November 17, 2013

Presentation on Fri., Nov. 22, at Lancaster County Historical Society

Location: 230 North President Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603, USA

Event Details:

Union Warriors: A Lancaster County Company Fights the Civil War by Vince Slaugh

Friday, November 22, 2013, 4:00pm-5:30pm

Lancaster County Historical Society (
230 North President Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603 

This presentation follows the wartime experiences of a group of ten soldiers from Lancaster County who joined Company E, 79th Pennsylvania, nicknamed the "Normal Rifles" for their connections to the Millersville State Normal School. Using photographs and their own words, we will learn about their backgrounds, the battles they fought, their connections to the home front, and where we can see their legacy in Lancaster today.

On Friday, November 22, I will be giving the latest iteration of my presentation, Union Warriors: The "Normal Rifles" Fight the Civil War, at the Lancaster County Historical Society.  There will be a social gathering with light refreshments beginning at 4:00pm, and the presentation starts at 4:30pm.  My presentation will follow ten soldiers of Company E, 79th Pennsylvania, through the war, and try to understand their lives and places in the community before and after the war.  In this version of the presentation, I will highlight people with connections to the Lancaster County Historical Society through involvement in its early days (e.g. Lieut. Samuel L. Hartman) or through items donated to its collections (Pvt. Reuben Long).

While many aspects of the Civil War's military and political history have long been the subject of microscopic attention, I believe we still lack a fundamental understanding of how individuals and communities experienced the war.  This presentation serves as a case study for understanding what the war meant to one community: How did existing social networks translate to Civil War armies? Why did soldiers enlist? How were soldiers' families cared for? How did soldiers stay connected to the home front? What happened to the wounded? How did communities mourn and remember the dead? How did soldiers on the battlefield attempt to influence life at home?  

As historians have pondered the future of Civil War history, some -- in particular, Peter Carmichael of Gettysburg College -- have proposed a new "nation at war" paradigm for understanding the war and its ability to both provide an opportunity for people make heroic sacrifices for the nation and senselessly rob people of their humanity through horrific suffering.  Ensuing discussions on blogs centered around how the National Park Service should interpret this on battlefields, and that's a complicated question.  What's straightforward, though, is that communities like Lancaster and Millersville/Mountville provide an extraordinary opportunity for us to find a "usable past."  Monuments, cemeteries, farms, intersections, institutions, churches, and homes in the community around us offer tremendous chances to interpret the sacrifice and suffering that came with the Civil War.  And that's what I hope to show by focusing on the stories of ten soldiers of Company E, 79th Pennsylvania.  

I hope to see you on Friday.  If you get a chance, please introduce yourself and your interest in Lancaster's Civil War history.

November 16, 2013

"We Would Stand with Anyone, If Properly Taken In": The 79th Pa at Chickamauga, Part I

Location: Chickamauga & Chattanooga Park, 3370 Lafayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742, USA
Battle of Chickamauga, Morning of Sept. 19, 1863 (Source)
The 79th Pa belonged to Baird's Division.
During the Battle of Chickamauga on September 19-20, 1863, the Lancaster County Regiment fought a battle in which it incurred significant casualties for the second time.  Although the 79th Pa's casualty total compared to that of Perryville, the regiment experienced battle in a dramatically different way at Chickamauaga.  While at Perryville the regiment stood its ground on an open hillside for an entire afternoon against repeated Confederate attacks, Chickamauga was defined by chaos, confusion, and dense woods.

The campaign that culminated in the Battle of Chickamauga began at the end of August as Gen. William S. Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland -- spurred on by Washington -- crossed the Tennessee River and ventured towards Georgia.  Mountainous terrain presented significant logistical challenges, and it would be much more difficult to get supplies now that the army's supply pipeline from Nashville was restricted.  Just after noon on September 12, the regiment reached the summit of the Lookout Mountain range as it passed through Stevens Gap.  While the 79th Pa was enjoying majestic vistas, Gen. Rosecrans realized that his army was scattered, split by the mountain range, and vulnerable to a counterattack.  He set out to concentrate his army and withdraw northward through a valley to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

September 19, Late Morning

Brig. Gen. J. C. Starkweather
The Battle of Chickamauga began in earnest on the morning of September 19 when Gen. George H. Thomas, commander of the Fourteenth Corps (which included the the 79th Pa) dispatched one of his divisions to attack a Confederate brigade rumored to be trapped on the west side of the Chickamauga Creek.  A fight escalated as combatants requested reinforcements and both sides committed more men to the fight. The second division that Gen. Thomas committed was Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird's, which included the 79th Pennsylvania (in a brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. John C. Starkweather).  Starkweather's brigade advanced behind two other of Baird's brigades.  Although listed as having an effective strength of 424 men and 21 officers, around 350 men were present with the regiment on September 19 to go into battle.  Starkweather's brigade moved in support of Baird's other brigades until Gen. Thomas ordered him to move to the left to relieve a brigade in another division.

While advancing through dense woods towards the fight that was supposed to be to the east, Confederates marching northward slammed into Starkweather's brigade just north of the intersection of Brotherton and Alexander's Bridge Roads.  Starkweather tried to wheel right and form a semicircle to confront the enemy.  As the front right regiment on the advance, the 79th Pennsylvania bore the brunt of the attack.  The recently promoted Capt. William S. McCaskey -- who led Companies A and B as skirmishers -- recounted, "We had not moved far, before we were completely flanked, and surprised.  I had charge of the skirmishers, but had not gotten them into position before they received a murderous fire from the enemy."  McCaskey tried to rally the skirmishers, but the rest of the line withered, unable to do anything about the Confederates firing on their right flank.  Starkweather's adjutant-general, Lieut. Charles Searles, was shot in the breast and fell from his horse.  The Union soldiers got off at most three or four shots and fled to the rear.  The Confederates did not advance far, though, as they were struck in their flank and rear by adjacent Union brigades.  

Capt. William S. McCaskey
(Richard Abel Collection)
In these brief disastrous moments, the regiment took most of its casualties during the battle (according to McCaskey).  Captain Louis Heidegger of Company F fell mortally wounded.  Captain Abraham Godshalk of Company H was wounded in the leg, which was soon amputated.  Lieuts. James Benson and Charles Madden were both wounded.  From a historian's perspective, it is sad to note that this action silenced the pen of the regiment's active and articulate soldier-correspondent, Corp. Elias H. Witmer.  Witmer was wounded in the thigh and left behind as the regiment hastily retreated, never to be heard from again.  Others left on the field would later be retrieved, including Cyrus Tool and Corp. Charles W. Wiley of Company B.

Eventually, the pace of the retreat slowed as the 79th Pennsylvania gained some distance from the spot of the their rout.  Lieut. John M. Johnston, in command of Company G (which served as the color company) recalled, "Our pace slackens.  I keep near the colors, and try to gather the stragglers around them; but my heart's in my mouth.  I feel more like crying than anything else."  Gen. Starkweather began to regain control of his brigade.  Johnston continued, "
But now Starkweather's stentorian voice is heard trying to rally the men.  He orders the colors to halt and face to the front.  I spring to the side of the boy who is carrying the striped flag and face him about, calling on Adjutant [Lyman] Bodie to stop the bearer of the blue flag who is still further to the rear.  But the blue flag still goes to the rear, till Starkweather dashes forward with an oath and drawn sword and orders the color bearer back into line.  And now a reorganization of the regiment rapidly commences. 
Note: See the Chickamauga section of the "Battle Files" page for sources.  Also, see the Civil War Preservation Trust's map of the morning fight for another visual resource. 

August 1, 2013

FOUND: Col. Hambright's 1863 Presentation Sword

Location: Phillips Museum of Art, 700 College Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603, USA
This post is written with a special thanks to Maureen Lane and Maddie Frye of the Phillips Museum of Art for their kind help in allowing me to visit the archives to see the sword and to Rick Abel for the clues that he dug up from over twenty years ago.   

Presentation Sword, Sash, and Belt of Col. Henry A. Hambright
Phillips Museum of Art, Franklin and Marshall College

It's hard to think of an artifact that better facilitates telling the story of Lancaster and the Civil War than a presentation sword that the non-commissioned men and officers of the 79th Pennsylvania purchased and presented to Col. Henry A. Hambright in May 1863.  As far as I'm aware, that sword has never been displayed publicly since it left Hambright's possession.  On Monday morning, I got to see that sword for my first time when local collector Rick Abel and I visited the Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin and Marshall College.

Col. Henry A. Hambright
(No Backmark)
Richard Abel Collection
I had actually known of the sword's existence for a while due to its being mentioned in a law journal summary of a dispute over Hambright's estate and money for his wife, who was declared a lunatic in the days after her husband's death [PA State Reports, v. 169, p. 57].  Specifically, his presentation sword was left to the Lancaster Linnaean Society, whose collection became part of Franklin and Marshall College (and largely ended up as the North Museum).  The sword's fate was unclear, however, through the institutional transitions over the twentieth century.  When I met with Rick Abel in December 2011, he mentioned that he had seen it in the basement of one of F&M's buildings under an inch of dust in the early 1990s.  I sent emails out to various people at F&M who I thought might know something about the sword, and Maureen Lane, curator of the Phillips Museum of Art, responded saying she might know something about it.  We set up an appointment, and the sword and case were out and waiting for Rick and me when we arrived!  (I wish all historical mysteries were this easy to solve and all museums were this helpful.) 

Going back to 1863, the sword's story begins with widespread acclaim for Col. Hambright's leadership of the regiment through its first battles at Perryville and Stones River.  It is unknown when the effort to purchase a presentation sword for Hambright began, but his two-week furlough in April 1863 visit to Lancaster certainly would have provided a convenient time for the effort to get underway.  The non-commissioned officers and men of the 79th Pennsylvania pooled together money to buy the sword as a testament of respect for their colonel.  The sword arrived in camp and was presented to Hambright in a special ceremony on May 27, 1863.  Sergt. Sigmund E. Wisner described the sword and accompanying items in a letter to the Weekly Mariettian [6/13/1863]:
The non-commissioned officers and privates of the 79th have purchased a magnificent sword, accompanied with a belt, sash, set of spurs, and a pair of gauntlets, for Col. Hambright. The whole is enclosed in a rose-wood box, and is valued at nearly $400. The blade of the sword is composed of Demascus steel, and is slightly ornamented in gold and bears the inscription "God and my Country;" the hilt is set with rubies and a silver goddess of liberty with a rubic clasping a mantle over his breast, forms the gripe. The scabbard is heavily plated with gold, finely chasted, and and has inscribed on it, `"Presented to Col. H. A. Hambright, by the non-commissioned officers and privates of his regiment as a testimonial of their esteem for gallant conduct at the battles of Chaplin Hills, Ky., October 8, 1862, and Stone river, January 2, and 3, 1863."
The sword was sent back to Lancaster shortly thereafter and displayed in the window of one of the stores on Centre Square.  In my next post, I'll examine the speeches made during the presentation, as well as Hambright's relationship with the Lancaster community, especially the families of his soldiers, around this time  In the meantime, enjoy the pictures of a beautiful set of artifacts. Hopefully, they'll have a chance to once again be put on display in Lancaster for the community to appreciate.

July 9, 2013

Donations Collected from Drumore for the Patriot Daughters: Photos and Biographical Notes

Location: Drumore, PA 17518, USA
Donation list appearing in July 14, 1863, Daily Evening Express
In the weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, Lancaster's citizens responded liberally to the need for hospital goods in Gettysburg.  The Patriot Daughters of Lancaster sprang to action, collecting goods from Lancaster and surrounding towns (and then taking them to Gettysburg and serving as nurses, but that's another story).  The Daily Evening Express supported their work by printing daily lists of donors and their gifts that filled column after column in July 1863.  I noticed one in particular from Drumore Township in southern Lancaster County, and recognized a few of the names from a photo album that is one of my favorite items in my wife's and my collection.  Since going through that list took my on a few research tangents, including one related to the underground railroad, here's a post matching that list with a few photos and biographical notes.

Detail of Bridgens 1864 Atlas map of Drumore Township showing area around Liberty Square

Rachel S. Smith
Photo by T&W Cummings, Lancaster
This particular donation list appeared in the July 14, 1863, Daily Evening Express, and contains the names of many residents from near Liberty Square in Drumore Township (not far from the Susquehanna River) populated by Quaker, Scots-Irish, and African-American families.  Acting on the Patriot Daughters' behalf, Rachel S. Smith collected dried fruit, preserves, and hospital supplies from about forty of her neighbors.  Rachel lived with her father, Joseph Smith, a wealthy Quaker farmer, on their farm near where Susquehannock State Park is today. 

Little else is known about these donations, but I was excited to find Rachel's photograph in a CDV album I purchased on Ebay a couple years ago.  That album mostly depicts the extended family of her cousins, Annie and Edwin Shoemaker, and their spouses, John B. and Margaret F. Kensel, who were also siblings.  Most individuals in the album belonged to the Drumore Friends Meeting at Liberty Square.  The women's well-fitted bodices, full and pleasingly-shaped skirts, and elegant trim--as well as the Philadelphia backmarks of almost all images--testify to a level of prosperity enjoyed by this neighborhood of southern Lancaster County farmers.

It turns out that Rachel (1825-1904) also had interesting stories to tell, as her father's farm was one of the most important Underground Railroad stops in Lancaster County.  African-American drivers working for her father would take produce to Baltimore and have the chance to interact with slaves and spread knowledge of a network to escape.  Rachel even became involved, and is mentioned in Robert Smedley's History of the Underground Railroad for once accompanying slavecatchers executing a search warrant to search her father's house.  We also have this very interesting account (p. 231) attesting to the importance of her family's role:
In October, 1859, Joseph's daughter Rachel visited Niagara Falls, and registered at the Cataract house.  The head waiter, John Morrison, seeing her name and residence upon the book, approached her one day and politely made apology for intruding himself; but said he would like to ask if she knew a man named Joseph Smith in Pennsylvania.  She replied that he was her father.  He continued, "I would like to tell you about the poor fugitives I ferry across the river.  Many of them tell me that the first place they came to in Pennsylvania was Joseph Smith's.  I frequently see them when I visit my parents at Lundy's Lane.  Many of them have nice little homes and are doing well."  He ferried some across the river during two of the nights she was there. 
Emmeline Smith
Photo from Larkin Gallery, Philadelphia
Rachel Smith's sister-in-law, Emmeline Smith (nee Tennis) also appears on the list, having donated "1 shirt, 2 bags peaches, 1 pot sauce, rusk."  Emmeline's husband, George Smith, is listed in Pennsylvania records as one of six conscientious objectors from Drumore Township.  See this link for a biographical portrait of their son, Gerritt Smith

The third woman on the list who also appears in our photo album is Emeline Shoemaker (nee Lamborn), daughter of Smedley Lamborn, who had a farm near Joseph Smith and is linked to the Underground Railroad (see biography of his son, George).  Emeline donated two cans of fruit, two shirts, and a roll of muslin.  Three of her siblings are included in the album, including William Lewis Lamborn, who fought with Company E, 79th Pennsylvania, and Mary Elizabeth Lamborn, who married Thomas B. Hambleton of the same unit.  Interestingly, their older brother, Aquilla Lamborn, is another one of the six conscientious objectors from Drumore Township.  

Emeline Shoemaker
Photo by I. R. Bishop, Philadelphia
The goods collected by Rachel Smith were likely forwarded to the Patriot Daughters' outpost of mercy, Christ Lutheran Church in Gettysburg, to be distributed to the wounded soldiers of the Second Division, First Corps, of the Union Army (although the could have very easily been donated to another location in need, as well).  I don't know of any of the women mentioned going to Gettysburg as nurses, but the donations show how a Quaker community in one corner of Lancaster County responded to the battle and provide an opportunity to learn about a family network with deep connections to abolitionism and the Underground Railroad.

June 25, 2013

79th PA Presentation on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church

Location: 31 South Duke Street, Lancaster, PA 17602, USA
First block of S. Duke St., c. 1865
Stereoview by William Gill
On Sunday, June 30, I will be debuting a presentation on the Normal Rifles (Company E, 79th Pennsylvania) during Trinity Lutheran Church's Forum Hour.  Trinity's pastor, Timothy Mentzer, asked me to give a talk about something related to the Civil War, and I thought focusing on one company through the war would be the best way to give a perspective on what the war meant to those who experienced it.  All are welcome to attend the presentation, which begins at 9:45 a.m. in the Fondersmith Auditorium of Trinity Lutheran Church, 31 S. Duke Street, Lancaster.  Hopefully, I'll be giving this talk on many more occasions in Lancaster County, as well.

The talk will focus on the stories of ten soldiers of Company E, 79th Pennsylvania, which was known as the "Normal Rifles" for its connection to the State Normal School at Millersville. We'll learn about their backgrounds, the events in which they participated between 1861 and 1865 from the perspective of their families and friends in Lancaster, and how they shaped the war's memory.  I'll try to include as many pictures and connections to modern-day Lancaster as possible.  The ten soldiers whom I have selected for their diverse experiences and for which the records they left are:
  1. Morris D. Wickersham
  2. Sigmund E. Wisner
  3. Edwin K. Martin
  4. Elias H. Witmer
  5. Stephen S. Clair
  6. Thomas B. Hambleton
  7. William L. Lamborn
  8. Reuben C. Long
  9. George M. Delp
  10. Michael W. Brandt
I hope to see you on Sunday!

Note: See last year's presentation, which focused on a wartime history of Trinity Lutheran Church, here.

June 8, 2013

A Quaker CDV Album with Underground RR Connections

Location: Bart, PA, USA
A couple weeks ago, I was excited to read an interesting article by Nancy Plumley in the Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society highlighting letters exchanged between siblings of the Rakestraw family in Bart Township, Lancaster County.  The letters give insights into daily life on a farm in 1865, as well as the social network of Quakers in Southern Lancaster County that included some of the most ardent abolitionists and participants in the Underground Railroad.

From Bart Township Map, Bridgens' Atlas, 1864, showing location of farm of William L. Rakestraw
The family of interest is that of William L. Rakestraw (1813-1869) and Sarah S. (Sugar) Rakestraw (1814-1906).  Their farm stands just south of where Mt. Pleasant Rd. crosses over the Enola Low Grade Line in Bart Township (two farms away from Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church, where Capt. Samuel Boone was buried after his death at the Battle of Perryville).  William's activities with the Underground Railroad earned him a couple mentions in Robert C. Smedley's 1883 History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania, and Sarah's family was involved as well.  They had four children, including John Sugar Rakestraw, the recipient of the letters in Plumley's article.

I also found the article interesting as many of the names mentioned in article are those in a cartes-de-visite album listed on Ebay that I acquired back in 2007.  Based on the labeling of "aunts" and "uncles" and conversations with Nancy Plumley, the album likely belonged to William and Sarah's youngest daughter, Abbie (1854-1929).  It contains 20 photos--15 identified--mostly of John S. Rakestraw's aunts and uncles and presumably family friends.  Tax stamps on the back of many of the photos allow us to date most of the photos to the mid-1860s. 

Here are some highlights of the individuals depicted, with information from Nancy Plumley,, and Smedley's book:

Joshua Gilbert.  Gilbert (1801-1876) was a pump maker with a farm east of Quarryville.  In the 1830s, hee employed fugitive slave William Wallace, before William Wallace went to work for Gilbert's neighbor and brother-in-law, Henry Bushong.  At Bushong's farm, Wallace lived in a tenement house with his family.  That house was the site of later confrontations with slave catchers and a subsequent jailing that got the Fulton Opera House its underground railroad designation.   

Thomas and Susan (Barnaby) Rakestraw.  Thomas Rakestraw (1811-1886) and Susan Barnaby (1806-1874) married in 1835 at the Bart Friends Meeting in Lancaster County and moved to Ohio soon afterwards.  Their second child, William L. Rakestraw, graduated from or was a law student at Mt. Union College, and served as a captain in the 19th Ohio Infantry.  He died in camp of diphtheria in 1861  One wonders about the conversations within Quaker families about the war, and how they balanced their abolitionism and pacifism.  Even in the 79th Pennsylvania, we have several examples of soldiers from Quaker families enlisting.   See, for example, a previous post on another network of Quaker families in Drumore Township near Liberty Square with two soldiers in Company E, 79th PA. 

May 20, 2013

Better Know a Soldier: Sigmund E. Wisner

Location: Marietta, PA, USA
Capt. Sigmund E. Wisner
79th Pa Officers Oval, Mathew Brady, 1865
Name: Sigmund E. Wisner
Birthplace: August 31, 1839 (Marietta, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania)
Occupation: Teacher, Postmaster, Grocer
Church/Religion: Methodist Episcopal
Political Beliefs: Republican
Term of Service: Private, 4/24-7/31/1861 with Company A, 10th PA Infantry; Sergeant, Sergeant Major, 1st Lieutenant, Captain, 9/23/1861-7/12/1865 with 79th Pennsylvania
Notable Events: Visit to Marietta in January 1864, Wounded in Battle of Atlanta
Post-war:  Teacher, Postmaster
Death: (>1910) Exact date and burial location unknown.

One of the soldiers in the 79th Pennsylvania to pick up his pen midway through the war and begin sending letters for publication in the hometown newspaper was Sigmund E. Wisner, then a sergeant in Company E.  Besides recounting the events around Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in the first half of 1863, Wisner also reflected on the war's greater meaning and historical context.  The front page of the May 16, 1863, edition of the Weekly Mariettian even featured a lengthy feature article, "The Present War," contributed by Wisner while in camp near Murfreesboro.  He began with the Pilgrims' landing at Plymouth and traced the nation's history to secession in 1860, and described the war's cause as follows:
The southern States have always cherished negro slavery as a favorite institution, with the mistaken idea that wealth forms the great dividing line in society. Thus the opulent became the aristocracy, and the poorer class are placed on a level with the slave. To make this distinction known to the world has been one of the chief aims of this rebellion. In the northern States, where the labor is performed by the mass, there is a dependent relation existing between the employer and the employed; in this way labor is elevated and becomes honorable. The northern people believing slavery to be socially and politically wrong, opposed its extension; this gradually produced a spirit of alienation between the north and south; and being constantly agitated in the halls of Congress by radicals of both sections led to a final seperation; on the part of the southern States, South Carolina was the first to pass the ``ordinance of secession,'' and declare herself out of the Union.
This is a useful quote for its articulation of the "median" Republican opinion of the war.  Slavery was wrong not so much as a violent system of racial ordering but as a production system that destroyed the dignity of labor and the opportunity of the laborer to claim its reward.  The was very much about economics, as slavery was very much a system of production.

At the time of the firing on Fort Sumter, Sigmund Wisner had just begun a twelve-week school session, which was advertised at a rate of $2 for primary students and $3 for second students.  He cut the term short to join the "Maytown Infantry" (Co. A, 10th Pa Infantry) on April 24, 1861 [Intel 5/7/1861; Pa Card File].  Upon his return after the regiment's three-months service, Wisner joined many other Lancaster County teachers in the "Normal Rifles" as fifth sergeant.  Better known as Company E, 79th Pennsylvania, the company was recruited mostly out of Mountville and Millersville, where a college to train teachers had been established a couple years earlier.

Wisner received regular promotions, reenlisting as a veteran in 1864 and attaining a promotion to captain of Company F by the end of 1864.  He was wounded in the attack on Atlanta, but finished the war in the field with the regiment.  Wisner continued writing to the Weekly Mariettian, and I count a total of nine letters between January 1863 and June 1864.  You can find them online at Pennsylvania Civil War Era Newspaper Collection.

In addition to serving for almost the entire duration of the war, Wisner stands out as one of Lancaster County's most active veterans.  He served on the committee in charge of erecting the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Lancaster, which was completed in 1874 and still stands today on Penn Square.  When the regiment met for its first reunion on October 8, 1877 (fifteen years after the Battle of Perryville), Wisner gave a history of the regiment.  Wisner's handwritten copy is now in the possession of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.  Furthermore, Company E was unique in that it hosted its own three-day camping trips led by Thomas Hambleton for survivors in the 1890s and 1900s, and Wisner joined in at these reunions.

Google Books and digitized newspapers provide a good list of Wisner's postwar activities, including:

March 3, 2013

'One of the Happiest Days': New Flags for the 79th Pennsylvania

Location: Murfreesboro, TN, USA
Regimental flag of the 76th Pennsylvania by Evans and Hassall (PA Capitol Preservation Committee)
One of the 79th Pennsylvania's "Lancaster flags" would have looked very similar to this one.
 On February 23, 1863, three citizens of Lancaster arrived at the camp of the 79th Pennsylvania near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Besides carrying a large box of articles and letters for distribution to men in the regiment, they carried another set of items eagerly anticipated by the regiment.  A set of four beautiful flags purchased by the collected donations of Lancaster's citizens had finally arrived. 

The idea for purchasing these flags seems to have had its origins in a proposal published in the November 18, 1862, Intelligencer, edited by Lancaster's Mayor George Sanderson.  Sanderson proposed taking up a subscription at $1 each to purchase a new stand of colors for $200 to "show a proper appreciation" of the regiment's actions at the Battle of Perryville a month earlier.  Within a week, the fund was over-subscribed and the colors were purchased from Evans & Hassall of Philadelphia.  Extra money was donated to the Union Dorcas Society to provide relief for soldiers' families.  [Intell 11/18/1862, DEE 1/24/1863]

The flags were completed and around the New Year arrived in Lancaster, where they were displayed in the court house.  The January 6, 1863, Intelligencer described them:
The flags are four in number, the principal being the State flag; the second the regimental, (or National) and two small guide flags.  The first is of blue silk and yellow silk fringe, with an eagle surrounded by a halo.  From the claws of the eagle depends a scroll with the inscription--"Presented by citizens of Lancaster, Pa., to the 79th Regiment, P. V., for gallant conduct at Chaplin Hills, Ky., October 8th, 1862."  On the reverse is the coat of arms of Pennsylvania, above which in a halo are the words in guilt letters--"Chaplin Hills, Ky., October 8th, 1862."  Underneath, in a scroll, is the same inscription as on the first side.  This flag is very handsome and strongly made, and free from an over quantity of paint which figures so many presentation flags."  

The Regimental or National flag is made of strong heavy silk, bordered with yellow fringe.  On the centre bar on both sides are the letters in gold--"79th Regiment P.V."  The guide flags are of blue silk with yellow silk fringe, with the number of the regiment in gold letters.
Chosen to escort the colors to Tennessee were three men from the committee in charge of procuring the colors.  Foremost among them was Lewis Haldy (bio), a fascinating man with a background in the freight and marble/tombstone business who tirelessly supported the Patriot Daughters of Lancaster and other aid operations in Lancaster during the war.  Over the past year, he had already made three other trips to the seat of war (to the Pennsylvania Reserves in summer 1862, 79th PA after Perryville, and the 122nd PA in February 1863), delivering car loads of goods on behalf of the Patriot Daughters, making connections with Lancaster's soldiers in hospitals, and arranging logistics for bringing dozens of soldiers' remains back to Lancaster.  Rounding out the committee were Andrew B. Meixell, a freight agent, and Robert A. Evans, a wealthy banker who later owned Rock Ford.

The flag presentation took place on March 1, 1863, delayed several days by rainy weather.  The whole brigade, its commander Col. John C. Starkweather, and the regiment's former brigade commander Gen. James A. Negley all witnessed the presentation.  Haldy "unwrapped and exposed to the eager gaze of every one the magnificent banner," and read an address to the regiment, which would be reprinted in Lancaster's newspapers (read it here).  Col. Hambright replied and accepted the flags, pledging "these splendid colors shall be borne by the stoutest arm to the thickest of the conflict, there to remind us of fond friends in our native county, to revive the most pleasing memories, and stimulate us to true, exalted, and patriotic duty."  Starkweather and Negley followed with addresses to the soldiers' delight.          

79th PA Monument
Featuring incident with
Lancaster flag at the
Battle of Chickamauga
(PA at Ch. & Ch.)
Following that, according to Company E soldier Elias H. Witmer, "Three hearty cheers were then given by the brigade--and thus closed one of the happiest days in the eventful history of the Seventy-Ninth."  (DEE, 3/12/1863)  Captain Morris D. Wickersham agreed writing, "Home, kindred, society--all were remembered.  The day was truly a happy one, and we returned to Camp uttering, 'Long live the good people of Lancaster.'"  (Intel, 3/17/1863)

The stand of flags replaced what I believe were more generic colors given by Gen. Negley in November 1861 and/or April 1862.  The situation is confusing given a controversy over regimental numbering between the 77th and 79th Pennsylvania in 1861 and I have found no evidence that the regiment carried what is listed as the "First State Color" was ever used.  The Lancaster flags were carried through the Battle of Chickamauga, where they were NOT captured*.  At Chickamauga, it was one of these flags that Corp. William F. Dostman was mortally wounded carrying in an incident that provided inspiration for regimental monument.  The flags were sent back to Lancaster after much use in 1864, and became a prized possession of GAR Post 84 in Lancaster to which many 79th PA veterans belonged.  Sadly, the post was destroyed by fire on February 10, 1910, and the flags were lost. 

* Reports of the capture of the 79th Pennsylvania's colors stem from an error in Confederate official reports of the Battle of Chickamauga (p. 154).   Various officers listed the 77th Indiana or Illinois and 79th Pennsylvania when they really meant 79th Illinois and 77th Pennsylvania.  Other Confederate reports correctly list the 77th Pennsylvania as having its flag captured.

March 2, 2013

Diary of Capt. E. D. Roath Published

Location: Marietta, PA, USA
Last summer I posted (link) about a series of auctions of that I missed related to Lancaster's Civil War history.  Immediately after posting that, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from John P. Mulcahy, a direct descendant of Capt. Emanuel D. Roath (bio) who had been able to purchase the items related to Capt. Roath to return to the family. 

John recently published an annotated version of the diary, which covers the year 1864 with the 107th Pennsylvania and Roath's experiences as a prisoner of war at Libby Prison.  John has done a great job, and I recommend the book, A Fine Day -- The Civil War Diary of Captain Emanual D. Roath, 107th PA Volunteers, especially to anyone interested in what was previously the Union Army First Corps or in the social network and duties of a Civil War captain from a small town. 

February 22, 2013

Gen. Rousseau Visits Lancaster

Location: Lancaster, PA, USA
Late on the night of February 1, 1863, Major General Lovell H. Rousseau arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a brief but planned stop on a journey from Tennessee to New York. The general had received national attention as a loyal Democrat and border state warrior who helped secure Kentucky for the Union, but his Lancaster hosts knew the “gallant Rousseau” better for the men whom he commanded. Under Rousseau, the “Lancaster County Regiment”—more formally known as the 79th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry—had fought its first battle four months earlier near Perryville, Kentucky, on October 8, 1862. In that battle, the regiment lost over one-third of its number as casualties in a successful stand against repeated Confederate assaults.

After Rousseau's arrival was announced, an “immense concourse of citizens” gathered the next night to hear Rousseau at the Caldwell House in Lancaster.  The 79th Pennsylvania's former regimental band, the Fencibles band, played a number of airs, including "Auld Lang Syne" and "Hail to the Chief."  J. M. W. Geist, editor of the Express, remarked,  
There was an appropriety in the occasion which was felt  no less by the General than by every member of the Band.  He had heard them play these same airs when both together shared the privations and dangers of the battle field, and they had seen the gallant soldier as cheers from the whole line indicated how warm a place the Kentucky patriot and soldier held in the hearts of the men of his Division.  It was a meeting of old friends and a waking up of old reminiscences.  And we need hardly add that the Band did full justice to its reputation on this interesting occasion.

The general responded by praising the Lancaster County Regiment, saying "a better drilled, more thoroughly disciplined, and braver body of men could not be found in the army."  Furthermore, Lancaster should be proud of Col. Hambright, "for the rebels had never yet seen the backs of the 79th. P. V."  Afterwards, Rousseau greeted many Lancasterians in the parlor of the Caldwell House, sought treatment for the throat ailment for which he was traveling to find a cure, and left the following morning on a train to Washington (not New York, as originally intended) in the company of journalist Josiah Rinehart Sypher and Lieut. Samuel L. Hartman--a 79th Pa officer on his staff.   

Rousseau’s visit represented a public testimonial to the Lancaster County Regiment’s sacrifice at Perryville and the community’s commitment to remember it. It showed how a regiment’s participation in a battle, even one that received relatively little national attention, still impacted the community five hundred miles that sent it off to war.  Presumably, this was an opportunity for at least a few men and women from families directly impacted by the Perryville casualty list to publicly remember their loss.

Another event taking place a few blocks away showed how a unit’s experience in battle could play upon notions of loyalty in that unit’s hometown. Instead of attending General Rousseau’s reception which coincided with the eve of city elections, many of Lancaster’s Democrats crowded Fulton Hall for a partisan political rally. Stuart A. Wylie, editor of one Republican paper, the Lancaster Daily Inquirer, could not resist comparing the two assemblages. After reviewing the courage of and sacrifices made by Rousseau, Wylie noted, “At one place we had a Kentuckian advising the people to be faithful, and a few minute’s walk distant, we had men counseling factious opposition and denunciation of the Government.” A letter to another Republican paper vilified Lancaster’s Mayor George Sanderson—a prominent Democrat and editor of the Lancaster Intelligencer—wondering if the mayor intentionally avoided the general because Rousseau, also a Democrat, was “too vigorous in his prosecution of the war…to be palatable to the very questionable political sensibilities of the Mayor.” The letter concluded, “‘Tis a burning shame that our city which has sent forth so many noble, patriotic sons…could not have a man as its chief magistrate who would extend the hand of fellowship and welcome to a General, who had so brilliantly led those sons—some to victory, and some to death! but all to glory!”

In addition to showing the notion of battlefield sacrifice as a central theme in commemorative appeals, General Rousseau’s visit illustrates a complex and evolving relationship between home front activities and support for soldiers from that community. From a purely political perspective, though, the parties generally desired to tether Lancaster County’s natural support for its own regiment to their own party platforms. Both Democrats and Republicans, who aligned with War Democrats to form the Union Party, attempted to appear as the regiment’s true home front advocate and the soldier’s friend. As the battle’s memory formed in the weeks and months succeeding October 1862, a variety of factors helped Republicans to depict the Democrats as outsiders looking in, as exemplified by accusations surrounding General Rousseau’s February 1863 visit.

The Lancaster County Regiment at Stones River

Location: Murfreesboro, TN, USA
An overdue post on the 79th Pennsylvania at Stones River. Be sure to also read accounts of the battle on the "Battle Files" page.

Kurz and Allison illustration of the Battle of Stones River (Source)

After successfully checking the Confederate invasion of Kentucky at the Battle of Perryville, the Union army pursued the Confederates south and celebrated Christmas in Nashville, Tennessee.  Under pressure from Washington to create positive headlines after the disaster at Fredericksburg, Gen. William S. Rosecrans, the new commander of the Union army which was renamed the Army of the Cumberland, led his army out of its camps at Nashville on December 26, 1862.  The 79th Pennsylvania found itself towards the rear and center of the army as part of Col. John C. Starkweather's brigade of Maj. Gen. Lovell Rousseau's division of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas's center wing.

The Lancaster County Regiment experienced its first excitement of the campaign on December 30 when Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry brigade attacked the wagons of Starkweather's brigade.  The Fortunately for the Pennsylvanians, luck and Quartermaster Lewis Zecher's good management saved the regiment's wagons from capture, and Starkweather ordered a countermarch and formed his brigade to drive off the Confederate cavalrymen.

Starkweather then proceeded to the battlefield the next day--December 31, the first day of the Battle of Stones River--passing bands of Union soldiers retreating from the battlefield who spoke of disaster.  Sergt. Sigmund E. Wisner wrote that although the Lancasterians were skeptical that the battle was lost, the men marched silently and "despondency was depicted upon each countenance."  The brigade arrived on the battlefield in the evening, taking a position in woods in the center rear of the Union lines where they would spend the night without blankets or fire.

New Years Day passed without either army making a move.  Starkweather's position changed little, occupying wooded terrain between General Johnson's division and the Nashville and Murfreesboro turnpike.

Map of Battle of Stones River, Jan. 2, 1863
The 79th Pa was part of Thomas' Corps positioned
at the Union center near the Nashville Turnpike.
Shortly after dawn on January 2, Rousseau's artillery came under fire and Confederates began to stir across from the Union center.  Starkweather's brigade was ordered up to the front lines to support the artillery. While moving forward to this position, a rebel artillery shell tore through Company G, killing Corp. Mark Erb and wounding Pvts. Samuel Pickel and Isaac Quigley. 

The 79th Pennsylvania spent the rest of the day lying in deep mud behind Battery A, 1st Michigan Light Artillery.  Blankets and rations were scarce, and almost every account of the battle mentions how they survived the couple days on meat from the dead horses.  Several of the accounts even reviewed the meat as surprisingly good.  Elsewhere on the battlefield, Confederates attacked the Union left but were decisively repulsed by a line of artillery and Union counterattack.

Companies C, E, H, and I, 79th Pennsylvania, spent a quiet but nervous night on the picket line, enduring cold and rain without fires.  As dawn broke on January 3, the Lancasterians were surprised to find that Confederate infantry and artillery had advanced overnight, and began to open fire on the 79th Pa pickets at an uncomfortably close distance of 300 yards.  Three men from Company E were wounded in the retreat back to the main line, which now occupied (along with knee-deep mud) trenches dug by army engineers.  

Later that day, as one of the last actions of the battle, Starkweather's brigade supported an effort led by Rousseau to clear the woods to their front of annoying sharpshooters.  As the 79th Pa advanced toward one group of sharpshooters, Pvt. John Shroy of Company A was killed.

That night, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg withdrew his Confederate army from the battlefield, fearing additional Union reinforcements and the threat of a rising river that could split his command.  Rosecrans moved his victorious army into Murfreesboro, where it camped for most of the rest of the winter and spring.

Nationally, the battle provided sorely needed good news after the Army of the Potomac's setbacks.  For the 79th Pennsylvania, it served as an introduction to the miseries of trench warfare, even if the regiment suffered much lighter casualties than it had at Stones River.  Several weeks after the battle, Lieut. W. Wilberforce Nevin (bio) documented this new type of warfare:
The space between the town [of Murfreesboro]and our lines was won inch by inch, crawling now, and now charging through a sheet of flame.  Many a brave men fell merely in gaining a few furrows.  All the area of strife was covered by sharpshooters, and in the din of conflict their rifles were unseen and noiseless messengers of death.  A convulsive plunge, and a stretched corpse with a little red spot in the forehead told the tale.  Somebody had fallen, as unconscious as his neighbors of the direction of the fatal ball.  All the fighting ground, for the most part ploughed fields, was ancle deep in mud, or worse.  Charging was no more an impetuous dash, but just a steady march into the jaws of death.  On this slippery, swimming ground, we had to eat and sleep.  In the centre the approaches were covered by trenches dug secretly, and occupied by night.  These, of course, under the rain became knee deep in a few  hours with cold and dirty water, but in them night and day lay our indomitable troops, relieving each other, regiment by regiment, in the night.  Too low to stand up in, to wet to sit down in, the wretched occupants had to remain bent and strained, or to kneel over thighs in water.  A single peep over the embankment was a signal for a dozen bullets.  In our eyes, scientific warfare is simply torture. 

79th Pennsylvania Casualties at Stones River

Alleged image of William K. Patton
Sold in 2007 by Heritage Auctions

Killed in Action
Corp. Mark Erb, Company G (1/2/1863)  Erb is listed in the 1860 census as a 19 year-old laborer on the farm of Emanuel Landis near Soudersburg, East Lampeter Township. 
Pvt. John Shroy, Company A (1/3/1863)  John F. Shroy is listed in the 1860 census as a 16 year-old plasterer living with Samuel and Elizabeth Shroy (presumably his parents) in Lancaster Township.

Mortally Wounded
Pvt. William K. Patton, Company H (1/3)--Died 1/13/1863
Pvt. Michael Brandt, Company E (1/3)--Died 1/20/1863

Pvt. Samuel Pickel, Company G (1/2)
Pvt. Isaac Quigley, Company G (1/2)
Pvt. Benjamin Bones, Company E (1/3)
Sergt. J. H. Friday, Company E (1/3)
Corp. E. W. Hollinger, Company E (1/3)

Died of Disease
Pvt. William R. Kochel, Company E

January 1, 2013

One of Penn State's First Grads at the Battle of Stones River

Location: Murfreesboro, TN, USA
Farmers High School of Pennsylvania, 1859 (?)
(Penn State Archives, Source)
In 1861, the Farmers' High School of Pennsylvania graduated its first class, which consisted of eleven students who studied there three years to earn a Bachelor of Scientific Agriculture degree.  Among them was John W. Eckman, whose father Joseph ran the St. Charles Furnace in Columbia.  The founding of Farmers' High, which was renamed the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania a year later and eventually Penn State University, reflects a growing interest in scientifically managing agriculture and industry--a trend alive and well in Civil War era Lancaster County considering the founding of the Linnaean Society and the publication of The Lancaster Farmer by Simon Snyder Rathvon.

On August 28, 1862, Eckman joined a special cavalry unit known as the Anderson Troop--a company recruited at the war's outbreak to serve as bodyguard to Gen. Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame--as it expanded to a full regiment, the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  The unit continued its special relationship with the commanding officer of the Army of the Ohio and then Cumberland, and served as headquarters guards and orderlies.  Another of Eckman's classmates, Milton S. Lytle (whose diary is in PSU Special Collections), also joined the "Anderson Cavalry."

Maj. Adolph Rosengarten
15th Pa Cavalry

In the days after Christmas 1862, the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry--actually about 300 of them, as the rest refused to go due to a lack of officers--was among the lead elements of the Union army as it advanced towards Murfreesboro.  On December 29, the regiment attacked Confederate infantry near Wilkinson's Cross Roads, gallantly charging but suffering many casualties including its two commanders, Majors Rosengarten and Ward.  In his letter published in the January 16, 1863, Daily Evening Express (link), Eckman wrote,
On the 29th we had a severe fight with infantry.  We made a charge (150 of us only) through a piece of woods, and the rebels, 2000 strong, were posted behind the fence.  The only way we could get at them was by riding close to the fence and firing down on them--which we did, and I know my carbine sent a man reeling into eternity.  We took several prisoners, but how many we killed I can't say.  But we paid dearly for it: both Majors fell--one dead, the other mortally wounded, who has since died; ten others fell dead, and many wounded.  We fell back discouraged and disheartened, leaving the dead, and all the wounded who could not get away, in their hands.  Two of my mess wounded, one taken prisoner, a fourth had his horse killed, and two escaped unhurt, I being one of them.  That fight brought on the battle of Murfreesboro, which I think will prove one of the severest that has yet occurred.

After the war, Eckman continued in his father's footsteps and ran the Montgomery Furnace in Port Kennedy  near Norristown, PA.  His name also pops up for serving as Treasurer for the Valley Forge Centennial Association, a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and as an alternate delegate at national Grand Army of the Republic encampments.

St. Charles Furnace, Columbia
(Ellis and Evans, 1883)
Like several Lancaster soldiers I've encountered, business ventures took Eckman back to the South near where he had marched as a soldier.  In the 1880s, Eckman moved (although he might have maintained residence in Pennsylvania) to Pulaski, Virginia, a town deep in the Shenandoah Valley near Blacksburg known for being rich in minerals.  He became general manager of the Pulaski Iron Works, which was known as southwest Virginia's first modern pig iron blast furnace and worked there until 1912.  There's even a funny story you can read in the regimental history on page 533 about how courthouse records there were lost when the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry came through in 1865, and how the locals took advantage of this to bury Eckman in lawsuits over land ownership when he tried to run Pulaski Iron Works there decades after the war.  

Related Links: