Saturday, September 17, 2022

Milton Chase Writes a Letter Home

Milton B. Chase of Company E, 85th PA
Courtesy of Sherry (Chase) Reinhardt


   When the war began, the 85th had a number of reliable chroniclers whose writings became valuable primary source material in telling the story of their regiment. For example, Lieutenant Colonel Henry A. Purviance was part-owner of the Washington (PA) Tribune and Reporter and wrote half a dozen lengthy letters that were published in his own newspaper.

    Likewise, Private Robert Roddy was the brother of Edward Roddy, who owned the Genius of Liberty newspaper in Uniontown. Roddy's letters appeared every few months in his brother's newspaper.

   Most soldiers of course wrote letters home to family members, some of which have survived. Other soldiers in the regiment penned letters that were published in newspapers around western Pennsylvania and even Wheeling, West Virginia. These soldiers included  Lieutenant John Acheson, Private John F. McCoy, Captain John E. Michener, Corporal George W. Dales and others.

   But by the end of 1864, the number of potential sources in the 85th PA had dwindled. Purviance was killed by friendly fire, Roddy went home with a medical discharge, and Michener was captured by the enemy, Acheson transferred to another command, and McCoy and Dales went home when their three-year enlistment ended.

  Only about 150 men were left in the regiment by the end of 1864, those who had joined in 1862 or later or those who had re-enlisted. The pool of potential sources was limited.

   One newspaper from the Civil War era that survives is the Washington Reporter and Tribune, found online in the Google News Archives. Unlike some other online newspaper sources that require a fee, this archive is free. The catch is that there is also no reliable search button. One must look through each edition page by page in the hope of finding information.

   So I went to the newspaper and began in November of 1864, scanning each weekly edition for a potential letter from the front, or perhaps something written by a returned soldier.

    Low and behold, eventually a letter from an 85th PA soldier appeared. It was on page 1 of the Reporter and Tribune from February 8, 1865. It was written by a soldier still in the regiment who called himself 'M.B.C." His identify was easy to find. Of the remaining men in the regiment, only Private Milton B. Chase of Company E had that set of initials.

   Chase was 31 years of age at the time. A native of Washington County, PA, he was married and living in Iowa when the war broke out. After serving for three months in an Iowa regiment, he decided to go home to enlist for three more years, joining Company E of the 85th PA, which had many men from Washington County, PA. He enlisted into the regiment in April of 1862, which meant he still had a few months to serve when he wrote the following letter in 1865.  Chase worked as a teacher before and after the war, which indicates why his letter seems to be fairly well written.

   Milton went home in December of 1865 from City Point, VA and was reunited with his wife, Margaret Franks Chase, whom he had married in Iowa in 1855. The growing family soon moved from one side of the Mississippi River to the other to live in  Hampton, Illinois. Unfortunately, Chase did not enjoy a long postwar life. On April 25, 1874, he ws killed in a coal mine cave-in. Chase was buried in the Old Rapid City Cemetery in Rapid City, Rock Island County, Illinois. He was survived by his wfie, Margaret, and four children. A fifth child, Margaret, was born two months after his death.

Moline [Illinois] Review-Dispatch  May 1, 1874, page 2

    His Civil War letter, written on January 25, 1865 from the camp of the 85th PA just below Richmond on the north side of the James River, first gives a review of the regiment's activities for the last nine months. These include the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, the Battle of Second Deep Bottom, the Battle of Chaffin's Farm, the Second Battle of Darbytown Road, and a description of the Battle of Trent's Reach the previous day on the James River. His letter appeared in the Reporter and Tribune on February 8, 1865.

Winter Quarters along the James River   LOC

   His letter answers a few questions that were previously unknown. The acting commander of this detachment of the 85th PA was Lieutenant James Nichlow. Lieutenant Absalom Dial of Company E was the nominal head of the detachment, but records indicate that Dial was away on a special detachment for a prisoner-of-war exchange. Chase reveals that Dial was actually on convalescent leave due to wounds received at Second Deep Bottom.

   Chase also explains that during their time as provost guards at division headquarters, the 85th PA was tasked with supervising Union prisoners, some of whom were awaiting execution for desertion. 

    Milton Chase includes a cryptic paragraph about 'Mat,' 'the young one,' turning in his gun for a drum. I could find no one with the name "Mat" or "Matthew" among the 150 who remained in the regiment in 1865. The closest was Matthew C. Axton of Brownsville, Fayette County. Like Chase, Axton was from Company E; but he is listed as having gone home two months earlier in December of 1864. 


Camp of the 85th Pa Vols.

Before Richmond, VA., January 15, 1865

Dear Reporter and Tribune:

   Knowing the interest felt by many of your readers, especially by the returned veterans of the Regiment, in the detachment of the noble old 85th still in the field, permit me through your columns to communicate to them some of the changes that have taken place since they left, as well as some other items that may prove interesting to our friends generally.

   The Detachment known as the 85th Pa. Volunteers, is now doing duty as Provost Guard at Headquarters, 1st Division, 24th Army Corps, Gen. A.H. Terry's old Division, now commanded by Gen. J. R. Rawley. The 85th is commanded by 1st Lieut. acting Col. James Nichlow, formerly Sergeant Co. H, Captain R.P. [Robert] Hughes having been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 199th Pa. Vols. 1st Sergeant Charles E. Eckles, Co. E, has been promoted to Captain Co. K, 199th P.V. Sergeant W. C. [Walter] Cravin Co. C [to] Captain, Co. K 199th P.V. and Sergeant O. [Oliver] Sproul is Lieutenant Co. B 199th P.V. Lieutenant [Absalom]  Dial is abroad on sick leave occasioned by wounds received in action last August. Captain R.W. [Richard] Dawson, Assistant Inspector General on Gen. [Adelbert] Ames' staff, was so careless as to put himself in the way of a rebel ball at Fort Fisher, N.C. and consequently got shot in the right arm seriously.

    'Mat,' the 'young one,' desires his friends to know that he has got rid of his 'shoot stick' and has gone to playing the drum for a living. 

   The aggregate strength of the Regiment is about 150 men; there is 110 present for duty and the remaining 40 are absent on detached service  -- sick, wounded, etc.

   In order that you may know what part we have taken in the last campaign, I will give you a hasty and brief synopsis of our movements during that time.

   Our regiment was withdrawn from the Department of the South last April and formed part of the force that accompanied the then popular, but now fallen, Gen. [Benjamin] Butler in his operation at Bermuda Hundred, VA. [above] where we landed May 5th, 1864 from which time until August our headquarters were on that front, we being almost constantly under fire duing picket duty, or working on the various defenses of that line. We participated in several engagements and many lively lttle skirmishes on that line, including the Battle of Ware Bottom Church, May 20th, battle near the same place, June 17th, and also on the same line June 18th, expedition to north side of James River, which resulted in establishing works there June 29th, second advance from Deep Bottom August 14. Severe engagement near Malvern Hill August 16th in which our brigade led the charging column led by intrepid soldier General [Alfred] Terry, then in command of our division, the 1st of the 10th Corps. The old 85th led by Captain R. P. Hughes under whose gallant leaderhip we hurled back the rebel horde from their strong works [at Second Deep Bottom], taking a number of prisoners almost equal to our number, and capturing two rebel battle flags. Near this place we quietly entrenched ourselves, having advanced as far in that direction as was thought to be either prudent or healthy, and awaited the Johnnys' assault, which they made with a considerable show of determination on the afternoon of the 18th: they found us there and promptly skedaddled. Soon after this object of the expedition being accomplished, we were ordered to the Petersburg front, where we remained in the trenches a month, constantly under fire, though the nature and completeness of our works there was such that we suffered but few casualties.

   While here we were called to part with our heroic and almost idolized Col. J.B. [Joshua] Howell, in whose loss we are depirived of a much esteemed officer and long to be remembered friend, in whom the country loses a patriot, gentleman and true soldier that it could illy spare these troublous times. Our next move was the grand advance toward Richmond on the north side of the James from Deep Bottom and Aikin's Landing, September 28, which after a bloody struggle resuled in pushing back the rebel lines almost to the suburbs of the Rebel Capitol, the capture of strong works on 'Chapin's Farm,' Fort Harrison now called Fort Burnham, and many other important Rebel works establishing our present line within seven miles of Richmond. On this line the rebels advance on our immediate front a heavy Rebel force [on] October 7th [at Darbytown Road]. A severe engagement ensued in which the rebels were repulsed with heavy loss and driven within their main works. Our next move was the reconnaisance in force [on] October 12th and 13th [also at Darbytown Road], resulting in a series of brisk little dashes on the rebel lines and extending as far as the old battle ground at Fair Oaks, the scene of McClellan's nearest approach to Richmond , in which the 85th participated under him 'in his wanderings on the Peninsula.' On the 14th of October, the time of the original organization of the old 85th having expired, all except the reenlisted Veterans and those whose time was not out were 'mustered to the rear' and in due time mustered out and permitted to return to their homes 'laden with laurel,' long may they wave, while we lonely enough but not weary in well-doing were left in the field. October 15th, we were temporarily attached to the 199th Pa. Vols., a splendid 'one year organization' raised in Philadelphia and second to none in the corps, owing to the untiring energy, strict discipline and efficient instructions of the able and energetic officers in command, for which to the skill and experience of their acqusitions from the 85th they are in a great measure indebted. The 199th already attracts the admiration and excites the envy of many other organizations. About the 1st of December, our old corps, the 10th, was consolidated with the 18th and called the 24th Army Corps; the colored troops of the 10th and 18th corps were formed into a separate organization and called the 25th Corps. On the 15th of December, we were detached from the 199th and ordered to report for duty as Provost Guard at Hd. Qrs., 1st Div. 24th A.C. and here we are in pretty snug winter quarters, enjoying ourselves as well as possible. We have charge of about one hundred prisoners, mostly in for minor offenses while a few are charged with desertion. Two courts martial are disposing of their cases as rapidly as possible. Some have already been shot and others will doubtless ere long share their hard fate. The weather is somewhat cold at present, though we have seen but little snow this winter. The Johnnies made a demonstration on the left of our line this morning with their gunboats and rams and a cooperating land force. Our monitors and batteries in the vicinity of Dutch Gap are said to have demolished two or three of their boats and the excitement over an anticipated attack has subsided. For fear that this may be disapproved, like our applications for Furlough, on account of its length I will for the present desist, promising that if our scribbling is acceptable, you shall hear from us again when anything happens worthy of note.

I am very respectfully yours, for three years or during the war,

M.B.C.

85th Regt. P.V.V.

    Chase promised to write again should future events prove newsworthy. Fort Gregg and Appomattox were certainly meaningful events in April of 1865, but I could find no more letters from Chase in the April or May editions of the Reporter and Tribune. Most of the news in late April concerned Lincoln's assassasination, so if Chase sent a letter, there simply may not, from the newspaper's point of view, have been as much space or interest in such events. 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

In Search of Captain Lewis Watkins

 

Captain Lewis Watkins of the 85th Pennsylvania
Property of Ronn Palm Museum of Civil War Images
Gettysburg, PA

        A few years ago, I started a virtual cemetery on findagrave.com for those men who served in the 85th Pennsylvania infantry during the Civil War. Whenever I visit southwestern Pennsylvania, I try to visit a cemetery or two in search of more gravesites for members of the regiment. I want to point out that almost all of this work has already been done by intrepid genealogy lovers who have photographed and cataloged a high percentage of cemeteries around the country and the headstones for the people buried there. My job is to add to their good work, tracking down headstones for those whose cemeteries have been identified.

   Some headstones and burial sites have been difficult if not impossible to find. First of all, some men's final resting places has been lost to history. These are veterans whose bodies were not recovered after a battle, or perhaps were laid to rest by their comrades with just a temporary marker near the place where they fell. Others never married, were orphaned, or died during shortly after the war, their life records sparse or their headstones now impossible to read.

   This was a problem I faced recently in trying to track down the headstone of Private Christopher Anderson of Company B. Records indicate that he was buried in the Lone Pine Cemetery in Washington County, PA. Anderson served for three years in the regiment, but died at a relatively young age in 1877. I walked the entire cemetery and found this Civil War headstone, but the name was almost completely unreadable. I wished that I had brought a large piece of paper and a pencil to do an etching, but I did not. I strongly believe this is Anderson's gravesite. 


        This presumed headstone of Christopher Anderson clearly states "Co. B 85th PA. INF" across the bottom. Anderson was a member of Company B. The beginning of the lengthy name above the "8" seems to be the start of "Christopher." The last three letters of the surname above the "F" in "INF" seems to be "son," the end of Anderson. But not being reasonably sure, the next step is to contact the church across the street to see if they have any records to confirm the site of his burial.

       The next search for a veteran whose death occurred at least one and a half centuries ago was for the gravesite of Captain Lewis Watkins of Company E from Washington County. Watkins was severely wounded at the Battle of Second Deep Bottom near Richmond on August 16, 1864. The 39-year old sustained wounds in the arm and leg. He was taken to a hospital in Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he died about six weeks later on September 28, 1864.

Modern View of Confederate Earthwork 
Stormed by 85th PA in Battle of Second Deep Bottom
Where Captain Lewis Watkins was Mortally Wounded

       Unlike most soldiers who died in the Civil War, Watkins' body was shipped home for burial. He was interred in a family plot in western Pennsylvania in the community called Malden. This neighborhood is part of West Brownsville on the Washington County side of the Monongahela River. 

    Watkins enlisted in 1861 into Company E as a lieutenant. Just six months before his death, he married Mary Eliza Crissinger on March 31, 1864, presumably while home on a furlough. 

    Earlier on this blog, I wrote an article around a letter that Watkins had written in July of 1864 from Virginia. It was penned to U.S. Representative James Kennedy Moorhead and was published on August 17 in a Pittsburgh newspaper, the day after Watkins was severely wounded. 

   Records indicated where the Watkins' gravesite was located, but it was not in a cemetery but at a spot on private property. 

https://beallsvillecemetery.org/Veteran_Burial_List/maps/044_12B_Watkins_Private_Cemetery.html

Location of Watkins' headstone in Washington County, PA

      I had a personal reason for the search of Lewis Watkins' resting place. Watkins' descendant, Dr. John Pierce Watkins, had been my youth baseball coach. [Dr. Watkins great grandfather, John, was the brother of Lewis Watkins]. Furthermore, Dr. Watkins was the president of the college where I graduated in the 1970's. I still have the photo of Dr. Watkins shaking my hand and handing me my diploma on graduation day. Dr. Watkins, who passed away last year, was a fine man and dedicated educator. 

        Luckily, a member of my family came through in the search for Lewis Watkins' headstone. My sister and brother-in-law live in the community where Watkins was buried. My brother-in-law, Mark, said he had knowledge of a prominent gravesite in a neighbor's back yard, a few streets away from his residence. Mark and I drove to the sight and sure enough came upon an impressive ten-feet high obelisk that was clearly a burial site nestled in the backyard of one of the people in the Malden community. 

The writer at Watkins' gravesite

   Upon first glance, I thought I might not be able to confirm this as Watkins' burial place because the much of the markings on the obelisk had become nearly impossible to read over the the last 158 years.

"Watkins" and "Monroe" are visible


Near the top of the statue
   
         But at the bottom of the statue, I could make out Watkins' last name as well as "Monroe." This was clearly a reference to Fort Monroe where he died. Also, the name "Watkins" was legible near the top of the obelisk. There was also a G.A.R. marker and American flag at the site, probably placed their a few days earlier in remembrance of Memorial Day. In addition, there were other veteran markers there, including one for World War II, which indicated that there may be more Watkins' family members buried there.

    I took a few photos and added created an entry to the 85th Pennsylvania Virtual Cemetery for Captain Watkins. I actually had to create the "cemetery," called the Watkins Burial Ground, before I could entire Lewis Watkins photos and captions. Like his comrades, he was a brave soldier who deserves to be remembered.

     Rest in peace, Captain Watkins.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

More on Book Talks

   As mentioned in my previous post, I am going to conduct a series of Book Talks around southwestern Pennsylvania in June to promote my history of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment in the Civil War. The men from this regiment hailed from the counties of Greene, Washington, Fayette and Somerset.

    The dates are as follows:

June 13       Amwell, Washington County           Amwell Municipal Buidling                 7 p.m.

June 14       Waynesburg, Greene County         Cornerstone Genealogical Society    7 p.m.

June 15       California, Washington County        Center in the Woods                         7 p.m.

June 16       Connellsville, Fayette County          Crawford Cabin                                 6 p.m.

   In order to focus more intently on the local history aspect of the regiment, at each talk, I am going to highlight a soldier or soldiers from that particular town.


Amwell: I will feature James and Moses Smith, brothers who served in Company B. Both survived the war, although Moses was captured and had to endure the deprivations of the Andersonville prison in Georgia. Both James and Moses [shown here] were two of the longest living members of the regiment.






Waynesburg: The  focus here will be on Lieutenant Marquis Lafayette Gordon of Company G. Gordon served for a time with his father, Adam, the first school superintendent for Greene County. M.L. Gordon survived the war. He earned advanced degrees in medicine and theology and spent many years as a medical missionary in Japan.





California: The spotlight will be on William Mahaney of Company C. He ran away at age 17 to join the Union army. Mahaney has the distinction of being the longest living member of the regiment. He died in 1944 at age 99 and is buried in the Highland Cemetery.




Connellsville: This town was the home of Henry L. Regar. He served as a drummer boy in the Mexican War and was the principal musician for the 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War. When he passed away, he was the longest living Pennsylvanian who served in both wars.




I will post more details about these book talks in the near future.


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Book Talks

 I have scheduled four speaking engagements in the middle of June to talk about my history of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment. The books will be available for a discount. These events are listed on my speaking/page on this blog. More information will be available soon. Thanks.


Monday, January 24, 2022

Review: Such Hard and Severe Service

 Here is a facebook page that has a link to a full review of my book about the 85th Pennsylvania entitled, "Such Hard and Severe Service." It is written by Brett Schulte, who has a comprehensive website about the Petersburg, VA front during the Civil War.


https://www.facebook.com/PetersburgSiege/posts/5080833068648446




Saturday, January 8, 2022

Volume II is now available!

 It's ready!

Volume II of my history of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment is available for sale at the following:




This volume picks up the story of the 85th PA at the beginning of 1864. They are stationed on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina for basically a few months of R & R. Then in the spring it's back to the war in Virginia in the Bermuda Hundred. This is followed by the Appomattox Campaign where the remaining men in the regiment play a crucial role in Lee's surrender.
There are a few chapters of which I am particularly proud. Volume II has a chapter on a large-scale POW exchange at the end of 1964 in which 55 men from the regiment serve as guards. There has not been a lot written about this aspect of the war by historians.
The Appomattox chapter also has some relatively new scholarship. Most historians have written about the pursuit of Lee from the rear. My chapter mainly concerns the Army of the James (including the 85th PA) which was tasked with speed marching around Lee to cut off his last avenue of escape to the south and west.
Volume II has an in depth look at the diary of Captain Richard Dawson of Uniontown, who provides an inside look at the officers and actions of the regiment, particularly in 1864.
I have included a chapter on regimental reunions that took place around western Pennsylvania between 1872 and 1928.
Finally, I have included a set of appendices at the end of the book that charts the soldiers' service, sources, and lists of those who died during and after the war.
I would like to thank the following: Travis Snyder for reviewing my books, historians Will Greene and Patrick Schroeder for valuable advice and input, and publisher BJ Omanson of Monongahela Books for valuable guidance and efforts.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

George S. Fulmer and the Reunion Gavel

Pittsburgh Press
12-23-1894   P.16

          Several members of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment had highly successful careers following the war. Captain Robert P. Hughes of Little Washington, who enlisted as a private, rose the rank of major general in the army. Entrepreneur Norman Bruce Ream from Somerset County became one of the wealthiest men in the country. Edward Campbell became a judge in Uniontown, Fayette County.

         Another member of the regiment who prospered was Sergeant George Sisson Fulmer of Company D, who moved to Pittsburgh after the war and became a highly successful building contractor. 

         In addition to his business, Fulmer became a driving force in the 85th Pennsylvania Regimental Association and as its president, organizing reunions from 1882 to 1905.
 
LOC
         At the 1887 reunion in Uniontown, Fulmer displayed a gavel which was used during the formal meeting at the start of the session prior to the dinner, campfire and parade which ensued.
          
        A local newspaper reported that, "President Fulmer read an interesting history and statistical report of the old regiment, comprising the number of men at date of muster in and discharge; number of killed, wounded and discharged in each company, and other statistical information which he himself had complied. At the conclusion of the reading he gave an interesting description of a trip which he took during the past summer to Fair Oaks and adjacent places over which the regiment had tramped in the war of the ‘60’s. On the battlefield of Fair Oaks, he cut a limb from a hickory tree and on his return home made a gavel from it on one end of which is the inscription “85th Regiment Penna. Volunteers” and on the other “Fair Oaks.” He presented it to the Association to be used at their meetings. On motion of Secretary [James T.] Wells, the relic was received with a vote of thanks. [Washington (PA) Weekly Reporter, 9-1-1887]
           
         
Weekly Courier, Connellsville, PA, 11-     17-1905      p.9

           The Battle of Fair Oaks, also known as Seven Pines, in May/June of 1862, was the first battle in which the regiment participated. It was also the costliest in terms of killed and wounded. About 25 men were killed and another 50 or so were wounded. Fulmer's Company D was on picket duty when the Confederates under General Joseph Johnston launched an attack. Against at least 2-to-1 odds, the 85th Pennsylvania and their division held their ground long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The three day battle ended in a draw with over 10,000 combined casualties.

        Following Fulmer's death, the regimental gavel presumably continued to be used until 1928 at the 56th and final reunion. In 1905, failing in health, Fulmer was for the first time unable to attend a regimental get-together, which in that year was held at Connellsville, Fayette County. A resolution was read in his honor. 

       Shortly after the 1905 reunion, Fulmer died on February 21, 1906 and was buried in the Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh. At the 1905 reunion,  Fulmer was paid the following tribute by his fellow veterans, who stated, "He has been untiring in promoting the welfare of the regiment and in arranging for the annual reunions…He has always been generous of his means in helping to defray the expenses of the reunions and in meeting all obligations incurred by the association." [Daily Notes, Canonsburg, PA, 11-22-1905]

          The current home of the gavel, if it still exists, is unknown. Fulmer became president of the association in 1882, held at the Pittsburgh Grain Exchange Building, and held the position for nearly a quarter of a century until his death at the age of 66. 

          He also served as commander of the Grand Army of the Republic McPherson Post Number 117 in Pittsburgh and attended several national encampments of the G.A.R. during his lifetime. As such, he travelled around the northeast to various G.A.R. encampments. In 1886, he was among a train car load of Pennsylvanians who attended a gathering of 11,000 Union veterans in Topeka, Kansas in 1886. (The Daily Commonwealth, Topeka, 7-25-1886, p.4)

    Fulmer was born in Mifflin Township in Allegheny County. His family moved to Beallsville, Washington County, and from this township, Fulmer enlisted into Company D of the 85th Pennsylvania along with his brother, Harry. [Pittsburgh Daily Post, 2-22-1906, p.1]
        

    
Schmidt Building



          After the war, during a career as a building contractor, Fulmer was credited with constructing the first skyscraper in Pittsburgh. (This interpretation may depend on one's definition of a high-rise structure by 19th century standards). The building was the eight-story Schmidt Building on Fifth Avenue. Fulmer also won a reputation as the premier church builder in Pittsburgh, one whose work included the Park Avenue Presbyterian Church (above, which Fulmer attended), the Point Breeze Presbyterian Church and the Sixth Avenue United Presbyterian Church [The Daily Notes, Canonsburg, PA, 2-16-1906, p.7]

 





        Fulmer worked diligently for the regimental association for over 30 years. When the association was created in Uniontown in 1873, Fulmer was voted to the position of secretary. 

     Due to his failing health, Fulmer was replaced as president of the regimental association by Sergeant James Swearer in 1906. In the early 1920's, the aged Swearer handed the presidency over to Captain Charles E. Eckels, the last president of the association. Efforts by the writer to find a descendant of Eckels on the remote chance that the gavel is in his family's possession , have so far proven to be unsuccessful. 

            Below is a letter that Fulmer wrote to a friend, Mollie [last name unknown], probably from Beallsville or the immediate area. The regiment had just moved from Folly Island to Hilton Head, South Carolina in early 1864.


                                                                                                                Camp 85th Pa Vols

                                                                                                                Hilton Head S.C.

                                                                                                                Jan. 11, 1864

Friend Mollie,

I received your kind letter a few days since and was pleased to think that you must not have forgotten her dear friend and school mate in the 85th though far from home and among strangers. My mind still wanders back to the pleasant days. That old school house on yonder side hill is still within my view where we spent much happiness friends in the days. Little did I think which was to happen.

              Some of my school mates are ? more others are scattered throughout the country never to meet
again in the pleasant schoolroom.

                But enough of this and now I will give you a short history of what has happened? Since I last wrote to you. We have been on Folly Island within the reach of the sound of [Fort] Moultrie’s cannon, not knowing what minute we might be placed within the reach of their destructive contents. We received orders to leave there on the 5th of Dec. and started on the 6th for this place where we landed on the 7th but we did not expect to stay here any time as there was some talk of an expedition. Out here for to go to Savannah but I believe it has fell through for the present. I do not think there will be anything more done

Here until spring as we have not enough force to do much at present. There are a great many soldiers reenlisting in this department but there is not many from the 85th. I have not much notion of it for my part. I think I will try it at home a short time before I go soldiering again especially under some of the officers that we have in this Regt. I am not tired of soldiering but I am tired of some of our officers. Eight months and eight days will get me out.

              I heard a few days since that ? Bane was married. Good God I think some of the ladies are getting hard up for a man when such men as [Bane] can find a wife.

             Well Mollie, I suppose you will wait for some brave soldier boy who has fought, bled and died for his county, will you not?

              [Thomas] Harford sends his compliments to you in return. Harry [Fulmer, George’s brother was had earlier received a medical discharge] was well when I heard from him which was only a few days since. It is now time to call the roll and I must close. Hoping to hear from you soon.

            I remain your friend as ever.

                                                                              Geo. S. Fulmer

                                                                               Give my love to all inquiring friends.

                                                                               Direct to Co D 85th PA Vols

                                                                               Hilton Head S.C.


Fulmer Death Cerrtificate



Thursday, July 1, 2021

Stories from Company B

       

        The title of this article is from a pamphlet written in 1903 to celebrate Memorial Day in Amity, a small community in Washington County, Pennsylvania. While doing research for my book, "Such Severe and Hard Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War," I came across an online reference to this booklet. Margaret Farrabee of Amity generously emailed me a copy, and I was able to use several citations for my book.

      The booklet was written early in the 20th century by 66-year old Manaen Sharp, who had served im Company B of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment. Sharp spent a year with the 85th before receiving a medical discharge. After the war, Sharp became a successful business man who owned furniture stores in Amity, Beallsville, and Little Washington, all in Washington County. He also served for a time as county treasurer. He died in 1920 at the age of 82 and is buried in Little Washington. His 1903 booklet chronicled the Civil War service of residents from the Amity area.

       Sharp wrote a paragraph or two about 40 or so soldiers from Amity and the surrounding area, including several from his own Company B of the 85th. [Sharp also included soldiers from other regiments, including the 140th Pennsylvania, the 22nd Pennsylvania Cavalry, and the 1st West Virginia Cavalry]. In doing so, Sharp recounts a series of interesting stories about many of the soldiers. Undoubtedly, Sharp was present for at least some of the events he described. In other cases, he surely heard the stories as they were passed around the campfire. Some others he learned about after the war, perhaps at regimental reunions. Below, I have quoted Sharp [in italics] concerning several members of his company.

     I have included some of my own comments in red.

LOC

CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON: At the battle of Fair Oaks, while aiming his gun, it was hit between his hands and disabled. He reached for the gun of a dead comrade and used it to good purpose.

Anderson returned home from the war. He died in 1877. 

Burying the Dead at Seven Pines
Harper's Weekly 7-19-1862
WILLIAM BRADEN: When driven back at Fair Oaks [Seven Pines], Comrade Braden was helping to carry his wounded captain [George H. Hooker] to save him from capture. The comrade, J.F. Speer of Canonsburg who was assisting, heard the sickening thud of a minie ball strike Comrade Braden, who said, 'I am hit.' He staggered to the road side and that is all that is known. He is buried among the unknown, but where? 

This story is confirmed by Captain Hooker, who wrote a letter in the pension file for Braden's widow, Nancy. “I hereby certify that Wm. Braden, a private of Company B 85th Pa. Vols, was shot while assisting me from the field at the Battle of Fair Oaks [Seven Pines] Virginia on the 31st day of May, 1862. He fell severely wounded and is supposed to have died from the effects of his wound.” 


Camp on Morris Island
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

CYRUS [JOSIAH] BRATTON: His grave is on Morris Island, S.C....The autumn of 1863, he was excused from duty on account of sickness, but stayed in his quarters; his discharge papers were signed and with high hopes he expected to start for home in the morning. His messmate got breakfast and went to awaken him and found him in the sleep that knows no waking.

Bratton died of chronic diarrhea at age 25. 

JOHN CLAYTON: He was mortally wounded at Deep Bottom and taken to the hospital at Fortress Monroe where he died and is buried in the cemetery at the fort. At the Battle of Kingston [Kinston, NC] in loading his piece, he spilled the powder but rammed the bullet. He sat down where he stood in the battle line, unbreeched his gun, took out the ball, put his piece together, reloaded, putting in both balls with the remark, 'I will try and ring two of them this time.'

Clayton died from a gunshot wound to the thigh. He is buried in Hampton National Cemetery.

Attack Route Upon Battery Gregg
Robert Knox Sneden  LOC
LEONARD HAMMERS: In his performance of duty he had many narrow escape[s]. Only once did he lose hope -- that was when with others he was ordered to Morris Island to spike the guns of Battery Gregg. this battery could be swept by every fort in the harbor defences of Charleston. When they tied a strip of white on the left arm of this detail, so as to distinguish them from the Confederates in the darkness, hope left him but courage never. When the rebel guard discovered them and gave the alarm, the marries manning the boats refused to land, so the attack was not make.

Hammers enlisted at age 17. His first child was born while he was away in the army. He and his wife, Charlotte, had five more children after the war. He died in 1904 and is buried in AmityI wrote about the attempts to take Battery Gregg here.



Wounded Soldiers at Savage Station
1862    LOC

ABRAHAM IAMS: This young man took my place in the center of Co. B when I was taken to the hospital. He was mortally wounded at Fair Oaks, shot through the right breast and lay on the battlefield from Saturday afternoon until Monday afternoon when he was taken back to Savage Station. At 2 a.m. the next morning, in a down pour of rain, Robert Bair [James Robison Bair] put him on a train for White House [Landing, VA] where he died and is buried.

Corporal Iams was killed at the age of 25. He was survived by his parents, William and Delila, and his sister, Rachel.


Unidentified Soldier    LOC
DANIEL MILLER: Was badly wounded at Deep Bottom and was sent to the rear for repairs, [then] turned up in the hospital in New York. An order came to the effect that all soldiers who could walk to the railroad train would get furloughed. A comrade, James F. Speer, made him a pair of crutches. On these he started for the train, but had to rest many times before reaching it; but when seated in a comfortable car, contentment was seen all over his jolly face.

  Miller died in 1914 at age 78 and is buried at Amwell, PA. 

Kinston Swamp
45th Massachusetts Reunion 1887

DAVID MILLER: Was slightly wounded on the first and also on the second day at Fair Oaks. At Kinston, while charging through a swamp [left] , he was badly hurt and was helped to solid ground by a comrade who, examining his wound found the ball had passed through a deck of playing cards and buried itself in his side. He died about 1898.

I wrote an article about Miller on this blog which can be found here. Sharp's observation about Miller being wounded on the second day at Seven Pines [Fair Oaks] is interesting because his regiment had been sent to the rear and had not been actively engaged in the fight that day.

Henry T. Reynolds
HENRY TAYLOR REYNOLDS: Was killed June 14, 1864 near Richmond, Va. His body fell into the hands of the Confederates and was not recovered. He had a presentiment that he would not live out his time. A short time before he was killed, he applied for and obtained leave of absence to visit his old parents, as he believed, for the last time.

This story is confirmed by Oscar Lyons of Company B. I have included Reynolds' story in soon-to-be-published Volume II of my regimental history. Lyons wrote, "The boys tried to cheer him (Taylor) up, but the thought in his mind that he was soon to be killed could not be removed. On the 17th of June, we were in the rifle pits near Petersburg, on the North side of the Appomattox River... Many times through the day, Comrade Reynolds said he felt that his time had come; that he would never again see home or friends, for something told him that he was going to be killed."


Bridge over Chickahominy River
LOC
JAMES SMITH: At the change of base by McClellan's army on the Peninsula it was necessary to destroy a bridge over the Chickahominy river. The engineers had failed to destroy it because of a hot fire from the rebel side. An appeal was made to men in the line. Comrade Smith was one to respond for this important but dangerous work. They destroyed the bridge, checking Stonewall Jackson's flank movement.

Smith attended the last reunion of the regiment in Brownsville, Fayette County in 1928. He died in 1930 at the age of 88. 


Moses Smith


MOSES SMITH: Served his full term but had the misfortune to serve the latter part of it in Andersonville prison. Comparatively few survived this prison life. He was wounded at Kinston Bridge, the ball first striking his gun glancing into his leg. At Bermuda Hundred, an old tobacco barns stood close to the rebel line and was used by the rebel sharpshooters. Comrade Smith and Dave Miller crawled to this barn and set it on fire, completely destroying it. 

Moses Smith was the brother of James Smith. He was captured at Ware Bottom Church, Virginia on June 16, 1864 with two other members of the regiment while on picket duty. He survived Andersonville and lived until 1924.



Hewitt's Cemetery
Rices' Landing, PA

SAMUEL WALTON: At Wier's [Ware] Bottom Church, while on picket duty, he was approached by a large grizzly unkempt rebel. Sam supposed he was coming in to surrender, as many of them at that time were doing, and was learning against a tree waiting to receive him. Imagine his surprise when the Johnnie fired, the ball striking the bark of the tree near his head, pieces of the bark stinging his face and neck. Comrade Walton did his duty at once. The rebel tried to reload his gun at once. The rebel tried to reload his gun after he was down and fatally wounded. 

 Walton enlisted as a private before being promoted to commissary sergeant.  He spent most of his postwar life in Greene County. He was involved in the lumber business and was the proprietor of S.M. Walton and Sons. He died in 1914 and is buried in Rices Landing, Greene County.