September 27, 2012

'Finally Arrived at Louisville'

Location: Louisville, KY, USA
Buell's Army Enters Louisville (HW 10/18/1862)
As the sun rose on September 26, 1862, the Lancaster County Regiment marched into the city that one year previous had welcomed the regiment to the war's western theater. Part race, part retreat, Gen. Buell's Army of the Ohio succeeded in beating the Confederate army to Louisville.  Although tired and hungry from the preceding weeks' forced marches and restricted rations, the Lancasterians felt relieved to finally be part of the main body of the Army of the Ohio, instead of detached duty like they had essentially been performing since March or April.

Hospital Steward John B. Chamberlain recounted the regiment's recent activity in a letter published in the October 1, 1862, Daily Inquirer (see full text here):
Since my last letter (link) the 79th has seen rough but active service.  Two weeks ago we received orders to move, and from that time to the present we have literally obeyed orders, and tramped over "the dark and bloody ground" after Secesh until we finally arrived at Louisville, and, as usual in our case, found that the enemy was not "thar."  When we started on the march the men were but poorly furnished with rations, the great bulk of the provisions being aboard the wagon train, and after one day's march the teams were so far in the rear that it was utterly impossible for them to catch up with the regiment, which was with the main body of the army.  The Quartermaster, however, did the best he could under existing circumstances; full rations of flour were issued to the regiment instead of crackers.  The entire ingenuity of the regiment was fully taxed to promptly improvise an article of food from flour and water; and many were the means resorted to, and odd contrivances employed, for baking.  Some wound the unleavened dough around sticks, others heated stones and some laid it upon boards--all aiming to make something eatable out of the most uneatable, unpalatable article ever compounded for human digestion.  
Daily Evening Express correspondent Elias H. Witmer positively reviewed the regiments efforts, pronouncing, "The Lancaster county female cooks are knocked in the shade...The bread which these ovens turn out is christened 'Buell's slab-jacks' and 'bullet-proof doughnuts.'" [10/1/1862]

As satisfied as the Lancasterians felt with their own culinary abilities, they felt distressed about the state of the Army of the Ohio, to which they belonged.  Witmer and Chamberlain both lamented that the regiment had not the opportunity to fight on the banks of the Potomac.  Frustration began to build with Don Carlos Buell as much ground gained over the past year had been lost.  Comparing the situation in late September 1862 to that of earlier in the year, Chamberlain wrote
How different are the prospects now, from what they then appeared to us.  Then we were on the aggressive, and in a few short months Donelson, Henry and Shiloah shed lustre on our victorious arms.  Now we are on the defensive, and accumulated ruin and disaster has continually attended our every effort, since the inauguration of the "masterly inactivity policy" by the Commander-in-Chief of this department.  
 As September drew to a close, the situation deteriorated almost comically (and definitely tragically), as various factions within the army led to confrontations.  One general murdered another.  Washington relieved Buell of command and then rescinded the order.  Tens of thousands of green troops were absorbed into the army.  Yet, somehow, on October 1, Don Carlos Buell led an army out of Louisville to take the offensive and confront the Confederate army.   

September 23, 2012

After Antietam

Location: Sharpsburg, MD 21782, USA
Confederate Dead near the Dunker Church on the Antietam Battlefield.  Multiple civilians from Lancaster visited this site in the days after the battle.  (Library of Congress)
The Battle of Antietam had hardly ended before the first team of civilians from Lancaster came to help care for the wounded.  Five of Lancaster's prominent physicians and three assistants left Lancaster on September 18, 1862, a day after the battle in response to a call put out by Pennsylvania Surgeon General Henry H. Smith.  They arrived in Hagerstown and proceeded to the battlefield where they spent three days amputating limbs and dressing wounds.

Accompanying the physicians were staff members of the Lancaster Inquirer newspaper, possibly including editor Stuart A. Wylie, who toured the Antietam battlefield while still covered by the dead.  The entourage passed through the North Woods and the Cornfield and eventually reached the Dunker Church:
Afar off on a declivity of a small hill, just in the edge of a large woods, and by the woodside, we observed the white corner of a building peep up, and on making inquiry, were informed that it was the Dunkard Church, where the rebel sharp-shooters suffered so severely.  Making our way carefully on, over the heaps of dead rebels, we at last arrived there.  The building was a small brick one story, perfectly riddled with balls.  The rebels secreted themselves here for the purpose of picking off our artillery men, whom they annoyed for some time very much.  At last the guns were turned on them, and in a few minutes the building was rendered untenable by the bursting shells.  Inside we found a wounded Confederate soldier lying with a ball right through his forehead, and the brain oozing slowly out.  He was still alive and sensible.
The letter continued to describe the military state of affairs in the days after the battle, which they labeled "decisive, but very incomplete."  It concluded with a visit to the Pennsylvania Reserves and the comment, "We returned home on Sunday, well satisfied with our view of the battle scenes, and convinced that the rebels will never more attempt to invade Pennsylvania."  Read the entire letter, which appeared in the September 22, 1862, Lancaster Daily Inquirer at this link. 

Pastor F. W. Conrad
(Trinity Lutheran Church)
After the immediate response by the team of physicians, the Lancaster community responded more broadly by donating hospital stores to the Patriot Daughters of Lancaster.  A team of four Lancasterians, including a pastor (pictured on left), a pharmacist, a farmer, and the city's music genius superintended the distribution of six wagon loads of goods to the Pennsylvania Reserves and hospitals, leaving Lancaster on September 30.  I've already featured this trip in a previous post, as there were two very interesting letters by the Patriot Daughters' agents about their trip.  Those letters are available here.

On a more personal level, other citizens of Lancaster tended to the effort of retrieving bodies of soldiers killed at South Mountain and Antietam for reburial in Lancaster, hoping that a final resting place in a family cemetery would be meaningful to families who sacrificed sons to the effort to preserve the Union.

In particular, we have accounts related to soldiers from some of the Columbia companies.  Thomas Bennett, of Company K, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, died from wounds received at South Mountain in a hospital in Frederick, but the attempt to retrieve the body was unsuccessful due to confusion in the hospital's burial records (or lack thereof).  Another officer, Capt. George A. Brooks of the 46th Pennsylvania and formerly of Columbia, was learned to have been killed in action when Columbians in the Pennsylvania militia were transferring coffins at a railroad depot. [Columbia Spy 10/4/1862]

Amos Hougendobler
Co. K, 5th Penna. Reserves
Brother of John, KIA South Mountain
Thanks to PRVC Hist. Soc.
In another case, a week after the battle three men left Columbia to retrieve the remains of John A. Hougendobler (Hogentogler), whose death at South Mountain with Co. K, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, was reported in a letter I cited last week.  The party first went to the Antietam battlefield and found the Pennsylvania Reserves.  In a letter by "P. F." published in the October 4, 1862, Columbia Spy, he recounted:
Leaving [the Dunker Church], we soon found the immortal Penna. Reserves...Our gallant townsman, Col. Fisher of the 5th, welcomed us in his genial and gentlemanly way.  Dinner being ready we partook of his hospitality and did full justice to the meal.  All the Columbians seemed to be glad to see us as we were to see them.  We mingled freely with them and heard many tales of hair-breadth escapes and mighty deeds.
The next day, they set out east towards Boonesboro to complete their mission.  The letter continued:
Passing on three miles further [past Boonesboro], by way of the Hagerstown and Frederick turnpike, we turned into a road to the left, running northward, and skirting the base of the celebrated South Mountain.  After advancing a mile we again struck a road to the left, running to the westward up a hollow in the mountain side.  We advanced up this road to where it terminates in a ravine in which there is a small log house occupied by an old man and his family.  A young man belonging to the 5th of the name of Rees, detailed by Col. Fisher to act as guide, here pointed out the track of the 5th regiment as they charged up the side of the mountain, driving the rebels before them...Our guide took us to the grave, which we found in an enclosure near the little log house in the ravine.  He had been buried as carefully as the circumstances would permit; the only implements used were bayonets.  We uncovered a part of the body and found the corpse carefully wrapped in a gum blanket, and his cap placed over his face.  Lifting the cap we found the body too much decomposed to remove.  Gathering a few locks of hair we again replaced his cap, and after building a a little wall of stones about his body, covered it with heavy slabs, on one of which we inscribed his name.  Covering the whole with earth we left him to rest till winter, when he will be brought home to his mourning friends.
The party started home later that night.  Although I still have to confirm it, Hougendobler's remains were supposedly removed eventually to what is now the cemetery of the Ironville United Methodist Church, which stands on the Hougendoubler family farm in West Hempfield Township (according to Bridgens' 1864 atlas).
Whether to mourn, aid, or simply tour, these anecdotes point to a very strong connection between the battlefield and the home front in the days after the Battle of Antietam.  Through these stories, we can see how civilians tried to cope with mass death and injury and the challenges that they faced in doing so.  We can also start to see hints about how the war's proponents positioned the deaths as a call to loyalty to the nation and a heightened commitment to the war.

September 19, 2012

Reaction to American Experience's "Death and the Civil War"

Tombstone of Capt. John H. Dysart
Woodward Hill Cemetery
Alerted by Kevin Levin's review, I watched American Experience's two-hour documentary, "Death and the Civil War."  Overall, I thought it was well done, although I've considered the topic interesting for many years.  In fact, much of this blog chronicling the Lancaster County Regiment has focused on deaths in the regiment and reactions in Lancaster.  Here are a couple posts for anyone interested:

  • "There Sleeps a Pennsylvania Volunteer": Death Visits the 79th Pa.  A letter from Corp. Elias H. Witmer about the first death in the regiment.
  • Better Know a Soldier: Lewis H. Jones.  A working-class soldier from Lancaster City for whom the month of January 1861 was dominated by taking care of matters after the death of his brother-in-law (also in the 79th PA).  Treatment of his brother-in-law's family became a political issue when the incumbent mayor falsely charged his physician challenger of snubbing the family (I still need to post the wives' letter) a couple weeks after the death.  Jones himself died in the Battle of Perryville.
  • The Death and Funeral of Capt. John Dysart.  The first officer of the 79th PA to die, and whose body was returned to Lancaster.
I also hope to write soon about post-Antietam aid trips and visits to recover bodies, including that of John A. Hougendobler whose death was recently mentioned in my last post on South Mountain.  Furthermore, I'll have a lot more about the Battle of Perryville and how the regiment and Lancaster dealt with the thirty-something deaths in the regiment.

Back to the documentary, I probably best enjoyed the beginning and the end, as the stories and pictures about battlefield horrors blended together.  The new roles that the federal government took on were interesting, particularly reburial efforts in Kentucky and Tennessee which doubtless brought many of the remains of Pennsylvania volunteers into national cemeteries, although few successfully retained identification in the case of the 79th Pennsylvania.   
Grand Army of the Republic plot at Greenwood Cemetery, Lancaster
I believe the African-American section of the GAR plot is pictured.
I would have liked to have heard more in two specific areas, though.  First, as Kevin pointed out, the documentary neglects to discuss how the war's proponents very clearly tried to use the deaths to build support for the war (or resist Copperhead criticisms).  Particularly in the winter of 1863, these rhetorical efforts corresponded to the advent of the Union Party which sought to basically reboot the war effort.  It was even fairly obvious earlier, too, as I'll be posting soon about how soldier deaths played into the Congressional election of 1862.  Lancaster Republicans, especially, argued that only a vote for Thaddeus Stevens would properly honor the dead.  

Second, rather than a multitude of stories about battlefield horrors, I would have liked to know more about how death tied into existing art, rituals, and institutions (besides the federal government).  How did mainline denominations and evangelical churches react and change or not change how they talked about death?  How did pastors respond?  What did wartime soldiers' tombstones look like (these tend to be amazing)?  What were traditions of mourning?  What about art and jewelry?

I still highly recommend watching the documentary, which you can find at  Check back on this blog to fill in the details and for more case studies to better understand the divisions and unity produced by death during the Civil War, as well as the lasting memorials that they created and that we still have around us today.    

September 16, 2012

'Officers and Men Alike Were Heroes': Lancaster at South Mountain

Location: Middletown, MD 21769, USA
The Battle for Fox's Gap, in which the 45th Pennsylvania participated.
(Library of Congress)
Corresponding to Friday's 150th anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain, here are some words and images of those Lancasterians involved in the assaults that succeeded in knocking Confederates off their lofty defensive positions and opening the way for McClellan to strike at Lee's scattered army.  Judging solely by number casualties, the Battle of South Mountain, which took place on September 14, 1862, in three different gaps in the mountain range, actually probably was more significant for the people of Lancaster than the Battle of Antietam a couple days later, reflecting the key roles several Lancaster companies played.

Hat belonging to Col./Brig. Gen. Thomas Welsh
(Richard Abel Collection)
Specifically, seven companies recruited in Lancaster County could count the day's attacks among their proudest moments of the entire war.  All participated in the assaults on two nearby gaps, Turner's and Fox's, along the National Road as it shot west from Frederick.

South of the National Road at Fox's Gap, a brigade under Col. Thomas Welsh of Columbia had deployed at the base of a hill whose crest Confederate artillery and infantry occupied.  Welsh's command included his old regiment, the 45th Pennsylvania, of which Companies B and K were recruited in Marietta and Columbia, Lancaster County.

The regiment's soldier-correspondent to the Columbia Spy, who I think I determined to be Corp. George H. Stape of Company K, picked up the story in a letter dated September 15 published on October 4:
We remained under a terrible fire from the Rebel artillery and infantry for five hours on that day, and after having charged up a hill, we succeeded in driving them away in total confusion.  After we had shot away all our cartridges we went at them with the bayonet, and soon had great heaps of dead Rebels in our front.  Our own loss was terrible.  Behind us lay our dead and wounded, literally covering the ground.  Not a man in this great old Regiment faltered.  Our wounded comrades fell shouting "Forward!"--not even a man left the ranks to bear off the wounded; all felt the great responsibility resting on them, and determined to conquer or die.  Officers and men alike were heroes!  You should have heard the shouts of victory echoing through the old mountain as the Rebels fled in terror down the hill!  

Chaplain William J. Gibson
45th Pennsylvania
(R. Abel Collection)
Both Companies B and K lost two men killed in the action and about ten-fifteen men wounded to various degrees of severity. Word of the battle and its accompanying casualty list reached Lancaster fairly rapidly thanks to the efforts of the regiment's chaplain, William J. Gibson.  A complete list of killed and wounded for the entire regiment was printed in the September 20 Columbia Spy

On the northern end of the advance, the Pennsylvania Reserves had the task of moving up a steep, rocky mountain ridge to push the Confederates off the top.  Lancaster County sent six companies as part of the division: Companies B (Lancaster), D (Safe Harbor), and E (Lancaster), 1st Pennsylvania Reserves, Co. G of the 2nd Penna. Reserves (Hempfield), and Co. K of the 5th Penna. Reserves (Columbia).  All belonged to the brigade of Truman Seymour, who occupied the Union line's northernmost position and had the task of charging up the mountain and turning the Confederate left flank.

A soldier-correspondent in Company K, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, who wrote under the pseudonym "Orderly" (I'm sure it wouldn't be too much work to figure out who this is) gave an account of the assault for the September 27 Columbia Spy, which included:
Adj. Calvin Budding
45th Pennsylvania
Wounded in battle
(R. Abel Collection)
The Reserves, after marching 18 miles, came up with the extreme left of the rebel army, on the mountain top, at 5 o'clock P.M.; the position was a strong one.  The 5th, 1st and Bucktails drove the enemy from rock to rock and hill to hill.  The Rebels took advantage of stone walls, into which many of them were burrowed.  I passed over the battle field this morning; it seems almost incredible that the enemy was driven from a position almost impregnable.  The hills were covered with the dead and wounded.  Amongst them could be found officers of every grade.  You can have an idea of the consummate courage of the brave boys of the 5th, and the manner in which they were handled, when I state that they, the 1st and the Bucktails charged the enemy and drove them over three hills, a mile at least.  After the battle Col. Fisher gave the order "centre dress stack arms," which was done in as perfect order as on dress parade.  Company K suffered severely.  John a. Hogendobler was killed almost instantly, the ball passed through his body and entered the breast of Sergeant Wells, fracturing the bone.  I think he will recover.  Thomas Bennett, two fingers off, and shot through the legs; Patrick Summers was shot through the thigh--doing well, as is also Bennett;* Nicely was shot in the calf of leg; Dan'l Gohn shot in the finger.  I have many incidents to relate but must defer them.  Lieut. Caldwell commanded in the action.  Gen. Hooker, ("fighting Joe,") and other Generals complimented our boys very highly for their courage.
John Hogendobler was buried to the rear of a small log house on the battle field, and a head-board placed in the ground with the name of Company, Regiment, and late residence on nit; the grave is about twenty-five yards north of the house, by a large rock and fence.
* Since died in hospital at Frederick. 
With the passes through South Mountain cleared, the stage was set for the Battle of Antietam. 

Additional References: