Lieut. Col. G.W. Alexander left this city yesterday morning to join his Regiment. The Col. is a good looking soldier, and we will go bail that he is a good man in every respect. We wish the Government had many more such.” – Notice of G. W. Alexander’s 20 September departure for Civil War service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Reading Times, 21 September 1861
Born on 9 May 1829 in Derry, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, George Warren Alexander was a son of Philip C. and Mary Ann (Taylor) Alexander. Although one source indicates that he was born in Bow Center, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, his Massachusetts marriage ledger entry stated that he was born in Derry, New Hampshire.
In September 1850, George W. Alexander resided in Holyoke, Hampden County, Massachusetts with his parents and New Hampshire-born sisters: Elvina, Rosette, Sarah, Merriam, Lois and Dorothy (born in 1831, 1832, 1834, 1836, 1840 and 1842, respectively). There, G. W. trained in manufacturing processes while working for a cotton mill. His father supported the large Alexander family on a carpenter’s wages.
Also residing with the family in 1850 was George’s future wife, Harriet N. Appleton, a daughter of Robert and Jane Appleton. Although one source indicates that Hattie was born in Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts, her Massachusetts marriage record stated that she was born in in 1829 in Allenstown, Merrimack County, New Hampshire.
Known throughout most of his life as “G. W.”, George W. Alexander became a married man a year later when he wed Harriet N. Appleton in Holyoke, Massachusetts on 10 September 1851. Sometime in the mid-1850s, G. W. and Hattie moved to Berks County, Pennsylvania, where they settled in the city of Reading, and where G. W. became a member of the Reading Artillerists, a local militia group.
On June 15 1855, G. W. and Hattie welcomed son, Edgar W. Alexander, to their Reading home. A daughter, Lillie O. Alexander, arrived in May 1858. Meanwhile, G. W. continued to hone his skills in the manufacturing trade.
Leader of the Reading Artillerists
Just six months before Lillie Alexander’s birth, on 2 November 1857, the Reading Artillerists named her father, George W. Alexander, as their newest Captain.
* Note: A storied local militia unit, the Reading Artillerists were founded “in the year 1799, for the purpose of quelling the celebrated Whiskey Rebellion,” according to a history of the Artillerists presented in the 20 October 1859 edition of the Reading Times. The Artillerists fought in the War of 1812, and were in Philadelphia in 1824 to welcome the Marquis de Lafayette when he arrived for his historic, year-long visit to America. The last living French general to fight with George Washington during the American Revolution, he fought at Brandywine and Yorktown. In 1826, the Artillerists were asked by the federal government to take possession of a brass, six-pound cannon for safe keeping. Seized by Revolutionary War Patriots, it had been used by the British at Yorktown.
The Artillerists also garrisoned the Philadelphia State Arsenal, and guarded the Girard Bank during the Philadelphia riots of July 1844 before heading off for duty in the Mexican War. They mustered in on 5 January 1847 with Company A of the 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteers, and were commanded by General Winfield Scott. They were stationed at the Island of Lobos, landed with other troops at Vera Cruz on 9 March, and were present for the surrender of Vera Cruz on 29 March. They fought in the Battle of Cerro Gordo on 18 April, garrisoned Jalapa from May through mid-June, skirmished at the Pass of Latoeya 20 June, and were also presented at Perote and Tapsayalualco before engaging in the battle of Chepultepec. They were also on hand for action at the Gate of Belen and Citadel on 13 September, as well as and at the city of Mexico from 14-15 September 1847.
While the Artillerists were away, the last of their original members – Charles Evans, Esq., the man for whom Reading’s Charles Evans Cemetery was named – passed away in Reading on 6 September 1847. On 28 July 1848, the Reading Artillerists’ and the 2nd Pennsylvania mustered out from Mexican War service, and returned home to their families.
A notice in the 12 September 1861 edition of the Reading Times confirms George W. Alexander’s status as the most recent of the commanding officers of this distinguished local militia unit:
Reading Artillerists, Attention!
You will meet this evening at 7 o’clock, at the Armory, 5th and Washington sts., for the purpose of transacting important business. Punctual attendance is requested.
By order, G. W. ALEXANDER,
WM. MCNALL, O.S. Captain.
A Nation Torn Asunder
By the time that federal census takers arrived in Reading in 1860, George W. and Hattie Alexander were on record as residing in Reading’s Spruce Ward with their children Edgar (1855-1912) and Lillie (1858-1918). The census ledger for this period described G. W. as an employee of a “Wadding Manufactory.” In 1861, G. W. and Hattie welcomed to the world another daughter, Sallie Lydia Alexander.
Civil War – Three Months’ Service
One of the first men to answer President Abraham Lincoln’s April 1861 call for 75,000 troops to help quell the South’s burgeoning rebellion following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces, G. W. Alexander, captain of the Reading Artillerists, enrolled for military service in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania at the age of 31.
Commissioned a Captain, he mustered in for duty with Company G of the 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 20 April 1861. Transported with his regiment to Cockeysville, Maryland via the Northern Central Railroad, Captain George W. Alexander then spent time at Camp Scott near York, Pennsylvania before being ordered to railroad guard duties near Baltimore, Maryland from 14-25 May. From there, he and his men were assigned to Catonsville (25 May) and Franklintown (29 May) before being ordered back across the border with their regiment and stationed at Chambersburg (3 June). There, they were attached to the 2nd Brigade (under Wyncoop), 2nd Division (under Keim) in General Robert Patterson’s Army.
Ordered to Hagerstown, Maryland on 18 June and then to Funkstown, Goose Creek and Edward’s Ferry, the regiment remained in that vicinity until 22 June, when it was ordered to Frederick, Maryland. Assigned with other Union regiments to occupy the town of Martinsburg, Virginia from 8-21 July (following the Battle of Falling Waters earlier that month), Captain George W. Alexander and his regiment were ordered to Harper’s Ferry on 21 July. Following the honorable completion of his Three Months’ Service, he and his regiment mustered out on 23 July 1861.
Civil War – Three Years’ Service
George W. Alexander then promptly re-upped for a three-year tour, re-enrolling at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg on 5 August 1861. Commissioned at the age of 32 as a Lieutenant Colonel with the newly formed 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, he mustered in for duty at Washington, D.C., and joined up with the 47th at its encampment at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown, roughly two miles from the White House. That same day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were also officially mustered into federal service with the U.S. Army.
On 27 September, a rainy, drill-free day which permitted many of the men to read or write letters home, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of W.F. Smith’s Army of the Potomac. That afternoon, Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander and his men marched to the Potomac River’s eastern side and, after arriving at Camp Lyon, Maryland, continued double-quick over a chain bridge before moving on toward Falls Church, Virginia. Arriving at Camp Advance at dusk, they pitched their tents in a deep ravine about two miles from the bridge they had just crossed, near a new federal military facility under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). Armed with Mississippi rifles supplied by the Keystone State, they joined with the 3rd Brigade and Smith’s Army of the Potomac in defending the nation’s capital.
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. In a letter home in mid-October, 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, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops.
On Friday, 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.” 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.”
As a reward for their performance – and in preparation for the even bigger things which were yet to come, Brigadier-General Brannan ordered that brand new Springfield rifles be obtained for 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 they were marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped railcars 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 1862, Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had commenced boarding the Oriental. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the officers boarded last. Per the orders of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
In early February 1862, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians arrived in Key West, where they were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor.The regiment made its presence known to area residents via a parade through the city’s streets on 14 February.
Drilling their men daily in heavy artillery tactics, Good and Alexander also assigned members of the 47th Pennsylvania to tasks designed to strengthen the federal installation’s fortifications, including tree cutting and road building. From mid-June through July, the 47th was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men camped 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, putting soldiers at increased risk from sniper fire. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, under the leadership of Good and Alexander, the men of the 47th “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing.”
Sent on a return expedition to Florida, the 47th Pennsylvanians saw their first truly intense moments of combat when the 47th participated with other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1-3 October. Led by Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, a 1,500-plus Union force disembarked at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats. Taking point, the 47th led the 3rd Brigade through 25 miles of dense, pine forested swamps populated with deadly snakes and alligators. By the time the expedition ended, the brigade had forced the Confederate Army to abandon its artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and had paved the way for the Union to occupy the town 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 the 3rd Brigade were less fortunate this time. Harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge, they met resistance from an 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.
The Union soldiers grappled with the Confederates where they found them, pursuing the Rebels for four miles as they retreated to the bridge. There, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut. But the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackey’s Point.
Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died; two officers and another 114 enlisted were wounded. Several resting places for men from the 47th still remain unidentified, the information lost to sloppy Army and hospital records management, or to the trauma-impaired memories of soldiers forced to hastily bury or leave behind the bodies of comrades upon receiving orders to retreat.
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. The Mountains of Mitchel, a part of Mars’ South Pole discovered by Mitchel in 1846 as a University of Cincinnati astronomer, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were later named for him. Men from the 47th Pennsylvania were given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.
Ordered back to Key West on 15 November of 1862, Colonel T. H. Good, Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander and the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were once again based at Fort Taylor in Florida.
Three days before Christmas, by order of Brigadier-General John Brannan, Lieutenant Colonel George Alexander assumed control of the Union Army’s post at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida on 22 December 1862. Relieving the fort’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel L. W. Tinelli, Alexander would be joined by the men from Companies D, F, H, and K of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. So, remotely located, Fort Jefferson is – even today – only accessible by air or water with ferry trips averaging two to three hours each way.
The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers spent the whole of 1863 guarding and fortifying federal installations in Florida as part of the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I continued to guard Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson in Florida’s Dry Tortugas. Men from the 47th were also sent out on skirmishes and marched north to Fort Myers, which had been abandoned in 1858 after the third U.S. war with the Seminole Indians.
The climate in all three locations was harsh, particularly so at Fort Jefferson. Several members of the regiment suffered sunstroke so severe that they were hospitalized before being discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates and sent home. Other illnesses were also constant companions and foes with men suffering from and succumbing to yellow fever, typhoid and other tropical diseases for which their immune systems were ill equipped, as well as to dysentery and similar ailments contracted while living in close, often unsanitary quarters.
But the time spent here by the 47th Pennsylvanians was even more notable for the men’s obvious commitment to preserving the Union. Many who could have justifiably returned home upon expiration of their respective three-year service terms, their heads held high after all they had already endured, chose instead to re-enlist in order to finish the fight.
On 25 February 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers set off for a phase of service in which the regiment would truly make history. Steaming for New Orleans via the Charles Thomas, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February, and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – 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 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 volley of fire unleashed by both sides during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, those who were 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 and 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. The regiment’s two color-bearers from Company C were wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands, and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ second in command, was severely wounded in both legs – injuries that were nearly fatal.
Still others from the 47th were captured, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war until released during prisoner exchanges in July, August and November. At least one member of the regiment never made it out alive from that experience.
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. Those not convalescing helped build a dam from 30 April through 10 May to enable gunboats to easily traverse the Red River’s rapids.
Beginning 16 May, the majority of men from the 47th Pennsylvania moved from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June. On the 4th of July, the regiment received new orders, directing the 47th’s return to the East Coast.
This departure was effected in two phases:
- Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed aboard the McClellan beginning on 7 July. Following their arrival in Virginia, they had a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln on 12 July, and were then ordered to join Major-General David Hunter’s forces; and
- Companies B, G and K remained behind in Louisiana on detached duty under the leadership of F Company Captain Harte. Once transport was arranged for the group, the detachment sailed aboard the Blackstone, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August 1864.
Meanwhile, several of the most seriously injured or ill were left behind for further treatment at the Union’s hospitals in Baton Rouge or New Orleans; a number of these men did not survive, and were later buried at the federal cemeteries in Baton Rouge or Chalmette.
Removed from command amid the controversy over the Union Army’s successes and failures during the Red River Expedition, Union General Nathaniel P. Banks was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. Banks subsequently spent much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for Louisiana.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Still able and willing to fight after their Bayou battles, the 47th Pennsylvanians from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I joined up with General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia in mid-July 1864. There, they fought 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 in August, early September saw the departure of several 47th Pennsylvanians whose terms were up, including Company D’s Captain Henry Woodruff. Those members of the 47th who remained on duty 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 H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”). The battle is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory may have helped ensure President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection.
The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan 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. Advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and 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 Army 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 Confederate artillery stationed on high ground.
Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and the 19th Corps were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but casualties mounted as another Confederate artillery group opened fire on Union troops trying to cross a clearing. When a nearly fatal gap began to open between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units led by Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell. Russell, hit twice – once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania opened its lines long enough to enable the Union cavalry under 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, began pushing the Rebels back. Early’s “grays” retreated in the face of the valor displayed by Sheridan’s “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, eight miles south of Winchester, the Rebels retreated to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September), and to Waynesboro, after a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one. Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek.
Although he officially mustered out from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers on 23 September 1864 upon expiration of his three-year term of service, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander was reported by the Reading Times (in its 20 September 1864 edition) to have returned home sooner:
HOME. – Col. G. W. Alexander of the 47th P.V., arrived home on Saturday, after a protracted absence, during which he has seen much service. His many friends will be glad to hear that he is well and hearty.
Alexander’s superior, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, also mustered out around this time because his three-year term had expired as well.
Return to Civilian Life
Following his honorable discharge from the military, George W. Alexander returned home to his wife , son, and daughters, Lillie and Sallie, in Reading, Pennsylvania. Newborn daughter, Nettie A. Alexander, opened her eyes for the first time for G. W. and Hattie in 1865.
In 1867, G. W. Alexander was confirmed by Congress as U.S. Assessor of the Internal Revenue for the agency’s district which included the city of Reading. The 2 March 1867 edition of the Reading Times reported his appointment as follows:
CONFIRMED. – The many friends of Col. G. W. Alexander will learn with pleasure that the U.S. Senate has confirmed his appointment as Assessor of the Internal Revenue of this District. We congratulate him upon his success.
The following year (1868), proved to be a more difficult time for George W. Alexander than even those of the Civil War. On 6 January 1868, G. W.’s daughter, Sallie, passed away in Reading after being injured during a fall at school. She was interred on 10 January 1868 at the Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading.
Within months after Sallie’s passing, he then became the subject of an investigation by the federal Treasury Department. While Philadelphia newspapers stoked the fires of negative coverage, a number of Berks County residents, stood by him, believing that the charges that had been filed against him were false and possibly even the result of a conspiracy. The 20 August 1868 edition of The Evening Telegraph in Philadelphia reported:
CASES BEFORE THE RECORDER. – A man named John Larens, arrested upon a warrant issued by Alderman Mengle, of Berks county, had a hearing before Recorder Given upon the charge of conspiring with United States Commissioner Rollins and others to effect the removal of George W. Alexander from the Collectorship of the Eighth District of Pennsylvania. Held in $2500 bail to appear in Berks county.
Beginning 1 December 1868, George W. Alexander was tried for allegedly aiding and abetting, in his capacity as a federal revenue inspector, the removal and concealment of whiskey to avoid paying taxes. The Evening Telegraph of Philadelphia reported the proceedings in its 2 December 1868 edition as follows:
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT – Judge Cadwalader. – In the United States District Court yesterday, George W. Alexander was put on his trial, on the charge of removing whisky to a place other than a bonded warehouse; also, with aiding and abetting in the removal, and with aiding in the concealment of whisky, with intent to evade the revenue law.
It will be remembered that at the time of the commission of the alleged offense the defendant was the Assessor of Internal Revenue in the First Collection District at Reading, in this State, and consequently the case has attracted much attention.
Mr. Valentine, Assistant United State District Attorney, stated yesterday, in opening the case, that in the Eighth Collection District were two distilleries – one belonging to David C. Keller, at Exeter Station, six miles from Reading, and the other to Tobias Barto, near Reading – that in consequence of an arrangement between the Assessor and Keller and Barto the distilleries were run up to their full capacity, but that a return of about one bushel of grain of every ten was … made to the Government officers, the distillers, of course, paying handsomely in the way of black-mail for this privilege of defrauding the revenue.
The first witness called was David C. Keller, who testified that in the early part of 1868 he called on Assessor Alexander, when an arrangement was effected by which both his distillery and Barto’s were to be run to their full capacity, but only a small return made to the Government; the two Assistant Assessors, Frank Morritt and Diller Groff, were made parties to the scheme; the arrangement worked for a while, but subsequently certain revenue detectives visited the district and discovered the plot.
In the afternoon, Tobias Barto, the Sheriff of Berks county, referred to by the witness Keller, was on the stand, and underwent a long examination … and his testimony was to the same effect as that given by Keller in respect to the interviews when all three were present.
This morning Joseph G. Holmes was the first witness on the stand…. [in September 1866] he was appointed inspector at Keller’s distillery; in March, 1868, was storekeeper at the same place; was there as storekeeper until the 22d of July, 1868; there was a rectifying establishment about 200 yards from the distillery; a hole was dug under the floor … a tub was put in … and liquor put in the tub; Colonel Alexander was about while the hole was being dug; afterwards saw Alexander at the distillery … afterwards at the rectifying place; the lid of the tub was opened … in Alexander’s presence by Keller; they took a rod and measured it; it was about two-thirds full…. Alexander said it was a good arrangement; the place held about 45 barrels…. Keller came out of the distillery and said that he had paid Alexander money; went to see Alexander; saw him at his home … he acknowledged having received money from Keller, but did not state the amount; left without getting any money from him; saw him three or four times at the distillery….
Levi K. Meixell testified – Live in Exeter township, Berks county; was assistant assessor appointed in August, 1867; held the office in March last; in March, April, and May, 1868, Col. Keller made returns to me; he did not swear to them; about the 15th of April I went to Reading to the revenue office; saw Colonel Alexander privately; he asked me if I swore Keller to the returns which had been reported; told him ‘no;’ he then said that I should not, that it was not necessary; that was all that passed at that time; he gave me instructions in September, 1867, when I was sworn in, to go to the distillery every other day, and report upon the number of bushels of mash, etc.; fifteen bushels of mash were then put in every other day; Keller said so; they only ran for a short time; then stopped to repair; about November they began running again…. they only reported ten bushels of grain a day at the time I had these instructions.
Cross-examined – Keller said that the previous assessor had never sworn him to his returns.
Samuel Barto testified – I live in Reading with my father, Sheriff Barto; recollect last spring that the defendant was at our house in company with Keller; it was at night; had gone to bed; father got up and opened the door; I also went down; Colonel Keller, Colonel Alexander, and my father were in the sitting-room when I got down; I stood in the entry; the door was ajar; heard what was being said; heard this, ‘Barto, you’ve made no money, and I’ve made no money, I want you to make up what you’ve lost;’ Colonel Alexander said this; as my object in coming down was only to see who was there; I then went up stairs [sic].
Revenue Detective James J. Brooks testified – in March last was special agent of Treasury Department; I made the affidavit upon which the defendant was arrested – upon the 24th day of June was deputized myself to serve the warrant; the warrant was issued for the arrest of George W. Alexander, Della B. Groff, and Frank Morritt; went to Reading to serve the warrant; Alexander was on the same train; had a conversation with him; told him I was going to arrest some important individuals; he didn’t ask me who they were, and I didn’t tell him; that night I went to Keller’s house; saw him.
Here an exception was made by the defendant’s counsel that the character of the evidence being given was not relevant – and, after consultation, the prosecution withdrew it.
Had an interview with Alexander some time [sic] after meeting him in the cars; called him out of the house and informed him of the warrant; it was about the 30th of June; I told him I must arrest him and take him to Philadelphia; he plead [sic] so hard that I did not at once do it; I really pitied him until I learned that it was not the first time that he had thus taken on; didn’t serve the warrant; told him to come down to Philadelphia, waive an examination, and give bail for his trial at court…. defendant didn’t come down; went up again in July and told him that he must come down; he did come then, and saw the District Attorney; he then went back; next saw him when the final hearing took place.
Here the prosecution closed, and the Court took a recess.
The 5 December 1868 edition of The Evening Telegraph noted that, while George W. Alexander had been convicted, the Judge (George Cadwalader, a former general with the Union Army in the Civil War) had asked the jury to recommend mercy in Alexander’s case:
THE CONVICTION OF ALEXANDER – The trial of George W. Alexander, Assessor of the eighth district of this State, upon a charge of aiding and abetting in the unlawful removal of whisky with intent to defraud the revenue, was concluded yesterday in the United States District Court. The evidence was voluminous and the pleadings lengthy, the case altogether occupying the attention of the Court for the greater portion of the week. Last evening the jury rendered a verdict of guilty, but afterwards, at the request of his Honor Judge Cadwalader, accompanied it with a recommendation to mercy.
The morning papers erroneously stated that the recommendation was brought in at the first, with the verdict, but so far from this being the case, it was not until the judge had said that he would be gratified if the jurors would unite with him in the recommendation, that they acceded. The trial, throughout, was conducted with fairness, and the verdict was eminently just. The public, tired of the constant peculations of the Revenue officials, and indignant in the easy manner in which they have hitherto escaped judgment watched this case with intense interest, in the hope that at least one of the evidently guilty ones would be punished as an example to the others. They were not again disappointed, and to the results of the trial the efforts of the new District Attorney, John P. O’Neill, Esq., were mainly conducive. He can feel the proud satisfaction of knowing that the people are all tendering him praise. Let but one or two more of the public pilferers receive their deserts, and a bright prospect arises that taxes will diminish before a revenue honestly collected.
George W. Alexander was sentenced to three years in prison.
After the Storm
In 1870, George W. Alexander and his wife, Hattie, were shown on the federal census as residing in Reading’s 1st Ward with their children, Lillie and Sallie. G. W. was described on the federal census for this year as “Manufacturer Cotton Laps.”
By 1880, the Alexanders had moved to West Reading in Berks County, and resided there with daughters, Lillie and Nettie. That same year, G. W. Alexander built and operated a hat factory in that same borough (which became increasingly successful, and which he then rebuilt after it was damaged by fire ten years later). Sometime during the factory’s operation, G. W.’s son, Edgar, joined the family firm. Managed as George W. Alexander & Son, the factory employed 300 people.
On 12 April 1896, Hattie widowed George. Passing away in Reading, Berks County, she was interred at the Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading in Section B-1, Lot 96.
In 1900, George W. Alexander resided in the 1st Precinct of Spring Township, Berks County with his children, Edgar and Lillie. The father and son hatters continued to operate the family factory, which had made a name for itself in the manufacture of soft fur headwear.
Unfortunately for daughter, Nettie A. Alexander, the future was less bright. According to the 1880 federal census, Nettie suffered from a disease of her spine. Unmarried, she passed away in Reading on 19 March 1900, and was interred with her mother and sister, Sallie, in the Alexander family plot at Reading’s Charles Evans Cemetery.
Her father followed her in death just three years later, passing away in Reading on 5 May 1903. The Daily Courier of Connellsville, Pennsylvania reported the death of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ former second in command as follows:
Reading, May 6 – Colonel George W. Alexander, senior member of Alexander & Co., one of the largest fur hat manufacturers in this district and lieutenant colonel of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil war, is dead.
His death was also reported in the 6 May 1903 edition of The Allentown Leader:
Col. George W. Alexander, one of Reading’s best known citizens, and senior member of the firm of Alexander & Co., had manufacturers, died Tuesday at his home there, of paralysis of the heart, aged 74 years.
Col.Alexander was born in New Hampshire and came to Reading in 1860. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was captain of the Reading Artillerists. He enlisted for three months and upon the expiration of his term of service he returned as captain of the First Pennsylvania Volunteers. He afterwards re-enlisted, and with six companies proceeded to Fort Jefferson and completed the fortifications and mounted the guns at that place. This required one year. He later participated in the Red River Expedition under General Banks and was in all the battles in the Shenandoah Valley under General Sheridan.
At the Battle of Cedar Creek he was wounded in the legs and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
[Note: The paragraphs above regarding G. W. Alexander’s military service contain numerous errors. A Lieutenant Colonel and the regiment’s second in command since the 47th’s inception, he mustered out in September 1864 before the Battle of Cedar Creek took place. Nearly killed in action during the Red River Campaign, it was during the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana on 9 April 1864 that he sustained the wounds to his legs.]
He was a member of the Chandler Lodge, F. and A.M., and a fireman. He is survived by one son and one daughter, Edgar W. Alexander and Miss Lillie Alexander.
Colonel George Warren (“G. W.”) Alexander was interred at the Charles Evans Cemetery (Section B-1, Lot 96, Grave 3) in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania on 9 May 1903. A large monument was erected there at his grave to honor his service to his community and nation.
The entry for George W. Alexander in the burial records of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Reading noted that the officiating minister chose Psalms 107:7 for G. W. Alexander’s funeral:
And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation.
** Note: G. W. Alexander’s son, Edgar, continued to operate the family’s hat factory after his father’s passing. After incorporating in 1905, he sold the factory to Philadelphia businessmen in 1912. Renamed the “Reading Hat Factory,” it became known for its manufacture of Boy Scout, cowboy, military and other stiff hats – a few of which may be found as collectibles at various auction sites.
The $400,000 estate left by Edgar W. Alexander benefited his widow and, most notably, his sister, Lillie O. Alexander. (Lillie suffered a “nervous shock” after Edgar passed away in November 1912.) The Reading Times reported that Lillie was awarded the use of the Alexander properties plus the interest on roughly a third of the monetary holdings of the estate – a portion larger than even that given to E. W.’s widow. E. W.’s daughter, Nettie I. Alexander (also known as “Mrs. J. Harry Moyer”), was awarded only $1,000 with the stipulation that the bequest be reduced further – to just $1 – if she attempted to contest the will.
And the Alexander will was contested – twice. A former Alexander staffer was forced in 1916 to repay money taken from Lillie’s portion of the estate. His claim that Edgar’s father (G. W. Alexander) had authorized him to take $45,000 in bonds was ruled invalid by the courts.
Three years earlier, E. W.’s daughter, Nettie (Lillie’s niece), reported by the Reading Times to have been given only a minor bequest due to ‘her wicked tongue’ which made her ‘unnatural in her conduct to her mother,’ fought back in a highly publicized case rivaling the storytelling of the 1980s-era evening soap operas, “Dallas” and “Dynasty.” It was ‘the largest estate ever contested in the Berks court’ (at the time). Nettie’s lawyers claimed that her father, E. W. Alexander, was ‘delusional’ and possibly ‘insane’, and abusive toward others during not only the latter part of his life, but even during her formative years – and that Nettie’s mother may also have had physical or mental health issues:
‘This is not only a case of disinheritance … but the decedent has libeled her in his will… Nettie I. Moyer’s infancy was but commonplace, and at the age of six her mother was injured and taught to keep her mother from all nervous or physical shocks. Her mother would go nowhere without her…. She was with her mother as her nurse in her last illness; she had actually devoted her whole life to her…. It was the chastity and decency of the household that the daughter insisted upon and protested about that began it all – the arguments they had about the father’s treatment of the orphaned girl who lived in their home, whom Nettie said he should look upon as if she were in her place and after which reprimand he said that he was sorry and would do better. When he fell again, his ideas changed and he said that ‘men are weak.’ His actions … ended with his having hit his daughter [Nettie], striking her unconscious, for which her husband refused to forgive him. It was when she moved away that he said it would break up his home and that he would never forgive her. There are only two rational conclusions that can be taken from this testimony in this case: First that he was a hard drinker and the intemperate use of the intoxicants impaired his brain cells.’
The lawyers for Nettie further alleged that E. W. Alexander had once ridden his horse “into the Mansion House to have a drink on horseback.”
[Note: One factor not mentioned in the news coverage of the estate’s legal proceedings, but which may have impacted E. W. Alexander’s health, was the possibility of mercury poisoning. (The phrase “mad as a hatter” was coined in England as awareness dawned that mercury vapors inhaled by hat factory workers often lead to mental illness. Whether or not mercury was used by G. W. Alexander & Son is unclear, but it is possible that it was since mercury was used by many American hat manufacturers up until the early 1940s.)]
The lawyers representing the Alexander estate and G. W. Alexander’s point of view noted that families were rarely happy with the instructions contained in wills, but that decedents had the right to distribute their money and property as they saw fit:
‘The very object of a will is to produce inequality, and to provide for the wants of a testator’s family; to protect those who are helpless and to reward those who have been affectionate and to punish those who have been disobedient…. From the whole evidence it plainly appears that the testator was displeased with the contestant because he heard that she had made comments concerning her mother and himself which to his mind appeared unnatural in a daughter. His general mental soundness and good judgment are not questioned. Even if in this particular the testator had been prejudiced or mistaken or illogical or even if such comments were justified by his conduct, there is no evidence in the case from which an insane delusion can be inferred.’
When Nettie lost, she appealed the judge’s ruling to the state Supreme Court in March 1914. She lost again in July 1914. Newspapers reported that, while Nettie was “cut off without a cent,” those who had been kind to or faithful employees of E. W. Alexander were rewarded for their compassion and dedication.
Eventually, the Alexander estate would come to be remembered by Reading citizens in a positive light. Following the resolution of the court cases and the deaths of the estate’s beneficiaries (G. W. Alexander’s daughter, Lillie O. Alexander, passed away on 18 August 1918), the remainder of the Alexander estate was distributed among Reading’s Home for Friendless Children and Home for Widows and Single Women, Humane Society, Reading Tuberculosis Society (Reading Sanitorium for the Treatment of Tuberculosis), Reading Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and the Topton Orphan’s Home.
1. Allentown Leader. Allentown: Various Dates:
- Allentown Greets Heroes of the 47th: Reunion Here Tuesday of Gallant Civil War Fighters: Sketch of Regiment by Maj. Gausler, in The Allentown Leader. Allentown: Saturday, 19 October 1912.
- Col. Alexander Dead: Lieut. Col. of the Famous 47th Passes Away in Reading, in The Allentown Leader. Allentown: 6 May 1903.
2. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
3. Berks County Death Records. Berks County: Register of Wills, 1900-1918.
4. Burial Records (George W. Alexander, Sallie Lydia Alexander), in St. Luke’s Lutheran Church Records, and in other church record collections, in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania: 1903.
5. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
6. Col. G. W. Alexander (death notice), in The Daily Courier. Connellsville: 6 May 1903.
7. Marriage Record (George W. Alexander and Harriet N. Appleton), in Massachusetts Vital Records. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society.
8. Montgomery, Morton L. Biographical and Historical Annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania. Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1909.
9. Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Card. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
10. Reading Loses Old Resident (obituary of E. W. Alexander), in Allentown Democrat. Allentown: 27 November 1912.
11. Reading Times. Reading: Various Dates:
- A Condensed History of the Reading Artillerists, in Reading Times. Reading: 20 October 1859.
- Alexander Bonds Must Be Returned: Supreme Court Refuses John S. Thompson’s Petition for Reargument, in Reading Times. Reading: 7 October 1916.
- Alexander Estate to Reward Many Steady Employees: Daughter, by Supreme Court Decision, Is Cut Off without a Cent for Contesting the Will: Family and Charity Will Share Generously in $345,000 Legacy, in Reading Times. Reading: 3 July 1914.
- Alexander Will Gives $400,000 to Relatives, in Reading Times. Reading: 5 December 1912.
- Arguments for Alexander Will May Go to Jury for Decision: Attorney for Estate Says Testament Is Man’s Dearest Right and Rarely Ever Suits His Relatives, in Reading Times. Reading: 30 December 1913.
- At Col. Alexander’s Hat Factory, in Reading Times. Reading: 9 May 1898.
- Barred Child from His Bier, in Reading Times. Reading: 7 November 1913.
- Confirmed (notice of the U.S. Senate confirmation of G. W. Alexander to serve as the Assessor of the Internal Revenue for the agency’s district in Reading), in Reading Times. Reading: 2 March 1867.
- Charities Share in Part of the Alexander Will: Final Disposition Made in Estate of Hat Manufacturer, in Reading Times. Reading: 7 February 1919.
- Daughter Contests Alexander Will, in Reading Times. Reading: 14 July 1913.
- Daughter Tells Family History: Mrs. Moyer’s Testimony as to Reason of Estrangement with Colonel [E. W.] Alexander, in Reading Times. Reading: 11 October 1913.
- E. W. Alexander, Pasts [sic] V. Head, and Lodgeman Dead, in Reading Times. Reading: 25 November 1912.
- Home (notice of Lt. Col. G.W. Alexander’s return home in September 1864 from military service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers), in Reading Times. Reading: 20 September 1864.
- Left (notice of Lt. Col. G. W. Alexander’s 20 September 1861 departure for service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers), in Reading Times. Reading: 21 September 1861.
- Miss Alexander Ill, in Reading Times. Reading: 26 November 1912.
- Miss Alexander’s Will: Three Public Bequests Out of a $75,000 Estate, in Reading Times. Reading: 23 August 1918.
- No Real Sports Left in Reading, in Reading Times. Reading: 19 December 1913.
- Reading Artillerists’ Meeting Notice, in Reading Times. Reading: 12 September 1861.
- Soldier’s Honors for Alexander, in Reading Times. Reading: 30 November 1912.
12. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
13. The Evening Telegraph. Philadelphia: Various Dates:
- The Alexander Case, in The Evening Telegraph. Philadelphia: 2 December 1868.
- Cases Before the Recorder, in The Evening Telegraph. Philadelphia: 20 August 1868.
- The Conviction of Alexander, in The Evening Telegraph. Philadelphia: 5 December 1868.
14. U.S. Census (1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900). Washington, D.C., New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.