Private William Brecht – A German Immigrant Fighting for His Adopted Homeland’s Union

A native of Germany born in 1830, according to admissions records of the U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, William Brecht was a resident of Longswamp Township in Berks County, Pennsylvania at the dawn of America’s Civil War.

Civil War Military Service

William Brecht enrolled for U.S. Civil War military service on 21 August 1861 at Berks County, Pennsylvania, and mustered in at Camp Curtin in Dauphin County as a Private with Co. K, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on 17 September 1861.

* Note: Company K was raised with the intent of being an all-German company. Its 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. Junker recruited German immigrants, as well as naturalized and native born German-Americans. Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, the Lehigh Valley’s Allentown-based, German language newspaper, praised him for his initiative in its 7 August 1861 edition. Roughly translated, the announcement read:

It’s good to hear, that Sergeant Junker, of this city, is bringing a new German company of the Lehigh Valley along under the terms of recruitment for the duration of the war. It will be particularly sweet to him if such Germans already here or abroad, who have served as soldiers, sign up immediately for him, and join the company. It can be noted that Sergeant Junker, who recently returned from the scene of the war, has done important services for the Union side in this time, and has all capabilities that are necessary for a Captain. We wish him the best luck for his company.

Junker was subsequently assigned to command the men he recruited as Captain of Company K.

Early Days of Military Service

Camp Curtin (Harpers Weekly, 1861; public domain).

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

Military records at the time of muster in at Camp Curtin described Private William Brecht as being a 39-year-old miner who resided in Berks County’s Longswamp Township.

Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics at Camp Curtin and leaving behind Private William Schubert (alternate spelling of surname: “Schubard”) to convalesce at the camp’s hospital, the men of Company K and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were transported by rail to Washington, D.C. Stationed roughly two miles from the White House, they pitched tents at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 21 September.

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 men and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.

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

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, Private William Brecht and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were 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 October 11, 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:

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 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.”

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review 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 the even bigger adventures and honors that were 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.

1862

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 they were 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.

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

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

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, the 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.

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

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

Private William Brecht and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Key West by early February 1862. There, they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers 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.

Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics, they strengthened the fortifications at this federal installation, felled trees and built new roads. Plagued by poor water quality and the often unsanitary conditions of close military camp life, disease became a constant companion and foe.

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 resumed 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.

Saint John’s Bluff and the Battle of Pocotaligo

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

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

During a return expedition to Florida beginning 30 September, the 47th 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 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.

Historian Lewis Schmidt, in his history of the regiment, noted that Private William Brecht had time to pen a brief account of the 47th Pennsylvania’s exploits during the Saint John’s expedition:

It was an unusual day for us on the way, always through bush, marsh, swamp and water and a few times we were under water and in much rain. We worked through with sixty bullets per man on the side, and five days rations on the back, but we made it. Col. Good was at the head of the regiment on foot, and was strong and happy, and even the Connecticut Regiment could not keep up with us and were always a good piece behind. Before we reached our camping place we passed two rebel camps which we could see were abandoned in a hurry, one left his hat and one left his saber. Because of the swampy terrain, the horses could not follow us.

Schmidt added that the Confederate Army’s “camps were utterly destroyed” and that Colonel Tilghman Good and his men “pushed on again under the guidance of a negro, who escaped from the fort but four weeks previous.”

The 47th Pennsylvanians pushed their way through marshy terrain in the rain, and one point building a “corduroy road for the howitzer accompanying the land force.”As night fell, they made camp by the river “under the cover of gunboats … one mile below the fort … in the bushes for night.”

Meanwhile, other Union soldiers continued to disembark from their respective troop carriers, and made their way inland. By Friday afternoon, “troops, horses and artillery, along with two twelve pound howitzers belonging to the Paul Jones and one from the Cimarron, were landed … reinforced by two light pieces from a Connecticut Battery.” Colonel Good:

put the column in motion immediately and moved cautiously up the bank of the St. John’s River, the skirmishing companies occasionally seeing small parties of the enemy’s cavalry retiring in our front as we advanced … pushed through thickets, briars, and swamps and lived upon raw salt meat and drank swamp water at the same time the rain pouring down on us in torrents … hearing the gunboats bombarding we moved forward quickly.

As they approached the fort and bluff, Union troops realized that the Confederate Army had abandoned their outposts. Colonel Good later reported:

After my arrival at the bluff, it being then 7:30 PM, I dispatched Lt. Col. Alexander with two companies back to the last named camp (which I found, from a number of papers left behind, to have been called Camp Hopkins and occupied by the Milton Artillery, of Florida) to reconnoiter and ascertain its condition. Upon his return he reported that from every appearance the skedaddling of the enemy was as sudden as in the other instances already mentioned, leaving their trunks and all camp equipage behind; also a small quantity of commissary stores, sugar, rice, half barrel of flour, one bag of salt, &c., including 60 tents, which I have brought in … we got all their tents and knapsacks which were ready packed for slinging, and their drum. At the third camp we found we got several trophies … The commissary stores were used by the troops of my command.

Illustration of the Darlington, a former Confederate steamer turned Union gunboat (public domain).

Illustration of the Darlington, a former Confederate steamer turned Union gunboat (public domain).

Additional “trophies” included “eight heavy loaded unhammered Columbiads, two cannons on carriages and ready for firing, and from a dismantled Columbiad a significant amount of ammunition, rifles, camp equipment, and generous rations,” according to Colonel Good.

Union leaders then ordered the gunboats and army troops to extend the expedition. As they did, they captured assorted watercraft as they advanced farther up the river.

Companies E and K of the 47th were then led by Captain Yard on a special mission; the men of E and K Companies joined with other Union Army soldiers in the reconnaissance and subsequent capture of Jacksonville, Florida on 5 October 1862.

The rebel steamer Governor Milton, captured by the U.S. flotilla in St. John's River, Florida, Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper). Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Project (public domain).

The rebel steamer Governor Milton, captured by the U.S. flotilla in St. John’s River, Florida, Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper). Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Project (public domain).

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 the region, 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.

Finished dismantling and removing the Rebel guns by 10 October, the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies D, F and I were then ordered to destroy the fort with Private William Brecht reporting that, “after we destroyed the fort and it exploded into the air, the steamer Cosmopolitan which had been damaged and was full of water” was “pumped out and fixed up again.”

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

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

From 21-23 October, 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 to engage 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 leaders felt should be destroyed.

Harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge, they met resistance from yet another entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field.

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

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

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.

Mortally wounded in the intense fighting near the Frampton Plantation were K Company’s Captain George Junker and Privates Abraham Landes (alternate spelling: “Landis”) and Joseph Louis (alternate spelling: “Lewis”). All three 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 wounds at the same hospital on 24 October. Private Edward Frederick lasted a short while longer, finally succumbing on 16 February 1863 at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida to brain fever, a complication from the personal war he had waged with his battle wounds.

K Company’s Corporals John Bischoff and Manoah J. Carl and Privates Jacob F. Hertzog, Frederick Knell, Samuel Kunfer, Samuel Reinert, John Schimpf, William Schrank, and Paul Strauss were among those wounded in action who rallied. Private Strauss miraculously survived an artillery shell wound to his right shoulder, recuperated, and continued to serve with the regiment. Private Knell was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability on 9 May 1863.

Private William Brecht, however, had not been part of this particular fight. According to historian Schmidt, of the roughly 1,000 men serving with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers at the time of the Battle of Pocotaligo, only 600 were sent into battle that day. Private Brecht and the others were ordered to stay behind in South Carolina, directed to continue their occupation of Beaufort and protect the Union’s position there. Several who had fallen ill were deemed too sick to travel and remained hospitalized.

On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South who had succumbed to yellow fever on 30 October 1862.

In the aftermath of the carnage, the command vacancy created when Captain George Junker fell at Frampton’s Plantation was filled when 1st Lieutenant Charles W. Abbott was advanced to the rank of Captain.

1863

 Fort Jefferson's moat and wall, circa 1934, Dry Tortugas, Florida (C.E. Peterson, Library of Congress; public domain)

Fort Jefferson’s moat and wall, circa 1934, Dry Tortugas, Florida (C.E. Peterson, Library of Congress; public domain)

Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. The men of K Company joined with Companies D, F, and H in garrisoning Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I continued to guard Key West’s Fort Taylor.

The climate was harsh, the living conditions difficult. And, once again, disease was an unseen, but ever-present and deadly foe which thinned the regiment’s ranks via  47th Pennsylvanians’ deaths and discharges on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability.

1864

Suffering from declining health as a direct result of his Civil War military service, Private William Brecht was transferred to Company I of the 20th Veteran Reserve Corps (also known as the “invalid corps”) on 11 March 1864. Veterans’ hospital records would later confirm that he suffered impaired vision and rheumatism, the latter of which developed while he was stationed at Fort Taylor in Key West during March and April of 1863.

Return to Civilian Life

This public domain image depicts the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio. (Source: U.S. Library of Congress.)

This public domain image depicts the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio. (Source: U.S. Library of Congress.)

Following his honorable discharge from military service, William Brecht wrestled with health issues which resulted directly from his service in America’s Deep South with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

A single man at the age of 39 who had been employed as a laborer before and immediately after the war, he was admitted to the Central Branch of the network of U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio on 17 August 1869. Hospital admission records noted that he was suffering from impaired vision and rheumatism which developed while he was stationed with the 47th Pennsylvania at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during March and April of 1863.

The 1870 U.S. Census also confirms his residence at the Dayton soldiers’ home, and his occupation as “laborer.”

Death and Interment

Military headstone of Private William Brecht, Co. K, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. (Dayton National Cemetery headstone photo used with permission of photographer, Wendy S. Hockeberry, copyright 2016).

Military headstone of Private William Brecht, Co. K, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. (Dayton National Cemetery headstone photo used with permission of photographer, Wendy S. Hockeberry, copyright 2016).

Still unmarried by the middle of the decade with no next of kin and suffering from chronic inflammation of his kidneys and bowels, William Brecht died alone in the hospital at the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio on 26 June 1875.

Hospital admission records indicate that he was also apparently destitute, noting “Effects of no value.” Ohio’s death records for Montgomery County confirm that he was a native of Germany who was just 45 years old at the time of his death, had been previously employed as a farmer, and had succumbed to complications from kidney disease.

The former mine laborer and farmer who served his adopted nation so faithfully during America’s great Civil War as a member of Company K, the 47th Pennsylvania’s “all-German unit,” was ultimately laid to rest in grave #23 at the Dayton National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

 

 

Sources:

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

2. Brecht, William, in Burial Ledgers, The National Cemetery Administration, in Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs (Record Group 15), and in Records of the Department of Defense and Department of the Army (Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives.

3. Brecht, William, in Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879-ca. 1903, in Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives.

4. Brecht, William, in Montgomery County Death Records, State of Ohio. Columbus and Dayton: 26 June 1875.

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

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

7. U.S. Census: 1870.

8. William Brecht (obituary), in Dayton Daily Journal, Vol. XII, Issue 284, p. 1, column 6. Dayton: 28 June 1875.

9. William Brecht, in Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (Central Branch/Dayton, Ohio), 1866-1938, in Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs (Record Group 15). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives.