December 15, 2012

A Battle Casualty, a Desperate Father, and a Community in Mourning

Location: Fredericksburg, VA, USA
Railroad running through Fredericksburg Battlefield near where the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves fought and Sergt. Edward M. Shreiner was mortally wounded. (NPS)

Continuing a minor focus on the biographies of casualties, which (1) give insights into the world views of Lancaster's Civil War soldiers and (2) motivate the transformation of attitudes towards the war that Northern communities experienced in winter 1863, today's post focuses on another member of the Pennsylvania Reserves mortally wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Edward M. Shreiner
Co. K, 5th Pa Reserves
In the December 13, 1862, attack on Prospect Hill, the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves was part of the leftmost brigade in the charge by General Meade's division of Pennsylvania Reserves.  After the division's deadly advance across a long and open plain, the 5th Reserves stopped at a set of railroad tracks in front of the Confederate lines and exchanged fire.  The regiment kept the Confederates pinned down until elements of the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves could turn the Confederate flank, but by that time the tide had turned and the Pennsylvanians attack collapsed without support and with building pressure from the Confederates.

In the action near this railroad, the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves suffered heavily.  Company K, recruited in Columbia, lost one killed, three mortally wounded, and seven more wounded, according to a casualty list published in the December 20 Columbia Spy.  Lieut. Samuel Evans, the regiment's quartermaster and correspondent "Orderly" of the Spy, wrote a letter to the newspaper on December 14.  On that list was Sergt. Edward M. Shreiner, who was reported wounded and left on the field.

Martin, Philip, and Edward Shreiner

If the name Shreiner sounds familiar in the Civil War history of Lancaster, you're right in recognizing it.  Edward Shreiner's grandfather Martin started a small cemetery in 1836 at the corner of Mulberry and Chestnut Streets in Lancaster's northwest ward.  Although the cemetery was named "Concord Cemetery," it was more commonly known as Shreiner's Cemetery, and became famous when chosen as the final resting place of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens due to the cemetery's policy of allowing African-American burials. 

Ad in Columbia Spy
for P. Shreiner and Son
Born in 1769 and alive through the Civil War, Martin Shreiner (grave) made a name for himself as a maker of tall clocks and fire engines, and was active in Lancaster civic and religious affairs.  Edward's father, Philip Shreiner (grave), carried on Martin's expertise in clocks, and worked as a successful watchmaker and jeweler--besides also being involved in civic affiars--in Columbia, where Edward, born July 24,1837, appears to have spent his childhood.  Some tidbits gleaned about Edward's childhood include that:
  • He participated in the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America, a sort of young person's auxiliary to the Know-Nothing Party.  (LEH 8/11/1858)
  • He was a member of the Hope Lodge of the International Order of Good Templars which served to advocate for temperance. (Source)  Shreiner even helped organize a temperance meeting near Mountville in August 1859.  (Intelligencer 8/2/1859)
  • He was an assistant director of the Vigilant Enginer and Hose Company. (Spy 6/15/1858)
  • He was a member of the Columbia lodge of the Masons. (Source)
Ad for Temperance Meeting
in Columbia Spy
Needless to say, Edward Shreiner was fairly well integrated into Columbia's civic and social scene by his enlistment as a private a month after the firing on Fort Sumter in the company that became Company K, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves.  He passed through the Pennsylvania Reserves' costly and hard-fought battles of 1862, earning promotions to corporal and sergeant.  After the Battle of Antietam, his father Philip joined two other men from Columbia to pay a visit to the company, possibly to retrieve the remains of John A. Hougendoubler (Spy 11/8/1862).

Reaction to Wounding and Death

As mentioned, the initial news of Shreiner's wounding came from the post-battle letter of Quartermaster Samuel Evans ("Orderly") that was published in the December 20 Columbia Spy and gave the details:
Sergeants Shreiner and Hollands were left near the rail road.  S. was cheerful and did not complain of pain.
On inquiry made of those who were with him when he fell, as to where he was wounded, I was told that it was through the bowels; I am, however, inclined to doubt this.  I have noticed that all who were thus shot suffered the greatest agony.  H. was thought to be mortally wounded.  Speaker, Fraley, and Rinehart were left on the field, supposed to be dead.
Lieut. Samuel Evans
Quartermaster, 5th Pa Reserves
In response to Evans' report, the Columbia Spy editorialized, (link)
This is a sad record.  Although no Columbian is reported killed outright, yet the probably terrible nature of Sergeant Shreiner's wound and the fact of his having been abandoned to the enemy creates the gravest fears for his safety.  Orderly adds that the Sergeant was in good spirits, and may possibly recover.  We trust indeed that this may prove the result.  E. M. Shreiner is one of the bravest among the thousands of brave hearts of the Penna. Reserves.  He is regarded among his fellow soldiers with the strongest attachment, and if his wound shall prove fatal it will have indeed a saddning effect upon his companions in arms.  Of his character as a citizen we need not speak.  All are his friends and admirers at home.  We feel the deepest sympathy with his family in their affliction.  His father started on Tuesday evening [December 16]  for Fredericksburg in order to obtain, if possible, more decided intelligence of his son's fate.  We trust his journey may result more happily than he anticipated when starting on his sad errand.
As mentioned, Edward's father Philip immediately started for the battlefield.  In the next week's paper, Philip published "A Card" thanking "the many friends who came to our relief in the hour of our distress, when the heart was racked with grief and almost despair in the uncertainty which shrouded the fate of our much beloved son," and recounting his journey to Virginia.   He thanked railroad conductors, Lancasterians in the 135th Pennsylvania stationed in Washington, and finally to "the poor man's friend, Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, without whose aid I should have been unable to procure a pass to the battlefield."  Shreiner continued, (link)
I will add for the information of friends, that after arriving at the camp of the 5th Regt. Penna. reserve, some of our boys of Co. K, informed me that they had been assured by a Rebel Lieut., when in search of my son, that he was taken from the field on the night of the battle, and was then in one of the Rebel hospitals, doing as well as possible.  He assured them that every care and attention would be given him.  Lieut. Evans and Quartermaster Sergt. Mullen kindly procured me a horse and accompanied me to a point on the banks of the Rappahannock whence we had a view of nearly the whole field of battle.  We were within speaking distance of the Rebel pickets, and the space between us and the Rebel hospitals where my son was supposed to lie, seemed so short, that only the recollection of the loved ones at home prevented me from crossing the narrow stream, at all hazards, to make an effort to reach my wounded boy.  No flag of truce could be obtained by any means.
Despite Phillip Shreiner's herculean efforts, his son was likely already at Libby Prison in Richmond, where he died on December 18 or 19. Philip Shreiner received a letter from Sergt. Hollins, who was wounded with Shreiner, went to Libby Prison with him, and was subsequently paroled.  Hollins revealed that a bullet struck Shreiner in his pencil case, "driving it into him," and that he was buried in a pine coffin although it was unclear if the grave was marked.  Shreiner responded by going to Annapolis, where Hollins was recovering, eager to visit his son's friend and to get any further details that the seriously wounded Hollins might be able to provide.

Tributes and memorials followed from the various organizations to which Shreiner was connected, including:
  •  The Columbia Spy, January 17, 1863.  "No individual loss has occurred during the war against the accursed treason and rebellion which is striking at the existence of our country, has produced a more painful sorry in our town than the fall of this brave young Columbian.  Generally known and where known esteemed or beloved, his loss comes home to every one of us.  His life as a boy and man, as far as we know, and as we believe, was as near blameless as is possible...He was an universal favorite, throughout not only his company, but the regiment."
  • Hiawatha Club (Spy 1/17/1863)
  • Masons (Spy 2/14/1863)
  • A poem written by one of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves soldiers that was included in a letter by "Orderly" published in the March 21, 1863, Spy (link)about Shreiner and one other officer in the company killed earlier in the year. 
Shreiner's story even made it into Josiah R. Sypher's 1865 History of the Pennsylvania Reserve CorpsYou'll recognize Sypher as the journalist and local activist who visited the 79th Pennsylvania in May 1862 before spending much of the rest of the war as a journalist with the Pennsylvania Reserves and the Army of the Potomac.  Sypher likely knew Shreiner through temperance activities in Lancaster, if not through many other possible social connections that the two civic-minded men shared.  Sypher introduced Shreiner and two of his comrades--Sergeant Charles Hollands and Pvt. Joseph Speaker--as good friends who vowed to live Christian lives together as soldiers, help each other if sick or wounded, and report the fate to families upon one of their deaths.
When the fierce storm of battle swept along the heights of Fredericksburg, Sergeant Edward M. Shreiner and Charles Hollands, both mortally wounded, yet each unconscious of the others' presence.  When night came, and the rebels were on the field plundering the dead and wounded, Sergeant Shreiner was so rudely handled that he groaned aloud, and immediately in a weak and low voice, some one inquired, "Edward, is that you?"  The companions recognized each other, and Sergeant Hollands gave the sign of Masonic recognition, which was responded to by the rebel bending over him, and the fainting comrades were placed side by side.  In the morning they were taken to Richmond.  Shreiner died, and was buried in the rebel capital, Hollands lingered many months, was paroled and sent to Annapolis.  He advised the friends of his slain companions, how they had fallen, and of the final disposition that had been made of the bodies of Sergeants Shreiner and Speaker, and having thus lived to discharge his last promise, he died in the hospital soon after landing from the steamer.
In one final note to this remarkable story of loss and mourning that demonstrates what was going on for the community as a whole, when the Republicans and War Democrats of Columbia formed their own Union League franchise on March 7, 1863, they selected Philip Shreiner as their president (Spy 3/14/1863).  The Union League would play a critical role starting in winter of 1863 rallying the Northern populace in support of the war effort, fiercely opposing anti-war Democrats and expanding the war's mission to include emancipation and the war's prosecution to include African-American soldiers.  As the story of Edward and Philip Shreiner shows, the battle deaths of a community's cherished sons were connected in no uncertain terms to the case for an emboldened Northern war effort led by men such as Pennsylvania's Governor Andrew Curtin, reelected in 1863, and President Lincoln, who won reelection in 1864.



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