Privates Levinus and Solomon Hillegass – Brothers in Arms

In 1840, even the Borough of Allentown, Upper Milford Township’s neighbor to the north, retained much of the Lehigh Valley’s original rural, agrarian feel, making the region a perfect place for local residents like the Hillegass brothers to apprentice as blacksmiths and saddlers.

In his 1914 History of Lehigh County, author Charles Rhoads Roberts presented the following profile of Solomon Z. Hillegass, a private who shoed horses and repaired his Union Army regiment’s wagons and other equipment on the front lines of battle during America’s Civil War:

Solomon Z. Hillegass, merchant of South Allentown, son of Jacob B. and Margaretta (Zellner) Hillegass, was born near Zionsville, Upper Milford township, Dec. 13, 1844. At the age of thirteen years he left school to assist his father on the farm and later learned the blacksmith trade. In August, 1862, he enlisted in Co. G, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers as a blacksmith and went with the army to the Gulf, and later was transferred to Virginia, or the Red River expedition under General Sheridan. He was honorably discharge June 1, 1865. After returning home he worked in the zinc mines until 1867. From 1868 to 1872 he taught in the public schools in Salisbury township. From 1872 to 1892 he was foreman and time keeper for the Lehigh Foundry Company. He was top filler for six years and stationary engineer for six years for the same company. He engaged in the grocery business on a small scale in South Allentown in September, 1902, and has since built up a very fine trade, to which he gives his personal attention. He is a member of St. Mark’s Reformed church, which he served as trustee. Politically he is a Republican, and filled the office of assessor of Salisbury township in 1872, and also filled the same office in South Allentown for four years. He holds membership in the following fraternal organizations: G.A.R., No. 87, E. B. Young Post; A. O. of Mystic Chain, No. 18847, South Allentown; Beneficial Association of South Allentown and Fearless Fire Company, of South Allentown. Mr. Hillegass was married to Amanda Weber, daughter of Jacob and Mary (Ehrig) Weber, of Salisbury township. This union was blessed with the following children: Laura A., married to Enos Kline; William I., married to Ida Frey, was killed on the P. & R. Railroad, at the age of 37 years; E. McClellan, married to Sarah Ehler; Jennie M. R., married to George H. Downs; Calvin S., married to Miss Zentner; Annie M., married to Milton M. Scholl; Ida E. E., died aged 17 years and Charles M. Mr. Hillegass was married the second time to Mrs. Knauss, the widow of James Knauss, daughter of John and Catharine (Bachman) Fegley.

Also, per Rhoads, the father of Solomon Z. Hillegass was Jacob B. Hillegass:

Jacob B. Hillegass, son of John Hillegass, was married to Margaretta Zellner, and they were the parents of the following children: William Henry, died young; Susan, died young; Lewis [sic], who was a member of Company I [sic] 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War; Solomon Z., mentioned later; and Milton, who died young. Mr. Hillegass was married the second time to Sofie Mumbauer, with whom he had the following children: Mary Etta, married to Jonathan Wild; William Henry, married to Miss Trapp; Levina, married to George Mohr, of Mountainville; Franklin, died young.

While Roberts was accurate in his retelling of much of the Hillegass family’s story, he erred in both his naming of one of the brothers and the description of that brother’s Civil War service. “Lewis” was, in actuality, Levinus Zellner Hillegass, and he grew up to fight beside his brother, Solomon, in Company G of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer for most of America’s long and tragic Civil War.

Formative Years of Levinus and Solomon Hillegass

A son of Jacob B. Hillegass (1812-1866) and Margaretha (Zellner) Hillegass (1807-1852), Levinus Zellner Hillegass was born in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley on 15 May 1842. Sadly, that same year, the family lost Susanna (1838-1842), the older sister of Levinus. After she passed away on 22 October 1842, she was laid to rest at the Zionsville Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery in what is now Old Zionsville, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

Two years later, joy returned for Levinus Hillegass and his family when they received an early Christmas present – the birth of brother Solomon, who opened his eyes for the first time on 13 December 1844. Their brother Milton (1847-1848) then arrived three years later – on 22 August 1847.

The family’s happiness would soon be shattered, however, by the deaths of brother Milton on 22 September 1848 and of the boys’ mother. Milton’s tiny body was also buried at the Zionsville Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery in Old Zionsville.

After family matriarch Margaretha (Zellner) Hillegass died on 15 May 1852, she too was laid to rest at the Zionsville Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery.

Their father then remarried in fairly short order, taking as his bride, Sophia Mumbauer (1831-1903). Jacob B. Hillegass and his second wife, Sophia, soon greeted the arrival, on 4 October 1854, of son William Henry Hillegass (1854-1921) – a half-brother to Levinus and Solomon Hillegass, who were educated in the local school.

Sometime around 1857 – a time when education was still deemed a luxury by many working-class parents, Solomon began his march to manhood. Leaving his classmates behind, the 13-year-old boy worked the land the family’s farm side-by-side with his father. While still a youngster, he was then sent away to the home of a blacksmith, where he began his apprenticeship in that trade.

Meanwhile, the new life of family patriarch Jacob Hillegass and his second wife was proving to be a difficult one – marred by the early death of their son, Franklin, and then halted abruptly by Jacob’s death on 7 August 1866. Unlike his first wife and two of their young children who preceded him in death, however, family patriarch Jacob B. Hillegass was laid to rest at the Friedensville Cemetery in Friedensville, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

* Note: Levina M. A. Hillegass (1864-1947), a half-sister to Levinus and Solomon Hillegass, was born in Friedensville, Lehigh County on 16 May 1864. The second wife of Jacob B. Hillegass, Sophia, ultimately remarried, taking as her husband Frederick August Miller (1833-1881). Sophia (Mumbauer) Hillegass Miller then passed away on 3 July 1903, and was laid to rest at the Friedensville Cemetery in Friedensville, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

By the dawn of the new decade, the family had fractured even further. According to the 1860 federal census, Levinus Hillegass was apprenticed to and residing with James Smith, a master saddler, and his family in Upper Milford Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

Civil War Military Service

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

Despite these hardships, the Hillegass brothers remained close. At the ages of 21 and 19, respectively, they enrolled for Civil War military service at Allentown in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Levinus and Solomon Z. Hillegass then officially mustered in for duty at Camp Curtin in Dauphin County on 10 September 1862 at the rank of Private with Company G, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Military records at the time noted that both were residents of Lehigh County, and described Levinus and Solomon, respectively, as a saddler and blacksmith.

* Note: Although Roberts indicates that a “Lewis Hillegass” enrolled with Co. I, there appears to have been no such member of I Company. A “Levinus Hillegass,” however, did enroll with the 47th’s G Company, along with Solomon Hillegass, and a “Levinus Hillegass” is documented as living and buried in Montgomery County with a gravestone confirming his service with the 47th Pennsylvania.

This confusion may stem from the handwriting on muster rolls for the 47th Pennsylvania, which was often unclear (particularly so for the older Hillegass brother, whose given name may have been spelled as “Lewis” rather than “Levinus,” or may simply have been entered incorrectly on regimental rosters by careless clerks); however, the error might also have been created by historian Samuel P. Bates, who periodically confused soldiers with similar names during his research and writing of History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. (There was a “Lewis Hillegass,” who was a 28-year-old mason and married head of a household in Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh County in 1850, served with Company C of the 199th Pennsylvania Infantry, and ultimately passed away in Philadelphia on 8 September 1914. U.S. Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards that this Hillegass – Lewis – only ever served as a Corporal with Company C of the 199th Pennsylvania Infantry. In comparison, Levinus Hillegass was listed in U.S. Veterans Administration Pension Payment Card records as a veteran of Company G, 47th Pennsylvania Infantry.)

As for the regiment the brothers enlisted in in 1862 – the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry – was founded by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, and was already an experienced group. Having helped to defend the nation’s capital during the first year of the war, the 47th had also served garrison duty at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida and occupied Beaufort and Hilton Head in South Carolina in 1862 as part of the Union’s 3rd Brigade in the U.S. Department of the South before participating in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida and of the Gov. Milton, a Confederate steamer which had been supplying enemy troops up and down the Saint John’s River. The brothers’ unit of record – G Company – was led by Captain Charles Mickley, a Mayflower descendant.

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, the Hillegass brothers and their new comrades from the 47th Pennsylvania and other Union troops from the 3rd Brigade engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackey’s Point, the 47th Pennsylvanians were placed on point. Leading the way through dense swamplands and forests, they were soon harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge – a railroad viaduct targeted by Union military leaders who hoped that its destruction would thwart the movement of Confederate troops and supplies.

As the invading Union troops moved further inland, however, they met an even harsher form of resistance – from an entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire as they entered an open cotton field. Others, including members of the 47th Pennsylvania, who were headed toward the higher ground of the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests.

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

Grappling with the Confederates where they found them, the Hillegas brothers and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians rose to the occasion, pursuing the Rebels for four miles as they retreated to the bridge. Once there, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut in a renewed effort to try to take the ravine and bridge, but the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting which rapidly depleted their ammunition and strength, they were forced to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.

Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died while an additional two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded in action. 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, documented that one of those cut down that day was G Company’s Captain Charles Mickley. A notation by Dr. Scheetz in the U.S. Army’s Register of Deaths of Volunteers certified that Captain Mickley had been “killed in action” at “Frampton SC” (the Frampton Plantation).

A 1987 article by Frank Whelan for Allentown’s Morning Call newspaper spelled out what really 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 MacKnight 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 is to take part in. But where we are agoing 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.”

Meanwhile, in his report on the engagement, made from headquarters at Beaufort, South Carolina on 24 October 1862, Colonel Tilghman 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 [sic] I, 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, men from the 47th were given the honor of serving as the funeral guard for 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, and fired the salute over his grave. 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 was tabbed to fill G Company’s leadership void (and later commissioned at the rank of Captain after re-enlisting at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida on 2 January 1863).

1863

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

In 1863, the Hillegass brothers and their fellow G Company soldiers were based in Florida with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November of 1862, much of the year was spent guarding federal installations with Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I stationed at Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote installation in the Dry Tortugas.

Disease was a constant companion and foe, but the Hillegass brothers endured.

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 during the Battle of Pleasant Hill, 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 beginning on 22 July. Sadly, at least three members of the regiment died during their confinement.

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 Hillegass brothers and the remaining men from Companies B, G and K remained behind on detached duty and to await transportation. Led by F Company Captain Henry S. Harte, this detachment of men finally sailed away at the end of the month, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.

Due to the delay, the Hillegass brothers and other boys from G Company missed out on a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, and also missed the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August, the 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 several 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who had served honorably mustered out upon expiration of their respective terms of service.

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 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 became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. After finally reaching and fording the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with 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.

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).

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.

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: 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. The next day, he would answer his last bugle call. Wounded in action during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, he succumbed to battle wound-related complications several weeks later.

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. Captain Goebel’s body, like that of his predecessor Captain Mickley, was brought home to the Lehigh Valley; he was also laid to rest at the Union-West End Cemetery in Allentown.

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

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 on 23-24 May.

Then, finally, after nearly three long, grueling years of hard military duty endured far from the comforts of home and the surrender by Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Privates Levinus and Solomon Z. Hillegass were honorably discharged. Both were mustered out by General Order No. 53, which had been issued by Union military leaders at the U.S. Middle Military Division’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. in order to begin thinning the ranks of surplus federal troops. Although many of their comrades would continue to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania as it made a final swing through the Deep South on Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related duties, the Hillegass brothers were headed home.

Return to Civilian Life – Levinus Z. Hillegass

Main Street, East Greenville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (circa 1900, public domain).

Following his return home to the great Keystone State of Pennsylvania, Levinus Zellner Hillegass resumed the life of a laborer. Sometime around 1867, he wed and began a life with Susan G. Treichler (1840-1924). In December 1868 and February 1870, respectively, they welcomed the births of a daughter, Maggie Jane (1868-1958), and a son, John Jacob (1870-1917).

In 1880, Levinus Hillegas was a 38-year-old laborer residing in East Greenville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and their children, Maggied (aged 11) and John J. (aged 10). Also residing with them was Susan’s 65-year-old mother, Sallie Treichler. The next year, he applied for his U.S. Civil War Pension. His wife, Susan, was also listed in his pension index records.

Sometime around 1893, daughter Maggie Jane Hillegass wed  Joseph S. Kriebel (1867-1920). Their daughter Elsie H. Kriebel was born in March 1897.

By the turn of the century, Levinus and Susan Hillegass had relocated to the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania community of Pennsburg with their 30-year-old, unmarried son, John Jacob Hillegass. Also residing at the home at this time were Maggie Jane (Hillegass) Kriebel, the 31-year-old daughter of Levinus and Susan, and her husband, Joseph S. Kriebel, and daughter Elsie H. Kriebel, who had been born in March of 1897. Levinus continued to support his family on the wages of a laborer while son John, daughter Maggie, and her husband Joseph helped out through his employment in the cigar industry.

In 1904, his wife was severely injured in a fall. According to the 9 January 1904 edition of Pennsburg’s Town and Country newspaper:

Mrs. Levinus HILLEGASS, of East Greenville, on Wednesday morning fell on the icy sidewalk in front of their residence while she was about to purchase milk from the milkman. She injured herself so she could not walk. She was carried into the house.

In 1907, his U.S. Civil War Pension was reissued at the rate of $12 per month, and was subsequently increased to $24 per month (on 31 January 1913, but retroactive to 27 May 1912).

By 1910, Levinus and his wife, Susan, were residents once again of the Borough of East Greenville in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Still residing with them were their daughter, Maggie, and her husband and daughter, Joseph and Elsie Kriebel. The census taker confirmed that Susan (Treichler) Hillegass had given birth to five children, only two of whom were still alive that year. The family was supported by Joseph Kriebel, who had risen to the position of foreman at the cigar factory where he worked, and Maggie (Hillegass) Kriebel, who continued her employment as a “box paster” at the same plant.

Death and Interment

But, sadly, this family harmony did not last. Levinus Zellner Hillegass became the first to depart from the fold. After the old soldier answered his final bugle call on 7 December 1915, he was laid to rest at the New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ Cemetery in East Greenville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

His son, John Jacob Hillegass, then passed away just two years later – in 1917, and was also buried at the New Goshenhoppen church cemetery.

As family matriarch continued to age, the family dynamics shifted yet again. According to the federal census taker in 1920, she was no longer head of her own household, but instead resided at 211 Main Street in East Greenville, Montgomery County, at the home of her daughter, Maggie Jane Kriebel, and son-in-law and cigar factory foreman, Joseph Kriebel. Also still at home was the Kriebel’s unmarried, 22-year-old daughter, Elsie, who was employed as a music teacher.

Just four years later, family matriarch Susan G. (Treichler) Hillegass was also gone. The widow of Levinus Hillegass passed away on 21 April 1924 and, like her husband and son who had preceded her in death, was also interred at New Goshenhoppen.

Widowed by her husband, Joseph S. Kriebel that same year – on 3 June 1920, Maggie Jane (Hillegass) Kriebel, the eldest surviving child of Levinus and Susan Hillegass, then wed Oswin Housekeeper Derr, a small businessman. Continuing to reside at Maggie’s home at 211 Main Street in East Greenville, they were documented by the census taker of 1930 as “empty nesters.” Maggie’s daughter, Elsie, had wed and begun her own life with Joseph A Boyd.

Eight years later, Maggie Jane (Hillegass) Kriebel Derr was then widowed for a second time when her husband, Oswin H. Derr, passed away in 1938.

Her daughter, Elsie, who had wed Joseph A. Boyd, also preceded her in death, passing away on 20 October 1956. Finally, after a long full life, Maggie Jane (Hillegass) Kriebel Derr also then crossed over. After passing away on 10 August 1958, she too was laid to rest at the New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ Cemetery – the same cemetery where her parents, two husbands, and daughter were at rest.

Return to Civilian Life – Solomon Z. Hillegass

Allentown Militia, Soldiers and Sailors Monument Dedication, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1899 (public domain).

While his older brother, Levinus, was finding his way again after the war, Solomon Z. Hillegass was beginning his own family life. He, too, married sometime around 1867. But unlike his brother who ultimately made a life in Montgomery County, Solomon Hillegass chose to stay closer to home.

After marrying Elemanda Weaver (1846-1902), he and his wife greeted the arrival at their Salisbury Township home of daughter Laura (1867-1948) on 22 October 1847 and son Wilson J. (born circa 1869). Still residing with his young family in Salisbury Township in 1870, he supported his wife and little ones on the wages of a public school teacher.

More children quickly followed as Eugene M. (1871-1940), Calvin, and Jennie M. were born in Salisbury Township, respectively, on 19 March 1871, sometime around 1874-1875, and sometime around 1876. Daughter Annie V. then made appearance in South Allentown, Lehigh County sometime in July 1878, followed by son Harry F. sometime around 1881; and daughter Ida E. (1882-1899) on 12 September 1882.

Laura Hillegass, the eldest daughter of Solomon and Elemanda Hillegass, became the first to leave the family fold when she wed Enos Kline on 20 August 1887 in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

After filing for his U.S. Civil War Pension in 1889, Solomon Hillegass was then documented on the special veterans’ census the next year as residing in “Arneyville,” Lehigh County. In February 1891, he and his wife welcomed the birth of another child – their son, Charles Mervin Hillegass.

Throughout this decade, the family patriarch and matriarch then bid farewell to one child after another, as they sent them on their way to build their own families. On 13 May 1893, son Wilson J. Hillegass, a teamster, wed Ida O. Fry, a daughter of Abraham Fry, followed by son Calvin S. Hillegass, who wed Hanover Township native, Mary Stahl, on 14 March 1896, and daughter Jennie M. Hillegass, who was united in marriage with Upper Macungie Township native, George H. Downs, on 4 September 1897. All three were married in the City of Allentown.

Sadly, though, tragedy struck again before the close of the century when  daughter Ida E. E. Hillegass passed away on 11 September 1899. She was laid to rest at Saint Marks Cemetery in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

Hess Brothers Department Store, Ninth and Hamilton, Allentown, Pennsylvania (1903, public domain).

As the new century dawned, Solomon Hillegass continued to reside in Salisbury Township with his wife, Elemanda, and their children, Annie and Charles. That same year, additional departures from their home followed as son Harry F. Hillegass wed Salisbury Township native, Ida Steidinger in South Allentown on 12 May 1900, and daughter Annie V. Hillegass wed widower, Milton M. Scholl in Allentown on 2 October 1900.

Just two years later, Solomon’s wife, Elemanda (Weaver) Hillegass, was also gone, having passed away on 19 February 1902. Following her funeral, she also was interred at Allentown’s Saint Marks Cemetery.

But Solomon Hillegass did not remain alone for long. Sometime around 1908, he remarried, and by the time of the 1910 federal census, he was documented as a 65-year-old general store merchant and resident of South Allentown who was living with his 44-year-old wife, “Mary.” Those same records also showed that the couple had had one child together, but that that child had not survived.

Also residing with Solomon and his second wife that year were: Charles M. Hillegass, his 19-year-old son from his first marriage; Cora J. Stahler, his 23-year-old niece; and Catherine Fegley, his 66-year-old, widowed, mother-in-law. His wife and niece, Cora, were both employed as dressmakers while his son, Charles, worked as a varnisher.

More transitions were soon to follow, beginning with Calvin S. Hillegass, another of the sons from Solomon’s first marriage. On 30 August 1913, he remarried, taking as his bride Clara E. Hess in South Allentown. Son Mervin C. Hillegass then wed Pauline L. Heist on 3 April 1915 in Allentown.

By 1920, Solomon Z. Hillegass and his second wife, “Maria,” were finally also empty nesters, residing alone on Main Street in South Allentown, where he continued to operate his grocery store. By 1930, he had retired again, and was living with his second wife in Allentown. It would, however, be their last year together.

Death and Interment

On 6 April 1930, Solomon Z. Hillegass drew his final breath; he was then laid to rest at Saint Marks Cemetery in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

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

Like their father, the children of Solomon Z. Hillegass and his first wife went on to live long, productive lives. Calvin S. Hillegass married and made his home in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, where he was employed by the county prison. In 1930, he and his wife, Clara, resided with their 30-year-old son, Frank, an order clerk for a local merchant, as well as her children from a previous marriage: Clarence F.; Earl C.; Franklin W.; and Harry D. Hess, who were respectively employed as a laborer for a brick manufacturer, an order clerk for a local merchant, and as laborers for an area furniture manufacturer.

Eugene M. Hillegass made his own life with Sarah A. (Ealer) Hillegas before passing away on 23 July 1940. He, too, was interred at Allentown’s Saint Marks Cemetery, as was Sarah, who passed away on 28 October 1943.

After being widowed by her husband, Enos, on 8 February 1929, Laura (Hillegass) Kline continued to make a life for herself as well.  She then passed away on 29 January 1948, and was also interred at Saint Marks Cemetery in Allentown.

What Happened to the Siblings of Solomon and Levinus Hillegass?

Although several of the siblings of Solomon and Levinus Hillegass did not survive childhood, two of their half-siblings went on to live long full lives.

William Henry Hillegass – half-brother to Levinus and Solomon – married Elvina (Trapp) Hillegass (1857-1941) sometime around 1877. Their children were: Oliver F. (born  December 1877); Jacob W. (born July 1880); Annie M. (Hillegass) Hoffman (1882-1957); Mary Jane (Hillegass) Ritter (1884-1955); Katie S. (born  March 1886); twins Sarah E. and Elvina Sarah (born in June 1888), the later of whom grew up to become Elvina Sarah (Hillegass) Stauffer (1888-1969); William H. Hillegass (1891-1968); and Mabel May Hillegas (1896-1973).

In 1900, William H. Hillegass resided in Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania with his wife, Elvina, and their children: Oliver; Jacob; Annie; Mary; Katie; Sarah; Elvina; William Henry, Jr.; and Mabel. Oliver and Jacob both helped him work the land of their family farm. Still residing with them in Upper Saucon Township in 1910 were children Sarah, William Jr., and Mabel; all nine of their children were, in fact, still alive by this time. Both William and his namesake son continued to farm their land.

After a long, full life, William Henry Hillegass passed away on 30 July 1921, and was laid to rest at the Friedensville Cemetery in Friedensville, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania – the same cemetery where family patriarch Jacob B. Hillegass was interred in 1866.

Levina M. A. Hillegass (1864-1947), the half-sister to Levinus and Solomon Hillegass who was born in Friedensville, Lehigh County in 1864 while the brothers were away fighting in the Civil War, went on to wed George Mohr. In 1920, she resided with him in Salisbury Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, where he was employed as a laborer in a machine shop. Still residing in Salisbury Township by 1930, where her husband was still a laborer, they were documented as a childless couple by the census taker that year.

Her life having begun during the turmoil of America’s tragic Civil War, Levina (Hillegass) Mohr, was another of the Lehigh Valley’s living witnesses to history. She closed her eyes for the final time at the age of 83 when she passed away on 13 October 1944. She was then laid to rest at Saint Mark’s Cemetery in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

 

 

Sources:

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

2. Hillegass, Annie V, Milton M. Scholl, Solomon and “Amanda” Hillegass, and David and Matilda Scholl, in Marriage License Docket (Allentown). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 7 October 1900.

3. Calvin S., Mary Stahl, Solomon Hillegass, J. Stahl (father), in Marriage License Docket (South Allentown). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 14 March 1896.

4. Hillegass, Calvin S., Clara E. Hess, Solomon Hillegass, Elemanda Weaver, William H. Zentner and Alavesta Miller, in Marriage License Docket (South Allentown). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 30 August 1913.

5. Hillegass, Harry F., Ida Steidinger, Solomon and Elemanda Hillegass, and Samuel and Mary Steidinger, in Marriage License Docket (South Allentown). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 12 May 1900.

6. Hillegass, Levinus and Lewis, Susan Hillegass and Emily D. Hillegass, in Pension Payment Cards. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Veterans Administration, 1907-1924.

7. Hillegass, Jennie M., George H. Downs, Solomon Hillegass, James P. Downs, in Marriage License Docket (Allentown). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 4 September 1897.

8. Hillegass, Laura, Enos Kline (son), Enos Kline (father) and Solomon Z. Hillegass, in Marriage License Docket (Allentown). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 20 August 1887.

9. Hillegass, Levinus and Susan G. Hillegass, in New Goshenhoppen UCC – Cemetery Graves. East Greenville, Pennsylvania, retrieved online 1 November 2017.

10. Hillegass, Mervin C., Pauline L. Heist, Solomon Z. Hillegass, Elemenda Weaver, Sylvester Heist, and Margaret L. Smith, in Marriage License Docket (Allentown). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 3 April 1915.

11. Hillegass, Wilson J., Ida O. Fry, Solomon Hillegass, and Abraham Fry, in Marriage License Docket (Allentown). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 13 May 1893.

12. Fell on Icy Pavement (Mrs. Levinus Hillegass). Pennsburg, Pennsylvania: Town and Country, 9 January 1904.

13. Roberts, Charles Rhoads, Rev. John Baer Stoudt, et. al. History of Lehigh County Pennsylvania and a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Its Families, Vol. 2. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh Valley Publishing Company, Ltd., 1914.

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

15. U.S. Census and U.S. Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War (1890). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1840, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.

 

 

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