The conscience of most Pennsylvania men, young and old during the 19th century, was forged in the heat of battle and further honed by the fires of new technology as the great Keystone State transformed from a largely rural, agrarian society to one which was industrialized and more urban.
Reily M. Fornwald was one of those whose life journey was greatly altered by these changes. A grandson and son of farmers, he was born on 15 April 1842 in Heidelberg Township, Berks County. His father, George Fornwald (15 February 1822-12 December 1893), was a North Heidelberg Township native; his Pennsylvania-born mother, Susannah Fornwald (16 July 1819-27 February 1895), was a daughter of Daniel and Susan (Belleman) Moyer.
Various records of the period presented his name as “R. M. Fornwald”, “Reilly” or “Riely,” and “Fornwald” or “Fornwalt,” but his gravestone at St. Daniel’s Cemetery (also known as Heidelberg Cemetery) confirms that the spelling of his given name was “Reily Fornwald.”
Raised with brother William (1845-1917) on the family’s small farm near the bucolic Heidelberg Township village of Stouchsberg, he was educated in the common schools of Berks County and then at Millersville State Normal School before becoming a soldier and a railroad worker. Now Millersville University, Millersville State was the first normal school ever established in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and was created by its founding fathers to provide local residents with a solid higher education in the classics while also preparing its students for careers as teachers.
* Note: William Fornwald later went on to wed Susan Rhoads, and have five children: Howard (died before 1909), Franklin, Charles, Samuel, and Irvin, who was killed in a railroad accident at Port Clinton. He was employed as a cupola runner for the United States government.
On 11 September 1861, at the age of 20, Reily M. Fornwald enrolled for Civil War Military service at Allentown in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. He then formally mustered in as Private with Company G of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, serving under Captain Charles Mickley, a Mayflower descendant and successful Lehigh Valley miller and merchant.
Military records at the time described Fornwald as a Berks County resident and farmer who was 5′ 10″ tall with dark hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.
Following a brief light infantry training period at Camp Curtin, the men of G Company were sent by train with the 47th Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. where, beginning 21 September, they were stationed at “Camp Kalorama” on 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 men and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.
…. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.
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. On 27 September, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians 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, 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. While en route, according to historian Lewis Schmidt, “Pvt. Reuben Wetzel, a 46 year old cook in Capt. Mickley’s Company G,” climbed up on a horse that was pulling his company’s wagon while his regiment was engaged in a march from Fort Ethan Allen to Camp Griffin (both in Virginia). When the regiment arrived at a deep ditch, “the horses lost their footing and the wagon overturned and plunged into the ditch, with ‘the old man, wagon, and horses, under everything.’” Although alive when pulled from the wreckage, Private Wetzel had fractured a tibia, a serious injury even today. He succumbed to complications just five weeks later (on 17 November 1861) while being treated for the fracture and resulting amputation of his leg at the Union Hotel General Hospital in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
Pageantry and Hard Work
Meanwhile, Private Reily Fornwald and the remaining 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers engaged in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads on 11 October 1861. 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 1861, the 47th 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….
On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review, which was overseen by the regiment’s founder and commanding officer, Colonel Tilghman H. Good. For the remainder of the afternoon, the 47th engaged in brigade and division drills. 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.
Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvanians left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862. Marching with their equipment through deep mud for three miles to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, they were shipped by rail to Alexandria, and then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal. There, they were reequipped before they were marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped 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.
On the afternoon of 27 January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered to board the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the 47th Pennsylvanians steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
In early February 1862, the 47th Pennsylvanians arrived in Key West, where they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers introduced their presence to locals by parading through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men from the regiment attended to their spiritual needs by worshipping at churches in the area. While there, they also had the opportunity to meet and mingle with the locals.
Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics and other military strategies, they felled trees, built new roads and helped to strengthen the facility’s fortifications. Throughout this phase of duty, illness was a constant companion and foe as the 47th Pennsylvanians battled the elements, poor drinking water quality and an unseen foe – disease. Chronic dysentery, so common to soldiers living in close, often unsanitary conditions, vied with typhoid and yellow fever as the conditions most likely to cause soldier discharges on surgeons’ certificates of disability.
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.”
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.
From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th 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 intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.
Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died, including G Company Captain Charles Mickley and Privates Benjamin Diehl, James Knappenberger, John Kuhns (alternate spelling: Kuntz), and George Reber. Captain Mickley and 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.
Another 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 then succumbed to his own battle wound-related complications at Hilton Head on 2 November 1862.
Also severely hurt that terrible October day at Pocotaligo was Private Reily M. Fornwald. Wounded in the head and groin by an exploding artillery shell, he was stabilized on the battlefield before being transported to a field hospital. Once there, he spent four weeks recuperating before returning to his regiment to continue his Civil War service.
A 1987 article by Frank Whelan for Allentown’s Morning Call newspaper provides more detail what happened at Pocotaligo:
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….
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.
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 [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 stepped in to fill G Company’s leadership voice. On 2 January 1863, Goebel re-enlisted at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida, and was promoted to the rank of Captain.
By 1863, the men of G Company 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 in Florida 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 remote, accessible-only-by-boat installation in Florida’s Dry Tortugas. Men from the 47th were also sent on skirmishes and to Fort Myers, which had been abandoned in 1858 after the third U.S. war with the Seminole Indians. As before, disease was a constant companion and foe.
On 19 January 1863, Private R. M. Fornwald was promoted to the rank of Corporal. (Note: While Montgomery’s Annals of Berks County presents this advancement date as 15 February 1862, Fornwald’s entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives shows the promotion occurred in January 1863.)
Once again, disease was a constant companion and foe.
Next ordered to head West, the 47th Pennsylvania steamed first for New Orleans via the Charles Thomas. Arriving at at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February, the regiment was 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, Private Reily Fornwald and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians marched 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.
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. Retreating further to Alexandria, they and their fellow Union soldiers scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.
On 23 April, the 47th Pennsylvanians and their fellow brigade members crossed the Cane River via Monett’s Ferry and, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, helped to build a dam from 30 April through 10 May, to enable federal gunboats to more easily traverse the Red River’s rapids.
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; there, on the 4th of July, they learned that their fight was not yet over.
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 majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers willingly continued their fight to preserve the Union during the summer of 1864. After receiving orders 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.
Due to the delay, the 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, Private Reily M. Fornwald and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians next engaged in the Battle of Berryville, Virginia during the opening days of September.
On 18 September 1864, Private Fornwald joined a number of his fellow soldiers in mustering out at Berryville, Virginia upon expiration of their respective three-year terms of service.
Return to Civilian Life
Following his honorable discharge from the military, Reily M. Fornwald returned home to the Keystone State, where he spent four years operating a blast furnace for White & Ferguson in Robesonia, Berks County.
On 28 September 1867, he married Emma S. Bechtel. Born on 11 July 1848, she was a daughter of Isaac Bechtel, Sr. Before the decade was out, the couple greeted the arrival of two sons: Wilfred F., who was born on 24 January 1868, and Allen L. Fornwald, who was born on 29 December 1869.
* Note: Although the 1870 federal census indicates that Reily and Emma also had a daughter, Ellen, born sometime around 1869, this appears to have been an error on the census taker’s part. Son Allen was not listed on the 1870 census, but had been born in 1869, and the alleged daughter Ellen was not shown on the 1880 federal census while son Allen was included.
Sometime around 1870, Reily Fornwald left his position with White & Ferguson to take a job as an engine operator for Wright, Cook & Co. in Sheridan. Sadly, son Wilfred died on 6 November 1870; he was interred at the Heidelberg Cemetery in Robesonia.
Sometime thereafter, Reily Fornwald took another new job – this time as an engine operator for William M. Kauffman – a position he held for roughly a decade before securing employment as a shifting engineer with the Reading Railway Company at its yards in Reading, Berks County.
In 1880, he resided with his wife and son, Allen, in Mill Creek, Lebanon County. But by 1884, he had relocated his family to Reading, where they resided until his retirement in 1905.
Neither of his parents lived to see the dawn of a new century. His father George passed away on 12 December 1893; his mother, Susan, passed away on 27 February 1895. Both were laid to rest in Robesonia at the St. Daniel’s (Corner) Church Cemetery (also known as the Heidelberg Cemetery).
Following his retirement in 1905, Reily M. Fornwald and his wife, Emma, built and moved into a new home on Upper Main Street in Robesonia, Berks County. According to historian Morton L. Montgomery, he “also [owned] four other houses and a great deal of real estate in his section, and [was] considered one of the borough’s substantial men.” According to the 6 July 1905 edition of the Reading Times, the Fornwalds sold one of their properties to W. Henry Lentz for $2,650. A two-story brick home, it was situated on a 15.7 x 114-foot lot at 724 North 11th Street in Reading.
In 1909, Reily Fornwald ventured into the arena of medical advertising. Opting to endorse “Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills,” his name appeared in a news blurb-advertisement in the 2 September edition of The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader:
STRENGTH FOR THE DAY’S WORK
Depends Upon Good Red Blood to Nourish the Body.
Weak People Need a Tonic
One Which Acts Directly Upon the Blood and That Does Not Weaken the Body by Useless Purging.
The tonic treatment with Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for run-down conditions of the health is based on sound medical principles and on common sense. More and more men and women are beginning to realize that pure, red blood means health and that the efficiency of any tissue or organ is entirely dependent upon the quality of the blood.
There are thousands of people, who are without ambition or strength to do their day’s work and who are always tired out, have but little appetite and a poor digestion, cannot get a refreshing night’s sleep and are subject to headaches, backaches and nervousness because their blood is impure.
Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills give quick relief and permanently cure such men and women because of their direct action on the blood, which they purify and build up to its normal strength. As the blood becomes pure and red it strengthens the muscles, tones up the nerves, makes the stomach capable of digesting the food and repairs the wastes caused by growth and work. In a word it gives perfect health….
GAINED ABOUT THIRTY POUNDS
A Pennsylvania Veteran Cured of Extreme Debility.
Mr. Reily M. Fornwald suffered for many years after the Civil war from the hardships he endured while a member of Company G, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Mr. Fornwald served his country from 1861 to 1864 and was corporal of his company. He has retired from business and is living at Robesonia, Pa. He says:
‘My stomach gave out and I had no desire for food. I occasionally had heartburn and food fermented in my stomach. My legs and arms felt weak, I often had severe headaches and I lost in strength and weight.
‘I decided to try Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills after reading about them in a paper and in two weeks felt some better. I took the pills for several weeks and gained about thirty pounds in weight. I gradually grew stronger and was entirely cured.’….
NOT LIKE ORDINARY MEDICINE
Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills are not like ordinary medicines. They do not act on the bowels but they may be said to actually make new blood. In this way they reach many diseases caused by depraved or vitiated blood and they have cured several cases of rheumatism, sciatica, nervousness, St. Vitus’ dance and have accomplished miraculous results in partial paralysis and locomotor ataxia. They are also a specific for anaemia, chlorosis or green sickness, and the special trouble of women and growing girls.
All druggists sell Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills or they will be sent by mail, postpaid, on receipt of price, 50 cents per box; six boxes for $2.50, by the Dr. Williams Medicine Co., Schenectady, N.Y.
Throughout his professional life, Reily Fornwald was also actively involved with Berks County civic and veterans’ organizations, including the Williamson Lodge No. 307 of the Free and Accepted Masons (F. & A.M.) in Womelsdorf, Berks County – which he joined in 1884 – and the Union Veteran Legion No. 43 of the Patriotic Sons of America (P.O.S.A, Camp No. 68).
During the Fall of 1917, he became the sole survivor of his original immediate family when his brother William passed away on 27 November. Just two years later, he also became a widower when his wife, Emma (Bechtel) Fornwald, passed away on 21 October 1919. Both were interred at Robesonia’s Heidelberg Cemetery, where Reily’s parents and young son, William/Wilford, had been previously laid to rest.
Emma did not have long to wait for her husband to join her in death. Reily M. Fornwald. Residing at the Reading home of their son in the Spring of 1925, he fractured a thigh bone during a severe fall on 18 May, and passed away at the Homeopathic Hospital in Reading on 1 June 1925. Although his obituary in the Reading Eagle confirms his railroad career, injury, and death, it inaccurately portrays his military service, indicating that he participated in the Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of the Wilderness and in Sherman’s march to the sea – none of which happened for the men who served with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. The obituary also incorrectly stated that he had attained the rank of sergeant when his final rank at muster out was Corporal.
Funeral services were at the home of his son, Allen Fornwald, five days later at 1:30 p.m. on 6 June 1925; he was then interred at the Heidelberg Cemetery in Robesonia.
Reily and Emma’s surviving son, Allen L. Fornwald (1869-1944) also lived a long, full life. After marrying Katie Zimmerman, a daughter of George Zimmerman of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, he also had two children of his own – Earl Ethan Allen and Dorothy Katie. He supported his wife, Katie, and their kids as an employee of the Reading Iron Company. After working as a clerk at that firm’s Oley Street facility for many years, he passed away on 8 January 1944, and was also interred near others from the Fornwald clan at the Heidelberg Cemetery in Robesonia, Berks County, Pennsylvania.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
2. Fall Causes Vets Death, in Reading Eagle. Reading: 3 June 1925.
3. Fornwald, R. M., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
4. Gained About Thirty Pounds: A Pennsylvania Veteran Cured of Extreme Debility, in Strength for the Day’s Work, in The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader. Wilkes-Barre: 2 September 1909.
5. Montgomery, Morton L. Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County Pennsylvania Embracing a Concise History of the County and a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Representative Families, Vol. II. Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co, 1909.
6. Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
7. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1910, 1920.
8. U.S. Veterans’ Schedule. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1890.