Born on 9 March 1830 in Upper Milford Township near Emmaus, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, Lewis Sponheimer was the son of Lehigh County native, Maria (Daubert) Sponheimer.His Pennsylvania death certificate indicates that his father was Lehigh County native, Lewis Sponheimer; however, his death entry in the Emmaus Moravian Church ledger (made by the Rev. A. E. Abel, the pastor who officiated at his funeral) indicates that his father was Ludwig Sponheimer, and that his parents were unmarried at the time of his birth.
According to his obituary, Lewis Sponheimer spent his formative years on a farm. He married Pennsylvania native, Catharine Hilderbeitel (born 30 June 1843; died 29 January 1916) in 1855. Together, they had the following children:
- George Sponheimer: Born around 1862, he was a resident of South Allentown at the time of his father’s death;
- Twins Francis J. Sponheimer (born 1870) and Joseph E. Sponheimer (1870-1939): Both were residents of Emmaus at the time of their father’s death;
- William D. Sponheimer: Born around 1875, he was a resident of Allentown at the time of his father’s death);
- Henry E. Sponheimer: Born around 1876, he preceded his parents in death; and
- Mrs. James Mosser: She was a resident of Republic, Pennsylvania.
At the dawn of the Civil War, Lewis Sponheimer supported his growing family on the wages of a shoemaker in Allentown, Lehigh County.
Civil War Military Service – 104th Pennsylvania
On 23 September 1861, Lewis Sponheimer enrolled for military duty as a Musician with the 104th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Known more commonly as the “Ringgold Regiment,” the 104th Pennsylvania was founded by Colonel William Watts Hart (“W. W. H.”) Davis, a Doylestown, Buck County, Pennsylvania native who had worked his way up the Army’s ranks during the Mexican War to be appointed as Captain of Company E with the 1st Massachusetts Infantry, and then performed his Three Months’ Service in the opening days of the Civil War as the founder and Captain of Company I of the 25th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry. Davis would later go on to be honored by the Pennsylvania for his “meritorious services during the operations against Charlestown, South Carolina.”
Initially stationed and trained in Pennsylvania, Lewis Sponheimer and his fellow 104th Pennsylvanians were transported on 6 November 1861 to Washington, D.C. Upon arrival, they made camp near Georgetown. Responsibilities during the early days for the regiment included the transport of Union supplies, picket duty, and skirmishing.
On 2 March 1862, the 104th Pennsylvania joined with other Union troops to serve as the escort for the funeral of General Frederick W. Lander, a former aide-de-camp of General George B. McClellan who went on to distinguish himself as a division commander with the Army of the Potomac. That same month, the 104th Pennsylvania was attached to Brigadier-General Silas Casey’s Division. [During Lewis Sponheimer’s tenure, the 104th Pennsylvania was attached to the Army of the Potomac’s 4th Army Corps, 3rd Division, 1st Brigade (until June 1862).]
Camp and military duty sites included Fortress Monroe, Hampton, Yorktown Four Corners, Bottom’s Bridge at the Chickahominy River, Seven Pines, Savage Station, and Fair Oaks.
On 11 August 1862, Lewis Sponheimer was Honorably Discharged with his fellow musicians as part of the federal government’s elimination of military bands, viewed at that time as an unnecessary expense in light of projections for a longer and more costly war than was initially anticipated by Union Army leaders.
Civil War Military Service – 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers
At the age of 32, Lewis Sponheimer re-enrolled for service at Allentown, Pennsylvania on 21 October 1862 with Major William H. Gausler, and mustered in as a Private with Company A of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 29 October 1862. He then connected with his regiment from Beaufort, South Carolina on 18 November 1862.
Having been ordered back to Key West, Florida on 15 November 186, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers spent much of 1863 garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. The soldiers of A Company joined with those from Companies B, C, E, G, and I in guarding Key West’s Fort Taylor while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.
During this phase of duty, men from the 47th Pennsylvania were assigned to fell trees, build roads and continue strengthening the fortifications of their respective facilities. In addition, they were also sent out on skirmishes.
In early January 1864, the 47th was ordered to further extend the reach of the Union Army. Captain Graeffe and a group of men from A Company were assigned to special duty involving raids on area cattle herds in order to provide food for the Union’s growing troop presence. Their travels took them as far north as Fort Myers.
Abandoned in 1858 following the U.S. government’s third war with the Seminole Indians, the fort was ordered reoccupied by General D. P. Woodbury, Commanding Officer, U.S. Department of the Gulf, District of Key West and the Tortugas in 1864. He hoped the fort’s revitalization would facilitate 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
On 25 February 1864, Lewis Sponheimer and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers set off for a phase of service in which the regiment would truly make history. Steaming for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, the men of the 47th arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – this time to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, the 47th would become the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.
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.
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. The 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 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. Along the way, disease claimed still more.
Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore, where they resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. Retreating further to Alexandria, they and their fellow Union soldiers scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.
On 23 April, the 47th and their fellow brigade members crossed the Cane River via Monett’s Ferry and, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, helped to build a dam from 30 April through 10 May, which enabled federal gunboats to successfully traverse the rapids of the Red River.
Beginning 16 May, A Company moved with the majority of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June. That 4th of July, they received orders to return to the East Coast for further duty.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Still able and willing to fight after their time in Bayou country, the soldiers of Company A and the members of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed for the Washington, D.C. area aboard the McClellan beginning 7 July 1864.
Following their arrival in Virginia and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, they then joined Major-General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap in mid-July 1864. There, they engaged in the Battle of Cool Spring and, once again, assisted in defending Washington, D.C. while also helping to drive Confederate troops from Maryland.
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor.
Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill – September 1864
Together with other regiments under the command of Union General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the members of Company A and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon”). The battle, also known as “Third Winchester,” is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.
The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. After advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and their supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. Finally reaching and fording the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with the Confederate forces commanded by Early. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Rebel artillery stationed on high ground. Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and their fellow 19th Corps members were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but many Union casualties ensued when another Confederate artillery group opened fire as Union troops tried to cross a clearing.
As a nearly fatal gap began to appear between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units commanded by Brigadier-Generals David A. Russell and Emory Upton. Russell, hit twice – once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers opened their lines long enough to enable Union cavalry forces led by William Woods Averell and the foot soldiers of General George Crook to charge the Confederates’ left flank.
The 19th Corps, with the 47th in the thick of the fighting, then began whittling away and pushing the Confederates steadily back. Early’s men ultimately retreated in the face of the valor displayed by the “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Confederate Army retreated to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September), eight miles south of Winchester, and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one.
Sent out on skirmishing parties afterward, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania finally made camp at Cedar Creek. Moving forward, they would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, who mustered out on 23-24 September upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, Good and Alexander were replaced by others equally admired both for their temperament and the front line experience they had gained while directly leading men in battle: John Peter Shindel Gobin, Charles W. Abbott and Levi Stuber.
Battle of Cedar Creek – October 1864
It was during 1864 that General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s crop-production infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents – civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops – weakened by hunger – peeled off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day.
From a military standpoint, it was another impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October 1864, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to historian, Samuel P. Bates:
When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – ‘Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’
The Union’s counterattack stomped Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions thusly:
When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went ‘whirling up the valley’ in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn, and no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.
But, it was costly; casualties for the 47th were particularly high. Privates Samuel E. Bridinger (a blacksmith from Easton), Thomas J. Bower (an Easton shoemaker) and Lawrence Gatence were killed in action. Private William S. Keen, a recent enlistee, died from fever a few weeks later. The regimental chaplain, William Rodrock, suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap.
Following these major engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December before taking up outpost and railroad guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia five days before Christmas.
Assigned in February 1865 to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, the men of the 47th were ordered to move, via Winchester and Kernstown, back to Washington, D.C. where, on 19 April, they helped to defend the nation’s capital following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Making camp near Fort Stevens, they received new uniforms and were resupplied.
Letters home and newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania in later years confirm that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their imprisonment or trial.
As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade, Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, they participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May. Captain Levi Stuber of Company I was also promoted to the rank of Major with the regiment’s central command staff during this time of turbulence.
On their final swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June, again as part of Dwight’s Division, but this time with the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Relieving the 165th New York in July, they were housed in a mansion formerly owned by the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. But, once again, typhoid and other diseases stalked the men of the 47th. Many who died during this phase were initially interred in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery before their remains were later exhumed and reinterred at the Beaufort National Cemetery.
Finally, 28 October 1865, upon expiration of his three-year term of service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Lewis Sponheimer was again Honorably Discharged.
Return to Civilian Life
After receiving his honorable discharge at Charleston, South Carolina, Lewis Sponheimer made the long trip home to his family in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. In 1880, he and his family were residing in Upper Milford Township, and he was employed as an ore contractor.
Although life was better than it had been during the Civil War, it was not entirely free from pain and fear for the Sponheimer family. In November 1896, editions of The Allentown Democrat and The Allentown Leader both reported that Lewis and Catharine’s youngest son, William, was partially blinded, temporarily, when a chestnut burr fell from a tree and struck one of his eyes.
By 1900, Lewis and his wife were living at home alone with a servant. In August 1909, The Allentown Leader reported that Lewis Sponheimer was one of the final two surviving members of the Emmaus Band.
That fame was shortlived, however. Just three months later, on 13 November 1909, Lewis Sponheimer suffered an episode of cerebral apoplexy. He died of general debility five days later (Thursday, 18 November 1909) at his home in Emmaus, Lehigh County. He was 79 years, eight months and nine days old. His son, Joseph E. Sponheimer, was the informant on his death certificate.
His funeral was held at his home at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 23 November 1909 with formal services officiated by the Rev. A. E. Abel at the Moravian Church.
He was buried with full military honors that same afternoon in the Moravian Cemetery in Emmaus. Members of Allentown’s E.B. Young Post No. 87, G.A.R., served as his pallbearers. The funeral arrangements were handled by Ritter & Sell of Emmaus.
In addition to his wife and children mentioned above, Lewis Sponheimer was survived by two stepbrothers, William Ritter (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) and Willoughby Ritter (Emmaus, Pennsylvania).
1. The Allentown Democrat. Allentown: November 1896.
2. The Allentown Leader. Allentown: Various Dates:
- Died at Emaus [sic] (obituary of Lewis Sponheimer), in The Allentown Leader. Allentown: 19 November 1909.
- Funeral of Veteran: Lewis Sponheimer: Buried at Emaus [sic] with Military Honors, in The Allentown Leader. Allentown: 23 November 1909.
- Hurt by a Chestnut Burr, in The Allentown Leader. Allentown: 5 November 1896.
3. Baptismal and Burial Records, in Records of the Moravian Church, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1828-1900.
4. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
5. 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.
6. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
7. Death Certificate (Lewis Sponheimer). Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Vital Statistics
8. Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Index Card (Lewis Sponheimer). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veteran Affairs.
9. Schmidt’s A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published.
10. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C.: 1880, 1900.