February 8, 2014

Catching up with the 79th Pa: 'Veteran Fever' on Lookout Mountain

Location: Lookout Mountain, Georgia 30738, USA
View from Lookout Mountain by George N. Bernard in February 1864 (Source)
Catching up with the 79th Pennsylvania as 1863 turned to 1864, we find them celebrating Christmas and New Years on the summit of Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Although the food was more or less limited to sauerkraut and mess pork, the officers of the Lancaster County Regiment were invited to enjoy balls thrown by the 78th Pennsylvania and 21st Wisconsin while the 79th Pa's celebrated regimental band provided the music.  In his diary entry for Christmas, Sgt. William T. Clark of Company B recorded, "Tonight there are several balls, a colored one at Gen. Starkweather’s Hd. Qrs. The soldiers on Lookout have won & citizens on Missionary Ridge giving one to soldiers."

The regiment spent most of its time drilling on frozen ground and enduring winter storms.  Gen. John C. Starkweather inspected the regiment, and the regiment drilled to the compliments of an agent of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin to look after the Keystone State soldiers' comfort.  On January 15, the regiment exchanged its muskets for new and used Enfield rifles.  The most excitement occurred when Capt. McBride led a force of over 100 men from the regiment on a two-day expedition over January 6-8 to move a local Union-sympathizing woman, Mrs. Wilson, and her possessions from her residence somewhere near the Chickamauga battlefield to safety with a friend.  Here are Clark's diary entries from that expedition:
Wed., Jan. 6th
100 men, 8 Corps., 5 Sergts., Lieuts. (Hubley) Benson & Nixdorf & Capt. McBride in charge, leave at 6½ A.M. with two days rations. Went to Brigade, then to Corps Hd. Qrs., waited in town untill 8½ A.M., then started with Mrs. Wilson as guide to go within 4 miles of Ringgold to bring her family & personal property to live with a friend on the east side of & near Chickamauga Creek. Guide didn’t know the road we took wrong one. Came to Chickamauga Creek at Mill where Bragg burned bridge on road to C. Station—tis noon we must go three miles down stream to next bridge where 85th Ills. is doing picket duty. As these are our last pickets it was not prudent to go outside with our small force, therefore we camped untill the morning of
Thurs., Jan. 7th
when we start at 7½ A.M., pass the ruins of C. Station, keep the road over which Bragg retreated. The trail could be easily followed. Broken artillery & wagon wheels, artillery ammunition as well as that for small arms is scattered in profusion along the road. Several unfinished Forts beyond station, also at Graysville a newly graded R.R. intersects the Atlanta Road. Here we take road up creek, march 2 miles to Mrs. Wilson’s house load her things & are returning at 2 P.M. Two cows & calves with colt are the amount of live stock & are brought along. Roads are very bad, heavy mist falling. Mrs. Wilson don’t know where that friend lives to whom she wants to go. When within ½ mile of place let her out to hunt it. We go to camp at 9 P.M., same place as last night. Snowing.
Fri., Jan. 8th
Capt. McBride, Sergt. Carr & forty men take wagons, unload them & return when we start for camp on direct road, pass Orchard Knob and arrive at quarters at 2 P.M. to find that John Bowker who had not been sick more that one week had died (Thurs. Jan 7th) this morning at 1 o’ clock at Regimental Hospital & buried this afternoon at 3 P.M. Received letter of Dec. 29th from Cousin Hugh R. Fulton. Sat., Jan. 9th. Morning very cold. No rations today. There will be none untill a boat comes up.
Soldiers of the 78th Pa
on Lookout Mountain, 1864
(Library of Congress)
Some soldiers took advantage of their time in winter camp on a picturesque mountain to visually document their time in Uncle Sam's army.  The Lancaster Daily Evening Express even reported about this in their February 19, 1864, issue:
ENTERPRISING: A Chattanooga letter writer tells of two members of the 78th Pennsylvania who have taken possession of Lookout summit, erected a shed, hoisted up materials over a couple of ladders, and are now reaping an abundant harvest of greenbacks by taking pictures in this elevated  locality.  The soldiers crowd here in scores to cut hickory canes and grub the gnarled roots of the laurel for pipes and, attracted by the novelty of the matter, cannot resist the temptation to have a picture of themselves.  Accordingly they "strike an attitude" on the extreme verge of a cliff, twenty two hundred feet above the level of the Tennessee, either defiant and warlike or amusing and abstracted, as their genius prompts, and the man of chemicals does them in "melainotype" for three dollars, and sells them a fraim to put it in for five, and all in the short space of about ten minutes.
At least one of those pictures -- of Pvt. Henry McCollum, Company B, 78th Pa, and friends -- exists today as part of the Library of Congress's collection.

The most pressing issue was their reenlistment as veterans, an issue that the army hoped to resolve during the winter lull rather than at a critical moment in the middle of a campaign.  If three-fourths of the regiment reenlisted, the 79th Pennsylvania would continue to exist, and the veterans would receive special "veteran status" (designated by a chevron the sleeve), a bonus, and a 30-day furlough.  The initial response was muted, with some other regiments already headed home on furlough before a significant number of men in the 79th Pennsylvania reenlisted.  Colonel Hambright addressed the regiment on January 25, and acting regimental commander Capt. Jacob Gompf continued to promote it.  By January 27, Clark noted, "Interest on the increase relating to the Veteran Service. 22 members of Co. B upon the list this evening."  Despite his father's objections owing to his not being "able to attend to the affairs at home," Clark put his own name on the list on February 5, which then had 233 names.  By February 8, the regiment surpassed the three-quarters threshold and was sworn is as veterans.  A hard-earned furlough in Lancaster would be in the regiment's future.

Two letters, presumably by Hospital Steward John B. Chamberlain, appeared in the Express and elaborate on these events:

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