Eppler, Martin (Private)

Alternate Spelling of Surname: Epler.

Born in Württemberg, Germany on 20 August 1824, Martin Eppler was the son of Caspar and Margaret Eppler. On 23 March, 1850, he wed native Pennsylvanian, Diana Frey (April 1830 – 1905), in Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Their son, William, was born in Easton on 4 February 1851, followed by Sarah J. (sometime around 1853), and Emma Catharine on 22 February 1856. By the time of daughter Diana’s birth in February 1860, Martin was supporting his growing brood on the wages of a weaver.

Civil War Service 

Martin Eppler was a resident of Easton at the outset of the Civil War. One of the early responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteer troops following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces, Martin Eppler enlisted for the standard Three Months’ Service with Company G of the 9th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry, but was discharged early on, according to the Civil War Veterans’ Card File in the Pennsylvania State Archives.

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

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

He then re-enrolled for military service at Easton on 15 August 1861, and was mustered in for duty the following day as a Private with Company A of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, where he received training in light infantry tactics. He is described in military records as being 5’6” tall with dark hair, brown eyes and a fair complexion. That same year, he became a father again when his son, Robert, was born in Easton.

In short order, Martin Eppler and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were shipped by train to Washington, D.C., where they were stationed at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights, about two miles from the White House, beginning on 21 September 1861. The next day, C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton penned the following update to 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.

The entire regiment officially mustered into federal service with the U.S. Army on 24 September of that same year with all of the pomp and gravity one can imagine. Assigned (with the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments) to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade on 27 September, Martin Eppler and the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania were ordered to march off behind their regimental band (with Mississippi rifles, supplied by the Keystone State) later that same day. Sent to the eastern side of the Potomac River, they headed toward Camp Lyon, Maryland, moving “double-quick” across a neighboring chain bridge with the 46th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Making a dusk arrival at Camp Advance inside Rebel territory about two miles from the Chain Bridge, they pitched their tents in a deep ravine near one of the Union’s newest outposts, Fort Ethan Allen. They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were encamped near General W.F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the larger Army of the Potomac, assigned to defend the nation’s capital.

On October 11, the 47th Pennsylvania marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads after having been ordered with the 3rd Brigade to Camp Griffin. On Friday, 22 October, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by 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.

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.)

Traveling south on the steamer Oriental from 27 January to February 1862, the 47th sailed from Annapolis, Maryland to Key West, Florida, where it was assigned to garrison Fort Taylor and protect residents of the area who remained loyal to the Union.On 14 February, the regiment made itself known to area residents via a parade through the streets of Key West.

From mid-June through July, the 47th was attached to the Beaufort District, Department of the South, and operated from Hilton Head. Picket duties were rotated among the Union regiments stationed there, putting Martin Eppler and others at increased risk from sniper fire.

On 30 September, the 47th headed back to Florida, and engaged with other Union troops in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October 1862.

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).

Led by Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, the 1,500-plus Union force disembarked from troop carriers with gunboat support at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek. Ordered to point, the 47th led its brigade through 25 miles of thick forests and swamps filled with poisonous snakes, alligators, disease-carrying insects and Confederate troops.

J.H. Schell's 1862 illustration showing the earthen works which surrounded the Confederate battery atop Saint John's Bluff along the Saint John's River in Florida (public domain).

J.H. Schell’s 1862 illustration showing the earthen works of the Confederate battery at Saint John’s Bluff on the Saint John’s River in Florida (public domain).

Skirmish by skirmish, the brigade forced the Rebels to abandon their artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, paving the way for the Union’s occupation of Jacksonville, Florida.

From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackey’s Point, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again, but they and their fellow 3rd Brigaders were less fortunate this time.

Picked off by snipers while on the move toward the Pocotaligo Bridge, they also faced massive resistance from a heavily entrenched and fortified Confederate battery that opened fire on the Union troops as they entered and crossed a clearing. Those headed for the higher ground of the Frampton Plantation fared no better, encountering artillery and infantry in the midst of the surrounding forests.

Bravely, the Union regiments grappled with the Confederates where they found them, pursuing enemy troops for four miles as they retreated to the bridge where the 47th then relieved the 7th Connecticut. But the Confederates were just too well fortified. After two hours of intense fighting in an unsuccessful attempt to take the ravine and bridge, sorely depleted ammunition supplies forced the 47th’s withdrawal to Mackey’s Point.

Eighteen of the 47th Pennsylvania’s enlisted men were killed; another 114 were wounded. Captain Charles Mickley perished; Captain George Junker sustained mortal wounds. Captain Reuben Gardner and Lieutenant William Geety were also wounded, but survived.

The 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head on 23 October, where members of the regiment served as the funeral Honor Guard for the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South, General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, who died from yellow fever on 30 October. The Mountains of Mitchel, a region of the South Pole on Mars discovered by Mitchel in 1846 while working as an astronomer at the University of Cincinnati, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were both later named for him. The men of the 47th Pennsylvania were the soldiers given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.

On 15 November 1862, the 47th returned to Key West, where it joined the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Martin Eppler’s company (Company A) joined with companies B, C, E, G, and I in garrisoning Fort Taylor while companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.

1863

Rendering of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida, Harper's Weekly, 1864 (public domain).

Rendering of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida, Harper’s Weekly, 1864 (public domain).

Through the whole of 1863, while Private Eppler and his fellow A Company members served under Captain Graeffe at Fort Taylor in Key West, the men joined with others from their regiment in fortifying the federal facility. In addition, trees were felled, new roads were built, and the men were also sent out on skirmishes as needed.

Once again, disease was a constant companion and foe. Dysentery, typhoid, and yellow fever claimed brought many to their knees, but ultimately did not have the power to dissuade men from continuing the fight. Many of the 47th Pennsylvania who could have returned home, their heads held high upon expiration of their terms of service, chose to re-enlist.

1864

Blockhouse, Fort Myers (circa 1850s), FloridaStateArchivesAs the New Year of 1864 dawned, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered to help extend the reach of the Union Army. As part of this effort, Captain Graeffe and a group of A Company soldiers assumed special duties, including raiding area cattle herds in order to provide food for the growing Union Army. Their assignment took them as far north as Fort Myers.

Abandoned in 1858 after the federal government’s third war with the Seminole Indians, the fort was ordered to be reclaimed and reinvigorated in 1864 by General D. P. Woodbury, Commanding Officer, U.S. Department of the Gulf, District of Key West and the Tortugas. Woodbury hoped the reclaimed fort would strengthen the Union’s Gulf Coast blockade while also offering shelter for pro-Union supporters and those fleeing Rebel troops, including Confederate Army deserters and escaped slaves.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared in 2010 for the Everglades National Park partially documents the time of Richard Graeffe and the men under his Florida command this way:

A small contingent of 20 men and two officers from the Pennsylvania 47th Regiment, led by Captain Henry Crain of the 2nd Regiment of Florida, arrived at the fort on January 7, 1864. A short time later, the party was joined by another small detachment of the 47th under the command of Captain Richard A. Graeffe. Over a short period, increasing reinforcements of the fort led to increasing cattle raids throughout the region. A Union force so far into Confederate land did not go well with Confederate loyalists. The fact that so many men stationed at the post were black soldiers from the newly created U.S. Colored Troops was particularly aggravating. The raids were so antagonizing that the Confederates created a Cattle Guard Battalion called the “Cow Cavalry” to repulse Union raiders. The unit remained a primary threat to the Union soldiers carrying out raids and reconnaissance missions from Brooksville to as far south as Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers.

The detachment which served under Graeffe at Fort Myers has been labeled as the Florida Rangers in several publications, including The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Robert N. Scott, et. al. (1891). Several of Graeffe’s hand drawn sketches of Fort Myers were published in 2000 in Images of America: Fort Myers by Gregg Tuner and Stan Mulford.

1864 – Red River Campaign

As Winter waned in 1864, Martin Eppler could not have known that he was about to make history. Departing the regiment’s Florida headquarters on 25 February, Eppler and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were about to become the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign across Louisiana spearheaded by Union General Nathaniel P. Banks from 10 March to 22 May.

Steaming aboard the Charles Thomas for New Orleans, the men of the 47th arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February. They were then shipped by train to Brashear City and the Bayou Teche via the steamer Franklin. There, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers became part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps.

From 14-26 March, the 47th passed through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. Often short on food and water, the regiment encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.

Map of the Mansfield-Sabine Cross Roads Area, DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, April 1864. (Source: General Nathaniel Banks’ official report on the Red River Campaign; public domain.)

Map of the Mansfield-Sabine Cross Roads Area, DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, April 1864. (Source: General Nathaniel Banks’ official report on the Red River Campaign; public domain.)

Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the back-and-forth volley of fire unleashed by both sides during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield). The grim fighting waned only when darkness fell. The exhausted, but uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.

The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were  forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.

Casualties were once again severe. Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander, the regiment’s second in command, was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. Still others from the 47th were captured by Rebel troops, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war (POWs) until they were released during prisoner exchanges on 22 July and in August and November of 1864. At least one member of the regiment never made it out alive.

Along the way, typhoid, yellow jack and dysentery dropped more and more soldiers whose immune systems were unprepared for close military camp life and their sudden exposure to a very different climate than the one in which they had been born and raised.

Private Martin Eppler became one of those who were officially discharged on a Surgeons’ Certificates. He departed from the 47th Pennsylvania on 12 April 1864.

After the War 

Following his honorable discharge, Martin Eppler returned home to his family. He and his wife, Diana, welcomed another son (Charles) to their Easton home in 1866 and another daughter in 1869. Shown on the 1870 federal census as “Lilly A.,” she is listed on the 1880 census as “Mary A.”

A few short weeks before Christmas in 1870, son, Edwin, made his appearance. Tragically, Edwin died in childhood on 6 November 1874. By the time of the 1870 federal census, son William was also helping to support the family, bringing in additional wages as a blacksmith’s apprentice. Martin and Diana welcomed another son, Lewis M., to the world in 1875.

In 1880, Martin Eppler continued to reside in Easton with his wife, Diana, and their children, supporting his family on the wages of a laborer. Son William had begun his own life away from home, but son Robert had stepped up to help support the family through his own work as an apprentice. According to the 1900 federal census, Diana had given birth to a total of 11 children, only 6 of whom survived into the 20th century. By 1890, Martin and Diana were still residing in Easton.

Just three years later, on 27 July 1893, Martin Eppler passed away. He was interred at the Easton Cemetery

 

Sources:

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

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

3. Marriage Record (Martin Eppler), in St. Luke’s Lutheran Church Records, in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania: 1850.

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

5. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1860, 1880.

6. U.S. Civil War Pension Index (Application No: 53285, Certificate No: 36657, filed by the veteran on 17 October 1864; Application No.: 581261, Certificate No.: 387249, filed by the veteran’s widow, Diana Eppler on 10 August 1893. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

7. U.S Veteran’s Schedule. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1890.

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