Alternate Spellings of Given Name: Gottleib, Gottlieb. Alternate Spellings of Surname: Feisel, Fiesel
Gottlieb Fiesel was born sometime around 1823. Although little has been uncovered by researchers to date regarding his birth and formative years, what is known for certain is that, at the dawn of the Civil War, he was a 38-year-old weaver residing in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and that what happened to him just 428 days into his Civil War military service would forever immortalize his name.
A single paragraph in the 19th century medical textbook series, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, which recounts physicians’ treatment of Gottlieb Fiesel in the Fall of 1862, speaks volumes about the fighting spirit and bravery of this man.
Civil War Military Service
On 21 August 1861, Gottlieb Fiesel enrolled for Civil War military service at Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. He then officially mustered in for duty on 17 September 1861 at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County as a Private with Company K of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
* Note: Company K was raised with the intent of being an “all-German company,” which was to be composed entirely of German Americans who had been born and raised in the United States, had become naturalized citizens, or were more recent immigrants. The company’s founder, George Junker, was a 26-year-old, proud native of Germany who lived and worked as a tombstone carver in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and served as a Quartermaster Sergeant with the Allen Infantry at the dawn of the Civil War. Also known as the “Allen Guards,” this group of soldiers was commanded by Captain Thomas Yeager and became the first of the Allentown militia units (and one of the first five Pennsylvania units) to respond to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to defend the nation’s capital following the Fall of Fort Sumter in mid-April 1861. Sergeant Junker and his fellow Allen Infantrymen primarily performed guard duty during their Three Months’ service, according to various historical accounts of the period, and served from 18 April until being honorably discharged on 23 July 1861. Knowing that the war was far from over, many of these men chose to re-up for three-year terms of service, and promptly re-enrolled with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Summer of 1861.
Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics at Camp Curtin, Private Gottlieb Fiesel and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were transported by rail to Washington, D.C. Stationed roughly two miles from the White House beginning 21 September, they pitched tents at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown.
On 22 September, Henry D. Wharton, a Musician with the regiment’s C Company, penned the following update 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.
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.
Acclimated somewhat to their new way of life, the soldiers of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry finally became part of the U.S. Army when they were officially mustered into federal service on 24 September.
On 27 September – a rainy day which gave soldiers time to read or write letters home to loved ones, 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. Ordered to Virginia by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvanians 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, 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….
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 the confines of their camp. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.
On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a mid-October letter home, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to lead the entire 47th Regiment) reported that companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, E, G, H, and K) 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 morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th engaged in a 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.” Also around this time, Captain Junker issued his first Special Order to the men of K Company:
I. 15 minutes after breakfast every tent will be cleaned. The commander of each tent will be held responsible for it, and every soldier must obey the orders of the tent commander. If not, said commanders will report such men to the orderly Sgt. who will report them to headquarters.
II. There will be company drills every two hours during the day, including regimental drills with knapsacks. No one will be excused except by order of the regimental surgeon. The hours will be fixed by the commander, and as it is not certain therefore, every man must stay in his quarter, being always ready for duty. The roll will be called each time and anyone in camp found not answering will be punished the first time with extra duty. The second with carrying the 75 lb. weights, increased to 95 lb. The talking in ranks is strictly forbidden. The first offense will be punished with carrying 80 lb. weights increased to 95 lbs. for four hours.
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 a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by Colonel Tilghman Good, followed by brigade and division drills all 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 the regiment’s impressive performance that day – and in preparation for even bigger adventures yet to come, Brigadier-General Brannan ordered his staff to ensure that brand new Springfield rifles were obtained and distributed to every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
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 rail to Alexandria, they then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before being marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped rail cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland.
Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.
By the afternoon of Monday, 27 January, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had commenced boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, Private Gottlieb Fiesel and the other enlisted men boarded first, followed by the officers. Then, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. The 47th Pennsylvanians were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the United States, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
Traveling by steamer from Annapolis, Maryland to Key West, Florida in January 1862, Private Gottlieb Fiesel and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians arrived in Key West, Florida in early February. There, they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvanians introduced their presence to Key West residents by parading through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of soldiers from the regiment attended to their spiritual needs by sitting in on the services at local churches, where they also met and mingled with residents from the area.
During this time, they also felled trees, built new roads, and strengthened the federal installation’s fortifications.
From mid-June through July, the 47th was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men made camp before being housed in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly rotated among the regiments present there at the time, putting soldiers at increased risk from sniper fire.
Captain Junker and his men were among those assigned to picket details on 5 July. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, during this phase of their service, the men of the 47th “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing.”
From 20-31 August 1862, Company K soldiers were assigned again to picket duty, this time stationed at “Barnwells” (so labeled by Company C Captain J. P. S. Gobin) while other companies from the regiment performed picket duty in the areas around Point Royal Ferry.
The Capture of a Bluff, a Town and a Steamer
During a return expedition to Florida beginning 30 September, the 47th Pennsylvania joined with the 1st Connecticut Battery, 7th Connecticut Infantry, and part of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry in assaulting Confederate forces at their heavily protected camp at Saint John’s Bluff (a key Rebel stronghold overlooking the Saint John’s River area). Trekking and skirmishing through roughly 25 miles of dense swampland and forests after disembarking from ships at Mayport Mills on 1 October, the 47th captured artillery and ammunition stores (on 3 October), which had been abandoned by Confederate forces due to the bluff’s bombardment by Union gunboats.
Union leaders then ordered gunboats and troops to extend the expedition. As they did, the men of Companies E and K of the 47th were led by Captain Charles Yard, and engaged with Union soldiers from other regiments in the reconnaissance and subsequent capture of Jacksonville, Florida on 5 October 1862.
A day later, sailing up river on board the Union gunboat Darlington (formerly a Confederate steamer) – with protection from the Union gunboat Hale, men from the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies E and K then traveled 200 miles along the Saint John’s River.
Another Confederate steamer, the Gov. Milton, was reported to be docked near Hawkinsville, and had been engaged in furnishing troops, ammunition and other supplies to Confederate Army units scattered throughout this region of Florida, including the batteries at Saint John’s Bluff and Yellow Bluff.
Identified as a thorn that needed to be plucked from the Union’s side, the Gov. Milton was seized by the soldiers from the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies E and K with support from other Union troops. Having ventured deep into Confederate territory, Union Army expedition leaders determined that their troops had achieved enough success for the risks taken, and ordered the combined Union Army-Navy team to sail the Gov. Milton back down the Saint John’s River before moving the steamer and other captured ships behind Union lines.
Unfortunately, the luck that had held during their audacious raids ran out for the regiment and Private Gottlieb Fiesel a few short weeks later.
Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina
From 21-23 October 1862, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman Good and Lieutenant Colonel George Warren (“G. W.”) Alexander, the entire 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry joined with other Union regiments in engaging the heavily protected Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina – including at Frampton’s Plantation and the Pocotaligo Bridge – a key piece of the South’s railroad infrastructure which Union military leaders wanted to see destroyed.
Harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge, Private Fiesel and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians met resistance from yet another entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field.
Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests.
But the Union soldiers would not give in; grappling with the Confederates where they found them, they pursued the Rebels for four miles as the Confederate Army retreated to the bridge.
There, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut. Unfortunately, the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, the 47th was forced by depleted ammunition supplies to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.
Losses for the 47th Pennsylvania were significant. Captain Charles Mickley of G Company died where he fell from a gunshot wound to his head while K Company Private John McConnell was also killed in action. K Company Captain George Junker also fell, mortally wounded by a minie ball from a Confederate rifle during the intense fighting near the Frampton Plantation, as did Privates Abraham Landes and Joseph Louis. (All three of these wounded men died the next day while being treated for their wounds at the Union Army’s General Hospital at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Private John Schuchard, who was also mortally wounded at Pocotaligo, died from his injuries at the same hospital on 24 October.)
But Private Gottlieb Fiesel, who had also sustained a head wound during the fighting at the Frampton Plantation, somehow survived. According to The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, a shell fragment “apparently inflicted a wound in the scalp on the left side of the cranium, extending three inches from before backward over the coronal suture.” The 5 November issue of Allentown’s German language newspaper, Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, confirmed this head injury in an article recapping the battle, which also identified the wounded and killed by name and company. Private Fiesel was listed as a member of Company K with a wound “am Kopf.”
Private Fiesel was admitted to the Union Army’s post hospital at Hilton Head, South Carolina on 23 October 1862 where, according to The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, his “head was shaved, and the edges of the wound were brought into position and secured with sutures and adhesive straps.”
Although the left side of his head had been badly damaged and his skull fractured by artillery shell shrapnel, physicians were initially hopeful that he might recover since their surgery to remove the shrapnel and bone fragments from his brain appeared to have been successful.
Trouble arose on 27 October, however, when “convulsion supervened.” When the acting assistant surgeon, Thomas T. Smiley, stepped in and made a new incision, he “discovered that the parietal bone had been fractured and a portion been driven in upon the brain.” Carefully extracting the 1-1/2 inch piece of bone while performing the surgical procedure known as “trephining,” Smiley observed that the “dura matter was not ruptured … and for four or five days progress was favorable.”
Sadly, after fighting so valiantly to live, Private Gottlieb Fiesel contracted meningitis and died at the Union Army’s post hospital at Hilton Head, South Carolina on 9 November 1862.
He now rests in peace in Section 37, Grave No. 4281 at the Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort County, South Carolina.
1. Ein Erfect in Sud-Carolina am 22ften October, in Der Lecha Caunty Patriot. Allentown: 5 November 1862.
2. Fiesel, Gottleib, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
3. Fiesel, Gottlieb, in U.S. Burial Registers, Military Posts and National Cemeteries. in Records of The National Cemetery Administration and U.S. Departments of Defense and Army (Quartermaster General). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1862.
4. Fiesel, Gottlieb, in U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, in Record Group 92 (Beaufort National Cemetery, Beaufort, South Carolina), U.S. Office of the Quartermaster General. College Park: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1862.
5. Fiesel, Gottlieb, in U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 (data taken from M554, roll 36, U.S. National Archives). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service Online Database.
6. Feisel, Gottlieb (cause of death: Vulnus Sclopeticum), in U.S. 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.
7. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
8. Smart, Charles and Joseph K. Barnes. The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870-1880.