Clemmens, John H. (Corporal)

Pennsylvania Railroad Depot, Harrisburg, PA, c. 1874 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Pennsylvania Railroad Depot, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, c. 1874 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Born in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania on 13 January 1839, John H. Clemmens was a son of Northumberland County native, Jacob Clemmens, and Lebanon County native, Elizabeth (Miller) Clemmens, and the brother of William Clemmens (1856-1863). A successful farmer in Pennsylvania’s Lebanon Valley, Jacob Clemmens built a reasonably comfortable standard of living for his wife and children through the sale of grain.

By the dawn of the Civil War, John H. Clemmens was following his father’s footsteps, making a living in farming while residing in Harrisburg,

Civil War Military Service

At the age of 22, John H. Clemmens enrolled for Civil War military service at Harrisburg on 7 August 1861. He then officially mustered in for duty at Camp Curtin in Harrisbur on 19 September 1861 as a Private with Company H, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

He was now part of an entirely new regiment which had been founded just weeks earlier by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, the man who would later go on to become a three-time mayor of the Borough of Allentown, and was directly commanded by Captain James Kacy, a 44-year-old Perry County merchant. Supporting the newly commissioned Captain Kacy was 1st Lieutenant William Wallace Geety, a 29-year-old who had been a practicing dentist in Harrisburg.

* Note: One of two companies composed almost entirely of men from Perry County (the other being Company D), Company H was the last of the 47th Pennsylvania’s companies to muster in for duty. Initial recruitment was conducted in Newport, Perry County, but continued through 30 October 1861 in order to bring the company’s roster county up from 90 to 97 (closer to the 100 men normally required to form a new unit).

Military records at the time described Private John H. Clemmens as being 5’4″ tall with light hair, blue eyes and a light complexion.

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

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

Following a brief light infantry training period at Camp Curtin, Private Clemmens and his company were sent by train with the 47th Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., where, beginning 21 September, they were stationed at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown, about two miles from the White House.

On 22 September, C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton penned the following update for 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.

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

Then, on 24 September, the soldiers of Company H, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers became part of the federal service when the regiment officially mustered in to the U.S. Army.

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 Pennsylvania was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.

The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to General W.F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January 1862.

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. Posted not far from their home state, members of the regiment occasionally had the good fortune to receive personal visits from family members.

On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a letter home in mid-October, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to lead 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:

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

Captain Gobin had been referring to Brigadier-General James Ewell Brown (“J.E.B.”) Stuart, commanding officer of the Confederate Army of the Potomac (later known as the Army of Northern Virginia), under whose authority the 4th Virginia Cavalry (“Black Horse Cavalry”) fell. Stuart’s Fairfax County, Virginia home had been commandeered by the Union Army and used by the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and other Union regiments as the base of operations for their picket lines in that area. Among the Civil War-related papers of H Company’s 1st Lieutenant William Geety at the U.S. Army Military History Institute, are a photograph and other items taken from Stuart’s Union-occupied home.

In his letter of 13 October, Henry Wharton also described their duties and 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 20 October 1861, Private Daniel Foose died while the regiment was stationed at Camp Griffin, Virginia. According to Schmidt and others researching the 47th Pennsylvania, Private Foose was laid to rest with full military honors three days later – at 4 p.m. on 23 October 1861 – under the large chestnut tree for which the camp had originally been named. He was just 19 years old.

Two days later, on Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a morning Divisional Review, described by Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.”

In late October, writes 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.

Around this same time, Capt James Kacy divided H Company into four squads, by tent grouping, each under the leadership of a sergeant:

whose duty it shall be to see that the arms and accoutrements are kept in good order. That the men keep their tents clean, that they are clean in their person, and that they wash their hands and faces and comb their hair every day. That the men keep order in their quarters and report all damage to arms, want or waste of ammunition, and all disorderly conduct.

Captain Kacy followed that order with another, clarifying meal times (breakfast: 6 a.m., dinner: noon, supper: 6 p.m.) and duty schedules (7 a.m., 1 p.m., 7 p.m.). In early November, he directed that:

while in camp, no permits or washing will be given on any other days than Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. All washing must be done in the forenoon. No permits or leaves of absence from company will be given on any days but Monday and Friday. Sutler tickets will be given only in the morning between the hours of 7 and 9.

It was also during this phase that H Company suffered one of its earliest casualties. Private Daniel Biceline (or “Bistline”) died from “Febris Typhoides” (typhoid fever) on 5 November 1861 at Camp Griffin. In his own letter of 17 November, Company C’s Henry Wharton revealed more details about life at Camp Griffin:

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

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

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

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

On 21 November, the 47th participated in another morning divisional review – this time by Colonel Tilghman H. Good. Brigade and division drills were then held that afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.”

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

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.

As Winter arrived and deepened, more men were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability on 16 December and New Year’s Eve. Captain James Kacy was also granted leave, and was able to spend a brief period of time with his family at home in Perry County over the holidays before returning for duty in early January.

The majority of 47th Pennsylvanians, however, remained behind – left to celebrate their first Christmas away from home on the “foreign soil” of Virginia.

1862

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

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

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 through deep mud with their equipment for three miles to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, they were sent by rail to Alexandria, and then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal. Once there, they were reequipped before being marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped rail cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.

By the afternoon of 27 January, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, 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.

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

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

In early February 1862, Private John H. Clemmens and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers disembarked in Key West, and were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor and drill daily in heavy artillery tactics. A few short days later, Private Frederick Watts of H Company was dead, having succumbed 13 February 1862 while confined to the 47th’s Regimental Hospital. Military records described his cause of death as pneumonia or “brain fever.” According to Schmidt, Watts:

arrived at Key West sick with measles and a cold he had caught on board ship, died of brain fever or ‘Pneumonia Typhoides’ as it was variously reported, and was buried with military honors. Chaplain Rodrock reported that he had died of ‘brain fever, contracted on board the Oriental. Aged 23 years’. He was the fourth member of Capt. Kacy’s Company H to die since the regiment was mustered in. The young man was buried in Grave 27 of the Post Cemetery on the day of his death, probably out of fear of the contagious nature of the disease and a lack of refrigeration or other means of preserving the body. Pvt. Watt’s mortal remains would eventually travel north in 1927, when the Key West Post Cemetery would be abandoned, and the bodies shipped on the tug ‘Jenkins’ to Fort Barrancas National Cemetery on the Naval Air Station grounds at Pensacola, Florida. He would be reinterred in Section 17, Grave 92.

With the officers of the 47th Pennsylvania concerned yet again about the potential for disease to decimate their ranks, Captain Kacy of Company H ordered that:

Sgt. R.S. Gardner will have under his command tents #1 and 2 and will be held personally responsible for the clean up of the men in person, clothing, arms, accoutrements, and quarters. Sgt. James Hahn will have under him tents #3 and 4 and be held responsible the same as #1 and 2. Sgt. Lynch will have under his control tents #5 and 6 and will be likewise held responsible. The Sgts. Gardner, Hahn and Lynch will have the men of the company on the parade ground at 5:30 AM and when one of them is on guard, the other two will attend to this drill duty and divide the squad between their respective commands.

In addition to drilling, the 47th Pennsylvanians also felled trees, helped to build new roads and strengthened the fortifications in and around the Union Army’s presence at Key West. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, they introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men attended to their spiritual needs by attending services at local churches.

According to Schmidt, on Saturday, 10 May 1862, life for the men in the 47th Pennsylvania’s H Company continued to be one of preparation for encounter with the enemy. “Cpl. James J. Kacey [sic] was detailed to daily duty fixing cartridge boxes.”

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 while disease also remained a fearsome adversary.

On 29 July 1862, Corporal James Jones Kacy, a son of H Company’s commanding officer, was deemed unable to continue serving due to a loss of hearing, and was discharged from the regiment on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability issued via Special Order No. 548 at Beaufort, South Carolina. Private Jeremiah Smith then died while stationed at Beaufort, succumbing to fever complicated by dysentery on 9 August 1862.

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” during this phase of service. On 20 August 1862, Private Robert H. Nelson was promoted to the rank of Corporal.

The Capture of Saint John’s Bluff and Battle of Pocotaligo

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

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

Sent on a return expedition to Florida as September 1862 waned, the men of Company H saw their first truly intense moments of service when H Company participated with the 47th Pennsylvania and other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October.

Commanded by Brigadier-General John M. Brannan, the 47th Pennsylvanians disembarked with a 1,500-plus Union force at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats.

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

J.H. Schell’s 1862 illustration of the earthen works surrounding the Confederate battery atop Saint John’s Bluff on the Saint John’s River in Florida (public domain).

Taking point, the 47th Pennsylvanians then 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 Union brigade had forced the Confederate Army to abandon its artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and had paved the way for the Union Army to occupy the town of Jacksonville, Florida. Along the way, two companies from the 47th Pennsylvania (E and K) also helped capture the Gov. Milton, a Confederate steamer that had equipped the bluff and surrounding Rebel troop placements with men and supplies.

That same day and ten days later, 5 and 15 October 1862 respectively, a black teen and several young to middle-aged black men left the hardship they had known in Beaufort, South Carolina to become members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers:

  • Just 16 years old at the time of his enlistment, Abraham Jassum joined the 47th Pennsylvania from a recruiting depot on 5 October 1862. Military records indicate that he mustered in as “negro undercook” with Company F at Beaufort, South Carolina. Military records described him as being 5’6″ tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and stated that his occupation prior to enlistment was “Cook.” Records also indicate that he continued to serve with F Company until he mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 when his three-year term of enlistment expired.
  • Also signing up as an Under Cook that day at the Beaufort recruiting depot was 33-year-old Bristor Gethers. Although his muster roll entry and entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File in the Pennsylvania State Archives listed him as “Presto Gettes,” his U.S. Civil War Pension Index listing spelled his name as “Bristor Gethers” and his wife’s name as “Rachel Gethers.” This index also includes the aliases of “Presto Garris”, and “Bristor Geddes.” He was described on military records as being 5’5″ tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and as having been employed as a fireman. He mustered in as “Negro under cook” with Company F on 5 October 1862, and mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service. Federal records indicate that he and his wife applied for his Civil War Pension from South Carolina.
  • Also attached initially to Company F upon his enrollment with the 47th Pennsylvania on 15 October 1862, 22-year-old Edward Jassum was also assigned kitchen duties. Records indicate that he was officially mustered into military service at the rank of Under Cook with the 47th Pennsylvania at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and then transferred to Company H on 11 October 1864. Like Abraham Jassum, Edward Jassum also continued to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers until being honorably discharged on 14 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service.

More men of color would continue to be added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.

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

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

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.Because H Company Captain James Kacy was confined to a Union hospital while he recuperated from an illness, the men from Corporal Clemmens unit were led by 1st Lieutenant William W. Geety.

Landing at Mackay’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.

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

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

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 Mackay’s Point.

Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died, including H Company Privates Peter Deitrick, J. T. Robinson, Henry Stambaugh, and Jefferson Waggoner. All four fell during the fighting which raged near Frampton Plantation.

Another two officers and 114 enlisted from the 47th were wounded, including H Company’s 1st and 2nd Lieutenants, William Geety and William Gardner, 1st Sergeant George Reynolds, Corporals Daniel Reeder and P. W. Stockslager, and Privates Samuel Huggins, Comley Idall, Cyrus Johnson, and Robert Reed Kingsborough.

Geety’s survival was nothing short of miraculous, according to accounts by physicians who provided follow-up treatment for him in Harrisburg in 1863. Reeder, who lost an arm due to his battle wounds, and Stockslager, Johnson and Kingsborough all also survived the Battle of Pocotaligo. Rather than continuing their service, however, they were discharged and sent home on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability. Private Alexander Biger was also discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate – on 8 November 1862, signaling that he, too, had likely been a casualty of Pocotaligo.

But Idall, Reynolds and Huggins were less fortunate. Idall died eight days after the battle from “Vulnus Sclopet” – a gunshot wound – while undergoing care at the Union Army’s post hospital at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Reynolds also succumbed to complications there on 8 November while Private Huggins, who had sustained a wound to his leg (also described on his Army death ledger entry as “Vulnus Sclopet”) died there from his wounds on 16 December 1862. Several resting places of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers still remain unidentified to this day.

On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South who had succumbed to yellow fever on 30 October. The Mountains of Mitchel, a part of Mars’ South Pole discovered by Mitchel in 1846 while working as a University of Cincinnati astronomer, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were both later named for him. Men from the 47th Pennsylvania were given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.

On 1 November 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania helped another black man escape Beaufort’s hardship by adding 30-year-old Thomas Haywood to the kitchen staff of Company H. Described as a 5’4″ laborer with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, he was officially mustered in as an Under Cook at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and served until the expiration of his own three-year term of service on 31 October 1865.

1863

 Fort Jefferson's moat and wall, circa 1934, Dry Tortugas, Florida (C.E. Peterson, Library of Congress; public domain)

Fort Jefferson’s moat and wall, circa 1934, Dry Tortugas, Florida (C.E. Peterson, Library of Congress, public domain).

By 1863, Captain Kacy and the men of H 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 in Florida’s Dry Tortugas.

Sadly, this year began with a tragedy for the Clemmens family. On 12 January 1863, William Clemmens, the younger brother of Private John H. Clemmens, passed away back home in Pennsylvania.

Life at Fort Jefferson was also filled with sadness as the reaper continued to cut a swath through the regiment using his blades of dysentery and tropical diseases. As a result, more 47th Pennsylvanians died while others were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates.

Despite these losses, however, the men of Company H and their fellow Union soldiers remained committed to preserving the Union. Many who could have returned home upon expiration of their initial three-year terms of service, like Private John H. Clemmens, chose instead to re-enlist in order to finish the fight. Clemmens signed up for a second three-year tour of duty, and re-mustered on 19 October 1863.

1864

On 25 February 1864, Private Clemmens and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers set off for a phase of service in which their regiment would truly make history. 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.

Map of the Mansfield-Sabine Cross Roads Area, DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, April 1864. (Source: General Nathaniel Banks’ official report on the Red River Campaign; public domain.)

Mansfield-Sabine Cross Roads, DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, April 1864 (from General Nathaniel Banks’ official Red River Campagn report, 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. Private William Barry of H Company was one of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers killed in action.

The fighting waned only when darkness fell as those who were uninjured collapsed from exhaustion beside the gravely wounded. Finally, after midnight, the surviving Union troops were ordered to withdraw 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. Privates William F. Dumm and Nicholas Orris of Company H were killed in action.

Still others from the 47th were captured, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war (POWs) until released during prisoner exchanges beginning 22 July 1864. At least two men from the 47th never made it out of that camp alive, and another died while being treated at the Confederate Army hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana.

On 18 April 1864, H Company Corporal George W. Albert was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability.

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. That last day at Grand Ecore, H Company’s Private Reuben Shaffer became another of the 47th Pennsylvanians to die in service.

Retreating further to Alexandria, the 47th Pennsylvanians and their fellow Union soldiers then scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.

Known as "Bailey's Dam" for the Union officer who ordered its construction, Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 was designed to facilitate passage of Union gunboats to and from the Mississippi River. Photo: Public domain.

Named “Bailey’s Dam” for the officer ordering its construction, Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 eased Union gunboat passage (public domain photo).

On 23 April, the 47th 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 easily traverse the Red River’s rapids.

Beginning 16 May, H Company moved with most of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June. Private John Evans of H Company died sometime around this period at a Union Army hospital in New Orleans; his date of burial was recorded in military records as having occurred on 11 or June 20 1865.

On the 4th of July 1864, Private John Clemmens learned that his fight was far from over as the regiment received new orders to return to the East Coast for further duty.

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

Still able and willing to fight after their time in Bayou country, the soldiers of Company H and the men from the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies A, C, D, E, F, and I steamed aboard the McClellan beginning 7 July 1864.

Following their arrival in Virginia and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln on 12 July, they joined up with General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap in mid-July 1864. There, they fought in the Battle of Cool Spring and, once again, assisted in defending Washington, D.C. while also helping to drive Confederate troops from Maryland.

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August, the opening days of September saw the departure of several 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who had served honorably, including Captain James Kacy and 1st Lieutenant William W. Geety, Musician Allen McCabe, Sergeant Robert H. Nelson, Corporal James F. Naylor, and Privates Augustus Bupp, John A. Durham, Thomas J. Haney, Isaac Henderson, Michael Horting, William Hutcheson, John Kitner, Adam Louden, Walter C. Miller, John Morian, S. M. Raudibaugh, David and William R. Thompson, Benjamin Thornton, and George W. Zinn.

All mustered out 18 September 1864 at Berryville, Virginia upon expiration of their respective three-year terms of service, as did the captains of Companies D, E, and F. Those members of the 47th who remained on duty were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor.

Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864

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 H and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at 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.

Image of the victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces. Kurz & Allison, circa 1893. Public domain, courtesy of the Library of Congress: LC-DIG-pga-01855 (digital file from original print) LC-USZC4-1753 (color film copy transparency).

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

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.

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, including John Peter Shindel Gobin, a man who would later go on to become Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

On 11 October 1864, Private Edward Jassum transferred within the 47th Pennsylvania from F Company to Company H.

Battle of Cedar Creek, October 1864

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!’”

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. 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.

Within the contingent from Perry County, Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap. Corporal Jonathan McIntire and Privates Valentine Andrews, Michael Heenan and Joseph Shelley were killed in action while Private Jonathan Lick sustained a severe gunshot wound to the left side of his head and Private John Liddick was also severely wounded. Lick died 11 days later at the Union Army’s Patterson P. K. General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Liddick died at a Union Army hospital in Baltimore on 8 November.

Corporal John P. Rupley of Company H was wounded in action, but survived and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on 29 October. Privates Daniel W. Fegley and Elkana Sweger were also advanced that day –to the rank of Corporal, as was 2nd Lieutenant Reuben S. Gardner, who was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant.

As with the Red River Campaign, men from the 47th Pennsylvania were also captured by Rebel soldiers and carted off to Confederate prisons at Andersonville, Georgia, Richmond, Virginia and Salisbury, North Carolina. Of those held as POWs at this time, only a handful survived. Among the dead were H Company’s Privates Henry Shapley and Stephen Shaffer who perished at Salisbury, on 10 December 1864 and 8 January 1865, respectively. Prior to his confinement, Private Shapley had been held with fellow H Company member Private Jacob C. Hochstetter at Confederate’s Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. From there, they were both transferred to Salisbury.

Following these major engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December. During this phase of service, H Company received word that two more of the company’s own – Private Sterritt Lightner and John Lightman – had died. Confined to the Hoddington Lane General Hospital in Philadelphia, Lightner lost his battle with typhoid fever on 3 November 1864. Lightman died eight days later in Philadelphia at a Union Army hospital. Meanwhile, closer to the front, Private Joseph Smith lost his battle with disease at a Union Army hospital near Cedar Creek, Virginia on 11 November 1864.

Rested and somewhat healed, the 47th was next ordered to outpost and railroad guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia five days before Christmas.

1865 – 1866

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. On 16 February, 1st Lieutenant Reuben S. Gardner was commissioned as Captain of Company H, and 2nd Lieutenant James Hahn was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant.

One who joined the regiment at this pivotal moment in American history was Emanuel Guera, a 26-year-old dentist who had been born in Cuba. He mustered in as a Private with Company H at a recruiting depot in Norristown, Pennsylvania on 10 March 1865, and met up with the regiment shortly thereafter.

On 20 March 1865, 1st Sergeant Alfred Billig was promoted to the rank of H Company’s 2nd Lieutenant.

Matthew Brady's photograph of 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. (Library of Congress: Public domain.)

Matthew Brady photographed spectators massing for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865; note crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following President Lincoln’s assassination (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Beginning 19 April, the 47th Pennsylvanians 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 received new uniforms and were otherwise resupplied.

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

A general thinning of the ranks also began at this time when a number of men were honorably discharged from the regiment at Washington, D.C. on 1 June 1865 by General Order of the U.S. War Department and Office of the Adjutant General.

Ruins seen from the Circular Church, Charleston, SC, 1865. Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (111-B-4667, public domain).

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

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

But once again, sadness stalked the 47th as men who had survived the worst in battle were felled by the invisible foe of disease. Many of those who died during this phase of service were initially interred in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery before being exhumed and reinterred later at the Beaufort National Cemetery; others still rest in unidentified graves.

On 21 August 1865, Private John H. Clemmens was promoted to the rank of Corporal.

Finally, beginning on Christmas day of that year, the majority of the men of Company H, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, including Corporal John H. Clemmens, began to honorably muster out at Charleston, South Carolina – a process which continued through early January. Following a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvania disembarked in New York City. The weary men were then shipped to Philadelphia by train where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were officially given their discharge papers.

Return to Civilian Life

Following his honorable discharge from the military, Corporal John H. Clemmens returned home to Pennsylvania and began life anew. In 1870, he wed Margaret Leake, daughter of George Leake, a native of Tullie, England, and Pennsylvania native, Rebecca (Hoffman) Leake. Born in Buckhorn, Columbia County, Pennsylvania on 21 April 1849, she was known by friends and family as “Maggie.”

According to the 1900 federal census, the couple had no children.

Note: Although the 1900 federal census indicates that the birth of Margaret Leake occurred in January 1850, the physician completing her death certificate indicated that she was 86 years, 4 months and 27 days old at the time of her passing on 16 August 1935, making her date of birth 21 April 1849.

John H. Clemmens was one Civil War soldier who thrived after leaving military life behind. Employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad (P.R.R.), he advanced professionally until becoming a conductor on passenger lines which served the cities of Harrisburg, Lock Haven, Sunbury, and Williamsport. So lengthy was his tenure of service with the railroad that he became not only a familiar face to thousands of travelers, but a beloved figure. Regional newspapers frequently reported on his activities, including the Harrisburg Telegraph, which provided the following update in its 30 August 1884 edition:

Conductor Clemmens’ Headache Remedy

John H. Clemmens, the well-known passenger conductor on the Philadelphia and Erie railroad, between Harrisburg and Lock Haven, is the happy possessor of ten rattles that adorned the tail of a rattlesnake a week ago. On last Sunday John drove from Lock Haven to Pine Creek campmeeting [sic], and on the way he meet and killed the snake. The rattles are now carried in the conductor’s hat as an antidote for headache.

A decade later he was still described by this same newspaper as “the popular conductor,” which noted in its 24 October 1894 edition that John H. Clemmens had been elected that year as president of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers annual reunion planning committee.

Tragically, in 1895, John Clemmens became an “adult orphan” when both of his parents died within a week of each others’ passing. The 16 April 1895 edition of the Harrisburg Telegraph conveyed the sad news:

NOT SEPARATED LONG
Two Aged Residents of Dauphin County Re-United by Death

Yesterday morning occurred the death of Jacob Clemmens, at his home in Grantville, in the 85th year of his age. He had been ill for some time, and the death of his wife, which occurred last Tuesday, no doubt hastened his earthly end. Mr. Clemmens was one of the most prominent and prosperous farmers in the Lebanon Valley, and at one time was a heavy dealer in grain. The funeral services will take place on Thursday morning at 9:30 o’clock. This death removes probably one of the oldest couples in this county, having been wedded for sixty-four years and following each other to their long rest within a week. John H. Clemmens, conductor on the Philadelphia and Erie division, is a son.

His parents were laid to rest at Saint Johns United Methodist Cemetery in Grantville, Dauphin County, where his younger brother was interred in 1863.

John H. Clemmens was also active in civic and social organizations. Elected in 1896 as a representative of his local chapter (Post No. 58) of the Grand Army of the Republic, he was re-elected to a second term in 1897. On 23 April 1900, Altoona’s Morning Tribune reported that John H. Clemmens had been elected vice president of the Veteran Employees’ Association, Philadelphia and Erie Division, Pennsylvania Railroad.

Still employed as a railroad conductor in 1900, he resided at 602 State Street in Harrisburg with his wife and her 37-year-old sister, Emma Leake.

But by 1906, he decided a change was in order. In its 31 March 1906 edition, Williamstown’s Gazette and Bulletin announced his retirement:

FORTY YEARS ON THE PENNSY AND CONDUCTOR JOHN H. CLEMMENS MAKES LAST TRIP
The Popular and Well Known Ticket Puncher Retires at His Own Request After Long and Faithful Service, and Says His Last Trip on a Railroad Will Be Back to Sunbury, Where He Will Be Buried

Passenger Conductor John H. Clemmens, after forty years service on the Pennsy, has retired at his own request, having made his last trip Thursday [29 March 1906]. For years Johnny Clemmens, as he is called by his host of friends, has ben a familiar figure on Pennsylvania trains passing through Williamsport, and he is known by everyone who rides much on this division. The Sunbury Daily on Thursday said of Mr. Clemmens and his retirement –

His Railroad Career

‘Conductor John H. Clemmens made his last trip on Seashore Express on Thursday morning. He is sixty seven years of age…. He has served for over forty years, and although he is well and hearty he says it is time to retire in favor of a younger man. After serving four years in the army he came to Sunbury in 1866 and took a position as brakeman on the Philadelphia and Erie railroad. He lived in this city until 1876 and was promoted through the different positions to that of passenger conductor which he has held ever since. Then he moved to Harrisburg where he has since resided but almost every day he has been in Sunbury. At the Sunbury station on Thursday morning he said ‘My first trip as a railroad man was made out of Sunbury in 1866 and I expect to live in Harrisburg and take life easy. My last trip on a railroad will be back to Sunbury. I have bought a lot out on the hill in the cemetery, and when my time comes I will be brought back to Sunbury and buried here. I always liked Sunbury.'”

Despite this retirement, he remained active in professional and social organizations. The 16 April 1909 edition of the Harrisburg Telegraph reported that he had “attended the meeting of the executive committee of the Veterans of the Eastern and Susquehanna and the Sunbury divisions of the Pennsylvania Railroad” the previous day, and “represented the Harrisburg men.”

By 1910, he was still residing in Harrisburg’s Eighth Ward with his wife and her sister, Emma Leak.

Taps

While ringing in the New Year with friends at 103 North 13th Street on 31 December 1915, the old soldier suffered a stroke. Attended to by physician E. L. Walmer of 112 west 13th Street in Harrisburg, John H. Clemmens survived the rolling of the years, but passed away at 7:45 p.m. as the first day of 1916 drew to a close.

His remains were removed by train to Sunbury in Northumberland County, just as he had specified in the aforementioned newspaper article about his 1906 retirement. He was laid to rest at the Pomfret Manor Cemetery on 5 January 1916.

After nearly two decades without her husband, his widow followed him in death in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 16 August 1935. She, too, was interred at the Pomfret Manor Cemetery.

 

Sources:

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

2. Clemmens, John H., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.

3. Clemmens, John H. and Margaret Clemmens, in Death Certificates. Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Health, Department of Vital Statistics.

4. Conductor Clemmens’ Headache Remedy, in Harrisburg Telegraph. Harrisburg: 30 August 1884.

5. Forty Years on the Pennsy And Conductor John H. Clemmens Makes Last Trip: The Popular and Well Known Ticket Puncher Retires at His Own Request After Long and Faithful Service, and Says His Last Trip on a Railroad Will Be Back to Sunbury, Where He Will Be Buried, in Gazette and Bulletin. Williamsport: 31 March 1906.

6. Not Separated Long: Two Aged Residents of Dauphin County Re-United by Death, in Harrisburg Telegraph. Harrisburg: 15 April 1895.

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

8. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1880, 1900, 1910.