Carolina at the time of their marriage, her father, John H. Green, was a carpenter and native of Belfast in Ireland (born sometime around 1805). Her mother, Martha, was a native of South Carolina (born sometime around 1805). According to the U.S. Census of 1850, the Green family resided in the section of Charleston known as Charleston Neck.

Per Roberts’ History of Lehigh County, following his honorable discharge from the military and his marriage to Elizabeth Jane Green, William Steckel returned home to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, where he “was for some years a farmer, but later … a slater, until compelled to retire by various infirmities. He was a member of the G.A.R. and the Union Veteran Legion.”

In 1867, William H. Steckel and his wife greeted the arrival of their daughter Eva M. Steckel (1867-1949). Son John Henry Steckel (1869-1950) then followed on 27 August 1869. Per the federal census of 1870, William Steckel resided in the community of South Whitehall in Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania with his wife Elizabeth (aged 23) and their children, “Emma”, who was three years old and was most likely their daughter “Eva”; and John Henry. He supported his growing family on the wages of a laborer, and had, by this time, amassed real and personal estate holdings valued at $1,600. Daughter Martha J. Steckel (1870-1947) was born on 13 November 1870.

Also around this time, William Steckel’s sisters, Charlotte, Louisa, Catharine and Josephine, began their own families. Charlotte wed Robert Rockel while Louisa was united in marriage with Richard Johnson Blank. And the twins Josephine and Catharine were married, respectively to William F. David and Edwin W. Miller. (Catharine’s ceremony was documented by church records as occurring on Christmas Day in 1874 at Solomon’s Reform Church of Macungie in Lehigh County.)

These Portland Cement kilns owned by David O. Saylor were a familiar sight to Steckel family members residing in Coplay, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania in 1876 (public domain).

By 1880, according to the federal census, William Steckel was employed by a local furnace and resided in Coplay, Lehigh County with his wife Elizabeth (aged 38), and their children: “Mary E.” (again most likely his daughter “Eva”), John Henry, Martha, twins Louisa and William (born in December 1876), and one-year-old Eli.

That same year, William Steckel’s sister, Charlotte (Steckel) Rockel, passed away on 19 November 1880; she still rests in an unmarked grave at what is now Saint John’s Union Cemetery in Mickleys, Lehigh County.

In 1881, William and Eliza Steckel welcomed another son to their household. Son Lewis A. Steckel (1881-1955) was born in June. Not quite a year later, William Steckel’s brother Eli departed from the earth, passing away on his birthday (23 March 1882). Survived by his widow Mary (Heller) Steckel and a daughter, Eli Steckel was interred at Lehigh County’s Coplay Cemetery.

During the next decade, further changes continued to re-shape the Steckel household. In 1885, William H. Steckel filed for his U.S. Civil War Pension in order to ease financial burdens as age-related health issues began to crop up. The next year, on 22 May 1886, his daughter, Eva M. Steckel, wed Preston W. Frickert in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

Still residing in Coplay, Lehigh County through at least the time of the special veterans’ census of 1890, he then attended the wedding of his son, John Henry Steckel, who was married on the Fourth of July, according to historian Roberts, to “Katie Priscilla Briegel, daughter of Daniel and Priscilla (Louck) Briegel, of Robesonia, Pa.” Prior to the wedding, William’s son, John, had “spent his youth upon his father’s farm, and acquired his education in the public schools.”

He took a course in mechanical draughting with the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pa., in 1890, after which he was employed at the Whitehall Cement Mills as general foreman for ten consecutive years, having charge of upward of fifty men.

He then witnessed the marriages in Allentown of two more of children. On 16 December 1893, daughter Louisa Steckel wed Claude Daniels, a son of Clara (Clewell) Daniels. On 1 June 1895, daughter Martha J. Steckel married Wilson Krause.

Allentown militia units at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument Dedication, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1899 (public domain).

Ultimately forced to retire by his failing health, William H. Steckel relocated to Allentown’s 10th Ward sometime around 1900. Living with him at this new home were his wife, Elizabeth, and their children: Lewis, a helper at a local iron foundry, and Louisa M. (Steckel) Daniels, who was described by the federal census taker as a “tailoress.” Of note, Louisa was also shown as residing at her parents’ home without her husband, but with her children: Margaret E. (born June 1894) and Harold C. Daniels (born January 1898).

According to the federal census that year, William Steckel had been married to his wife for 34 years. She had given birth to six children, all of whom were still living. Also residing with the family was Florence Holwig, a 27-year-old boarder who was employed as a weaver at a local silk mill.

Death and Interment

After witnessing the dawn of a new century, William Henry Steckel was unfortunately not accorded the privilege of experiencing the scientific wonders and cultural achievements which that new era would reveal. After passing away in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 14 November 1901, he was laid to rest at Allentown’s Highland Park Memorial Cemetery.

What Happened to His Family?

600 Block of Hamilton Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania, circa 1921 (public domain).

The increased pace of the new century significantly restructured the lives of William Steckel’s loved ones following his passing. By 1910, his widow, Eliza, was residing alone in Whitehall Township Lehigh County, according to federal census records. A year earlier, his brother, Jacob E. Steckel, had passed away on 25 August 1909, and was laid to rest at the Egypt Cemetery in Egypt, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

In 1912, William Steckel’s son, John Henry Steckel, resigned his position as foreman with the Whitehall Cement Mills to become “proprietor of a hotel at Werley’s Corner,” per historian Roberts. He also supported his family through farming, was active with the Republican Party, and “was a deacon and elder in St. John’s Reformed church, at Cementon, where he resided for ten years.” (Prior to that, he had been “a member of the Reformed church at Coplay.”) During his marriage to Katie Priscilla (Briegel) Steckel, John H. Steckel also welcomed the birth of five children: Harvey W., a resident of Cementon; Katie G.; John H., Jr.; and twins Clifford and Miriam. (According to Roberts, the latter – Miriam – had passed away by 1914.)

Meanwhile, William Steckel’s daughter, Louisa (Steckel) Daniels, remarried. She became the wife of Robert Stahler sometime prior to 1914 when Roberts’ county history was published. Two years later, William Steckel’s sister, Louisa M. (Steckel) Blank, passed on. Following her death on 2 May 1916, she was laid to rest at Allentown’s Jordan United Church of Christ Cemetery.

Through it all, William Steckel’s widow continued to soldier on. Awarded a U.S. Civil War Widow’s Pension of $30 per month on 1 May 1920, she then saw that pension increased to $50 per month on 4 August 1926 – possibly because she had lost two more of her children. The tragic deaths occurred within less than four years of one another when, on 29 October 1921 and 28 March 1925, William and Eliza Steckel’s daughters, Catharine M. (Steckel) Miller and Josephine E. (Steckel) David, passed away. Catharine was buried at the Coplay Cemetery in Coplay while Josephine was interred at the Jerusalem Western Salisbury Church Cemetery in Allentown.

Finally, when it became evident that William Steckel’s widow was beginning to decline, she moved into the North Whitehall Township home of her 48-year-old son, Lewis A. Steckel, a shipping foreman, and his wife, Harriet. Also living with them according to the federal census of April 1930 were Lewis’ 16-year-old daughter, Miriam, and his 24-year-old granddaughter, Ruth Wotring, and her husband, James.

Just a few short months later, Elizabeth (Green) Steckel – the widow of Brevet Captain William Henry Steckel – was gone, having passed away on 8 June 1930. She was followed in death by William Steckel’s youngest brother, Sylvester C. Steckel, who passed away on 17 June 1931, and was laid to rest in the same cemetery where their sister Catharine had been interred – the Coplay Cemetery in Coplay, Lehigh County.

William Steckel’s daughter, Martha J. (Steckel) Krause, then died in 1947, followed two years later, by Eva (Steckel) Frickert, who was buried at Allentown’s Fairview Cemetery.

After passing away on his birthday on 27 August 1950, William Steckel’s son, John Henry Steckel, was laid to rest at the Slatedale Cemetery in Slatedale, Lehigh County. Five years later, William’s son Lewis A. Steckel then also crossed over, passing away on 11 July 1955. He was buried at the Greenwood Cemetery in Allentown; wife, Hattie, was laid to rest beside him in 1968.

 

 

Sources:

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

2. Eva M. Steckel, Preston W. Frickert, and William H. Steckel; Louisa M. Steckel, Claude Daniels, Wm. H. Steckel, and Clara Clewell; and Martha J. Steckel, Wilson Krause, and William Steckel, in Pennsylvania Marriages, 1709-1940 (Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, 22 May 1886; 16 December 1893; and 1 June 1895; FHL microfilm FHL microfilm 2,079,842 and 2,080,143). Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library.

3. Roberts, Charles Rhoads and Rev. John Baer Stoudt, et. al. History of Lehigh County Pennsylvania and a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Its Families, Vol. III. Allentown: Lehigh Valley Publishing Company, 1914.

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

5. Steckel, William H., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

6. Steckel, William H. and Elizabeth Steckel, in U.S. Civil War Pension Index. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1885-1901.

7. Steckel, William H. and Elizabeth J. Steckel, in Pension Payment Cards. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Veterans Administration, 1920-1930.

8. The Pennsylvania Farm, in Agriculture and Rural Life, in Stories from PA History. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau for Historic Preservation, retrieved online 1 November 2017.

9. U.S. Census and U.S. Census of Veterans and Widows of the Civil War (1890). Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and South Carolina: 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1930.

 

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