Private Edwin Dreisbach – The Heavy Heart of a Tinman

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

Now I know I’ve got a heart, ’cause it’s breaking….
– Tin Woodsman, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

 

Born in Pennsylvania on 21 September 1833 (alternate birth year 1838), Edwin Dreisbach embarked on the life of a tradesman while still in his teen years, and was apprenticed to a master stone, tin and coppersmith by the time he was 21. That year, according to the 1860 federal census, he worked as an apprentice tinsmith for, and resided at the home of Amos Ettinger, who specialized in the manufacture of stoves and whose real estate and personal property were valued at $17,025. Upon his death six years later, newspapers lauded Ettinger as “one of the best loved, most highly esteemed and most benevolent citizens of this town.” Also living at Ettinger’s home in the 3rd Ward of Allentown in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania were his wife, Susan, and their sons Richard and William, the latter of whom was a stone, tin and coppersmith like his father.

A year later, Edwin Dreisbach was a 20-something tinsmith residing and working in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, according to historian Samuel P. Bates.

* Note: Alternate spellings of this soldier’s given name on records throughout his lifetime were Edward and Edwin. Alternate spellings of his surname were Dreisbach and Driesbach.

Civil War Military Service

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

Edwin Dreisbach became one of Pennsylvania’s early responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help preserve America’s union. After enrolling for Civil War military service at Allentown in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 5 August 1861, he then officially mustered in for duty at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 30 August 1861 as a Private with Company I of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Military records at the time described him as being 5’ 9” tall with brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion.

* Note: Company I was one of the first two companies from the Borough of Allentown, Pennsylvania to join the Pennsylvania Volunteers’ 47th Regiment and was also the largest of the regiment’s ten companies to muster in during the Summer and early Fall of 1861. Most I Company members were fresh-faced recruits – encouraged to join up by Coleman A. G. Keck, a 26-year-old master miller who resided with his family in Allentown. Supporting Captain Keck as leaders of I Company were Levi and James Stuber, who respectively entered at the ranks of 1st and 2nd Lieutenant, and Sergeant Allen Lawall. Entering as one of the Sergeants, Theodore Mink would be repeatedly promoted until becoming one of the later captains of I Company who later succeeded Captain Keck.

Among the rank and file who enlisted were six carpenters, four printers, seven shoemakers, teamsters, and Edwin and three other tinsmiths.

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

The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to General W. F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.

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

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

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

There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [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.

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. In his letter of 13 October, Henry Wharton described their duties, as well as their new home:

The location of our camp is fine and the scenery would be splendid if the view was not obstructed by heavy thickets of pine and innumerable chesnut [sic] trees. The country around us is excellent for the Rebel scouts to display their bravery; that is, to lurk in the dense woods and pick off one of our unsuspecting pickets. Last night, however, they (the Rebels) calculated wide of their mark; some of the New York 33d boys were out on picket; some fourteen or fifteen shots were exchanged, when our side succeeded in bringing to the dust, (or rather mud,) an officer and two privates of the enemy’s mounted pickets. The officer was shot by a Lieutenant in Company H [?], of the 33d.

Our own boys have seen hard service since we have been on the ‘sacred soil.’ One day and night on picket, next day working on entrenchments at the Fort, (Ethan Allen.) another on guard, next on march and so on continually, but the hardest was on picket from last Thursday morning ‘till Saturday morning – all the time four miles from camp, and both of the nights the rain poured in torrents, so much so that their clothes were completely saturated with the rain. They stood it nobly – not one complaining; but from the size of their haversacks on their return, it is no wonder that they were satisfied and are so eager to go again tomorrow. I heard one of them say ‘there was such nice cabbage, sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, &c., out where their duty called them, and then there was a likelihood of a Rebel sheep or young porker advancing over our lines and then he could take them as ‘contraband’ and have them for his own use.’ When they were out they saw about a dozen of the Rebel cavalry and would have had a bout with them, had it not been for…unlucky circumstance – one of the men caught the hammer of his rifle in the strap of his knapsack and caused his gun to fire; the Rebels heard the report and scampered in quick time….

On Friday, 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.” 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 – 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.”

As a reward for their performance that day – and in preparation for the even bigger events which were yet to come, Brigadier-General John Milton 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 fell ill with fever and other ailments; 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. Sent by train to Alexandria, they 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, 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.

As the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental during the afternoon of 27 January, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers with regimental officers boarding last. Per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, at 4 p.m., the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South – headed for Florida, a state deemed strategically important to the Union due to the presence 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).

In February 1862, Company I and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West, where they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor and drilled daily in heavy artillery tactics and other military strategies, felled trees and 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, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, Captain Keck ensured that many of his I Company men attended to their spiritual needs by attending services at a local church.

Issued on Saturday, 12 April 1862, Order No. 4 assigned Captain Coleman Keck and Private William Smith to recruiting duty. Captain Keck was still at home in Allentown recruiting as of 11 June, according to military records. Meanwhile, back in Key West on 9 June 1862, Sergeant Charles Nolf, Jr. of I Company was accidentally killed by a member of the 90th New York Volunteers while collecting shells on a beach in the southern part of Key West.

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. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly rotated among the regiments present, 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.

The Capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida and Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina, October 1862

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

Sent on a return expedition to Florida as September 1862 waned, 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 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 5-15 October 1862, 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. Initially assigned to kitchen duties, the regiment’s new members would be officially mustered in for service as Cooks and Under Cooks at Morganza, Louisiana in June 1864. 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.

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.

Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests. As the Battle of Pocotaligo continued to unfold, the Union strike force grappled with Confederate troops where they found them, pursuing the Rebels for four miles as they retreated to the bridge. There, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut.

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

But the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.

Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died, including I Company Privates L. Druckenmiller, who sustained a fatal gunshot wound during the fighting near the Frampton Plantation, and Jeremiah Metz (alternate spelling “Mertz”). In addition, two officers and 114 enlisted from the 47th were wounded, including I Company Privates J. Bondenschlager, James B. Cole, Edwin Dreisbach, Frederick Drester, Daniel Kramer. Private Dreisbach survived and continued to serve for the duration of the war, but Privates Shaffer, Bondenschlager, Cole and Drester were deemed no longer fit for duty, and discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates.

On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it 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. 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.

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, Private Edwin Dreisbach 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.

During this phase of duty, disease was a constant companion and foe. Several members of the regiment fell ill and died while others were so severely weakened by their ailments that they were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability.

But the time spent here by the men of Company I and their fellow Union soldiers was also notable for an entirely different reason – the continued strength of commitment by 47th Pennsylvanians to preserving the union of their beloved nation. Many members of the regiment who could have returned home, heads held justifiably held high at valor already displayed, chose instead to re-enlist in order to finish the fight, including Private Edwin Dreisbach who re-upped for a second, three-year tour of duty on 25 October 1863; he then re-mustered at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida on 27 October.

Edwin Dreisbach’s marriage was announced in Der Lecha Caunty Patriot on 16 December 1863. Rough Translation: “Last Friday, by Justice of the Peace Witman, Mr. Edward Dreisbach, of the 47th Regiment, with Miss Clarissa Burger, of Allentown, Pennsylvania.”

Two months later, while at home in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley on an approved furlough – a privilege granted to 47th Pennsylvanians who had opted to re-enlist for continued Civil War military service, Private Edwin Dreisbach then took another major step in life – marrying Clarissa Burger (1844-1907). Justice of the Peace Witman officiated at their civil ceremony, which was held in Allentown in December 1863.

* Note: Despite a marriage date of 1863, which was documented by a local newspaper, other records indicate that the relationship between Edwin and Clarissa (Burger) Dreisbach began earlier. According to federal census records, their oldest son, Harry, was born sometime around 1861.

1864

Following his return to his Company I comrades at their duty station in Florida, Private Edwin Dreisbach resumed the life of a soldier assigned to garrison duty. Before the second month of the New Year was out, however, his company’s routine received a major shakeup when commanding officer Captain Coleman Keck resigned his commission on 22 February 1864 due to rapidly advancing liver disease.

Three days later, Private Dreisbach and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians 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 1864, the men of Company I – now under the command of their 1st Lieutenant Levi Stuber – joined with their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians in trekking through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana. Often short on food and water, the men 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. The fighting waned only when darkness fell as those who were uninjured collapsed 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 during the Battle of Pleasant Hill.

Casualties were once again severe. Lieutenant Colonel G. W. 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. With respect to the men serving with Private Edwin Dreisbach in I Company, Corporal William Frack was killed in action while Sergeant William H. Haldeman and Corporal William H. Meyers were among those who were wounded in battle. 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.

Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore, where the men resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. Retreating further to Alexandria, the 47th Pennsylvanian Volunteers and their fellow Union soldiers then scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill (near Monett’s Ferry) in the Battle of Cane River on 23 April.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, the officer overseeing its construction, this timber dam built across the Red River near Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 facilitated Union gunboat passage (public domain).

From 30 April through 10 May, while attached briefly to the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, Private Edwin Dreisbach and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians helped to build a dam next Alexandria, Louisiana to make it easier for federal gunboats to negotiate the fluctuating water levels of the Red River.

Beginning 16 May, I Company moved with most of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June. On the 4th of July, the 47th Pennsylvanians learned their fight was not yet over as they 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

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c. 1860-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

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

Following their arrival in Virginia and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln on 12 July, Private Edwin Dreisbach and others from the 47th Pennsylvania’s detachment 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 first day of the month arrived with the promotion of a man who would first become the commanding officer of his company before ultimately being advanced to a key leadership role with the regiment. 1st Lieutenant Levi Stuber of I Company was now Captain Levi Stuber.

In addition, regimental records documented that Private Edwin Dreisbach received pay in August 1864 for service as a member of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band, and confirm that the regiment was assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia during the early part of the month before engaging in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a mimic war being waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early. The next month – September 1864 – saw the regiment engage in its first major test of its new campaign as it fought in the Battle of Berryville, Virginia.

In addition, the opening weeks of September were marked by the departure of several 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who had served honorably, but whose three-year terms of service were expiring. Those members of the 47th who remained on duty – like Private Edwin Dreisbach – 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 I and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces in the Battle of Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”). The battle is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory here helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.

Battle of Opequan (aka Third Winchester), Virginia, 19 September 1864 (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 bogged down in the midst of the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. When they finally reached the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with Early’s Confederate Army. 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.

Battle of Winchester, 19 September 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 8 October 1864, public domain). Also known as the Battle of Opequan or Third Winchester.

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.

On the day of the Union’s success at Opequan (19 September 1864), several men from I Company received promotions, including 1st Sergeant Theodore Mink, who advanced to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Corporals William H. Meyers and Edwin Kemp were promoted to the rank of Sergeant while Privates Thomas N. Burke and Allen Knauss became corporals. Private Oscar Miller was then mustered out the next day, on 20 September, upon expiration of his term of service.

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.

Battle of Cedar Creek, 19 October 1864

Alfred Waud’s 1864 sketch, Surprise at Cedar Creek, which captured the flanking attack on the rear of Union Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th Corps by Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate army, and the subsequent resistance by Emory’s troops from their Union rifle-pit positions, 19 October 1864 (public domain).

It was during the Fall of 1864 that General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s crops and farming infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents – civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops began peeling off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally.

From a military standpoint, it was another impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to Bates:

When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – “Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’”

Sheridan Rallying His Troops, Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The Union’s counterattack punched Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:

When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.

Once again, the casualties for the 47th were high. Sergeant William Pyers, the C Company man who had so gallantly rescued the flag at Pleasant Hill was cut down in full view of his drummer boy son, Samuel. Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap.

Within his own unit, Private Edwin Dreisbach directly witnessed and then also later learned of multiple officers and enlisted men from I Company who were killed or severely wounded, including Corporal Allen Knauss, who sustained a gunshot wound to the right side of his face, as well as others who had been captured by Rebel soldiers and carted off to Confederate prisons at Andersonville, Georgia, Richmond, Virginia and Salisbury, North Carolina.

The most unfortunate of these POWs perished during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Day, their remains buried in unmarked trenches at the Confederate prisons were they fell. As a result, the news of each comrade’s passing sparked not only dismal holidays for many members of the regiment, but indelible psychic wounds when combined with the homesickness experienced by so many as the war raged on. Each new Christmas and New Year for many 47th Pennsylvanians rekindled painful memories of comrades lost and simpler, safer times – the phenomenon termed nostalgia by physicians of the era, which today can still be one of the most challenging symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Soldiering On

Following these major engagements, Private Edwin Dreisbach and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were stationed at Camp Russell near Winchester, Virginia from November through most of December. Rested and somewhat healed following their November-December sojourn, they trudged through deep snow five days before Christmas to reach their next destination – outpost and railroad guard duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia.

1865 – 1866

Spectators massing for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865, at the side of the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (Matthew Brady, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Assigned first to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah in February, the men of the 47th moved, via Winchester and Kernstown, back to Washington, D.C. where, by 19 April 1865, the regiment once again assigned to defend the nation’s capital – this time in the wake of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Letters home and later newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania indicate that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the key Lincoln assassination conspirators during the opening days of their imprisonment and trial.

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. It was also during this phase of duty that Captain Levi Stuber, the commanding officer of I Company was promoted to the rank of Major with the regiment’s central command staff, and 1st Lieutenant Theodore Mink was advanced to the rank of Captain, I Company (22 May 1865).

An early thinning of the 47th Pennsylvania’s ranks then began on 1 June 1865 when a General Order from the U.S. Office of the Adjutant General provided for the honorable discharge of several members of the regiment, including multiple members of I Company. But Private Edwin Dreisbach remained on duty.

Ruins of the Catholic Cathedral, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865 (George N. Barnard. U.S. Library of Congress, public domain)

On their final southern tour, he and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Again attached to Dwight’s Division, this time they were assigned to the 3rd Brigade, U.S. Department of the South.

Relieving the 165th New York Volunteers in July, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers next quartered in the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury at Charleston, South Carolina. As with their previous tours of duty in the Deep South, disease stalked the 47th with men who had survived the worst in battle now felled by fevers, tropical diseases and dysentery. 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.

Finally, beginning on Christmas day of that year, the majority of the men of Company I, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers – including Private Edwin Dreisbach – 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

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

Following his honorable discharge from the military, Edwin Dreisbach returned home to his wife and young son in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Sometime around 1866, another son – Willie – was born. By August 1870, the growing family was residing in Allentown’s 3rd Ward, where Edwin Dreisbach was employed as a tinsmith. The federal census taker that year noted that his real estate and personal holdings were valued at $800, and that his son, Harry, was enrolled at a local school. On 1 March 1871, he and his wife, greeted the arrival of another child – daughter, Mary Elisa.

By 1880, the Dreisbachs were residents of Allentown’s 8th Ward, and had added another twig to their family tree. According to the federal census, the household included father and tinsmith “Edward,” mother “Clara,” and children: Harry, a 19-year-old apprentice tinsmith; Willie, a 15-year-old errand boy for a truck stand; Mary, aged 10; and Emma, who was born in August 1874.

Lehigh County Almshouse, Washington Township, Pennsylvania (1885, public domain).

But life for the Dreisbach family changed dramatically during the next decade, driven into a downward spiral by several key incidents. One of the first, according to the 21 December 1881 edition of The Allentown Democrat, was a devastating incident involving his son, Willie:

A young man named William Dreisbach, son of Edwin Dreisbach, residing at 743 Gordon street, met with a painful accident … this afternoon. He attempted to board a moving … train [when] his feet got under the cars, and was so severely injured the foot had to be amputated…. The young man is about 16 years of age.

The mishap, while most tragic for Willie, also took a major toll on other members of the family – particularly Edwin Dreisbach, who had already been placed a greater risk for Soldier’s Heart (post-traumatic stress disorder) by his Civil War combat experiences. According to the Sidran Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to “[helping] people understand, recover from, and treat: traumatic stress (including PTSD), dissociative disorders, and co-occurring issues, such as addictions, self-injury, and suicidality,” post-traumatic stress disorder “may develop following exposure to extreme trauma” – defined as “a terrifying event or ordeal that a person has experienced, witnessed, or learned about, especially one that is life-threatening or causes physical harm,” and which may also cause an individual “to feel intense fear, horror, or a sense of helplessness.” Such trauma, if prolonged, “may disrupt and alter brain chemistry.”

Individuals at risk of developing PTSD have historically included those who have:

  • Been “combat veterans or civilian victims of war”;
  • Cared for survivors of traumatic experiences as search and rescue professionals, emergency medical service workers, police, firefighters, or military; and/or
  • Learned “of the sudden unexpected death of a close friend or relative.”

Of particular relevance to the Dreisbach situation are Sidran statistics which note that individuals who have witnessed a “killing or serious injury,” or the “life-threatening injury” to one of their children, or a “shooting or stabbing” are, respectively, 7.3, 10.4, or 15.4 percent more likely, to develop PTSD than people who have never had those experiences.

In Edwin Dreisbach’s case, one of the earliest and clearest signs that he had developed Soldier’s Heart (PTSD) was a special veterans’ census which documented his status as an internee at the Lehigh County Almshouse in 1890. Suffering from mental illness for roughly the last 25 years of his life (according to newspaper accounts of his life published in 1906), Edwin Dreisbach had spent much of his early 50s at the regional poorhouse in Washington Township because that was the only facility at the time that the county had to house anyone deemed by the courts as too ill or unstable to continue residing in their respective communities. According to the Seventeenth Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of Public Charities:

This almshouse was twice visited during the past year; there were in the insane department at the end of the year, 18 patients, of which 8 were males, 10 females; 2 were epileptics, 3 paralytic, 1 homicidal; 1 was under restraint, 1 was on parole at home, 2 were regularly taking medicine, 2 on extra diet, 5 fed with feeding cups, and 4 were unclean in person and habits. The kind of restraint used consists of handcuffs, for violence or fighting. There are two attendants, a male and female, who together receive $400 per year.

These insane should be removed to the State hospital, as soon as accommodations can be provided for them, where their care and comfort can be better provided for than in an almshouse. The general management of this institution is very commendable to the directors and the steward….

Attorney Calvin Beitel shed further led on the troubling status of almshouse internees in A Treatise on the Poor Laws of Pennsylvania:

In 1884, the committee on lunacy decided to transfer all the insane in the different county poor houses to the hospitals for the insane in the respective districts. In 1889 an act was passed giving authority to the board of charities to transfer back to the poor houses certain classes of the insane in the hospitals.

But “very few” internees had actually been relocated by 1899 when his book was published. Also per Beitel:

In 1891 the act establishing the asylum for the chronic insane was passed, and the building was located at Wernersville [Berks County]. The object was expressly stated in the following sections of the act:

‘Section 7: The commissioners, upon acquiring the necessary land, shall, as soon as temporary quarters can be provided, transfer twenty able-bodied, harmless, chronic insane, from each of the hospitals for the insane, to the premises and farm provided for said asylum, to engage in farm work, grading, macadamizing, excavating for buildings and such other employment as may be required for the reception, care and provision of the subsequent occupants.

‘Section 14: Said trustees shall cause to be employed skillful foremen and forewomen to secure the safe and economical employment of the largest number of the asylum, for the purpose of enabling said inmates to contribute to the extent of their ability to the cost of their maintenance.’

…. Bills for the establishment of a hospital for the insane of the central counties of this commonwealth were presented to the legislature of 1893, 1895 and 1897, but never came out of the committee on appropriations, to which they were referred.

Only in 1897, after the burning of the state capitol, was any explanation given of the unconcern and indifference manifested for the care of the insane.

…. [U]p to 1891 the uniform policy of the commonwealth was to provide hospitals for all classes of the insane; but the policy initiated before 1891 is now [in 1899] to be supplanted by an entirely different policy, taking the care of the insane from the commonwealth and placing it in the hands of the directors of the poor of the different counties, who are expected to erect buildings on the grounds attached to the poor houses, for their accommodation….

The act of May 15, 1897 [P. L. 83 and P. & L. Dig. Sup. 383, §1], provided even more details:

‘That any county, municipality, borough or township of this commonwealth, which now has or may hereafter supply, erect and equip a suitable institution for the maintenance, care and treatment of its indigent insane, upon plans and specifications approved in writing by the board of public charities, shall receive from the state treasury the sum of one dollar and fifty cents per week for every indigent insane person of such county, municipality, borough or township so maintained, who has been legally adjudged to be insane and committed to such institution, or who may be transferred from a state hospital for the insane to such local institution: Provided, That the board of public charities shall be satisfied that the quality and equipment of such institution, and the manner of care and treatment therein furnished, is proper and suitable to the class or classes of the indigent insane so maintained, and shall so certify to the auditor general before any such payment shall be made.’

Regarding the removal and subsequent “maintenance” of those deemed “indigent” and “insane,” Section I of Pennsylvania’s P.L. 388 enacted on 26 June 1895, noted:

That upon commitment by a justice of the peace or other committing magistrate to a county jail or other prison within this commonwealth of any person on a criminal charge less than felony, who, upon examination by any to physicians of at least five years’ practice, shall be certified by them to be insane, it shall be the duty of county commissioners of such county, with the approval of the court of quarter sessions of such county, or one of the judges thereof to, within fifteen days after such examination, certification and approval, at the expense of such county, remove such indigent insane person to the proper hospital for the insane, there to be maintained at the expense of such county as indigent insane persons are now kept and supported, until the proper legal settlement of such indigent insane person can be ascertained and determined.

When individuals with mental illness were admitted to the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital and Union Asylum for the Insane, state law stipulated the following (via P.L. 440, Section 9, enacted on 14 April 1845):

Indigent persons and paupers shall be charged for medical attendance, board and nursing, while residents in the hospital, no more than the actual cost; paying patients, whose friends can pay their expenses, and who are not chargeable upon townships or counties, shall pay according to the terms directed by the trustees.

Meanwhile, Section 14 of P. & L. Dig 2768, § 12 spelled out the “Power of Courts to Commit,” saying:

That if any person shall apply to any court of record within this commonwealth, having jurisdiction of offenses which are punishable by imprisonment for the term of ninety days or longer, for the commitment to said asylum any insane person within the county in which such court has jurisdiction, it shall be the duty of said court to inquire into the fact of insanity in the manner provided by law, and if such court shall be satisfied that such person is, by reason of insanity, unsafe to be at large, or is suffering any unnecessary duress or hardship, such court shall, on application aforesaid, commit such insane person to said asylum.

Although a different court case entirely from the one which resulted in Edwin Dreisbach’s confinement, the 5 September 1898 ruling in the Friedenberger lunacy hearing “promulgated the following instructions relative to commitment of indigent insane by overseers of the poor,” according to Beitel:

‘(I) When application is made for removal to any asylum, of a person alleged to be insane, it must first be determined whether the patient ought to become a charge upon the public. If he was sick, would he become a proper subject for almshouse relief? The directors of the poor have no authority to send all insane persons to the asylum – only those who are indigent. Others must be sent as paid patients, at the expense of themselves or relatives….

‘(2) If the person is indigent, but has parents or grandparents, children or grandchildren able either in property or earnings, to pay for his support the weekly charge at the asylum ($1.75 per week) if he is found to be insane, the directors of the poor shall take security for payment of this sum, as these relatives are liable for his maintenance under the acts of assembly, and the court is empowered to order: Act June 13, 1836, P.L. 539, Section 28; April 28, 1869, P.L. 78, Section 9.

‘(3) A certificate of insanity must be signed by two physicians, who reside in this state; each of them must have practiced five years; each must make a separate examination of the alleged insane person. They must not be related by blood or marriage to the person examined. The certificate must be made within one week of the examination, and be sworn to before a judge or magistrate of the county, who shall himself certify to the genuineness of the signatures and to the good repute of the physicians.

‘(4) Let every physician called upon for this purpose carefully carefully read the following act of assembly: March 23, 1876, P.L. 8, Section I:

‘If any physician shall falsely certify to the insanity of any person, and it shall appear in evidence that such false certificate was the result of negligence or deficient personal skill on the part of said physician, or that said physician signed such certificate for a pecuniary reward, or for the promise of a pecuniary reward, or for any other consideration or value whatsoever, or other than the professional fee usually paid for such services, or in which the false certificate shall tend in any manner directly or indirectly to advance said physician, other than relates to the said professional fee, then the said physician shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction be fined not exceeding $500 or undergo an imprisonment not exceeding one year or both or either at the discretion of the court.’

The Final Years of Edwin Dreisbach and His Wife

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

By the time that a federal census taker arrived at her door 1900, Clara Dreisbach was residing alone in Allentown’s 4th Ward with her youngest daughter, Emma, aged 25. The census taker noted that neither was employed at the time and that, of the six children Clara had given birth to, only two were still alive.

* Note: The other surviving child was the Dreisbach family’s oldest daughter, Mary Elisa, who had wed millwright William H. Glose (1870-1929) sometime around 1890. In 1900, the Glose’s Allentown household included three young daughters – Florence, Grace and “Margarite” (aged 9, 6 and 4, respectively). Son Amandus William Glose (1902-1957) then opened his eyes in the City of Allentown for the first time on 14 January 1902.

Lehigh County Almshouse, Washington Township, Pennsylvania (1885, public domain).

Civil War veteran Edwin Dreisbach, however, remained confined to the Lehigh County Almshouse. Despite his having been awarded a U.S. Civil War Pension in 1901, he and his family continued to face serious hardship. In its 5 October 1904, 22 November 1905, and 1 January 1906 editions, The Allentown Democrat documented their struggles, noting in 1904 that the courts had “declared [Edwin] Dreisbach, an inmate of the County Home, unsound mentally,” and noting “that he has been with out [sic] lucid intervals for … years.”

In 1905, a “rule was granted on the Lehigh Valley Trust and Safe Deposit Co., committee of Edwin Dreisbach, a lunatic, for support of his wife, Clara Dreisbach.” And on New Year’s Day in 1906, the newspaper announced that, “In the estate of Edwin Dreisbach, a lunatic, the committee was directed to pay $2 a week for the support of Clara Dreisbach, his wife.”

Death and Interment

Sometime during his confinement at the almshouse, Edwin Dreisbach also developed dropsy, a form of severe edema frequently associated with congestive heart failure. As his health continued to fail, his family continued to struggle.

A measure of peace finally came for the old soldier when he succumbed to complications from dropsy at the Lehigh County hospital on Sunday evening, 21 October 1906. Following funeral services at the home of his daughter, Mary Elisa (Dreisbach) Glose, on Friday, 24 October, Edwin Dreisbach was laid to rest with military honors at Greenwood Cemetery in Allentown.

The Allentown Democrat reported on his passing as follows:

Edwin Driesbach died at the County Home on Sunday night, of dropsy, aged 74 years. He had been mentally unbalanced for nearly 25 years during which time he was an inmate of the home. He was a tinsmith by trade, and served during the civil war in Co. I, 47th Regiment, Pa. Vols. He for many years was a member of the Allentown and Citizens’ Bands. He is survived by his widow, and a daughter, Mrs. William Glose, of Allentown. The funeral will be held to-morrow from the home of his daughter, No. 517 Green street.

The Allentown Leader then also reported on his funeral:

The funeral of Edward Dreisbach, the Civil War veteran, who died at the County Hospital Monday, took place this afternoon, from the residence of his son-in-law, William H. Glose, No. 517 Green Street. The services were conducted at the house by Rev. T. F. Herman. Interment was made with military honors in Greenwood Cemetery. Veterans of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Co. E, Second Regiment, S. of V. Reserves, attended. Grand Army veterans were pall bearers.

What Factors May Have Contributed to Edwin Dreisbach’s Mental Illness?

Based on currently available records which document Edwin Dreisbach’s life, he gave the impression, during his early twenties, of being an average, healthy young man. He learned and honed his skills as an apprentice tinsmith, married and started a family, and his name was not yet a subject of local newspaper reports – as it would be in later life.

The early years of America’s Civil War also seem to be a time that he weathered quite well – despite having engaged in and been injured by the intense combat of the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina during that war’s second year. After recuperating from his battle wound, he was deemed fit enough to return to duty – which he did. Then, after completing his initial three-year term of enlistment, he was offered the opportunity to honorably depart from the regiment or re-enlist after being deemed fit enough by his superiors to do so. He chose to re-up – for a second, three-year tour of duty.

It was in this second tour, then, where the seeds of his decline were most likely sown. Transported with his regiment to Louisiana in late February of 1864, he spent five months trying to stay alive during the Red River Campaign. Watching as multiple members of his regiment were cut down in combat while others were felled by grueling marches over difficult terrain in a harsh climate, he began to fill a hurt locker with experiences alien to all he had ever known.

This difficult Spring was then followed by an even more difficult Fall – and the intensity of Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

The cumulative nature of personal “close calls” combined with the loss of comrades were known to have caused soldiers during and even before the 19th century to develop “Soldier’s Heart.” According to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz:

Civil War combat … was concentrated and personal, featuring large-scale battles in which bullets rather than bombs or missiles caused over 90 percent of the carnage. Most troops fought on foot, marching in tight formation and firing at relatively close range, as they had in Napoleonic times. But by the 1860s, they wielded newly accurate and deadly rifles, as well as improved cannons. As a result, units were often cut down en masse, showering survivors with the blood, brains and body parts of their comrades.

Many soldiers regarded the aftermath of battle as even more horrific, describing landscapes so body-strewn that one could cross them without touching the ground.

Adds Horwitz, “flashbacks, panic attacks, insomnia and suicidal thoughts – turn[ed] up frequently among Civil War soldiers, particularly those who entered asylums.” More than a few had been sent away from their homes and communities “because they barricaded themselves in rooms, awake all night with weapons at the ready.”

Edwin Dreisbach’s decline was, in reality, not all that uncommon – even among men from his own regiment. At least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was known to have committed suicide during the war while a second ended his life in 1880 by overdosing on morphine, and a third was confined to the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. for the last decade of his life. And within Dreisbach’s own unit – Company I – Solomon Gross was documented on the special veterans’ census of 1890 as being confined to the U.S. Hospital for the Insane in Danville, Pennsylvania. Like Dreisbach, he had been wounded in combat while serving with the 47th.

Second State Colors, 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers (presented to the regiment 7 March 1865).

In 1866, Walt Whitman evoked what life must truly have been like for Edwin Dreisbach and his comrades via the poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed:

And I saw askant the armies,
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierc’d with missiles I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody,
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.

I saw the battle corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
And I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffered not,
The living remained and suffered, the mother suffered,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffered,
And the armies that remained suffered….

The Toll of Caregiving

Worn down by the difficulties of life with a severely mentally ill spouse and the constant battles to get him the care he deserved, Clara (Burger) Dreisbach, survived less than a year after her husband’s death. She passed away in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 16 September 1907, and was laid to rest at the same cemetery where her Civil War veteran husband had been interred in 1906 – Allentown’s Greenwood Cemetery.

The Allentown Leader reported her passing with this simple notice:

On September 16 … Clara, widow of Edwin Dreisbach, aged 63 years. Private funeral services at the residence of her son-in-law, William Glose, No. 517 Green Street, on Wednesday afternoon…. Interment in Greenwood Cemetery.

After welcoming the birth of six more children – Miriam, Steward, William, Paul, Jerald, and Richard (born respectively c. 1905, 1906, 1908, March 1909, 1912, and 1913), and making a home for her family in Lehigh County’s Lowhill Township, Mary Elisa (Dreisbach) Glose – daughter of Civil War veteran Edwin Dreisbach – was preceded in death by her husband, William H. Glose. Soldiering on another two decades without him, she then also passed away in Lehigh County. Following her death on 5 December 1950, she was laid to rest in the same cemetery where her parents and husband were buried – Allentown’s Greenwood Cemetery.

Amandus William Glose, son of Mary Elisa (Dreisbach) Glose and grandson of Civil War veteran Edwin Dreisbach, became a foreman at a cement plant and also married. Following his death in Macungie, Lehigh County, on 22 November 1957, he was then interred at the Woodlawn Memorial Park in Allentown.

 

 

Sources:

1. Amos Ettinger, in History’s Headlines The Roots of ROAR. Allentown, Pennsylvania: WFMZ-TV, 22 February 2015.

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

3. Beitel, Calvin G. A. Of the Indigent Insane, in Chapter XXIII, Treatise on the Poor Laws of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: T. and J. W. Johnson & Co., 1899.

4. Dreisbach and Dreisbach, Edwin, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

5. Dreisbach and Driesbach, Edwin (court declarations regarding his mental illness and confinement to the Lehigh County Almshouse). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 5 October 1904, 22 November 1905.

6. Dreisbach, Edwin and Clara. U.S. Civil War Pension Index. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1901-1907.

7. Driesbach, Clara (obituary). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 17 September 1907.

8. Dreisbach, Edwin (obituary). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 24 October 1906.

9. Dreisbach, Edward (obituary). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 25 October 1906.

10. Edward Dreisbach and Clarissa Burger (marriage notice). Allentown, Pennsylvania, Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, 16 December 1863.

11. Horwitz, Tony. Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD?, in Smithsonian Magazine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, January 2015.

12. Jones, Edgar. Historical Approaches to Post-combat Disorders, in Philosophical Transactions B. London, United Kingdom: Royal Society, 29 April 2006.

13. Matt, Susan J. Home, Sweet Home, in Disunion. New York, New York: The New York Times, 19 April 2012.

14. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Fact Sheet. Brooklandville, Maryland, Sidran Institute, retrieved online 1 November 2017.

15. Railroad Accident (injury of Willie Dreisbach). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 21 December 1881.

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

17. Seventeenth Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of Public Charities of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 1886; Also the Reports of the General Agent and Secretary, Statistics and Committee on Lunacy: Transmitted to the Legislature, January 1887. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Edwin K. Meyers, State Printer, 1887.

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

 

 

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