Thursday, April 17, 2014

The 48th/150th: Colonel Sigfried's Decision . . .

Colonel Joshua Sigfried
(Courtesy of Mr. David Sigfried)
150 years ago, in late April 1864, Colonel Joshua Sigfried faced a tough decision. He had commanded the 48th Pennsylvania for the past two years, assuming regimental command in the spring of 1862 when Colonel James Nagle was elevated to brigade command. During those two years, Sigfried had led the regiment through some of the war's worst battles: 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and throughout the 1863 campaigns in Kentucky and Tennessee. He was a good, tough, and experienced officer who had, by the onset of the '64 campaign, long since earned the respect of his soldiers. In March and April 1864, Sigfried remained behind in Pottsville, tending to personal and regimental matters, even as the rest of the regiment departed for the 9th Corps rendezvous point at Annapolis, Maryland, and he would not rejoin the regiment until the waning days of April. When he did finally arrive in Annapolis, he was called upon by Major General Ambrose Burnside and presented with a difficult question.

Burnside had been busy restructuring and reorganizing his beloved 9th Army Corps in preparation for the upcoming campaigning season. He had some 42 regiments of infantry and 14 batteries divided into four divisions commanded, respectively, by Generals Thomas Stevenson, Robert Potter, Orlando Willcox, and Edward Ferrero. There was a good, solid core of veteran regiments--including the 48th--which had served under Burnside since the winter of 1861-1862 along the shores of North Carolina. But there was also a good number of brand new, inexperienced regiments just recently recruited. Among the latter were eight regiments of United States Colored Troops, which formed the two brigades of Ferrero's Fourth Division. To lead Ferrero's 2nd Brigade, Burnside tapped Colonel Henry Goddard Thomas, who had a long service record dating all the way back to 1st Bull Run and who had previous experience commanding black troops. And to lead Ferrero's 1st Brigade, Burnside turned to Sigfried, asking him if he would be willing to accept this new command.

Flag, 4th Division, 9th Army Corps
(Library of Congress)
The thirty-two-year-old colonel thought it over. According to Oliver Bosbyshell, Sigfried was loath to accept. Commanding black troops presented a number of special challenges for any white officer, and his task would be made even more difficult by the fact that these men were wholly inexperienced. Plus, he did not want to leave his men of the 48th after he had formed so close and so good a bond with them. But on the other hand, Sigfried must have felt some pride and satisfaction at having been personally selected by Burnside for this assignment and he did not want to disappoint his corps commander. Sigfriedultimately--Bosbyshell said 'reluctantly'--agreed and in late April/early May 1864, Colonel Sigfried bid farewell to the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania to take command of the 1st Brigade, 4th Division, 9th Army Corps. Assuming Sigfried's place in command of the 48th was Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants.

Sigfried did well in brigade command and would, in just a few months, lead his men of the 27th, 30th, 39th, and 43rd U.S.C.T. into the hellish fight at the Crater, a battle that resulted from the successful efforts of his former 48th PA soldiers in mining under the Confederate lines at Petersburg. For his actions and his efforts, Sigfried would, by war's end, be brevetted a brigadier general. He was mustered out of service in October 1864, upon the expiration of his three-year enlistment, and returned to his native Schuylkill County.

 
In the early 1880s, publisher W.W. Munsell & Company planned a lengthy History of Schuylkill County With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers and, in it, they wanted to feature a biography of Joshua Sigfried. In Washington, Ambrose Burnside, now a senator from Rhode Island, heard of the upcoming book and wrote to Sigfried, desiring a copy. In his letter to Sigfried--which was later reprinted verbatim in Munsell's county history--Burnside explained why he selected him for brigade command:
 
 

U.S. Senate
Washington, April 30, 1881

 
General J.K. Sigfried:
     My Dear General:
I learn that a "History of Schuylkill County" is about to be published, and I would be glad to have a copy of it, for I am sure it will contain honorable mention of its gallant soldiers who served with me during the late war for the suppression of the Rebellion. You, my dear general, will be prominently mentioned if the compilers know as much of your skill, gallantry, and unselfish co-operation as I do. I shall never forget the disinterested patriotism which actuated you when you were asked by me to take command of the 1st brigade of the 4th division of the 9th corps. It was composed of colored troops, and I naturally wanted to give it my best officers for brigade commanders. I well remember the desire you had to remain with your old command, and with what reluctance you yielded to my desire and order. I wanted you with the 4th division because you were one of my best officers, and commanded by entire confidence and esteem. Please have a copy of the work, when it comes out, sent to me at Bristol, R.I.
     With kind regards to your family, I remain, my dear general--
Faithfully your friend
A.E. Burnside
Senator Ambrose Burnside
 



 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain" by Dan Vermilya. . .

I'm taking a short time-out, if you will, from my normal postings documenting the trials, the triumphs, and experiences of the 48th Pennsylvania to formally congratulate my good friend Dan Vermilya on the publication of his first book, The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.



Dan and I have worked together in the Park Service for nearly five years--at both Antietam and at Gettysburg--and have spent countless hours talking Civil War, talking interpretation, and talking baseball.
 
Dan's book on the June 27, 1864, struggle at Kennesaw Mountain is a great addition to the History Press' Civil War Sesquicentennial Series, and its publication is most timely since, of course, this June will mark the 150th Anniversary of the battle. The book is exceptionally well-written and offers a sharp, analytical examination of the actions and decisions of the primary antagonists, William T. Sherman and Joseph Johnston, both during the campaign and during the battle itself. The battle is also presented in context of the larger Atlanta Campaign and its significance/meaning in that campaign is critically examined. It was, says Dan, a battle of great contradiction; a smashing Union defeat in the midst of a most successful campaign. Dan also does a great job in presenting the story of the battle from the bottom up, utilizing a wide and impressive array of primary sources. . .letters, diaries, and so on, recording the experiences--the thoughts, the emotions--of those who served in both the Blue and Gray at Kennesaw.
 
For those hoping to discover what was happening in the war's Western Theater at the same time the armies in the east were settling into a siege at Petersburg--and while the 48th PA was digging deep underground--then this is an excellent, excellent book for you; a sharp, clear, and concise account of the June 27, 1864, Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.
 
More information can be found at the publisher's site here.
 
In conjunction with the publication of his book, Dan has also launched a website with even more information on the fight at Kennesaw, including an extensive bibliography, detailed Orders of Battle, and primary accounts of the battle from Union and Confederate participants. That website can be found at http://kennesawmountain.wordpress.com/


Louis Prang's Depiction of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain



Sunday, April 6, 2014

The 48th/150th: Deaths At Annapolis & The Sad Case of Private Michael Wilson, Who Died From "Nostalgia, or Home-Sickness"

The Annapolis National Cemetery
Several Soldiers of the 48th PA Lie Interred Here
(www.mht.maryland.gov)
150 years ago. . .The soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania were settling into their camps at Annapolis, not quite sure what their new assignment would be once the weather improved and spring campaigning commenced. Not a few of the men pined for a return to either North Carolina or Lexington, Kentucky. The ranks of the regiment contained a solid core of veteran soldiers--those who had served with the regiment since the summer of 1861. But the ranks were also swollen with hundreds of new recruits; perhaps it was these men who were most anxious about where the spring of 1864 would find them.

It was not long after arriving in their Annapolis camps that the men were once more reminded of the grim and precarious realities of life as a Civil War soldier, when disease began to its toll. Many of the men fell sick, while a few died. Records show that at least nine men died during the regiment's six-week stay at Annapolis, although the exact number is most likely a little higher. Among those who died at Annapolis was Private Peter Zimmerman of Company A. Zimmerman, a cabinet maker from Tamaqua, enlisted in 1861 and at that time was 24 years old. He died in Annapolis on April 11, 1864.  Thirty-year-old William Smith, a painter from Pottsville, had also signed up to serve in the summer of 1861, entering the ranks of Company D. He, too, perished in Annapolis, on April 8, 1864. Charles Clark was among the regiment's new recruits, having signed up to serve in the ranks of Company G in February 1864. Less than two months later--on April 6--Clark, a 28-year-old carpenter from Pottsville was dead and buried in the General Hospital Cemetery in Annapolis. Private John Donnelly was only 18 when he left his Port Carbon behind to march off to war with Company H, 48th Pennsylvania in March 1864. He enlisted on March 3, 1864; he succumbed to disease on April 20, having been a soldier for five or so weeks. It was sunstroke that claimed the life of Private Edward Edwards, also of Company H. The 22-year-old coal miner from Pottsville enlisted in February 1864; his life ended on April 23, 1864. So, too, did the life of Lewis Garber of Company I. Garber, a laborer who listed his residence simply as Schuylkill County, was 18 when he enlisted in February 1864 and when he died on April 23.  Reuben Watt, also of Company I, was also a member of the regiment's new crop of soldiers. He was 20 when he volunteered to serve in the 48th; the date he signed up was February 23. Disease claimed his life on March 31 at Annapolis, and he, too, was buried at the General Hospital Cemetery there. Also among those whose life ended at Annapolis in the spring of 1864 was 30-year-old Peter Litchfield, an Irish-born coal miner who resided near Pottsville. He signed up on March 1, 1864, and was dead on April 9.


The Grave of Private Edward Edwards
Presbyterian Cemetery: Pottsville, PA
(www.billiongraves.com)


The Grave of Private Peter Litchfield
First United Methodist Cemetery: Minersville
(www.findagrave.com)


While the deaths of each of these soldiers was tragic--especially, of course, to their families back home in Schuylkill County--it was the passing of Private Michael Wilson that seemed particularly sad and one that seemingly left a deep impression upon the soldiers of the 48th PA.

Michael Wilson stood 5'7" in height. He had a "Fair" complexion, blue eyes, and red hair. He had been born in England, but had since made Minersville his home and coal mining his vocation. When he enlisted to fight with the 48th PA on February 25, 1864, he was 21 years old. Along with the other members of the regiment, Wilson departed home in mid-March. The 48th arrived in Harrisburg where they spent a few days, then headed for Annapolis, via Lancaster and Baltimore. It was not long after their arrival at Annapolis that young Private Wilson perished. He died on March 24, 1864 and he died, at least according to regimental historian Joseph Gould (who also served in Company F) from "Nostalgia--home sicknesses." As Gould related, Wilson's "was a very sad case." He began to think of home; of what he left behind and what may lie ahead. According to Gould, "His comrades endeavored to divert his mind and thoughts in another channel, but were not successful and he just pined away from a big, strong, healthy boy, and died in less than a month from the time he left home." Wilson's remains were sent back home to Minersville where they continue to rest in the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery.



It was thus not just disease or battle-related injuries that caused death in the Civil War.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The 48th/150th: Rendezvous At Annapolis. . .and Preparing for the Campaign Ahead

Civil War Annapolis. . .
Where the 48th Rendezvoused With The 9th Corps March-April 1864
(www.usni.org)
With their veteran's furloughs expired and having returned to war, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania departed Harrisburg, heading for Annapolis, Maryland, where the 9th Army Corps was rendezvousing after its successful campaigns under both Burnside and Grant in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. With Burnside once more at its helm, the well-traveled, well-seasoned and veteran 9th Corps would, that spring of 1864, be once more joining up with the Army of the Potomac, under George Meade, the victor of the Battle of Gettysburg. The soldiers of the Army of the Potomac viewed the 9th Corps as something of "outsiders," while Meade simply did not like Burnside. All of this would lead to some problems down the road, but, for the moment, the soldiers of Burnside's 9th Corps--including the 48th--gathered at Annapolis, to await their orders and to prepare for what promised to be another bloody campaign ahead. Just how bloody, however, no one could have ever predicted. Indeed, during the approaching storm, from early May to mid-June and at such places as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, and during the initial attacks on Petersburg, the 48th Pennsylvania would lose many hundreds of its men, killed or wounded. . .
 
The soldiers of the 48th--an even mix between veterans and rookies--arrived at Annapolis on March 19, 1864, and there they would remain for the next six weeks. During this time, the men drilled, paraded, and settled in once more to the life of the soldier. Their Enfiled Rifles were exchanged for Springfield Rifles, "a much better gun," concluded Joseph Gould of Company F. Their commander, at least for the time being, was still Colonel Joshua Sigfried, and they were still a part of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Corps, although there were some changes to the other regiments in that brigade, which now consisted of the 4th Rhode Island, 7th Rhode Island, 35th Massachusetts, 36th Massachusetts, 58th Massachusetts, 45th Pennsylvania, and 48th Pennsylvania. It was also in Annapolis where the soldiers of the 48th got their first look at black troops. At Burnside's request, an entire division of black soldiers--eight regiments of the United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.)--had been assigned to the 9th Corps; it would become its Fourth Division, and it also was organizing and assembling at Annapolis when the 48th arrived. "The drilling of these troops, beside those of the white regiments, was a new experience for the old Ninth Corps," admitted Oliver Bosbyshell, "and many doubted whether the colored boys would prove faithful under fire, a doubt set at rest by their excellent work in the subsequent campaign."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The 48th/150th: Back To The Front. . .and Some "Troublesome Customers."

150 years ago. . .and after what must have seemed like a blink of an eye, the thirty-day furlough for the veteran soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania came to an end. Officially, their furlough ended on March 4, 1864, but when the regiment assembled next day in Pottsville, they were pleasantly surprised to discover that their furlough had been extended first to March 7, then another week, to March 14. There were, no doubt, many tears shed as the soldiers embraced their wives, their mothers, their children, before heading back to war. For hundreds of these volunteers departing with the 48th, this would be their first term of enlistment. While over 300 veterans of the regiment decided to re-enlist for another three-year term, hundreds more--perhaps those too young to enlist in 1861 or perhaps those who were drawn to serve because of the bounty--would be setting off for the front for the first time. On March 14, 1864, "amidst cheering shouts of friends," the train cars carrying the 48th pulled away from Pottsville and arrived in Harrisburg later that day "with full ranks."  For four days, the regiment remained at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, shaking off the rust and the dust and preparing once more for soldiering. Orders were received to proceed to Annapolis, Maryland, where the 9th Corps was just then rendezvousing. So, on March 18, the regiment bid farewell once more to Harrisburg and headed for Baltimore via Philadelphia.

It did not take long, however, for the regiment to cause trouble. Thanks to reader Vince at www.lancasteratwar.com, I discovered something new about the 48th. Apparently, while passing through the city of Lancaster, the hard-drinking soldiers of the 48th cleaned the town out, as reported in the March 19, 1864, edition of the Lancaster Daily Evening Express:

TROUBLESOME CUSTOMERS: The 48th Regiment, Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, passed through this city yesterday on their way to Philadelphia. A number of drinking houses on their route were visited by some twenty of these troops, and "cleaned out." In this city, Frank's beer saloon, and Mrs. Cox's and Captain Shue's taverns suffered considerably. They carried off whatever took their fancy. What a great contrast between those men and the excellent behavior of the 79th.
 
The 79th Pennsylvania was, by the way, a Lancaster-based regiment. Regardless, I would like to find out who specifically these twenty "troublesome customers" were. . .