Seeing Through a Soldier’s Eyes – The Life of Perry County’s Jerome Bryner

Private Jerome Bryner, Co. H, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1864 (public domain).

Born in 1838 in Perry County, Pennsylvania, Jerome Bryner began life in a region of the Keystone State which had been transformed from a rural, farming region to a more industrial one as tanneries, iron companies and furnaces expanded their operations during the mid-1800s. According to Harry H. Hain in his history of that county:

When Perry County was formed from Cumberland, in 1820, the population was 13,162. Its growth was slow and gradual until the 1880, when it showed its largest population, 27,522.

Accordingly, the occupation of blacksmithing became an increasingly common profession during Jerome Bryner’s formative years due to the need for reliable transportation for individuals and businesses and the demand for well-shod horses on area farms and by the operators of mule teams laboring throughout Pennsylvania’s busy canal system. That system, per Hain, was launched in 1828:

It started from the junction of the Juniata and Susquehanna Rivers at Duncan’s Island, and passed through New Buffalo, Liverpool, and Selinsgrove to Northumberland, a distance of thirty-nine miles. It then continued up the west bank to Muncy dam and later to Bald Eagle Creek, and up the north branch to a point two miles below Wilkes-Barre. In order to attain the proper depth locks were necessary, and there were six in Perry County, as follows: above New Buffalo, Montgomery’s Ferry, Mt. Patrick, one each below and above Liverpool, and at Dry Sawmill. There were two on Duncan’s Island, the lower one letting the boats into Green’s or Clark’s Ferry dam, where they were taken across by being towed rom a ‘wooden towpath’ built along the south side of the bridge spanning the Susquehanna at that point.

The most frequently transported products were coal, farm produce and lumber. As a result:

At every prominent crossroads and village in the county there was once a blacksmith shop, at which frequently two men found employment, and whose families resided nearby…. Old residents recollect the time when there were twenty such shops from New Germantown to Shermansdale.

So, as Jerome Bryner grew to manhood, it is no surprise that he was gainfully employed by the age of 22 as a blacksmith, a fact confirmed by the 28 June 1860 federal census which also noted that he resided with his cousin and fellow blacksmith George M. Bryner (age 28) near Landisburg in the eastern end of Perry County’s Tyrone Township. The former county seat, Landisburg was situated fourteen miles from Carlisle, Pennsylvania and ten miles southwest of New Bloomfield, “opposite Mount Dempsey, a magnificent mountain peak, a spur of the Blue or Kittatinny Mountains, which stands there in all its grandeur, through the ages, a piece of God’s handiwork,” according to Hain.

* Note: Jerome’s surname was spelled as “Bryner” on his grave marker, but also appeared as “Briner” on military records and in newspapers during his lifetime.

By the dawn of America’s Civil War, Bryner still toiled daily as a blacksmith, but resided in the Perry County community of Elliottsburg – a community described by Hain as:

a village located on the line of the Newport & Sherman’s valley Railroad, which is located on parts of the original grants of William Power and Samuel Fisher named after George Elliott, who inherited 400 acres of the Sanderson grants. Evidently it already bore that name before 1828, when the post office was established…. When the county seat agitation was on one of the sites proposed was located here. The first subscription school here was taught in the kitchen of the mill tenant house, by Alex. Peale, Alex. Topley and Alex. Roddy, in succession…. Elliottsburg has at times been the location of physicians….[and]

 Civil War

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

One of Pennsylvania’s early responders to his nation’s call for help, Jerome Bryner enrolled for Civil War military service while in his early 20s on 21 August 1861 at Elliottsburg in Perry County. He then officially mustered in for duty on 19 September at Camp Curtin in Dauphin County as a Private with Company H of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the final company to be mustered into a brand new regiment that had recently been founded by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, the man who would later go on to become a three-time mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Company H was led by Captain James Kacy, a 44-year-old merchant and resident of Elliottsburg and former U.S. railroad postal clerk during the 1850s term of President Franklin Pierce, and 1st Lieutenant William Wallace Geety, a 29-year-old dentist from Harrisburg.

Military records at the time described Bryner as being a 5’ 11” blacksmith with light hair, a light complexion and blue eyes.

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

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.

…. 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 into the U.S. Army. Three days later, on 27 September – a rainy day, 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 when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.

Once again, Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:

On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….

We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….

There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [sic], a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….

Sometime during this phase of duty, as part of the 3rd Brigade, the 47th Pennsylvanians were moved to a site they initially christened “Camp Big Chestnut” for the large chestnut tree located within their lodging’s boundaries. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C. 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 Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a morning Divisional Review, described by historian Lewis Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field,” and 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.

Around this same time, Capt. 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.

Kacy followed that order with another which clarified 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, Kacy 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.

In his letter of 17 November, 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 overseen 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.”

1862

Excerpt from Pvt. Jerome Bryner’s letter to his cousin, George M. Bryner (15 January 1862, public domain).

On 15 January 1862, Private Jerome Bryner recapped the regiment’s status in his own letter home to Elliottsburg – this one penned to George M. Bryner, the cousin with whom he had resided in 1860:

… we are all pack [sic] up to go to Florada [sic] and will go away tomorrow to Washington and get our new guns that is the springfield rifles the best guns the sirvis [sic]….

we are going fare [sic] away and it may be the last letter that you would get from me for it is a great way off…. dont rite [sic] to me any more till you here [sic] from me…. give my bests [sic] respects to all … the inquiring friends

the general say [sic] the place that we are going to is a [illegible word] place in a fort and there is oranges blooming full and plenty of sweet potatoes and oisters [sic]   I would like to be at home up there a little while that is all … muddy wether [sic] we had a snow here to [sic] inches deep…

it is late … and we are going 4 hundred miles away. That is a long travel. I am a thousand times obliged to you for your kindness…. Tell the folks that we did not come here for making money if a man tells me that when I go home I will split his brains for him. The men that can go up there would go frely [sic]if it was not for the bulets [sic]…. Fare well for this time.

Your Friend
Jerome Bryner
Pass this to cusen
[sic] Martin

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Private Bryner and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862. Marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, they were sent by rail to Alexandria, and then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before they were marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C.

The next afternoon, they 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 27 January, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ferried to the Oriental by smaller steamers and, at 4 p.m. per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, steamed away for the Deep South.

Rendering of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida (Harper’s Weekly, 1864, public domain).

Bryner and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West, Florida in early February 1862. Assigned to garrison Fort Taylor, they drilled daily in heavy artillery tactics and other military strategies, felled trees, helped to build new roads, and strengthened the installation’s fortifications.

With the officers of the 47th Pennsylvania concerned once again regarding the potential for disease to decimate the 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.

On Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvanians introduced their presence to locals by parading through the streets of Key West and attending local church services that same weekend.

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” during this phase of service.

Capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida and Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina

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

Sent on a return expedition to Florida as September 1862 waned, Bryner saw his 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. 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.

From 5 through 15 October 1862, Private Bryner’s regiment began a history-making transformation as the regiment became an integrated one when several young to middle-aged black men left the hardship they had known in Beaufort, South Carolina to become 47th Pennsylvanians. Among the 47th’s newest members was 22-year-old Edward Jassum. Officially not added to regimental muster rolls until 22 June 1864, he was assigned the rank of Under Cook, and transferred to H Company on 11 October 1864.

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 Pennsylvania Volunteers engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Because Captain James Kacy was recuperating from an illness and confined to a Union hospital, the men from H Company were led that day 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.

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

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 Mackay’s Point.

Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died, and two officers and 114 enlisted men were wounded, including H Company’s 1st and 2nd Lieutenants, William Geety and William Gardner. A number of men were, in fact, wounded so grievously that they were later deemed no longer fit to serve and discharged on surgeons’ certificates of disability.

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. (Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, was later named for him.) Men from the 47th Pennsylvania were given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.

On 1 November, 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 too was officially mustered in as an Under Cook at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864.

1863

Fort Jefferson, Dry Torguas, Florida (interior, c. 1934, C.E. Peterson, photographer, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

By 1863, Bryner 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.

The time spent here by the men of Company H and their fellow Union soldiers was notable not just for the number of 47th Pennsylvanians felled by disease, but for the commitment of those who survived to preserving the Union. Many who could have returned home chose instead to re-enlist in order to finish the fight.

1864 – Louisiana and the Red River Campaign

On 25 February 1864, Bryner and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers set off for a phase of service in which the 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.

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

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

Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, 9 April 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 7 May 1864, public domain).

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. Among those from H Company who were killed in action were Privates William F. Dumm and Nicholas Orris.

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, Corporal George W. Albert, the friend and Company H comrade whom Bryner had referenced in his January 1862 letter home, was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability, and sent back to Pennsylvania.

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 Pennsylvanian Volunteers and their fellow Union soldiers then scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for the Union 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 facilitated Union gunboat passage (public domain).

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. Then, on the 4th of July, the 47th Pennsylvanians received word that their fight was not yet over; they had just received new orders to return to the East Coast for further duty.

But that new fight was one in which Private Jerome Bryner would not engage. Although he too would be shipped back East, it was because he had been given his discharge papers on 11 July. Like his friend, George Albert, he was released via a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability.

Return to Civilian Life

Back of carte de visite produced by Jerome Bryner’s photography studio (c. 1870, public domain).

His time of service during America’s greatest political upheaval at an end, Jerome Bryner returned home to Perry County, where he opened a photography studio in New Bloomfield. Carte de visite images of local residents preserved in historical society archives and family collections across America confirm that his work was completed over a period of eight years following his honorable discharge from the military.

Many of these existing images have a certain solemnity about them.

This photo by Jerome Bryner of a Perry County, Pennsylvania woman appears to convey a certain sadness or weariness (c. 1870, public domain).

The eyes of the individuals photographed by Bryner, for example, telegraph hints of sadness, their mouths often downturned in frowns. One wonders whether this was due to the subjects’ moods or the photographer’s frame of mind for Bryner was clearly struggling during this phase of his life.

Newspaper accounts regarding the resolution of his estate document that he had only had a short time to perfect his art and that he did so while struggling financially. An estate administrator’s notice in the 1873 Juniata Sentinel advised that:

LETTERS of Administration having been granted to the undersigned upon the estate of Jerome Bryner, deceased, all persons indebted to said estate are requested to make payment, and those having claims against the same, to present them without delay, to … JACOB BRYNER.

The New Bloomfield Times then reported that:

Jerome Briner, well known in this county, and who recently died, had a life insurance policy for $1,000. It seems, a few years ago he got tired of paying the annual premium, and sold the policy to F. J. Ingram, of Yeagertown, for a sum about equal to what the policy had cost up to that date. Mr. Ingram kept the policy alive, and at the time of Briner’s death his total outlay bad not yet reached $1,000. Consequently, he cleared about $4,000 by the purchase.

Hearteningly, Jerome Bryner was not alone when he passed away on the day after Christmas in 1872 in Perrysville, Perry County, Pennsylvania. He died at the home of his sister, who was described in his newspaper obituary only as “Mrs. Smith.” He was then laid to rest at the Ebenezer United Methodist Cemetery (to the right of the church in row 12, grave six) in Pleasant View, Spruce Hill Township, Juniata County, Pennsylvania. A military headstone honors his Civil War service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

He was just 31 years old when he drew his last breath.

 

Sources:

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

2. Briner, Jerome, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.

3. Bryner, Jerome (obituary and estate notices), in Juniata Sentinel. Mifflintown and Washington, D.C.: Historic Newspapers Collection, U.S. Library of Congress, 15 January and 26 March 1873.

4. Bryner and Briner, Jerome, in New Bloomfield Times (Perry County, Pennsylvania). New Bloomfield and Washington, D.C., Historic Newspapers Collection, U.S. Library of Congress, 22 April 1873, etc.

5. Ellis, Franklin and Austin N. Hungerford, ed. History of That Part of the Susquehanna and Juniata Valleys, Embraced in the Counties of Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Union and Snyder, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Vol. I. Philadelphia: Everts, Peck & Richards, 1886.

6. Hain, Harry Harrison. History of Perry County, Pennsylvania. Including Descriptions of Indians and Pioneer Life from the Time of Earliest Settlement. Harrisburg: Hain-Moore Company, 1922.

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, 1860.

 

 

Advertisements