Born on 1 April 1836 in Moore Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, Charles Nolf, Jr. was a son of Moore Township natives, Charles Nolf, Sr. (1816-1879) and Susannah (Schaeffer) Nolf (1813-1898). Records from the Salem United Church of Christ in Northampton County confirm that Charles was baptized in Moorestown, Northampton County on 16 May that same year. The given names of both he and his father were inscribed in the church ledger as “Carl.”
During the early 1850s, Charles Jr.’s father, Charles Nolf, Sr., was employed as an innkeeper, the 1850 census describing the establishment as an “Oyster Saloon” and an 1864 U.S. Internal Revenue Service Tax Assessment list labeling it “Hotel.” A civic minded individual, Charles Nolf, Sr. was dedicated to the betterment of his community, according to the History of Our Church presented on the website of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania:
The Lutheran residents of Catasauqua longed to form their own congregation, but as of the winter of 1851, they were unable to take on such a project alone. Instead, they joined with the German Reformed congregation, and together, they agreed to form and build a “Union Church.” Between the two congregations, they formed a building committee; Solomon Biery, of the Reformed faith, worked with George Breinig, Samuel Koehler, and Charles Nolf of the Lutherans. While preparations for the building of the new church began, they attended religious services at the First Presbyterian Church (now the Catasauqua Presbyterian Church).
Civil War Military Service
Charles Nolf, Jr. became one of the first responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help defend the nation’s capital following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces in mid-April 1861. Joining with his fellow members of the Catasauqua Rifles, he mustered in for military duty on 24 April 1861 as 1st Corporal with Company D of the 9th Pennsylvania Infantry, serving under Captain G. D. Hand, 1st Lieutenant Coleman A. G. Keck, and 1st Sergeant Levi Stuber, and alongside 4th Corporal Granville Hangen, as well as a number of privates he would come to know in battle and fraternally over the next several years.
From the time of his arrival at Camp Curtin until his regiment’s departure for West Chester on 4 May 1861, 1st Corporal Nolf and his fellow 9th Pennsylvanians were armed, equipped, and drilled daily in infantry tactics. Stationed next at Camp Wayne in West Chester, Nolf and his men were joined there by the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry. (More than a few of the soldiers from the 11th Pennsylvania would also later become part of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.)
On 26 May 1861, the members of the 9th Pennsylvania were transported by train to Philadelphia and then on to Wilmington, Delaware, where they remained until 6 June 1861 “to encourage and strengthen the local sentiment, and to prevent the sending of troops to the rebel army,” according to Samuel P. Bates in his History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5.
Joining Major-General Robert Patterson’s Chambersburg, Pennsylvania command in early June as part of the 4th Brigade, 1st Division headed by U.S. Army Colonel Dixon S. Miles, the men of the 9th Pennsylvania next pitched their tents near Greencastle on 13 June 1864. Three days later, they forded the Potomac River on the right of the 4th Brigade – literally wading chest deep at some points en route to their encampment between Williamsport and Martinsburg, Virginia. The next day, they were ordered back across the river where, still part of the 4th Brigade, they were now under the leadership of Brigade Commander, Colonel H. C. Longenecker and Division Commander, Major-General George Cadwalader. Stationed here through the end of the month, they were assigned to picket duty.
Following the Union’s battle with Rebel troops at Falling Waters, Virginia, the men of the 9th Pennsylvania (having not fought in that engagement) were ordered to head for Martinsburg, Virginia, where they remained from 3-15 July when they broke camp and marched toward Bunker Hill.
Although Major-General Patterson had initially planned to have his forces meet the Confederates head on at Bunker Hill and Winchester, officers directly under his command changed his mind during a Council of War on 9 July in Martinsburg. A confrontation there would be disastrous for the Union, they reasoned, because the enemy was not only heavily fortified and entrenched, it could be easily resupplied and strengthened as Rebel leaders brought in more troops via the Confederate-controlled railroad.
History has proven those officers correct. Having avoided a likely bloodbath, 1st Corporal Charles Nolf, Jr. and the 9th Pennsylvania encamped with the 4th Brigade near Charlestown from 17-21 July, and then headed for Harper’s Ferry. After crossing the Potomac into Maryland, the 9th made camp roughly a mile away. The next day, with not a single casualty among its ranks, Nolf and the 9th Pennsylvania headed home by way of Hagerstown and Harrisburg. Having completed his Three Months’ Service, 1st Corporal Charles Nolf, Jr. honorably mustered out with his regiment at Camp Curtin on 29 July 1861.
After completing their Three Months’ Service with Company D of the 9th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a contingent of veterans from Catasauqua chose to re-enlist, joining the newly formed 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry over the next year. Charles Nolf, Jr. was one of those men.
Civil War Military Service – Three Years’ Service (47th Pennsylvania Volunteers)
A tracklayer in his mid-twenties, according to his entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives (or a bricklayer, according to historian Lewis Schmidt), Charles Nolf, Jr. was a resident of Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania at the time of his re-enlistment for Civil War service. Re-enrolling at Allentown on 5 August 1861, he again mustered in at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg – this time as a Sergeant with Company I of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
Military records at the time described him as being 5’10” tall with black hair, black eyes and a dark complexion.
As a member of Company I, Sergeant Charles Nolf, Jr. served under Captain Coleman A. G. Keck, as well as Levi and James Stuber, who respectively entered at the ranks of 1st and 2nd Lieutenant. Among the rank and file who enlisted were six carpenters, four printers, seven shoemakers, four tinsmiths, and teamsters.
Following a brief light infantry training period, Sergeant Nolf 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.
I am happy to inform you that our young townsman, Mr. William Hendricks, has received the appointment of Sergeant Major to our Regiment. He made his first appearance at guard mounting this morning; he looked well, done up his duties admirably, and, in time, will make an excellent officer. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.
On 24 September, Sergeant Nolf and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers became part of the federal service when the regiment officially mustered into the U.S. Army. Three days later, on 27 September – a rainy day, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvania was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.
The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to General W.F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.
Once again, Company C Musician Henry Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:
On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….
We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….
There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville, a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….
Sometime during this phase of duty, as part of the 3rd Brigade, the 47th Pennsylvanians were moved to a site they initially christened “Camp Big Chestnut” for the large chestnut tree located within their lodging’s boundaries. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.
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 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….
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 reviews and their guard duties in rainy weather gradually began to wear the men down; more and more members of the regiment fell ill with fever and other ailments; more died.
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.
Those preparations ceased on Monday, 27 January, at 10 a.m. for a very public dismissal of one member of the regiment – Private James C. Robinson who was dishonorably discharged from the 47th Pennsylvania (effective 27 January 1862). According to Schmidt and letters home from members of the regiment:
The regiment was formed and instructed by Lt. Col. Alexander ‘that we were about drumming out a member who had behaved himself unlike a soldier.’ …. The prisoner, Pvt. James C. Robinson of Company I, was a 36 year old miner from Allentown who had been ‘disgracefully discharged’ by order of the War Department. Pvt. Robinson was marched out with martial music playing and a guard of nine men, two men on each side and five behind him at charge bayonets. The music then struck up with ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as the procession was marched up and down in front of the regiment, and Pvt. Robinson was marched out of the yard.
Reloading then resumed. By that afternoon, when the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers. The officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
In 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.
The month of May brought a slight reshuffling of responsibilities in I Company when Private William Frack was promoted to the rank of Corporal on 1 May and, per Order No. 22, Private Robert R. Kingsborough replaced Private William O’Brien as company cook, and began reporting to the company quartermaster. On 17 May, Private John W. H. Diehl was promoted to the rank of Corporal.
A Senseless Tragedy
Of all the vagaries of war, perhaps the hardest on the heart are the deaths caused not by the enemy, but by friendly fire – senseless surprises which seem to happen in every conflict no matter how seasoned the soldiers involved. And so it was in the heat of a Summer’s day in Florida on 9 June 1862 when Sergeant Charles Nolf, Jr. of I Company was accidentally killed while out for a jaunt with friends to collect seashells on a beach in the southern part of Key West. On 16 June 1862, Company C Musician Henry D. Wharton recounted the incident in a letter home from Key West to the Sunbury American:
A very sad accident happened here one day last week, which has cast a gloom over the whole regiment. First Sergeant Charles Nolf, Co. I., 47th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers was out on the beach with a few friends of his company gathering shells; in front of them were four of the 90th New York boys with loadened [sic] rifles on their shoulders, one of them was carelessly playing with the trigger of his gun, when bang! went off the load, the ball entering the forehead of Nolf, killing him instantly. Great excitement was caused by the accident, and for a time (our boys not knowing the particulars) some of them were determined to avenge their comrade’s death, but an investigation pronounced it accidental, when they were satisfied. Nolf was a young man of excellent character, beloved by all who knew him, and it seems hard that he should be hurried into eternity in such a manner, and that too, when the carrying of loadened [sic] rifles is strictly prohibited.
The entry for Sergeant Charles Nolf, Jr. in the Registers of Deaths of Volunteer U.S. Soldiers was made by Elisha W. Baily, M.D., the Regimental Surgeon for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers:
Interment, Exhumation and Reburial on Home Soil
Resolutions expressing sympathy for the Sergeant Nolf were subsequently written by officers of the 47th Pennsylvania and published in the 25 June 1862 edition of The Lehigh Register.Initially interred in Florida (possibly at the Key West Post Cemetery, according to Schmidt), the body of Sergeant Nolf was exhumed by Allentown undertaker Paul Balliet and returned with several others from the 47th Pennsylvania and other northern regiments to their respective home towns in late January and February 1864.
Following the arrival of Sergeant Nolf’s remains in his home state of Pennsylvania, Sergeant Charles Nolf, Jr. was formally laid to rest with military honors at the Fairview Cemetery in West Catasauqua, Leigh County at the same spot in Section 9 where his parents were eventually also interred. His gravestone was inscribed with the following words:
CHARLES NOLF JR.
CHAS. & SUSANNAH NOLF
BORN APR. 1, 1836
Was accidentally shot at
Key West, Florida
MAY 9, 1862
1ST Sergt., Co. I, 47 Regt.
Pa. Vol. Inf. Civilwar 1861-65
Sergeant Charles Nolf’s mother subsequently applied for his U.S. Civil War pension in 1879. Survivors, in addition to his parents, included his sisters, Marietta (Nolf) Benner (1837-1915) and Emilia S. (Nolf) Lynn (1841-1909), and his brother, William R. Nolf (1851-1934).
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
2. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
3. Claim for Pension (mother of Charles Nolf, application no.: 248010, certificate no.: 201106), in U.S. Civil War Pension Index. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 7 July 1879.
4. Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
5. Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records (baptismal, marriage, death and burial records of various churches across Pennsylvania). Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
6. History of Our Church, on St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church website. Catasauqua: Retrieved 12.14.15.
7. Letter from the Sunbury Guards, Key West, Fla., June 16, 1862, in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 5 July 1862.
8. Pennsylvania Veterans’ Burial Index Cards. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
9. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, in Records of the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1862.
10. Resolutions [from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers regarding the death of Charles Nolf], in The Lehigh Register. Allentown: 25 June 1862.
11. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
12. Todte Körper heimgebracht, in Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, 2 February 1864.
13. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1850, 1860.
14. U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Internal Revenue Service, 1863-1864.