December 13, 2012

The Tragedy of the Pa Reserves at Fredericksburg

Location: Fredericksburg, VA, USA
A photo between shots from Fredericksburg scenes of Gods and Generals in 2001 (vws)
Perhaps the most tragically heroic action on any Civil War battlefield occurred on December 13, 1862, at the Battle of Fredericksburg as Gen. George Gordon Meade led the Pennsylvania Reserves division against the Confederate right on Prospect Hill (map).  Meade's attack "exceeded all expectations"--as assessed by Frank A. O'Reilly in his campaign study--charging hard over an open field and punching through Confederate lines.  Poor coordination at the corps and army level squandered the opportunity, and attention turned to Marye's Heights where Union assaults failed disastrously.  If only Meade had been reinforced so that his division's gains could be exploited, the battle could have had a dramatically different ending.

Co. B, 1st Penna. Reserves, the "Union Guards"
Photo by Mathew Brady in June 1863
As a matter of fact, the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves, which included Companies B, D, and E from Lancaster County, possibly penetrated farthest of any Union troops in their advance up the wooded hillside.  Along with the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, they managed to surprise and route almost an entire brigade of unsuspecting South Carolinians, mortally wounding its commander Maxcy Gregg and cutting Lee's army in two.  With no reinforcements behind and more Confederates ahead, the gains were only temporary.

The focus of this post, though, is on one young Lancasterian from the five Lancaster County companies in the Pennsylvania Reserves.  As the culmination of death's relentless six-month march from the Virginia Peninsula to Second Bull Run to South Mountain and Antietam to Perryville and finally to Fredericksburg, his death would be fresh of the minds of Union soldiers who experienced a sort of awakening in the winter months of 1863 when the war's cause underwent a revolution that strengthened resolve to win the war and began to include new attitudes towards slavery, race, and black soldiers as part of the war effort.

Bounty Check for Josiah A. H. Lutz, 1st Penna. Reserves (Tom and Janice Grove Collection)

Josiah A. H. Lutz, Co. B, 1st Pennsylvania Reserves

Sixteen year-old Josiah A. H. Lutz joined the Union Guards--Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Reserves--as the company rested after the Battle of Antietam.  I won't reveal too much of the extensive research done by genealogist and historian Gary Hawbaker, but the orphaned Lutz presumably lied about his age to enlist and financially support his younger sister.  Remarkably, his bounty check turned up several years ago at a Lancaster County flea market and is now in the collection of a friend.  The native of East Petersburg, Lancaster County, quickly proved himself an able soldier and endeared himself to the company and its officers.

Lt. W. L. Bear
(Detail from
photo above)
As Meade's men crossed an open field nearing the Confederate defenses, Lutz was struck in the leg by a bullet.  The Pennsylvanians were under orders to not stop to help the wounded so as to not slow the advance, and Lutz was left behind.  Company B continued into the woods and up the hill, and did not hear from Lutz again until Sergeant Philip L. Sprecher (bio) received a letter from him while in a hospital in Washington.  Through a letter from Lieut. William L. Bear published in the January 12, 1863, Lancaster Daily Inquirer, we learned that: (link to full letter)
[Lutz] laid upon the field between our and the rebel line of skirmishers from the afternoon of the battle until the next day at dusk.  During the time he laid there, probably while attempting to drag himself within our lines, he was fired at three times.  The first ball passed close to his neck, the second close to his face, and the third struck his cap off his head, after which he said he concluded to lie still.  He was taken off with others, under a flag of truce. 
Lutz survived relocation to a hospital in Washington, DC, but his health quickly deteriorated thereafter.  Lutz died on December 21 or 22 (depending on the source), and his remains were taken back to Lancaster.  He was buried in East Petersburg Mennonite Cemetery by Pastor F. W. Conrad (bio) of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster.  Word of his death reached his comrades through the Lancaster newspapers, which prompted the letter from Lieut. Bear referenced above.  Bear added, "Thus has this accursed rebellion added another bright victim to our fallen brave.  His memory will ever be cherished by all who knew him." 
Gravestone of Josiah A. H. Lutz
East Petersburg Mennonite Cemetery

2 comments:

  1. can anyone identify any of the men in order in the company b? I know their names I just want faces to go with them. plus Im trying to figure out which is my grandfathers grandfather. corporal john l. nauman. please email me at silverdragoness1@juno.com

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  2. Unfortunately, very few of the soldiers in that photograph are identified. I'm guessing John Nauman is among them, but don't know of any way to tell who is who. I sent an inquiry to friends who research and collect on that unit, so perhaps they will know more. Look for an email that I just sent you. Thanks for the comment!

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