Captain Coleman A. G. Keck – Touched by the Cold Hand of Death

Captain Coleman A. G. Keck, Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (c. 1863, public domain).

“… such is life in the midst of it we may befall a victim to the cold hand of death.” 

– Captain Coleman A. G. Keck, Beaufort, South Carolina, 2 August 1862

 

Coleman A. G. Keck would die less than four years after penning those prophetic words – words meant to console the widow of one of his former subordinates who had died while stationed far from home with Company I of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during America’s Civil War. The soldier, Private William Ellis – an immigrant from Ireland – had become the first member of the history-making regiment to die in South Carolina. Initially laid to rest near the Union Army hospital where he had received care, his remains were returned to his widow Pauline three months later with the help of Captain Keck and Paul Balliet, an undertaker from Allentown.

Captain Keck then rendered further assistance to Pauline Ellis and her two young daughters by providing documentation of Private Ellis’ honorable service and death for their successful application for Civil War Widow’s and Orphans’ pension funds. He could not have known it at the time, but Keck would also be felled before his time due to his service with the 47th Pennsylvania.

Descended from Patriots

Lehigh County Court House (c. 1835, public domain).

Born in 1833, Coleman A. G. Keck was the great-grandson of Hannah Catherine (Peterson) Keck (1715-1786), a native of Holland and Henry Keck, Sr. (1710-1786), a native of Bavaria, Germany who was a grandson of Barbara (Blank) Keck and Revolutionary War Patriot Andrew Keck (1753-1828), and a son of Judge Charles Keck (1806-1887) and Mary Ann (Gangewere) Keck (1812-1894).

According to historian John Woolf Jordan, Coleman Keck’s great-grandparents overcame great hardship to become successful members of their adopted homeland. Initially “sold as redemptioners for their passage money to a man in Chester county” after arriving in Philadelphia aboard the Pink John and William in 1732, they paid off their debts within four years, and relocated to Salisbury Township in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley (then, Northampton County; today, Lehigh County). “There was on the place a log barn, apple orchard, and a log house.”

It was during this same site that the Keck family patriarch and matriarch began their family and business. Son Andrew (the grandfather of Coleman A. G. Keck) was born in 1753. As the 18th century rolled on into the 19th, the family acquired an additional four hundred acres of land, and improved the property with buildings and land. Upon his father’s passing in 1828, Andrew Keck assumed ownership of the “old homestead farm.”

* Note: A second source, the History of the Keck Family penned in 1901 by J. A. Keck, also dated the Kecks’ Philadelphia arrival to 1732, but stated that they had traveled aboard the Clyde, and had arrived in Salisbury Township sometime around 1840. This history further adds that Henry Keck did not purchase his first 100 acres of land in that Lehigh Valley community until 1753. The transaction cost him 18 pounds, and was finalized on 19 March 1754, according to the patent for this land transfer, to which the seal of England’s King George had been affixed and which was still in the possession in 1901 of Coleman A. G. Keck’s younger brother, Charles, who was affiliated with the Allentown National Bank. It must be noted, however, that multiple errors have been found throughout this book since its publication.

While still in his early 20s, Andrew Keck set the standard of public service for future Keck generations by helping to birth both a new nation and a new generation of civic leaders. Serving first as a Private with Captain Francis Rhoads’ 8th Class in Colonel George Hubner’s 1st Battalion of the Northampton County Militia, 7th Company (1777), he subsequently served with Lieutenant Colonel Philip Boehm’s 4th Battalion of the Northampton County Militia (1780) as a member of Captain Felix Good’s 8th Class. Andrew Keck’s eldest and youngest sons, George and Charles, then followed in his footsteps by becoming judges in Lehigh County (George as Justice of the Peace in 1823 and Charles as an Associate Judge in 1855 and County Treasurer in 1875).

Like his father before him, Salisbury Township native Charles Keck also became a leader of men in war and peace. Commissioned during the Civil War as Captain of the 41st Pennsylvania Volunteers’ Company J and keenly aware of the vital role a free press plays in a thriving democracy, he financially supported Der Lecha Patriot, the Lehigh Valley’s most widely read German language newspaper. On 5 December 1833, he and his wife Mary (Gangewere) Keck greeted the arrival of son Coleman A. G. Keck, the primary subject of this biographical sketch.

Formative Years

Allentown (aka Northampton Towne, 1851, Frederick Wulff, public domain).

Educated in the local schools, Coleman A. G. Keck grew up on a flourishing family farm, learning about what worked best and what didn’t with crop production and grist milling. By 1850, the soon-to-be seventeen-year-old was fully engaged in the farming-milling trade in Salisbury Township, where he resided with his parents and siblings: Mary Ann B. (aged 15, who later wed Thomas Berger), Allen B. (aged 13, who later wed Matilda Boas), Elemina E. (aged 11, alternate spellings “Ella” and “Emeline”), Malenda J. (aged 9, who was known as “Lennie” and later wed Louis C. Berkemeyer), Mitton D. (aged 6, alternate spelling “Molton”), Sarah (aged 4, who later wed the Rev. J. J. Kuntz), and Winfield S. (aged 2, who later wed Alice M. Getz). Also residing with the family at this time was Coleman Keck’s maternal step-grandmother, Susanna Keck (aged 83), and 50-year-old Polly Yohe.

That same year, Coleman’s parents welcomed another child to the family farm. Charles M. W. Keck (1850-1932) was born in Salisbury Township on 23 September 1850.

* Note: Coleman A. G. Keck would become the older brother to two more Keck siblings in later years when his parents welcomed the birth of Frank E. and Adelaide J. Keck. (Adelaide would later go on to wed Thomas F. Gross.)

By 1852, the Keck family had relocated to Allentown. While there, Coleman A. G. Keck continued to hone his skills in the miller’s trade. Just four years later, he became a married man when he wed Pennsylvania native Catharina Stettler in Allentown on 3 February 1856. Sometime around 1860, they welcomed the birth of a daughter. Identified as one-year-old “Mary” on the 1860 federal census, this child appears to have been the Keck’s daughter, Louisa, who was born in Allenotnw on 2 July 1860.  Also residing with Coleman and Catharina Keck and their newborn was Elisabeth Stettler, a 12-year-old girl described as a “servant,” who may have been Catharina’s younger sister or cousin.

Civil War

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

Like his Patriot ancestors, Coleman A. G. Keck rose quickly to defend his nation when it was in trouble. After performing his Three Months’ Service as a 1st Lieutenant with Company D of the 9th Pennsylvania Infantry from April to July of 1861 in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to help defend the nation’s capital following Fort Sumter’s mid-April 1861 fall to Confederate troops, he re-enrolled for military service at Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 5 August 1861, and then re-mustered for duty on 30 August at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County.

That same day, he was commissioned as Captain of Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a regiment newly founded by Tilghman H. Good, the man who would be named that regiment’s commanding officer and who would later become a three-term mayor of Allentown. Military records described Keck as being a 28-year-old, 5’9” tall merchant from Allentown with dark hair, gray eyes, and a light complexion.

* Note:  Most of I Company’s 102-man roster was logged in as available for duty on the same day that Coleman A. G. Keck was placed in charge of the unit. One of the first two companies from the borough of Allentown to join the Pennsylvania Volunteers’ 47th Regiment, I Company was also the largest of the regiment’s ten companies to muster in during the Summer and early Fall of 1861. Although several of this company’s initial enrollees had performed their own Three Months’ Service, most were Keck-recruited novices.

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

After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.

After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.

We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday [21 September 1861] without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on dis-covering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.

Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent men and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.

…. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.

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

Then, on 24 September, the soldiers of Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers became part of the federal service when the regiment officially mustered into the U.S. Army. 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 moved again and, after marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). Having completed a roughly eight-mile trek, they were situated near General W. F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac, helping to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January.

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” due to a large, nearby chestnut tree. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.

On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a mid-October letter home, 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. On 13 October, Henry Wharton described their duties in his own missive:

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.” A week later, Captain Coleman A. G. Keck lost one of his men when Private David Losch died from “Pneumonia Typhoides” at the 47th Pennsylvania’s regimental hospital at Camp Griffin.

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

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

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

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

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

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

On 21 November, the 47th participated in another morning divisional review, followed by brigade and division drills that afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, Generals Smith and Brannan advised Colonel Good that the 47th Pennsylvania had acquitted itself as “the best regiment in the whole division.” As a reward for their performance that day – and in preparation for the even bigger events which were yet to come, Brigadier-General Brannan ordered that brand new Springfield rifles be obtained for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

But these frequent marches and their guard duties in rainy weather gradually began to wear the men down; more 47th Pennsylvanians fell ill, and more died.

1862

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

Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862. Marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, they were then transported by train to Alexandria, where they boarded the steamship City of Richmond. After completing a brief voyage along the Potomac River, they arrived at the Washington Arsenal, and 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 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 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were steaming away for Florida,  deemed strategically important to the Union due to the presences of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

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

By early February 1862, they were guarding the streets of Key West. Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics, they also felled trees, built new roads, and strengthened the installation’s fortifications as part of their garrison duties at Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, they participated in a formal parade for residents and then mingled with area residents at local church services that weekend.

Two months later, Captain Coleman A. G. Keck received orders (on 12 April 1862) to return home to Allentown to recruit additional men for the regiment. On hand for the May arrival of his newborn son Eugene H. C. Keck, he was still shown on military records as being at home in Allentown as of 11 June.

Meanwhile, his men continued their garrison duty. Tragically, on 9 June, Sergeant Charles Nolf, Jr. was accidentally killed via “friendly fire” in the southern part of Key West. According to Schmidt, et. al.:

The 24 year old bricklayer from Allentown was shot through the brain and killed instantly while he was on the beach gathering shells with a few of his friends from the company. In front of the Sergeant and his friends were four members of the 90th New York with loaded rifles on their shoulders. One of them was carelessly playing with the trigger of his gun, ‘when bang! off went the load, the ball entering the forehead of Nolf, killing him instantly.’ Some members of his company ‘were bent on revenge’, but an investigation proved it an accident, although the carrying of loaded rifles was strictly prohibited…. Sgt. Nolf’s remains were probably originally buried in the Key West Post Cemetery, but in January of 1864 his remains were disinterred and returned to Allentown on January 28 by undertaker Paul Balliet, and buried in the Fairview Cemetery in West Catasauqua….”

From mid-June through July, the 47th Pennsylvanians were then ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where they made camp before being housed in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. During this time, they “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing” – often while assigned to picket duties which put their lives at increased risk, according to historian Samuel P. Bates.

Excerpt of letter from Capt. Coleman Keck, commanding officer, Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, to Paulina Ellis, Notifying Her of Husband William’s Death on 1 August 1862 (U.S. Civil War Pension Files, public domain).

After Captain Coleman Keck had returned to duty and while the 47th Pennsylvania was stationed in Beaufort, one of his men fell ill with fever sometime. Allowed to convalesce initially in I Company’s quarters, Private William Ellis was transferred to the U.S. Army’s General Hospital No. 3 at Beaufort on 27 July, but as midnight approached on 1 August, he succumbed to “Febris Congestion” (congestive fever).

The next day, Captain Keck wrote penned a moving letter to Ellis’ widow:

Beaufort South Carolina
August 2nd 1862

Mrs. Ellis

It becomes my painful duty to notify you of your Husband William Ellis’ death he died last night at 12 o’clock of the Congestive Fever. He was only sick 6 days and it was the first time that he was not able to do his duty since he was in my company but such is life in the midst of it we may befall a victim to the cold hand of death.

I shall bury his remains tomorrow with military Honors He was put in the Genl Hospital the second day he was sick where he had all care taken of him.

Nicholas McKeever nursed him like a brother as long as he was in my company quarters. I shall make his final statement next week and send you a copy of it as regards his pay and clothing he has 3 months pay due him.

I hope you will be consoled as well as he is. We must think he is better taken care of than if he was living in this world of truth and sorrow.

I can assure you that I feel as much grief as you do as by his death I lost a good and faithful soldier. I remain very respect [sic]

Your obed [sic] servant –

Coleman Keck Capt.
“Co. I” 47th Regt. P.V.

While most of the military records pertaining to the enlistment, service and death of Private William Ellis (as well as the U.S. Civil War Pension paperwork filed later by his widow) confirm the diagnosis of congestive fever, it is possible that Ellis’ condition may have developed after he contracted cholera while stationed in South Carolina. In a letter written to the U.S. Pension Office by Paulina Ellis Rummeler sometime in early September 1912, the 75-year-old, two-time widow wrote an appeal for resumption of her pension, explaining:

… my husband went to war 1861 enlisted in camp and 47th regiment Pennsylvania volunteers died during war in Beauford [sic] S. Carolina of Cholera Glorbus or congestive fever on 1st of August 1862….

According to Schmidt, Ellis was a Catasauqua resident who had been employed by the Allentown Iron Works before the war:

After a short burial in South Carolina, his body was returned from Beaufort by Allentown undertaker Paul Balliet and the transport Delaware on November 29. His family was one of the few who spent the government’s $100 as intended, to bring home the body of the deceased soldier, whose remains in this case are now buried in the Fairview Cemetery at West Catasauqua.

Sometime during the 47th Pennsylvania’s state at Fort Taylor, newspapers back home in Allentown were reporting that Captain Coleman A. G. Keck had been appointed as Provost Marshal of Key West, assigned additional duties designed to maintain the safety of local residents.

Victory and First Blood

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

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

During the Saint John’s expeditions, according to Captain Keck’s superior, Tilghman H. Good, skirmishers from the 47th “came on one of the enemy camps and we came on them so suddenly that their tents were still blazing” around 3 p.m. that first day. “Company I commanded by Capt. Keck, scouting ahead of the advance, surprised the Rebels … we reached the first rebel picket post at 4 PM. They, it seemed had already heard of our coming, and knowing that resistance was useless, they burned their … cavalry … camp and skedaddled.”

Also during this same month, the 47th Pennsylvania became an integrated regiment when a teenager and several young to middle-aged black men left the hardship they had known in Beaufort, South Carolina to enroll for service with Company F of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers from 5-15 October. (Initially assigned kitchen duties, the 47th’s newest members were officially mustered in for service as Cooks and Under Cooks at Morganza, Louisiana in June 1864. More men of color were also then added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.)

On 12 October 1862, Captain Coleman A. G. Keck lost another man when Private Henry A. Blumer, a new recruit, died aboard a U.S. Navy transport as it steamed south. The local Allentown German language newspaper, Der Lecha Patriot, reported his death in its 5 November 1862 edition [translation from German to English by the editor]:

Henry A. Blumer, Esq., of Allentown, who joined some time ago with Maj. Gausler as a soldier with the 47th Regiment, which is commanded by Col. T. H. Good and stationed in South Carolina, died a few days ago on his journey there by ship. He is buried at Hilton Head, South Carolina, was 25 years old, and had married a few days ago.

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

From 21-23 October 1862, 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. Landing at Mackey’s Point, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again, but they and the 3rd Brigade were less fortunate this time.

Harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge, they met resistance from an entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field. Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests.

Still, the Union soldiers grappled with the Confederates where they found them that day, 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, the 47th Pennsylvanians were forced by their dwindling supplies of ammunition to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.

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

Losses were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men from the 47th died, including I Company Privates L. Druckenmiller and Jeremiah Metz (alternate spelling “Mertz”). Another two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded, including I Company Privates J. Bondenschlager, James B. Cole, Edwin Dreisbach, Frederick Drester, Daniel Kramer. Dreisbach survived and continued to serve, but Privates Shaffer, Bondenschlager, Cole and Drester were too badly injured, and were subsequently discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability between 22 October and 22 December 1862.

Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head where, on 23 October, several of its members served as the funeral Honor Guard for General Ormsby M. 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, Mitchel had been instrumental in freeing black men, women and children from area plantations. (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.

1863

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

By 1863, Captain Keck and the men of I 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.

Sometime during this phase of duty, Captain Coleman Keck was appointed Post Treasurer via Special Order No. 26. Serving on the 47th Pennsylvania’s Council of Administration, he reviewed and approved pay to the 47th’s bandsmen and bakers. He also traveled to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas periodically, according to a 1 May 1863 letter penned by Private Brecht who added that when officers left Fort Taylor “in the morning, they get there [Fort Jefferson] by night, and if they leave at night, they get there by morning. This advantage is seldom available to the Privates.”

Life here was not without its difficult moments, however; disease and other discomforts were constant companions. In a letter home Private Pretz observed that “Capt. Coleman Keck is the roughest and most irreligious officer we have, it is shocking to hear him curse; and none of the officers have respect for the teachings of the bible.” Pretz also criticized his commanding officer and Rev. William D. C. Rodrock, claiming:

[The chaplain] is a poor specimen. He don’t do much good. He is too much of a humbug. Nobody respects him…. Capt. Keck is reported sick in quarters. Nothing serious, I’m sure, or else he would be in hospital. Whenever an officer feels indisposed he generally causes himself to be reported sick in quarters. I feel a desire to study Luther’s Smaller Catechism. I wish, father, you would send me one by mail. God is good. He hears and answers my prayers.

1864

Sadly, Pretz’s assumptions were wrong. Sometime during his Civil War, Captain Coleman A. G. Keck developed liver disease. Treated by regimental physicians, he continued to lead his men in battle and garrison duties in difficult living conditions, but was ultimately shipped home to recuperate as his condition deteriorated. While in Allentown, he learned that his superior officers had received new orders directing the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to head west for new duties in an even more challenging southern climate – as part of the Union’s Red River Campaign across Louisiana. So, on 22 February 1864, he resigned his commission, enabling his regiment to place a healthier man in charge of I Company. That man was 1st Lieutenant Theodore Mink, who was subsequently commissioned as Captain.

Return to Civilian Life

Allentown, Pennsylvania (c. 1865, public domain).

After resigning his military commission, Coleman A. G. Keck resumed his family life, but their time together was short. He lost his battle with liver disease in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 23 January 1866. Following funeral services there, he was laid to rest with military honors at the Union-West End Cemetery – the same 10th Street cemetery chosen by many of his former 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer comrades for their own final resting places decades after the war had faded from the public’s collective memory.

A Family Mourns and Moves On

Two years after Coleman A. G. Keck’s death, his younger brother Charles M. W. Keck obtained a job with the Allentown National Bank – an employment relationship he would continue to maintain for nearly half a century. As he rose through the ranks to the position of Cashier, he also became a respected civic leader, and was appointed or elected to positions with the Section Board in 1901, the Control Board in 1906 and as Treasurer of the School Board 1917) for the Allentown School District. He then joined his older brother in death on 12 February 1932, and was interred at Allentown’s Fairview Cemetery.

Meanwhile, Coleman Keck’s wife and children soldiered on without him. In 1870, Catharine Keck resided with Louisa, Eugene and Naamah (aged 10, 8 and 5) in Allentown’s 5th Ward. Supporting her family on the wages of a dressmaker, the 33-year-old widow also received monthly U.S. Widows and Orphans Pension Fund disbursements. By 1880, she resided at the Keck family home at 510 Linden Street in Allentown with all three of her children. Louisa, aged 19, taught in the local schools that 15-year-old Naamah attended while 17-year-old Eugene worked as a dry goods store clerk.

Eugene H.C. Keck and Minnie Nagle, Allentown Marriage License Ledger Entry (excerpt, December 1886, public domain).

Then on Christmas Day in 1886, Eugene H.C. Keck became a family man when wed Minnie M. Nagle, a 20-year-old native of Coplay. Lehigh County marriage records indicate that consent for the union was given by Minnie’s guardian, Lizzie or Lovina Reppert, and that Eugene was employed as a silk weaver.

Less than two years later, on 3 February 1887, Keck family patriarch Judge Charles Keck, the father of Captain Coleman A. G. Keck and Charles M. W. Keck, passed away in Northampton Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. He was interred at Allentown’s  Linden Street Cemetery.

That same year, in September 1887, Eugene H.C. Keck and his wife, Minnie, welcomed the birth of daughter Helen to their Allentown Home.

The 1890s served up a rollercoaster of emotions for the Keck clan. In October of 1891, joy was the rule as Coleman Keck opened his eyes in Allentown for the first time. A grandson and namesake of Captain Coleman A. G. Keck, commanding officer of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ I Company, the younger Coleman Keck was a son of Eugene H. C. Keck and Minnie (Nagle) Keck.

But grief ensued on 3 April 1894 when Mary Ann (Gangewere) Keck, the late Coleman A. G. Keck’s mother, passed away in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Happiness then returned briefly that same year when Louisa Keck, the eldest child of Catharine (Stettler) Keck and the late Capt. Coleman A. G. Keck, wed Patterson, New Jersey native George W. Deeths.

But then the cold hand of death intervened again four days before Christmas, carrying away Coleman and Catharine Keck’s daughter, Naamah E. Keck. The next day, The Allentown Democrat reported the sad news (the newspaper’s Wednesday edition):

DEATH OF A YOUNG SCHOOL MISTRESS. – Miss Naamah E. Keck, teacher of one of the primary schools of the Eighth ward, died at the home of her widowed mother, No. 512 Linden street, on Friday last, of diabetes, after an illness of four weeks, though held bedfast only from the Tuesday previous when her condition commenced to progress rapidly from bad to worse until finally she was relieved of her sufferings by death. She was a daughter of Catharine and the late Capt. Coleman A. G. Keck, and a granddaughter of the late Judge Charles Keck. She was educated in the public schools, and was graduated from the High School in 1882, of which class she is the second to pass away, her predecessor having been Miss Annie Young. Miss Keck taught school since 1884, first in the Third Ward and then in the Eighth Ward. In her service as teacher she was faithful and devoted, and gave entire satisfaction to pupils, patrons, directors and her superiors. She was a conscientious member of the Linden street M.E. Church, and a member of its choir. Besides her mother she is survived by one brother, Eugene H. C. Keck, of this city, and one sister, Mrs. G. W. Deeths, of Hazelton. In her best years, doubtless the future to her looked fair, yet amid all her fond hopes and bright anticipations she was called away. Beautiful in form and feature it was hard to give her up, but the great destroyer was unrelenting in his demands. How crushing to the minds and hearts of the mother and devoted family. But disease preys upon the fairest of this earth, and they die. In life lovable, gentle and kind Naamah endeared herself to all her associates, and in death there is a void in many young hearts which time can never fill. But it is in the home made desolate that her absence will be most painfully felt. The joy of a mother’s heart, the sweet pride of a mother’s dreams, are gone. The sound of that familiar call, ‘mamma,’ which was heard even as she drew near the celestial shore, is forever hushed. The merry laugh is heard no more, the sunshine of home is gone. To mother, brother, sister, friends and companions Naamah has bid farewell. She was the pride of the household, and beloved by all who knew her, and the sacrifice seems great that demands a pure, young life, so full of happy expectation and bright promise.

Naamah E. Keck was laid to rest at the Union-West End Cemetery, the same cemetery where her father, Coleman A. K. Keck had been interred more than a quarter of a century before.

Death’s sting was mitigated somewhat when Louisa (Keck) Deeths and her husband, George, welcomed a new daughter to their Hazelton home in 1897, and named her “Naamah.”

Meanwhile, Louisa and Eugene Keck’s mother, Catharine (Stettler) Keck, was residing at Eugene’s 9th Ward home in Allentown, where he was a foreman at Dent Hardware Works. Also living there at this time were Eugene’s wife, Minnie, and their children Helen and Coleman. By 1910, however, Catharine had relocated to the home of her 49-year-old daughter, Louisa (Keck) Deeths at 533 Turner Street in Allentown. Also residing there were Louisa’s daughters Mary, Ruth and Naamah (aged 20, 16 and 14, respectively). Mary helped to support the household on her stenographer’s wages.

That same year, Eugene and Louisa’s sister, Malenda, passed away. Her obituary confirmed that she was the widow of Dr. Louis G. Berkemeyer (1839-1901), had been an educator in the local schools, and that her children had also become civic leaders:

MRS. BERKEMEYER DIES IN HER 69TH YEAR. WAS MOTHER OF A SPLENDID FAMILY OF SONS AND DAUGHTERS. Mrs. Lennie Berkemeyer, widow of Dr. L. C. Berkemeyer of 1213 Walnut Street, died yesterday after an illness of several months with stomach and liver trouble. She was a daughter of the long deceased Judge Charles Keck, and his wife, nee Gangewere. She was born in Salisbury in 1841, bringing her age to 68 years. In her girlhood she attended the Allentown Academy and later taught school for several years. She was married to Dr. Louis C. Berkemeyer of Heidelberg and they resided first at East Penn, Carbon county, where the doctor established a practice and later at Kutztown, when the doctor practiced and conducted a drug store for 22 years. After that they moved to this city, where her husband died nine years ago. Since then the widow resided with her daughters, Annie, Mary and Lottie, on West Walnut Street. She is survived by the following children: Francis M. Berkemeyer of Berkemeyer, Keck & Co., Allentown; Robert K. Berkemeyer, South Bethlehem; Charles F. Berkemeyer, Editor of the Farmers Bulletin, Allentown; Mrs. D. A. Miller, Allentown; and Misses Annie, Lottie and Mary Berkemeyer, at home.  The brothers and sister surviving are Miss Ella E. Keck, Mrs. Thomas F. Gross, Philadelphia, Mrs. Rev. J. J. Kuntz, Allentown, Winfield S. Keck, Bethlehem, and Charles M. W. Keck, President of the Allentown National Bank. There are also nine grandchildren.

Just five years later, Eugene H. C. Keck was also gone. His Allentown Democrat obituary reported on his untimely passing as follows:

Eugene H.C. Keck, of 627 Turner St., died at 3:30 o’clock yesterday afternoon of pneumonia with which he was stricken last Sunday. He was 54 years old. Deceased was a native of this city and was a son of the late Captain Coleman Keck and Catharine Stettler Keck, who survives at the age of 82 years. His wife, nee Minnie Nagle, and one son Coleman and a daughter Miss Helen, of this city, also survive, as does a sister, Mrs. George Deeths, of Allentown, and two grandchildren.

For the past eighteen years up to the time of his illness he was employed as a foreman at the Dent Hardware Works. He was a member of the Linden Street Methodist Episcopal church from where the funeral will be held on Monday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock.

Liberty Bell Line, 8th and Hamilton, Lehigh Valley Transit Co., Allentown (c. 1938, public domain).

Having endured a series of painful losses and been witness to the tremendous change which occurred during the early 20th century, family matriarch Catharine C. (Stettler) Keck finally also joined her loved ones in death in 1919, and was laid to rest at Union-West End Cemetery in Allentown – the same cemetery where her husband, Civil War Captain Coleman A. G. Keck, had been interred more than 50 years earlier.

Their surviving daughter, Louisa (Keck) Deeths, continued to live a long full life after she too was widowed. Shown on the 1920 federal census as residing at her home at 112 South 13th Street in Allentown with daughters Mary L. (aged 29), Katherine (aged 25), and Naamah K. (aged 23), she lived another three decades and interred, following her passing in 1950, at the Union-West End Cemetery.

 

Sources:

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

2. City to Have New Masonic Lodge. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 21 April 1913.

3. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

4. Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

5. Death Ledger Entries (Keck Family), Salem United Church of Christ (Reel 583). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records.

6. Death of a Young School Mistress (obituary of Naamah E. Keck), in The Allentown Democrat. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 26 December 1894.

7. Eugene H. C. Keck (obituary). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, Friday, 25 June 1915.

8. Jordan, L.L.D., John Woolf, Edgar Moore Green, A.M., M.D., et. al. Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of the Lehigh Valley Pennsylvania. New York, New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1905.

9. Keck, Andrew, Maria Barbara Blank, Susanna Sheetz, Mary B. Gangeware, and Charles Keck, in DAR Ancestor Database (Ancestor Nos. 200654 and 482684). Washington, D.C.: Daughters of the American Revolution, retrieved online 12 May 2017.

10. Keck, Coleman, William Ellis, and Pauline Ellis, in Claims for Widow and Minor Pensions, in U.S. Civil War Widows’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

11. Keck, Eugene H. C., Minnie Nagle, Coleman and Catharine Keck, in Marriage License Docket of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 1886.

12. Keck, J. A. History of the Keck Family. Stockport, Iowa: Stockport News Print, 1901.

13. Keck, Naamah, in Marriage License Docket of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans’ Court, 27 June 1923.

14. Montgomery, Thomas Lynch, ed. Pennsylvania in the War of the Revolution, associated battalions and militia, 1775-1783, Vol. 8. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1906.

15. Mrs. Berkemeyer Dies in Her 69th Year: Was Mother of a Splendid Family of Sons and Daughters. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 6 September 1910.

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

17. U.S. Census and U.S. Veterans’ Schedule. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.

 

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