Monday, October 23, 2006
Civil War - Second Year
Forty dollars advance pay and seventy-five dollar bounty at expiration of service was offered to enlistees for Companies D and G of the 128th Pennsylvania Volunteers. This was a nine-month regiment as authorized by President Lincoln and his call for 300,000 additional troops.
However, after Lincoln's call for additional troops, the response was so feeble that Congress passed the first draft act in American history. The highly patriotic call for volunteers made in July 1862 would be the zenith in Lehigh County's effort to support the Civil War. With the introduction of the draft, the sentiment began to change, or maybe the latent feelings were just now beginning to surface.
Perhaps the turning point came with the Battle of Fair Oaks, when Major Thomas Yeager fell dead on June 1, 1862. He was the first Allentonian killed in battle. He was a home town hero. No other personage came forth that could instill a pride in the local populace.
Art by © Don Troiani
There had not been much in the way of action for the Lehigh County units in the first year but by the spring of 1862 much had transpired on the fields of battle. The Battle of Malvern Hill created casualty lists which were in all of the local papers. Although Lehigh County participants escaped this battle, none the less, Lehigh County units were not to escape for long.
The draft was instituted and although a failure, bringing in only 65,000 new men, the draft did stimulated enlistments in both 3-year and nine-month regiments allowing the army to meet its goal of 600,000.
Art by © Don Troiani
Confederate General Jackson's first thrust at General Pope's Army of Virginia occured at Cedar Mountain, Virginia on August 8, 1862. One of the units defending that front was the 46th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, with Lehigh men in Company C. On the very day that the newly organized 128th PVI was leaving Allentown, a personal letter from Lt. Col. James L. Selfridge of Bethlehem, who served with the 46th regiment wrote:..."Out of 67 men of Company C in the fight, but fifteen are left."
The Northern forces which had been scattered upon the Rappahannock, the Shenandoah, and in West Virginia, were concentrated, and organized into three corps. The Confederate divisions of Ewell, and Stonewall Jackson, followed by that of Hill, a force twenty-five thousand strong, had already arrived upon the Rapidan, and had commenced crossing, driving back Yankee cavalry. On the 8th of August, the Union forces were ordered forward towards Cedar Mountain, consisting of seven thousand men. Jackson had taken position with his artillery on Cedar Mountain, at an elevation of two hundred feet above the surrounding plain, but had kept his infantry masked under the shadow of the forests. Four guns had been advanced, father to the front, and lower down the side of the mountain. At 5 o'clock P.M., the Union forces, in two columns, advanced to the attack. The position of the 46th fell opposite the enemy's advanced pieces, and upon these the men charged with desperate valor. But, before reaching them, they had to pass an open field, now covered with shocks of full ripened wheat. Here they were fearfully exposed, and the enemy's artillery, and his strong lines of infantry concealed from view, poured in a merciless storm of shot and shell. Three times was the regiment led to the charge across that fatal plain, when Colonel Knipe fell severely wounded, and the regiment was withdrawn. "Had victory been possible," says Greely, "they would have won it...The best blood of the Union was pured out like water. General Crawford's Brigade came out of the fight a mere skeleton." The loss in the 46th was thirty killed, thirty-four severely wounded, and six taken prisoner.
The 128th PVI left Harrisburg for Washington on August 17, 1862. Less than three weeks later, with only rudimentary training in drill and formations, the unit arrived, on the evening of September 16th, at Antietam Creek. It was placed in support of General Hooker's 1st Corps. The 46th PVI was also in support of General Hooker but held, initially, in reserve. At early dawn on the 17th of September, 1862, the battle began.
The Battle of Antietam, fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on Sept. 17, 1862, was the bloodiest day in American history. Eleven hours of the most savage fighting that has ever occurred on U.S. soil resulted in more than 23,000 casualties, including more than 3,500 dead. Most of the carnage took place in a relatively small area located between the Hagerstown Pike, a small church and a small wooded area to the west; a cornfield to the north and east; and a long, sunken road to the south.The genesis of the battle was Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's decision to capitalize on the momentum gained from his recent victory over the Army of the Potomac at Second Manassas (also known as Second Bull Run) by invading Union territory. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis hoped that a successful invasion of the North would accomplish several objectives.
First, invading the North might bring Maryland, or at least more Marylanders, to the side of the Confederacy.
Second, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia could gain needed supplies in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Third, by crossing the Potomac River, Lee could threaten Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, thereby relieving pressure on Confederate territory, including the capital, Richmond.
Fourth, Lee and Davis believed that a Confederate victory in the North could persuade Britain and France to formally recognize and, perhaps, provide assistance to the Confederacy.
Lee's army reached Sharpsburg first and established a defensive position running north to south on high ground east of the town of Sharpsburg and west of Antietam Creek. The Confederate forces also occupied land near a small Dunker Church adjacent to a 40-acre cornfield whose stalks were as tall as a soldier.
About 6 a.m. on Sept. 17, Union forces led by Gen. Joseph Hooker emerged from the north woods to attack Confederate forces along the Hagerstown Pike. Confederate forces rushed into the cornfield to meet the attackers, and all hell broke loose. For the next several hours, both sides poured troops into the cornfield and the area near the Dunker Church. Gen. Hooker later wrote of the action in the cornfield that "every stalk of corn ... in the greater part of the field was cut as closely as with a knife ... and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few minutes before." "It was never my fortune," Hooker recalled, "to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield."
While all this carnage was going on in the northern and central sectors of the field, more than 4,000 Union troops under Gen. Ambrose Burnside, instead of fording the shallow creek at safer locations, repeatedly attempted to force their way across the lower bridge of the Antietam against about 500 Georgia troops situated on the opposing hillside. The results were needless Union casualties and the loss of precious time, which allowed Confederate forces under Gen. A.P. Hill to arrive in the nick of time from Harpers Ferry to successfully hold off the final attack of Union forces late in the day after Burnside finally had made it across the bridge.
By about 5 or 6 p.m., the fighting stopped. The next day, instead of renewing the fight, "the armies lay face to face all day, like sated lions," Mr. Foote wrote, "and between them, there on the slopes of Sharpsburg ridge and in the valley of the Antietam, the dead began to fester in the heat and the cries of the wounded faded to a mewling."
As Confederate forces withdrew toward Virginia, someone asked Gen. John Bell Hood, whose troops were in the thick of things in the cornfield and near the Dunker Church, "Where is your division?" Hood responded, "Dead on the field." In all, there nearly 4,000 men lay dead on the field, and about 3,000 more died later from wounds suffered at Antietam. Lee lost one-fourth of his army that day. "The troops that Lee lost," Mr. Foote wrote, "were the best that he had — the best he could ever hope to have in the long war that lay ahead."
At Antietam. the 128th lost 34 killed and eighty five wounded; about 25% of the regiment. The 46th, which only joined the fight late in the day, lost six killed and three severely wounded.
From the 128th, Franklin Bloss of Washington Township and George Keck of Allentown (Company D) were killed. In Company G, Franklin Ritter of Allentown, Henry Luckenbill of North Whitehall and Henry Weller of Heidelberg were also killed. By September 24 a full account of the battle of Antietam with a list of casualties for the 128th PVI was carried in the local newspapers.
Meanwhile while efforts to raise troops through the draft continued, Company H of the 147th PVI was organized on the 10th of October for 3-year service.
Then, on October 22 the 47th Regiment went into battle on the Pocotaligo River in South Carolina losing 20 men killed and 35 men wounded, all from Lehigh County.
Art by © Don Troiani
1862 came to a close, but the war would continue and men would come forth to serve either as patriots, opportunist or reluctant draftees.
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