April 28, 2012

Army Surgeon John F. Huber's Civil War

Location: Falls Church, VA, USA
Dr. John F. Huber, U.S. Army Surgeon
CDV taken in Lancaster c. 1863
(Sold by Alex Peck Medical Antiques)
As I gather my notes for a presentation on Sunday, May 13, at Trinity Lutheran Church, I thought I would take a break from the 150th anniversary sequence to post a Civil War letter written by one of Trinity Church's members, Dr. John F. Huber. With responsibilities as assistant surgeon or surgeon of the 49th Pennsylvania, 131st Pennsylvania, 50th Pennsylvania, and the US Military Hospital at Hilton Head, South Carolina, Huber's medical service began in 1861 and lasted a whole year past the war's end.

Various updates throughout the war by or about Huber in the Lancaster newspapers--primarily the Inquirer--reveal that his time as an army surgeon exacted a high physical toll from which he never really recovered.  Less than two years after his discharge, Huber died in Lancaster of "pulmonary disease" on February 15, 1868.  He was buried at Woodward Hill Cemetery, and his tombstone is positioned prominently along the road at the top of the hill near the chapel.

Verso of CDV
"Your affectionate father,
J. F. Huber"
Although Huber was born to an Old Mennonite family, he left the family farm in Willow Street for a more mainstream lifestyle in Lancaster.  After attending Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, he became a physician.  My encounters with Dr. Huber have been through the a couple mentions in official records of Trinity Lutheran Church, where he apparently was a member by 1861.  Specifically, he was on the committee to procure a lithograph of the church for the 1861 "Centenary Jubilee" commemorative book.  I don't know how he ended up at Trinity, but marriage is a good guess--more genealogical research is needed.

John Huber's first letter with the 49th Pennsylvania, transcribed below, appeared in the October 19, 1861, Weekly Inquirer, and describes a train accident near Baltimore and the regiment's stormy first night in Virginia.  Five or six more letters from Huber appeared in the Inquirer between December 1862 and March 1863. 

He also received mention in a January 17, 1863, letter from George McElroy of the Pennsylvania Reserves, who was recuperating at the York Hospital and wrote regularly to the Inquirer as "McE."  McElroy testifies to Huber's esteem in the community, as well as the efforts of Huber's wife, Louise, who I believe also was affiliated with the Patriot Daughters of Lancaster (although it's somewhat unclear as there was another John F. Huber in Lancaster.)  From the January 19, 1862, Inquirer:
We still remember the kind greetings and interesting companionship of Dr. J. F. Huber.  Worn out by his hard services on the Peninsula, and wasted by disease, he returned for a brief period to his family; but has again offered his life and his labors to his suffering country.  Promoted to a high position which he fills with honor to himself and credit to the Government, he still adds his quota to that fund of professional efficiency, which distinguishes the army of the Potomac.  His amiable and accomplished lady was the first to call on us, when smitten with disease and wasted by the disasters of war, we found a shelter and a home in the York Hospital.  One of the few who spoke to us words of encouragement and revived the recollections of sympathy, which time cannot impair and death no more than obliterate.  While those who fawned upon us in our sunny days and were participants in our prodigal liberality, remained far away, she came, uncalled and unsolicited, a ministering angel at our bedside. 


From the October 19, 1861, Lancaster Weekly Inquirer:


Camp Advance,
Near Falls Church, Va.

Mr. Editor: I presume an occasional letter of the wandering, loiterings and adventures of a Lancaster county follower of Esculapius, would be very acceptable.  While at Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, my duties were so numerous and onerous, that I could scarcely find sufficient time to write to those whose relations to me demanded my first attention during moments of relaxation.

April 24, 2012

With the USS Brooklyn at the Battle of New Orleans

Location: New Orleans, LA, USA
Bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, April 24, 1862 (HW 5/24/1862)
Carson and two other Marines from Lancaster fought aboard the USS Brooklyn

After the war's outbreak, a band of a half dozen young men from Lancaster joined the United States Marine Corps.  Three of them were assigned to the USS Brooklyn, and expected their Civil War experience to consist of a three-year cruise in the Mediterranean.  However, that plan failed, and all of them found themselves fighting on board ships battling to open up the Mississippi River and ports on the Gulf Coast.  (DEE 12/12/1861)
USS Brooklyn (Source)

In addition to martial accomplishments, the cohort displayed exceptional literary talents and letters or diary entries from at least three of them were published in newspapers.  One Lancaster Marine, Henry O. Gusley, even had the crazy experience of being captured and then having his diary being republished in serialized form by a Confederate newspaper in Galveston, Texas.  (It has since been re-republished with annotations as a book by Edward Cotham.)  Another, G. W. Jack, wrote a couple letters to the Lancaster Inquirer, which I'll post when the time comes this summer.

Today's post, though, includes a letter with fascinating details of battle by Henry Carson describing the capture of New Orleans from his vantage point on the USS Brooklyn.  For context, I'll yield to the Wikipedia entry on this battle as well as Craig Swain's excellent introduction to the bombardment.
Confederate Fire-Rafts (HW 5/24/1862)

From the May 28, 1862, Lancaster Examiner and Herald: (alternate link)

Lancaster NOT at Shiloh: Letters from 'E.H.W.'

Location: Columbia, TN, USA
General Buell's army crossing the Duck River near Columbia, Tennessee, where the 79th Pennsylvania was left on detached duty during the Battle of Shiloh (HW 5/3/1862)
Checking in with the 79th Pennsylvania's regular soldier-correspondent, Corp. Elias H. Witmer, we find that missing the Battle of Shiloh due to being on detached duty outside of Nashville caused much angst among the soldiers of the Lancaster County Regiment.  It's hard to separate hyperbolic indignation from fact, but Witmer certainly took umbrage at silly insinuations of cowardice by "ye shallow-pated demagogues of Lancaster" that the 79th Pennsylvania had been intentionally excluded from battle. 

After that excitement calmed, we have a second letter from the Mountville storekeeper written a week later on April 21.  Its main topic was fugitive slaves--a naturally complicated situation that would demand policy attention by Union forces in that part of Tennessee.  Acknowledged the polarized nature of discussions about slavery, Witmer--who apparently went to war with a negative opinion of slavery--declined to judge what he saw saying, "If I would write favorable about the slaves, my friends would say, he has changed his opinion on slavery, and if I would write unfavorable some would say he is prejudiced." 

He continued to complain about the restraint Union forces showed to hostile civilians and express little hope of reconciliation within a generation.  Of Southern women, he wrote:
The women are evidently the worst enemies to the government; they display a prejudice and hatred unequaled by the men in arms; they believe that our mission is the emancipation of slaves, which would doom them to labor.  They despise the sunburnt brow of honest industry; they look in scorn upon the dignity of labor, and consider the subjects of that great lever of our national greatness as the rubbage of society.
Witmer concludes with comments about pay problems in the 79th Pennsylvania and the allotment roles designed to transfer money to soldiers' families.  I have other information about this, including a letter from the wife of a soldier, which warrants its own post (time permitting).  

From the April 19, 1862, Daily Evening Express (alternate link):

From the April 30, 1862, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

April 19, 2012

From the Mississippi Flotilla: 'The Rebels to be Bagged'

Location: Randolph, TN 38023, USA
Back to the Sypher brothers, A. J. Sypher (previous letter)--an officer about the ironclad gunboat USS St. Louis--was quickly gaining on his brother James Hale Sypher in terms of battle count, as the Mississippi Flotilla looked forward to their next fight after forcing the surrender of Island No. 10.  His letter exudes confidence in the ability of the gunboats as they took on Fort Wright and Fort Pillow between April and June 1862.  

Other content includes the story of an escaped slave and his rejection and subsequent acceptance by the fleet and the correspondence of a Virginia soldier and his mother.

In another month, look for more letters from the USS St. Louis, this time penned by Daily Evening Express correspondent and gentleman adventurer J. R. Sypher, who was on a grand officially-sanctioned tour of the Western Theater to visit with the 79th Pennsylvania and his brothers.

Also, be sure to read my post about the letters written by another Lancasterian, Francis Kilburn, from a mortar boat and Craig Swain's interesting post about the operation of a mortar boat

From the April 23, 1862, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

Lancaster at Shiloh: Lt. Ben Ober in Louisville

Location: Louisville, KY, USA
Lithograph of the Battle of Shiloh: Charge of the 14th Wisconsin (Library of Congress)

While Lieut. Ben Ober of Company K, 77th Pennsylvania, missed his company's initiation into the world of Civil War battle at the Battle of Shiloh, his letter provides an important insight into the link between battlefield and home front in the days after a battle. 

Ober was in Louisville, Kentucky, recovering from a second  episode of a severe illness.  He observed boat loads of wounded arriving in Louisville and the commotion they caused in the city.  The letter also recounts his attempts to learn the fate of the 77th Pennsylvania in the battle, the particulars of which he hadn't procured by April 14, a full week after the battle.     

This is Benjamin Ober's last letter from the Western Theater.  He resigned shortly thereafter, and reported from Virginia during the Peninsula Campaign for a couple months.  After that, I don't know of Ober's fate, which could be an interesting research project.

From the April 18, 1862, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

April 11, 2012

Lancaster at Shiloh: Pvt. F. J. Bender

Location: Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee 38376, USA
"Battle of Shiloh" Lithograph by Prang & Co. (Source: Library of Congress)

77th Pa. Monument at Shiloh
(from regimental history)
Besides a few stray men and officers with Lancaster connections, Lancaster County's only real representation at Shiloh was one full company and two partial companies in the 77th Pennsylvania.  As part of McCook's division, they participated in the counterattack around the middle of the Union line and helped salvage the battle for the Union cause.  As the only Pennsylvania regiment at Shiloh, the regiment's veterans--led by John Obreiter of Lancaster--erected a monument there after the war, and published a book, The Seventy-Seventh Pennsylvania at Shiloh, about the regiment and the monument.

The first Lancasterian of the 77th Pennsylvania to write home publicly about the battle was Pvt. F. J. Bender of Company C.  As one of 14 men from the town of Mount Joy to join Company C, Bender wrote regularly to the Church Advocate, a religious newspaper published in Lancaster by the Church of God.  His letter of April 10, 1862, describes the experience of battle from the vantage point of a rational, literate, articulate Civil War soldier.      

From the May 8, 1862, Church Advocate: (alternate link)

April 6, 2012

Lancaster at Shiloh: Capt. J. Bowman Bell, 15th US Infantry

Location: Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee 38376, USA
Map of Battle of Shiloh, April 7, 1862
Note role of McCook's division in counterattack
(Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW)
This is the first in a series of three or four posts with dispatches from soldiers who experienced the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862. 

The Battle of Shiloh lasted two days, April 6-7, 1862.  Its unprecedented 24,000 casualties horrified both the North and the South.  It started when recently united Confederate armies attacked and surprised Union troops under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant positioned with their backs to the Cumberland River.  Through Grant's efforts and the timely arrival of Gen. Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, the Union forces rallied and regained the lost ground in a spirited counterattack on April 7.

Although the 79th Pennsylvania missed the battle--much to the dismay of its soldiers--due to detached duty near Nashville, other units and individuals with Lancaster connections fought in their first full-scale battle at Shiloh.  Most of them were part of Gen. McCook's Division of Buell's Army that rescued Grant and launched a spirited counterattack on April 7.

Included among the Lancasterians in McCook's Division was Capt. J. Bowman Bell, of Company D, 15th U.S. Infantry.  Although Capt. Bell (see "Find a Grave" reference) was from Reading, I believe he lived in Lancaster at certain points of his life, and he felt enough of a connection to write a letter to the Lancaster Daily Evening Express describing the Battle of Shiloh. 

Cover Sheet of the Bell Polka, dedicated to Mrs. J. Bowman Bell
 From the May 10, 1862, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)