A Scorpion’s Target – Andrew Bellis

Alma Pelot's photo showing the Confederate flag flying over Fort Sumter 16 April 1861 (public domain, Library of Congress).

Alma Pelot’s photo showing the Confederate flag flying over Fort Sumter 16 April 1861 (public domain, Library of Congress).

Andrew R. Bellis was a Northampton County, Pennsylvania native who became one of the earliest responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteer troops to help defend the Union and protect Washington, D.C., following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces.

At the time that he enrolled for his Three Months’ Service on 22 April 1861 at Mauch Chunk (now called Jim Thorpe) in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, he was 29 years old, employed as a tailor, and was residing in Plainfield Township.

After completing this early service as a Private with Company I of the 6th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry and mustering out in August 1861, he promptly re-enrolled later that same month at Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania for a longer tour of duty.

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

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

Mustering in as a Fourth Sergeant with Company A of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 16 September 1861, he received training in light infantry tactics.

Sergeant Bellis and his fellow soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania were then ordered to Washington, D.C. where they were stationed about two miles from the White House at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 21 September. The next day, C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton penned the following update for the Sunbury American newspaper:

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.

On 24 September, the 47th Pennsylvanians became part of the federal service as they officially mustered into the U.S. Army. Three days later, on 27 September, Sergeant Andrew R. Bellis and his fellow Keystone Staters were assigned to the 3rd Brigade of W.F. Smith’s Army of the Potomac. A rainy, drill-free day, many of the men opted to read or write letters home. But by the afternoon, they were headed for the eastern side of the Potomac River. Arriving during late afternoon at Camp Lyon, Maryland, they moved double-quick across a chain bridge, and continued marching toward Fall’s Church, Virginia.

At dusk, they arrived at Camp Advance, and raised their tents in a deep ravine roughly two miles from the Chain Bridge and near Fort Ethan Allen, a new federal military facility under construction. Armed with Mississippi rifles supplied by the Keystone State, they became part of the 3rd Brigade and Smith’s Army of the Potomac, and helped to defend the nation’s capital until January when the 47th Pennsylvania was ordered to duty in the Deep South.

On October 11, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads after having been ordered with the 3rd Brigade to Camp Griffin, Virginia. On Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by historian Lewis Schmidt as “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review by Colonel Tilghman H. 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).

As a reward – and in preparation for bigger things to come, Brannan obtained new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania. Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers briefly quartered at Annapolis. By December, 101 men were listed on Company A’s roster.

Coming Face to Face with an Unexpected Foe

During the regiment’s lengthy service, a number of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sidelined or claimed not by rifle or cannon fire, but by dysentery and other diseases commonly contracted and spread by troops suddenly placed in close military quarters. Ill and unable to turn out for duty for much of the time, Andrew Bellis was one of the men reduced in rank until, in December of 1861, he was serving as a Private.

1862

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.)

Boarding the Oriental on 27 January 1862 with the 47th Pennsylvania, Private Bellis and his fellow volunteers headed for their next assignment. Upon orders from Brigadier-General John Brannan, commander of the 3rd Brigade, the regiment steamed south from Annapolis, Maryland to Key West, Florida.

Although Florida had seceded from the Union, the state was deemed critical to the Union’s defenses due to the presence of several key federal installations. The 47th Pennsylvania arrived at Fort Taylor in Key West in early February 1862. There, the regiment was assigned daily drills in heavy artillery tactics, felled trees, built new roads, and strengthened the federal facility’s fortifications.

But before Private Andrew Bellis could settle into his regiment’s routine at the fort, he was bitten by a scorpion (according to a letter home penned by Private Jacob Apple of Company B; another source attributed the death of Private Bellis to snakebite).

Sometime thereafter, Private Bellis developed a nasty infection known as Erysipelas, a bacterial skin infection of the upper dermis which often attacks the lymphatic system. Known as “St. Anthony’s fire,” the disease generally attacks those with compromised immune systems. Complications, historically, have included abscess, embolism, gangrene, meningitis, pneumonia, and sepsis.

As a result, Private Andrew R. Bellis died at the 47th’s Regimental Hospital at Fort Taylor on 23 February 1862. Elisha W. Baily, M.D., the 47th Pennsylvania regimental surgeon treating the 30-year-old private, simply listed Andrew’s cause of death as “Erysipelas.”

Source: Public Domain (Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, U.S. Adjutant General's Office, U.S. National Archives, Washington, D.C.).

Click on image to view larger version. Source: Public Domain (Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, U.S. Adjutant General’s Office, U.S. National Archives, Washington, D.C.).

Funeral, Burial and Re-interment

According to Schmidt, “The company under command of Capt. Graeffe held military services, and the area was draped with red and white decorations and many flower wreaths. Pvt. Bellis was buried in grave #26 of the Key West Post Cemetery, and in 1927 his remains were relocated to the Fort Barrancas National Cemetery, Section 17, grave #97.”

 

Sources:

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. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.

4. Erysipelas, in Medscape. WebMD: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1052445-overview.

5. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, in U.S. Adjutant General’s Office Record Group 94. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

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

 

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