Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Capture of Lt. James B. Washington

Casey's Division is circled. The line is the position of Casey's pickets.
The "X" is the approximate location of J.B. Washington's capture.
From Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, II; 1887, p.227

           In reviewing obituary records for the men of the 85th Pennsylvania infantry regiment from the Civil War, I came across this brief notation for Private George Washington Anderson of Company H. It pertains to an event that precluded the Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) near Richmond, VA that began on May 31, 1862.
        "During one of the Virginia campaigns, while doing picket duty, he [Anderson] captured Major J.B.Washington of the Confederate army, now and for a number of years past secretary of the Pittsburg and Connellsville branch of the B&O R.R. Major Anderson and Mr. Andrews met in Somerset a few years since, when their recognition was mutual and they spent a pleasant hour talking over their war experience." (Somerset (PA) Herald,  October 20, 1897, p.3)
           If true, the capture of Washington by Anderson would be a notable occurrence from the battle by
Picket Duty    LOC
a member of the 85th Pennsylvania.  Many accounts of the Battle of Seven Pines mention Washington's capture, but Anderson's obituary is the only one I have come across that states the identity of the  soldier who captured him. [If any reader has further information about Washington's capture, I would appreciate a response.]
          It is confirmed that members of the 85th Pennsylvania were on picket duty that day. Lieutenant John E. Michener wrote, "There on Saturday of May 31st, without any support, our little Division was attacked by an overwhelming force of the enemy's best men, and after suffering a heavy loss, was repulsed...I was on picket duty in front of the swamp, and had instructions to hold my ground till the last." [Michener letter courtesy of Margaret Thompson]
          Private Milton McJunkin also wrote, "...our Company was on picket at the time so you see I saw the whole performance. About 1 o’clock the rebs fired three shots into our camp to give Casey warning. At the same time we, that is us pickets, were attacked by 5 brigades and nearly surrounded. Our Company was in the centre of the line and was cut in two so you see we had to retreat as it was useless for 200 pickets to try to check 5,000 of the best troops Jeff [Jefferson Davis] had so we scattered and got to camp the best way we could..." [The Bloody 85th: The Letters of Milton McJunkin, a Western Pennsylvania Soldier in the Civil War, by Palm, Sauers and Schroeder, p. 39]
           The capture of Washington, who was apparently performing a reconnaissance just prior to the Confederate attack, was significant. The Confederate attack in the early afternoon of May 31 nearly overwhelmed the division of Silas Casey, which was outnumbered 2-to-1 or 3-to-1. The 85th Pennsylvania was in the thick of the early fighting that day, in the brigade of General Henry Wessells, stationed near a battery during the early part of the battle. Pushed back to a line of trees, Colonel Joshua B. Howell rallied his 85th Pennsylvania regiment and parts of others to boldly advance towards a rifle pit and temporarily regain control of the position. Howell's men had to fall back once again, but not before buying precious time for Union reinforcements from across the Chickahominy River to arrive later in the afternoon and stop the Confederate advance.
          Despite their efforts, Army of the Potomac commander George B. McClellan (based on the questionable account of General Samuel Heintzelman of the Third Corps) chose not to praise Casey's Division for their stand but to disparage them publicly for their retreat after two or three hours of fighting.
         Casualties in the 85th Pennsylvania numbered around 30 dead and another 50 or so wounded.
        One of the charges made against General Casey was that he was unprepared for a Confederate attack. But in truth, Casey knew the precariousness of his position and was furiously trying to reinforce in anticipation of a rebel attack.
        The capture of Washington several hours prior to the battle only served to intensify the Union belief that an attack was imminent.
         Many accounts of the Battle of Seven Pines mention Washington's capture, but Anderson's obituary is the only one I have come across that says who captured him.
       Luther S. Dickey wrote the official history of the regiment in 1915, about 18 years after Anderson's death. He mentioned Washington's capture on that day but did not mention Anderson's role.
          "During the forenoon of May 31, the enemy appeared in force in front of the pickets immediately north of the Williamsburg Road. Shortly after 10 'clock A.M., Lieut. J.B. Washington , an aide-de-camp on the staff of General Joseph E. Johnston, was captured by Casey's pickets on the Nine-mile road and taken to Gen. [Silas] Casey's headquarters, and thence to Gen. [Erasmus] Keyes' headquarters..." [Dickey, p.71]
          Keyes immediately notified McClellan's staff of Washington's capture. "This young gentleman [Washington] was handsomely captured by our pickets on the right...In connection with the appearance with this young officer, on our right near our lines, I will state that the general officer of the day, Col. Hunt of Casey's division, heard the cars running through the night continually. Yesterday there was much stir among the enemy, and everything on his part indicates an attack on our position,which is only tolerably strong, and my forces too weak to defend it properly." [Dickey, p.72]
         Anderson died on October 14, 1897 in Ursina, Somerset County, Pennsylvania at the age of 65. He served three full years in Company H, comprised of men from Somerset County and led at the start of the war by young Captain James B. Tredwell. After the war, he held a variety of positions in Ursina, including constable, justice of the peace, town council member and judge. 
       Incidentally, Anderson's obituary mentions that he and Washington met after the war in Somerset to discuss their meeting at Seven Pines. This is entirely plausible, since Washington for a time managed the Somerset branch of the B&O Railroad.
         During the summer of 1863, the 85th Pennsylvania was stationed on Morris Island, South Carolina. After two failed assaults on Battery Wagner at the northern end of the island, the 85th Pennsylvania was tasked with the arduous duty of digging a series of parallels or trenches that approached Battery Wagner. Many were killed and wounded during the digging operation, falling victim to enemy sharpshooters and shelling from five Confederate forts.
           After the end of the operation, which resulted in the Confederate abandonment of Battery Wagner,
Gillmore Medal
History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1888
several soldiers in each regiment were nominated by their officers for special Fort Sumter Medals, also called "Gillmore Medals" for valorous service. Anderson was one of eight men from his regiment who were awarded this honor.
         James Barroll Washington, meanwhile,  was born in 1839 and was 23 years old at the time of his capture. He was born in Baltimore and was a graduate of West Point where he was a classmate of future General George Armstrong Custer At Seven Pines, after being captured, Washington posed with Custer, then a captain in the 5th Cavalry, for several photos, including the one below.
Matthew Brady photo of Washington and Custer
at Seven Pines on the day of Washington's capture    LOC

          Washington was part of a prisoner of exchange four months after his capture in September of 1862 at Aiken's Landing, Virginia. He then served the Confederacy in Alabama. He became a corporate executive of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1900. He is buried in his hometown of Baltimore.
          Interestingly, Washington's father, Lewis Washington, also has a prominent place in history. Lewis Washington, a great grandnephew of President George Washington, was one of the hostages taken by radical abolitionist John Brown in 1859 during his infamous raid on the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. After Brown and his men holed up in the town's fire house with the hostages, it was Washington who pointed out Brown after U.S. Marines broke down the engine house doors and end the standoff.
John Brown'provisional army with hostages on the left in Harper's Ferry engine house
Lewis Washington is depicted as the second man from the left    LOC


Monday, July 27, 2020

George Fisher's Centennial Birthday

          The longest living member of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment was William Mahaney of Company C. Mahaney enlisted into the regiment as a 17-year old in 1861 and died in 1944 at the age of 99, several months shy of his 100th birthday.
Lincoln (NE) Star
The second-longest living soldier in the regiment, the subject of this article, was Corporal George Fisher of Company E. Fisher was 23 when he joined the regiment and died at the age of 100 in Nebraska in 1938.
        About three months prior to his death, a local newspaper in Beatrice, Nebraska wrote an article in celebration of Fisher's 100th birthday. Although intended to be celebratory in nature, the article is a mixture of fact and fiction with somewhat dubious information relating to Fisher's service in the Civil War. Since he was likely the main source for the details of the story, Fisher seems to have misremembered or exaggerated some of the events. Colored by the passage of time, Fisher's remembrances and perhaps some information provided by his children and grandchildren resembled but did not accurately reflect past events.
       This is not meant to disparage a 100-year old man who honorably served his country for three years. It is meant as a warning that obituaries and articles such as this one are not always 100% accurate.
        The article states that Fisher, born in Germany, came to this country alone at the age of 15. After having what little money he had stolen from a hotel room in New York City, the article states that he "walked to Uniontown, PA and got a farm job which he kept 22 years except for time spent in the service of the Union army during the Civil War."
      As a reader, I would like to know what motivated Fisher to "walk" to Uniontown. The distance is over 300 miles and it seems that Fisher could have found work as a farm laborer much closer to New York City.
         The article continues on that, "He [Fisher] enrolled as a private in Co. 'E,' 85th Pennsylvania infantry in September, 1861. He was mustered into service on November 12, 1861 for a three-year enlistment and on August 27, 1863, was wounded by the explosion of an enemy shell."
Bombproof in Trench on Morris Island    LOC

          This account of Fisher's wounding is probably correct. In his comprehensive 1915 history of the regiment, historian Luther S. Dickey notes that Company E (Fisher's company) was in the trenches for digging duties near Fort Wagner on Morris Island on the night of August 27. Several members of Company E were killed by a shell explosion, including John H. Linn and Joseph Neely. Three other soldiers (William Marquis, Henry J. Ridgen and John I. White) later died of wounds suffered in this explosion.
        Although Fisher is not mentioned by name, Dickey writes that the explosion caused "more than a dozen casualties."
        The article continues "Fisher served with Generals Grant and McClellan and fought in the battles of Williamsburg, Charleston, Deep Bottom, Cold Harbor and others."
       There are several issues with this observation. The 85th Pennsylvania did not do much "fighting" at Williamsburg in May of 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign.  The divisions of Joseph Hooker and Phillip Kearney did  most of the fighting for the Union side. The 85th Pennsylvania formed a line and may have gotten off a volley or two into an unseen enemy beyond the tree line. And they were shelled by Confederate artillery. But for the most part they remained in formation and did not advance towards the battle. However, the 85th Pennsylvania did experience hard fighting at Charleston and (Second) Deep Bottom.
        The sentence also states that Fisher (and his regiment) served under Ulysses S. Grant and George B. McClellan. The 85th Pennsylvania assuredly served under McClellan's command during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia in 1862. But they were never under Grant's direct command, either in the western theater or during the Overland Campaign of 1864. Technically, with Grant in command of the overall Union strategy beginning in March of 1864, every soldier in the Union army served under Grant. But in 1864, while Grant pushed towards Richmond with the Army of the Potomac, the 85th Pennsylvania was in the Army of the James under General Benjamin Butler and later under General Edward O.C. Ord.
        Grant did briefly accompany the Army of the James for part of the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia from the Petersburg front to Appomattox in April of 1865, a campaign that culminated with Robert E. Lee's surrender. 
The centennial article then states, "He [Fisher] helped construct the 'Swamp Angel,' a masked battery with which the Union army shelled Charleston...."
          This may have occurred. The regiment was stationed in the interior of Morris Island during the late summer of 1863 when the  Marsh Battery or Swamp Angel battery was under construction. It took much manpower to carry 13,000 sandbags to the site. The Swamp Angel was constructed between James and Morris Islands near Charleston, SC in July and August of 1863. The Swamp Angel floated on hundreds of sandbags (on top of 20 feet of mud), which soldiers carried over wooden planks to the marsh. On August 22, the Swamp Angel began an incendiary bombardment of Charleston, which continued until the 36th shot shattered its breech. 
         A problem here is that the 85th Pennsylvania was heavily involved in another Union effort at the time. Following the failed second assault on Fort Wagner on July 18 led by the black troops of the 54th Massachusetts, the next stage was unglamorous: the digging of a series of trenches or parallels to threaten the sand-walled battery. Along with the 100th New York and 3rd New Hampshire, the 85th Pennsylvania devoted almost all of their efforts in the month of August to this endeavor. Dickey's history of the regiment cites the diary of Commissary Sergeant John B. Bell for a day-to-day account of the regiment at this time. There are numerous references to "fatigue duty at the front," "completed seaward battery at third parallel," and the like, but no direct reference to constructing the Swamp Angel. 
           In his entry for August 17, Bell does state, "Regiment....moved to the front and during the day was engaged at fatigue duty filling gabions to strengthen the fortifications. Marsh Battery was completed ready for mounting guns."
           Next,  the end of the previous sentence is problematical. "...[Fisher] saw the battle of the
Monitor and the Merrimac.
          This could not have occurred. The battle of ironclads took place on March 8-9, 1862. The 85th Pennsylvania did not arrive at Hampton Roads for the Peninsula Campaign until three weeks later on April 1. Yes, several soldiers in the regiment wrote of seeing the Monitor in the waters around Fort Monroe as their ship came in for docking. At another time, the Merrimac was spotted when they were camped near Hampton, VA. But the ironcld battle itself was not witnessed by Fisher or anyone else in the regiment.

        The article concludes with the statement that, "A Republican, the aged man cast his first vote for president for a candidate with whom he shook hands several times, Abraham Lincoln."
         It is possible that Fisher met Lincoln face to face, but to have shaken hands with the president more that once seems to be a stretch. First of all, several soldiers from the regiment claim to have encountered  Lincoln when they were posted near Washington, DC during the winter of 1861-62. When they had free time, the men would often tour the capital city and several wrote that they talked to the president while walking the streets of Washington. 
         Lincoln then crossed paths with the regiment when Lincoln reviewed the entire Army of Northern Virginia in early July of 1862 at Harrison's Landing,VA. Finally, Lincoln was present at City Point,VA on March 25, 1865 and reviewed Union troops, including what may have included some in the 85th Pennsylvania. But Fisher had completed his three-year enlistment and had gone home the previous November.
           Fisher and his wife, Martha Rockwell Fisher from Uniontown, spent the last six decades of his life in York County, Nebraska. He passed away on January 23, 1938, three months after his one-hundredth birthday.     

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Eight Close Calls

          The 85th Pennsylvania regiment suffered substantial losses during the Civil War. About 250 men died; about a hundred from battle deaths and 150 from diseases. They lost more than some regiments but not as much as others. 
       As numerous as their losses were, however, it is somewhat amazing that they did not lose more men. Either through fate, divine intervention or luck, there were numerous times in which the regiment was not picked for an assignment that resulted in large if not huge Union losses. 
      Below, I have listed eight times the regiment was fated NOT to take part in such battles or campaigns.

1. Seven Days' Battles

     At the Battle of Seven Pines, VA on May 31, 1862, the 85th Pennsylvania, as part of Silas Casey's
Map by Hal Jespersen   www.cwmaps.com
Keyes Corps (with 85th PA) in the rear
undermanned and inexperienced division, held off a Confederate attack against 2-to-1 odds until Union reinforcements arrived. For this performance, they were unfairly shamed by their leader, General George B. McClellan of the Army of the Potomac, for retreating after several hours of intense fighting when their only other alternative was capture. McClellan's assessment was wrong; but because of his division's perceived poor performance, Casey was sacked, replaced by John J. Peck, and his division was placed in the rear for the Seven Days' Battles during the month of June. Yes, the 85th Pennsylvania suffered greatly in the pestilent and swampy conditions of a hot and humid summer in Virginia during that month. Forty men from the regiment died during June. But their losses would have been even more substantial had McClellan not removed them from the Seven Days Battles (June 25-July 1). Union losses in this series of battles were nearly 16,000 men. The main contribution of Peck's Division main  was guarding the supply trains during McClellan's withdrawal from the Virginia peninsula to Harrison's Landing in early July.

2. Second Bull Run and Antietam

Antietam   LOC
 In August of 1862, McClellan underwent a remarkable change of attitude regarding Caseys' Division, now led by General Peck. Once scorned as cowards, McClellan, always on the lookout for reinforcements,  now repeatedly asked  Washington to reacquire Peck's Division for the upcoming campaign in northern Virginia and Maryland. General Henry Halleck, head of the army, considered McClellan's request but instead shipped Peck's men to Suffolk, VA to protect the Norfolk Navy Yard for the later half of 1862. The 85th Pennsylvania consequently missed the deadly battles of Second Manassas (August 28-30) and Antietam (September 22). The 85th Pennsylvania lost 21 men, mainly due to diseases, while at Suffolk. They were involved in two skirmishes at the Blackwater River in October where they suffered no casualties. Meanwhile, the combined Union losses at Second Bull Run and Antietam were around 27,000 men.
3. South Carolina 

    At the end of their stay in Suffolk, Henry Wessells' Brigade (which included the 85th Pennsylvania)
Andersonville   LOC
took part in the two-week Goldsboro Expedition in North Carolina. In the spring of 1863, Wessells' Brigade was sent to the Albemarle region of the state. His brigade included three regiments with which the 85th Pennsylvania had served during the Goldsboro Expedition: 101st Pennsylvania, 103rd Pennsylvania and 85th New York. The 85th Pennsylvania, however was detached, upon the request of Colonel Joshua Howell, and sent to South Carolina for the campaign against Charleston and Fort Sumter. Howell's request was granted. The regiment suffered many casualties over the next year, mainly due to disease and sickness. Wessells' command, overwhelmed by land forces and the ironclad Albemarle, surrendered the 2500 survivors at Plymouth, NC in the spring of 1864. Many died in the Andersonville POW hellhole.

4. Fort Wagner

Storming of Fort Wagner    LOC
In July of 1863, the Union suffered heavy losses in two failed assaults against Fort Wagner. In both cases, the 85th Pennsylvania was to be in the second wave of attackers; but because initial losses were so heavy, the second waves were called off. Not so fortunate were the 62nd Ohio and 67th Ohio, both detached from Howell's Brigade for first wave of the second assault on July 18. The first Union assault on Fort Wagner on July 10 caused 330 Union casualties. The second assault on July 18 also resulted in failure to capture the battery but with much larger casualty numbers. Along with the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment and others, both Ohio regiments suffered heavy losses.
Union losses totaled over 1500 men. For the two Ohio regiments, casualties totaled 277.  After the failure of the second assault, the Union decided to dig a series of parallels approaching Fort Wagner. The 85th Pennsylvania had  68 casualties in this operation, more than any other regiment. But when it was the turn for the 85th Pennsylvania to assault Fort Wagner in early September, it was discovered that the structure had been abandoned the previous night by its Confederate defenders. The 85th Pennsylvania lost just one man to a land mine.

5. Olustee
 In January of 1864, General Truman Seymour led a Union assault force against Florida. The Union saw an opportunity to wrest Florida, which they perceived to be lightly defended, from the Confederacy. The 85th
Battle of Olustee         Kurz and Alison Lithograph
Pennsylvania was slated to play a prominent role in Seymour's assault, but because so many of Joshua Howell's Brigade went home on furlough in exchange for extending their enlistments, the 85th Pennsylvania stayed behind. They therefore missed out on a useless Union assault at Olustee, Florida, where Seymour's command suffered huge losses approaching 2000 men. Ironically, Howell's Brigade was held back because many men had reenlisted and had earned a 30-day furlough to their homes. The 85th Pennsylvania had only about a hundred men reenlist, but the other three regiments of the brigade (39th Illinois, 62nd Ohio and 67th Ohio) had larger numbers of men reenlist, making the brigade so reduced that they became ineligible for Seymour's movement.

6. Cold Harbor

In June of 1864, General U.S. Grant launched an ill-fated assault at Cold Harbor, VA at the end of his Overland Campaign. It failed substantially. Grant later said it was his biggest mistake of the war. The 85th Pennsylvania was part of Benjamin Butler's Army of the James below Richmond. The Army of the James consisted of the 10th and 18th Corps. The 85th Pennsylvania was part of the 10th Corps. The 18th Corps was detached from the Bermuda Hundred and sent to fight at Cold Harbor while the 10th Corps stayed behind. Grant suffered over 12000 losses at Cold Harbor; 3000 were members of the 18th Corps.

7. Bermuda Hundred 

    While stationed at the Bermuda Hundred peninsula south of Richmond in May of 1864, eight battles
Bermuda Hundred Reenactment 2014
were fought by Benjamin Butler's Army of the James before the Confederates completed the "Howlett Line"  of entrenchments across to entire peninsula from the Appomattox the James Rives, effectively stopping any plans by Butler to threaten Richmond. Of the eight battles fought in May, the 85th Pennsylvania was engaged just twice, both times at Ware Bottom Church. But over the entire series of battles, the 39th Illinois from their brigade suffered much heavier losses. Finding themselves isolated on May 15 during the battle of Drewry's Bluff, this regiment lost 127 of 550 men who went into battle that day. The 39th Illinois also lost over a hundred men at the two fights at Ware Bottom Church. The 85th Pennsylvania had about 50 men killed and wounded in the same two engagements. 

8. Darbytown Road

Colonel Francis B. Pond
62nd Ohio
In mid-October of 1864, a day before most of the regiment was taken off the front lines to await the end of their three-year enlistments, the 85th Pennsylvania as part of Francis Pond's Brigade was ordered to attack a fortified position along Darbytown Road near Richmond. The 85th Pennsylvania was to be in front lines for the obvious suicidal attack, that is obvious to everyone except General Adelbert Ames and cavalry commander August Kautz, who planned the assault. Ames' only concession was to reinforce Pond with two additional regiments. For some reason, Pond reorganized his lineup of regiments. The 10th Connecticut, one of the added regiments that expected to play only a reserve role, was placed up front while the 85th Pennsylvania was sent to the rear. During the assault, the 10th Connecticut lost over half of their regiment. The 85th Pennsylvania, meanwhile, suffered just eight casualties, none fatal. Of Pond's force of 550 men, 228 were killed or wounded. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Profile of Isaac Newton Teagarden

Anti-Slavery Image

          The oldest private to enlist into the 85th Pennsylvania in the fall of 1861 appears to have been Isaac Newton Teagarden of Greene County. Teagarden was 54 years old when he volunteered to join Captain John Morris' Company F. Teagarden served in the regiment for 18 months before receiving a medical discharge on April 4, 1863 at New Bern, North Carolina.  Prior to his discharge, he had been sent home to western Pennsylvania on a recruiting mission. He returned to his regiment in early 1863 in North Carolina; but at his age, the rigors of army life proved to be too onerous, and he was discharged three months later. 

        Why would someone well into his sixth decade volunteer fight in the Civil War? For Teagarden, unlike most of the younger men who enlisted to preserve the Union,  the reason seems to be the cause of abolition. Even though the freeing of the slaves was not a direct cause of the war, Teagarden surely saw the conflict as an opportunity to permanently end the "peculiar institution."
      Teargarden was a well-known citizen of Greene County in the decades prior to the war, although he was not necessarily a popular one. 

Practical Hand Book for Millwrights 1910
      Teagarden was born in 1807 on the family homestead along Wheeling Creek in Richhill Township. He had eleven brothers and sisters. A brief biographical entry noted that Teagarden, "was educated in the public schools, and passed his early life on the home farm. In 1828, having reached his majority, he began working at the millwright trade under the instruction of T. P. Pollock, with whom he continued several years, becoming an expert workman. After leaving the employ of his instructor he began taking contracts for the erection of mills and mill machinery, and became one of the most noted of the early millwrights…His services were constantly in demand and many of the mills of those early days in Greene and Washington counties were monuments to his skill as a builder. Several years prior to the civil war he abandoned his trade and contracting business, returning to his boyhood vocation, farming, carrying on extensive operations until 1872, when he removed to Waynesburg, which was his residence until death.
        Teagarden was a member of the 46th Pennsylvania State Militia between 1837-1842. The men of this volunteer military unit hailed from Greene and Washington Counties. Teagarder was overwhelmingly elected  to serve as the unit's colonel for a period of time. Normally, someone with Teagarden's military background could have expected an offer to be an  officer on the level of lieutenant or even captain at the start of the Civil War. But due to Teagarden's political beliefs, he was probably shunned as an officer candidate and had to enter the service as a private. 
        In the 1840's, Teagarden helped found a local chapter of the Abolition Party. He must have realized that his views would be extremely suspect in his home county. With state borders to its south and west along the slave state of Virginia, there was fear than slave emancipation would cause an influx of cheap labor into Greene County that would have a negative impact on the white residents there. 
        But Teagarden was more than just an early spokesman for emancipation. His  home was
American Anti-Slavery Almanac 1838
reportedly a stopover for the Underground Railroad. He later joined the Republican Party in 1856; a main plank of the new party was opposition to the spread of slavery into western territories. The biographical entry stated that, "Prior to the formation of the Republican party, Colonel Teagarden was a Whig and strongly opposed to slavery, ranking among the then despised Abolitionists. He voted the Abolition ticket, when there were but three others in Greene county to do so. Newspapers and periodicals were then fewer in number and this deficiency was supplied by the local debating schools. In the schoolhouses and some of the churches in western Greene and southwestern Washington counties he met the champions of slavery, both preachers and laymen in debate, and while not eloquent, he was a most forceful convincing debater, and through these debates did much to create, build up and strengthen anti-slavery sentiment" 
      Following the war, with the Republican Party in ascendancy in Pennsylvania (if not Greene County, a Democrat Party stronghold), Teagarden was appointed Sealer of Weights and Measures and held this office from 1874-1883.

     Significantly, Teagarden was elected to be Jury Commissioner for Greene County in 1873; Teagarden saw to it that African-Americans in the county could serve on juries for the first time.
         "In all official positions, whether military or civil Colonel Teagarden was strict and fearless in the performance of duty, never swerving to gain the applause of men. The censure and odium he incurred when he placed the names of colored men in the jury wheel, but served to render him more zealous of their rights and privileges in the future. His comrades of John F. McCullough Post, Grand Army of the Republic, bore him to his last resting place, the military company, Waynesburg Blues, acting as escort.” 
            Teagarden and his wife, Sarah Ann Parker Teagarden, had three children: Phoebe Jane, Charity Louise, a teacher and John, a lawyer). Dr. Jane Teagarden was the first female doctor in Waynesburg, and for many years, the only female physician in Greene County. Captain John Parker Teagarden continued the family tradition of military service by serving in the 28th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Spanish-American War.
       Isaac Newton Teagarden died on June 20, 1886 at the age of 79 and is buried in the Green Mount Cemetery in Waynesburg, Greene County. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

"If I Never Get Home, I Hope to Meet You in Heaven."

  • Clarksville, Greene County
    from J.A. Caldwell Greene County 1876
    (Pryor household may be in pink section of map)

            One of the saddest stories in the history of the 85th Pennsylvania was that of Wilson and Robert Pryor. They were father and son, both members of Company D from Clarksville, Greene County. The remaining members of their family, particularly Wilson's wife, Catherine, were dealt a cruel fate during the course of the war.

          Wilson and Robert enlisted together into Company D of the 85th Pennsylvania in September of 1861. Wilson was 49 years of age; his son was 18. They served in the regiment together from training camp  in Uniontown, PA,  to fort construction in Washington, DC and  through the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia.

      There are hints that young Robert was the male figurehead of the family for his mother and younger siblings even before the pair went off to war. Wilson Pryor seems to have had an alcohol problem for many years before his enlistment. Robert may have wanted his father in Company D with him to perhaps help him cope with life; their service would also provide a steady income in order to send money home to Clarksville to support the rest of the family.

        Wilson Pryor apparently was ailing during the Peninsula Campaign. Robert wrote home to his mother sometime in the summer of 1862 that, "Pap [Wilson] wants you to try and stay where you are till he gets home if you can. That is if he ever gets home. I hope to God we may both get home safe again. If I ever get home safe you shall never want for anything, but if I never get home I hope to meet you in heaven."

        After 14 months in the regiment, Wilson Pryor was sent home on a medical discharge in early 1863. Mr. Pryor was in poor health when he died a few months later on June 4, 1863. The cause of death was an apparent suicide by hanging in his hometown. He was buried in the Burson Cemetery in Clarksville, Greene County.

         A local newspaper recorded Pryor's death in this blunt manner.  Wilson Prior of Clarksville, in this [Greene] County, committed suicide in an old, unoccupied dwelling of that village on Thursday last. It is supposed he was laboring under mental aberration. His body was not found till Monday morning, when an inquest was held. The deceased was a returned volunteer, and left a large family of children.”'

        In the months between is father's discharge and his death, Mrs. Pryor had to go to efforts to conceal the money sent home by her son. Catherine later stated in an affidavit that Wilson Pryor "...was of intemperate habits [drinking] and that in order to prevent him from squandering the money sent by Robert Pryor, her said son, it was necessary for her to conceal the fact of having received said money from her husband."


Harper's Weekly  February 28,  1863

           The affidavit also stated that Robert was supporting his family even before joining the 85th Pennsylvania regiment. "[he contributed]...two hundred dollars...by laboring at home for his parents." During his nearly three years in the service, he sent $115 home to Catherine as well. The strain to provide for his mother and siblings only increased in the months following his father's death. Plus Robert had to deal with the harsh conditions of the war itself.


           In the late summer of 1863, with his regiment stationed on Morris Island, SC, Robert and his regiment were digging trenches to prepare for a third assault on Fort Wagner. Robert wrote home that, "We are now in sight of Charleston and its defenses. we go within 100 yards of their forts every night and are very much exposed to their shell and canister. One day there was a shell come over and blowed one man all to pieces and wounded 5 men."



         Writing from Folly Island, SC in the spring of 1863, Robert discussed with his mother the death of his father. Robert wrote, "You said it was reported around Greene County that Pap tryed to hang himself [while he was] in the army. There is nothing of it. It is a lie...Let me know if you can get a house and a lot of about 3 or 4 acres. I don't want you to go back to the old place."

         Several months later, Robert wrote, "You told me Pap was in his right mind when he killed himself. I don't believe he was or he would not have done it."

         Robert, however, added a warning for his younger brother, David. "Tell David to never touch whiskey, Mother. I want you to raise them children wright. I know you can do it and keep on good terms with all the neighbors...Let's quit talking about Pap."

         Robert Pryor remained with the regiment through the Siege of Charleston, South Carolina, and then the  Bermuda Hundred Campaign in Virginia in 1864. 

        At the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, Robert was captured. He may have been a part of a contingent of troops who, after capturing a Confederate earthwork, became overzealous and pursued the retreating enemy into Confederate lines where they were taken prisoner.

         Robert died in captivity from exposure and malnutrition at the infamous

Andersonville prison camp in Georgia. 

        Along with fellow Company D comrade James Meeks, it was assumed the pair had been killed at Second Deep Bottom. But another captured member of Company D, Joseph Burson, lived long enough upon his release to disclose the fates of Meeks and Pryor to his father.



        Just prior to his capture, Pryor wrote home to his mother that, "I expect to be home in two months. my time is out the 15 of September, that is when my inlistment runs out."

         Corporal Burson of Company D was exchanged but died on the way back to western Pennsylvania. Catherine Pryor received a letter from Burson's uncle informing him of Robert's death in Andersonville. It said, "I received a letter from my brother last night [Joseph] is lying in bed in Annapolis [hospital]. He tells me your son Robert Pryor is dead. My brother said he died of starvation."  

The fate if Catherine Pryor and her family is unknown.                                                                   



Monday, June 8, 2020

The 85th PA in the Battle of Williamsburg

   [NOTE: A more detailed account of the 85th Pennsylvania at the Battle of Williamsburg, with numerous primary source accounts, is found in my book, Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War published by Monongahela Books of Morgantown.] 

          Williamsburg in Virginia is of course well known for a 300-acre living-history 18th century colonial village that is a top tourism attraction in the commonwealth. The former Virginia capital is lesser known as the site of a significant Civil War battle in 1862.
        Perhaps because of the popularity of Williamsburg as a colonial tourist destination, the city's Civil War significance has often been overlooked.

85th PA (green) approaches Fort Magruder
Modern Map Overlay of Williamsburg Battle
Courtesy of
  Williamsburg Battlefield Association
        But that appears to be changing. The American Battlefield Trust website notes that 69 acres of the Civil War battle site have been preserved. The website states, "Much of the battlefield has been lost to development along U.S. Route 60, but historic markers along the side of the highway tell the story of the battle. Fort Magruder, one of the Confederate defensive positions, remains today on Penniman Road east of town  and is marked by a stone monument and some interpretive waysides."
        The Williamsburg Battlefield Association is currently involved in efforts to preserve 29 additional acres of the battlefield with a long-term goal of saving 400 acres of undeveloped land.  
       Williamsburg was the site of the first pitched battle of the the Peninsula Campaign that involved over 70,000 troops. It was also the first engagement for the 85th Pennsylvania, 
        The battle was fought on May 5, 1862. Major General George B. McClellan had spent a month placing siege guns around Confederate forces at Yorktown. He anticipated bombarding the position into submission and ending the Civil War at the same site where George Washington's Continental Army along with significant French land and sea forces had accomplished a victory over the British 81 years earlier to effectively win the American Revolution.
       But when McClellan opened up a barrage upon Yorktown on May 4, it was discovered that General Joseph Johnston's Confederate command had abandoned the fort, retreating up the Virginia peninsula between the York and James Rivers towards Richmond.
Robert Know Sneden 1862 Map of Fort Magruder         LOC
              Confederate General James Longstreet was tasked with delaying McClellan's Army of the Potomac which was in pursuit to allow time for Johnston's supply wagons to clear the area. The battle of Williamsburg, mainly involving the Union divisions of Joseph Hooker and Phillip Kearney, focused around the Confederate position at Fort Magruder, and ended with no decisive winner. Casualties totaled about 4,000 soldiers, about 56% on the Union side.
       The role of the 85th Pennsylvania was minimal. As the battle raged, their regiment was called up in a reserve capacity. They forged ahead to within sight of Fort Magruder and were halted. They fired a musket round at an unseen target through the trees. They were shelled, but most of the Confederate projectiles landed harmlessly behind them.
       The 85th Pennsylvania suffered two casualties. Captain John Morris of Company F suffered a minor injury as he was grazed by a shell fragment in the cheek. However, Sergeant Daniel Miller of Company K lost his legs when hit by another shell. He spent three agonizing weeks in a hospital before finally dying in early June.
       Although they did not play a consequential role, Williamsburg was important to the 85th Pennsylvania for several reasons. First, it was their initial taste of being fired upon and witnessing dead and wounded soldiers.
       Corporal William Elliott Finley described the role of his his regiment.

Corporal William Elliott Finley
from A Soldier's Life (1867)

"Just in front of it [the regiment] lay an open space which must be crossed to gain the woods beyond where the rebels were concealed. Sweeping across this, it caught the enemy's fire. A shell from Fort Magruder went hissing through its ranks and exploding, a fragment struck Captain [John] Morris upon the cheek. He only grew a little whiter and marched sternly on while the blood spurted from the wound. A little farther on, a rifle shot struck a Company 'K' man [Sergeant Daniel Miller] and uttering a cry threw up his hands, staggered and fell. Many a heart beat faster;many a cheek grew paler. They had seen the first man fall in battle."

Colonel Joshua B. Howell

          Secondly, the regiment remembered their colonel, Joshua B. Howell, boldly volunteering his regiment when a superior officer asked for a regiment to rush to the battle site.
         Private Milton McJunkin of Company D wrote home that, “Well we moved off double quick until we got on an open field joining the woods…While standing there, Genr’l Sumner rode up in great haste and hollowed Col. have you a regt you can rely upon. The old col without takeing time to give him an answer yelled out forward 85th. So we started off double quick down the road to the scene of action. The old Col was rideing back and forth along the line with a smile on his face, saying now me boys give them the bayonet.” [Ron Palm, Richards Sauers and Patrick Schroeder, The Bloody 85th: The Letters of Milton McJunkin, a Western Pennsylvania Soldier in the Civil War, [page 59]

           Third, the men remembered the frigid cold that they experienced the night of May 5 when they stood in formation. 
          Private John Neill of Company A remembered, 

A Halt in Line of Battle
copper plate edging, Edwin Forbes, 1876
"I have been cold many a time before and since, but never to the same extent. We dared not break ranks or we could not have re-formed in the blackness of the darkness; and between midnight and morning I could hear the teeth rattle to the upper end of our Company, and to me it seemed that my insides shook about and that I could tell where every bone joined to every other all over my body... I forgot to state that we were yet without food, and remained so till the evening of the next day, and guess my digestive apparatus had upset in the shaking of the night before."

          Lieutenant John E. Michener of Company D summarized the 85th Pennsylvania's experience in a letter to a western Pennsylvania newspaper.

Waynesburg (PA) Messenger  5-28-1862

Monday, June 1, 2020

Chaplain John N. Pierce on the Battle of Seven Pines

                 On the 49th anniversary of the Battle of Seven Pines [also known as Fair Oaks] in 1911, John Nicholson Pierce, the first chaplain of the 85th Pennsylvania, wrote a remembrance for his local newspaper in Missouri. Pierce got a few of his facts wrong, but the gist of his story is correct. Facts are inserted not to diminish Pierce's narrative but to provide a truer account of events that day.
        It is interesting that Pierce's focus was not solely on the performance of his own regiment in the fray. He also highlighted on the role of two commands of artillery in the engagement, one in Silas Casey's Division and the other in the division of Darius Couch. These two divisions were a part of the IV Corps commanded by General Erasmus Keyes.
        One is left to speculate how Pierce occupied his time during the battle -- whether he stayed on the sidelines or delivered ammunition and/or water as army chaplains sometimes did.
        Pierce left the regiment later in 1862. He lived in Oklahoma after the war before settling in Missouri. He died in 1926 at the age of 91.   

John N. Pierce
Courtesy of Bill Parr
         We skirmished all the way up to Savage Station and Fair Oaks, our division [Casey's] being on the advance. Now we were near enough to Richmond to hear the church bells ring.
          Nearly every day our pickets were fired on, and in this way we lost some men. But the real storm of battle did not break until the last day of May. While our men were at dinner [lunch], a shell fell in our camp near the colonel's headquarters, and the battle was on.
          We had sight guns in our battery, commanded by a fine captain [actually Colonel Guilford Bailey] and supported by the division of infantry.
          When the action was over, one-hundred out of one-hundred and twenty-six horses in the artillery, and the captain and most of his men lay dead on the field. We lost six guns. But in front of those guns, I counted sixty-seven dead men of the seventh Georgia [actually the 6th GA] alone and terrible was the harvest of death on both sides. Some of the bravest and best of the 85th went down on that bloody field.
         Casey's division received the shock of this battle. Couch's division lay nearly half a mile in our rear. They did not join in the fight until we were crushed. But when the Johnnies came up to them they were prepared. Their part of the artillery was commanded by a very young West Pointer [27-year old Robert Mayhew West] , who held his fire until the enemy coming five lines deep, was within three hundred yards, firing as they came, and hurting the infantry supporting the guns.
 Union Artillery at Seven Pines      LOC
        But when the enemy was ready to charge, the guns sent one sheet of terrible flame so effective that the charging host stopped and staggered and before they could reform another volley of grape and canister struck them so terribly that there was little left before those guns but slaughtered men.
        That day there were but two divisions, Casey and Couch, between the Chickahominy and Richmond.
        Lee and Johnston rushed down sixty thousand strong on the two divisions, mustering about fourteen thousand. [Confederate General Joseph Johnston had 60,000 men in his command .He intended to utilize around 50,000 in the attack. Because of miscommunication, just under 40,000 were engaged.]
        The roar of the battle roused our men on the other side of the Chickahominy, which was swollen by the great rains, far beyond its banks.
        Hooker, Heintzelman, and Sedgwick, Sumner and others [Heintzelman was already on that side of the river] by Herculean effort, crossed the river in the night [late afternoon] and turned the tide of battle next morning. We soon recovered all the ground lost the day before and might have gone into Richmond.
Edwin Sumner's Division Crossing Chickahominy River to Seven Pines
Century Magazine, 1885
       That the young men may have some correct notions of what it cost to put down the rebellion, allow me to say that the division that I belonged to had thirteen thousand men reported for duty April 1, forty-nine-years ago. In sixty days marching and fighting the enemy's guns and the malaria of the swamps cut our fighting strength from thirteen thousand to twelve hundred. That is war.

                                                                                                                 ONE OF THE BOYS

The Republican
Clinton, Missouri
May,1911    Page 1

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Two Views of McClellan from Soldiers in the 85th PA

General George Brinton McClellan
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
      The standard view of Union General George B. McClellan is that he had good organizational skills but was a poor field general. For the first six months or so when he was in charge of the Union army in 1861-62, McClellan was very popular with his troops, including the 85th Pennsylvania regiment. As they trekked up the Virginia peninsula in the spring of 1862, morale was high and a quick victory was anticipated. The prevailing view was not IF Richmond fell but WHEN. McClellan's leadership was thought to be a key component of an impending Union victory in the war.
      This positive view of "Little Mac" was shared by most of the men of the 85th Pennsylvania until McClellan unfairly shamed them (and the rest of their division led by General Silas Casey) for allegedly retreating like cowards at Seven Pines (VA) on May 31, 1862. Of course Casey's outnumbered troops had held off a substantial Confederate attack for several hours until help arrived, but this information never got to McClellan, who made his rash statement mainly based on the report of III Corps General Samuel Heintzelman.
      Heintzelman, who was in charge of McClellan's two corps on the south side of the Chickahominy River that day when the Confederates attacked, apparently needed a scapegoat for being unprepared for the rebel offensive. General Casey became a convenient patsy. 
      The 85th Pennsylvania, in Casey's division (of Erasmus Keyes' IV Corps) was stationed far in front of the rest of Heintzelman's command,  with flanks exposed. Casey's Division was McClellan's least experienced division, decimated by disease. Why McClellan would place them at the front of his 120,000 may army, just three miles from his goal of Richmond, the Confederate capital, is a mystery. Casey's men became an inviting target for General Joseph Johnston and his Confederate troops. 
Headstone of Private Joseph Wilgus
Company B     85th PA
Seven Pines National Cemetery
       On the day of the attack, Casey's men were outnumbered at least 2-to-1, maybe 3-to-1. Yes, Casey's men eventually did retreat, but only after holding off the rebels for several hours in time for Union reinforcements to arrive. They actually helped save McClellan from a disastrous defeat. Had Johnston's plan worked, he would have had 3-2 numerical advantage over McClellan on the south side of the Chickahominy River. Plus a heavy downpour the night before the attack had swelled the Chickahominy River, making it doubtful McClellan would be able to have more troops cross the river to reinforce his two corps under Heintzelman's command. McClellan was fortunate not to have suffered a devastating loss.  
       On the second day of the two-day battle, which ended with no decisive winner, McClellan informed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that all of his troops had fought hard, with the exception of Casey's Division. Relying on Heintzelman's cover-my-rear-end assessment, McClellan said Casey's men "had given way unaccountably and discreditably." As if to emphasize his words, McClellan later stated in the same report, "With the exception of Casey's division, our men behaved splendidly." 
         McClellan's report, which went public on June 2 was based on Heintzelman's input. Besides Casey and Keyes who immediately voiced strenuous objections to the report, the press began to be seriously question McClellan's unjust claims. This prompted McClellan to backtrack two weeks after the battle, stating, "My dispatch...was based upon official statements made to me before I arrived on the battle-field...From statements made to me subsequently...I am induced to believe that portions of the division behaved well and made a most gallant stand against superior numbers..." 
          For the regiments involved like the 85th Pennsylvania, it was a case of too little, too late. Casey was soon sacked and spent the rest of the war in Washington, DC.
         Coupled with McClellan's retreat from the Virginia peninsula a month later following the Seven Days' Battles, McClellan's reputation within the ranks of the 85th Pennsylvania took a severe hit.
        Lieutenant John E. Michener of Company D, once a staunch supporter, of Little Mac, had this to say in a letter written home several months after the battle. Michener wrote the following to his brother and sister back home in Fredericktown, Washington County in August of 1862.
Lieutenant John E. Michener

           "Madam rumor says that Burnside is likely to relieve McClellan of his command. Altho' I have ever been a friend of McClellan's, vindicating him whenever assailed, I have now lost confidence in him, believing him to be unequal for the great task before him. My ardent attachment to him had blinded my eyes to all his blundering errors of the past. Ye Gods! What has he done? Visit the rude cabins from Newport News to the Chickahominy Swamp and there view innumerable mounds --the unmarked spots, where rest the remains of patriotic soldiers! Then go to the battlefields of Fair Oaks [Seven Pines], Mechanicsville, White Oak Swamp and Malvern Hill, and as you gave upon the bleaching bones of the brave men that gave their lives to their County, you will have an answer! I am in favor of a man who is for a vigorous prosecution of this war. Pope and Burnside have both proven themselves active generals, and I would prefer being under either of them."

          On the other hand, one man in the 85th Pennsylvania who stayed loyal to McClellan was Sergeant Marquis Lafayette Gordon of Company H. Gordon penned the following brief story several decades after the war.
          Part of Gordon's allegiance was political. Gordon's family back home in Greene County, PA, were loyal Democrats. Gordon's father, John, had run for county school superintendent several times as a Democrat. McClellan eventually ran against Abraham Lincoln as the candidate of the Democrat Party in the election of 1864 and lost, although he carried Gordon's home county of Greene County.
          Part of Gordon's fealty may also have been that he missed the Battle of Seven Pines while recovering from a disease in a New York City hospital.
           Nonetheless, here is a vignette  imparted by Gordon as to McClellan's affection for the common soldier. The article was published about seven months after McClellan's death in October of 1885. It ironically was also published within a few days of the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Seven Pines.
         The article was entitled, "McClellan's Kindness." Gordon rejoined his regiment at the beginning of August. The 85th regiment crossed the Chickahominy River on August 16, and General McClellan and his staff passed by on August 19.

Sergeant M.L. Gordon

          "Reference is frequently made to the peculiar personal attachment which General McClellan’s troops had for him. The following incident may be worthy of record as illustrating one of the causes of this attachment:
         “In August, 1862, during the march of the Army of the Potomac, from Harrison’s Landing to Fort Monroe. The 85th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers was halted midday just before crossing the pontoon bridge across the Chickahominy. It was extremely hot, and the road very dusty. A group of tired soldiers flung themselves on the ground to rest, not knowing they were on the leeward side of the road.
         "Presently the clanking of sabers told of the approach of a body of mounted men. Just as they reached us the leader drew up and said quietly: “Better cross to the other side lads, or you will be covered with dust.”
         "It was a slight act, but it showed that the commander of the army – for such we recognized him to be, just as he and his staff moved on – was not indifferent to the comfort of the humblest soldier.”