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:

1 comment:

  1. Sigmund Wisner died in Marietta May 18, 1914, and is buried in Marietta Cemetery.