Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Meet a Militiaman: Jacob C. Higgins (part II)

(read Part I here)

Higgins in a post-Civil War photo - Cambria County, PA Genealogy

Within weeks of returning home from service with the 125th Pennsylvania, Jacob Higgins found himself heading back to the army.  In early June 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia was once again moving northward toward Maryland and Pennsylvania.  A small Union force, under Brig. Gen. Robert Milroy, was scattered from their post at Winchester, VA as the rebels advanced.  Some of Milroy's force fled east to Harper's Ferry, but most, including Milroy, fled north into Pennsylvania, all the way to Bloody Run [now Everett], Hollidaysburg, and Altoona.  As in September 1862, panic began to spread through Pennsylvania, as it looked more and more likely that the Rebel army would soon be invading the Commonwealth.  An "Emergency" force of Pennsylvanians would again be called upon.

On June 10, 1863, the United States War Department created two new military departments [regions] in Pennsylvania, whose commanders would coordinate a defense against Lee's threatening army.  Western Pennsylvania [everything west of Johnstown, and parts of Ohio and West Virginia] became the Department of the Monongohela, while everything in Pennsylvania east of Johnstown became the Department of the Susquehanna.  Higgins' own Huntingdon/Blair County region would lie in the western reaches of the latter.  Selected to command the Dept. of the Susquehanna was Maj. Gen. Darius Couch.  Couch, and Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin immediately sent representatives to Blair County in search of a capable officer who could organize and lead a defense of the mountainous valleys which Rebel forces were slowly creeping toward.  The vital Pennsylvania Railroad facilities at Altoona and Hollidaysburg were seen as potential targets, as were the important iron industries of the region also known as Morrison's Cove.  Without hesitation, the experienced Jacob Higgins was selected for the task.  "To Col. Higgins," telegraphed Couch on June 13, "Can you raise a regiment under my orders?  The danger is imminent and immediate action is required."  On June 15, Curtin issued a proclamation calling for Pennsylvania to organize militias in response to the imminent Emergency.  The next day, Higgins received word from Harrisburg that he was, "...hereby directed to assume command of all the forces posted in the vicinity of Hollidaysburg, and the valley below [Morrison's Cove], and retain it until further orders..."

Morrison's Cove, based on Higgins's own sketched map - Minute Men of Pennsylvania

Col. Higgins quickly began to bring together men from the region.  Having commanded militia units in the Hollidaysburg area for many years before the war, Higgins knew just where to look for brave men to answer the call of "emergency".  Men from the railroad shops of Altoona, and the iron foundry at Duncansville turned out, as did farmers, carpenters, shop keepers, clerks, and miners from every corner of the region.  The officer pool that Higgins had to select from were surprisingly skilled and experienced, and well known by Higgins, since many were former members of the 125th Pennsylvania.  Men like Lt. Col. Jacob Szink, who left his job as foreman of the blacksmith shop at the Pennsylvania Railroad's Altoona Works.  Szink also recruited many of his own shop workers to follow him to Higgins' call.  Other men like Capts. William Wallace and Ulysses Huyett, of Cos. C and A respectfully, and undoubtedly countless more who were ready and willing to drop everything and face Lee's hoards once again.  A large group of 125th veterans organized in Mt. Union (in eastern Huntingdon County), under the command of their former Major, John J. Lawrence, who was now made Colonel of the 46th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.  The 46th would later end their "emergency" service in Philadelphia, where Harrisburg was afraid draft riots would break out just as they had in New York City.   

Capt. Wallace
Lt. Col. Szink

While Higgins estimated that the force he was able to bring together numbered approximately 1,400 men, that number would ebb and flow over the course of the "emergency".  Higgins' troops were never officially mustered into state or federal service, and were, in fact, completely free to come and go as they pleased, just as the "Minute Men" of the Revolution.  During periods when it appeared that the region was most threatened by the Rebels' advance, Higgins' ranks would swell with men, ready to protect their homes, no matter how many of the enemy they might face.  For a brief time, a battalion of Emergency militiamen from Johnstown, commanded by William McCartney, former Lt. Col. of the 133rd Pennsylvania, arrived in Altoona and marched through Morrison's Cove.  McCartney's force quickly returned to the defenses of Johnstown when fears rose that the Rebels would soon be within striking distance of the city.  At the height of the invasion into Fulton, Bedford, and Blair Counties, it is thought that Higgins' force reached nearly 2,500 men.  
Once men began to assemble into Higgins' force, he quickly put them to work.  Using the abundant trees and large boulders of the mountainous region, Higgins' men constructed crib barriers, filled with stone, approximately eight feet wide and seven feet high, at the vital mountain passes and streams that could be used by the advancing Rebels.  "We need...Chains, Ropes & Axes," wrote one of Higgins's Captains, "By building fires we can work most of the night.  Send on fresh men as fast as possible.  Even in small squads they can be put to work at once."  At other locations, they dug systems of trenches, which can still be seen today along side Lower Snakespring Rd, north of Everett (noted as the 'Snakespring Gap Fort' on Higgins map).  Today, the spot is marked by a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker

remnants of trenches at Snakespring Gap - Google Street View

Sometime around June 17, while the hastened defensive construction in the passes continued, Higgins ordered Lt. Col. Szink to move south from Altoona and Hollidaysburg with a force of roughly 400 men, towards Bedford.  This force under Szink would push south and east toward the direction of the oncoming enemy.  On their march, Szink came upon some of Milroy's forces still making their exhaustive journey northward toward Altoona.  Szink's brave band constructed small fortifications and road blocks all along the way.  Being the veteran that he was, Higgins must have realized that if the Rebel army was indeed moving on Altoona, Szink's force would be no match for the oncoming hordes.  However, rather than sit in the mountain passes and wait for the waves of gray to crash up the slopes, a strong reconnaissance was necessary. 

Word soon reached the Rebel army marching in the Cumberland Valley, that fortifications were being constructed in the mountains to the west.  Confederates under Gen. George Hume Steuart started on the roads headed west toward Mercersburg, and McConnellsburg [roughly 40 miles east of Bedford] to determine who was defending the passes.  On June 24, a very small, joint force of Milroy's cavalry, and a squad of militia men [many former members of Higgins' 125th PA] under Capt. William Wallace startled a detachment of Rebel cavalry, that was sent to probe the mountain passes above McConnellsburg.  Cautiously the next day, Steuart's infantry searched the mountainside for the phantom Union force that had fired on the Rebel horsemen.  Wallace managed to retreat north to Fort Littleton, and Szink, who had also marched to McConnellsburg, had been able to escape back to the safety of the fortifications at Bloody Run.  The quick confrontation helped slow the advance of the Confederates, who regrouped after the attack by the unknown enemy force, of unknown strength.  

Over the next several days, Higgins continued to have his men construct fortifications, while he did all in his power to turn out more men for his force, as well as secure supplies for the defense of the region.  On the 28th of June, another wave of rebels entered the region, under the command of Gen. John Imboden.  However, Imboden's cavalry troopers were surprised and run off by another small group of Milroy's cavalry, and mounted militiamen.  Though Higgins' did not know it at the time, this small skirmish would be the last Southern push into the region.  As word that the Union army was fast approaching the Rebel army, and without the vital reconnaissance of Jeb Stuart's cavalry, Gen. Robert E. Lee began to concentrate his forces east of the Cumberland Valley.  Days later, on July 1, the opening shots of the great Battle of Gettysburg would change, for the better, the military landscape for Higgins, and the region he bravely defended.  

Morrison's Cove, looking North, with Loysburg Gap in the distance - Butch Rasmussen

With the defeat of Lee and his army, and their retreat back into Virginia, came and end to the "Emergency."  Higgins, and his men, soon returned to the homes they so quickly rushed to defend. 

As eventful as Higgins' story had been so far, the closing of the Gettysburg Campaign did not at all bring an end to his involvement in the war.  In early 1864, he helped raise what would become the nucleus of the 22nd Pennsylvania Cavalry, and would lead them in battles and skirmishes in West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.  Several times, Higgins was placed in command of the brigade in which the 22nd was a part, as well as the cavalry division of Gen. Julius Stahel.  Higgins was finally mustered out of service on July 21, 1865.

After the war, Higgins worked closely with Cambria Iron Co. in Johnstown.  He also ran the Henrietta Hotel, in Henrietta, PA.  Remaining active with his fellow veterans, Higgins was also a  member of the local G.A.R. post.  

In 1888, on the 26th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, Higgins, and other survivors of the 125th Pennsylvania, returned to site of their first fight; to remember comrades, to recall past glories, and to find meaning in an event so terrible.  To commemorate the occasion, the veterans present had their photograph taken behind the now famous Dunker Church, site of the 125th's "baptism of fire". 

History of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers

At the right of the image can be seen a 62 year old Higgins, on horseback, just as he would have been as he lead his men into battle exactly 26 years before.

Jacob C. Higgins passed away on June 1, 1893, and was buried in Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown, PA.  In 1921, the last remaining veterans of the 125th placed a memorial stone at Higgins' grave, illustrating that nearly 60 years after the events, and 33 years after his death, Jacob Higgins was still beloved and remembered for the life of service and bravery he rendered to his country, his state, his home, and his comrades. 

photo by annie -

(memorial inscription)
1861          1865
In Honor of
A Mexican War Veteran
Colonel of the
One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth
Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
in the War for the Union
and the Brave Young Men 
Who Served with Him from
Blair Huntingdon and
Cambria Counties

(to "meet" other militiamen, click here)

"125th Pennsylvania Volunteers Organization and Service", accessed 20 December 2011. available from; Internet.

"22th Cavalry Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers". accessed 28 December 2011. available from; Internet.

Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania volunteers, 1861-5 : prepared in compliance with acts of the legislature. Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.   

Burgess, Milton V. Minute Men of Pennsylvania. Martinsburg, PA: Morrison Cove Herald, 1962.

"Col Jacobs Higgins' Official Report", accessed 20 December 2011. available from; Internet.

Karns, Rev. C. W. Historical Sketches of Morrisons Cove. Altoona, PA: Mirror Press [originally printed in the Altoona Mirror], 1933. 

Regimental Committee, The. History of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers 1862-1863. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1906.

Storey, Henry Wilson. History of Cambria County Pennsylvania, vol. II. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1907.

United States War Department. The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. XXVII, Part III. US Government Printing Office, 1889.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Meet a Militiaman: Jacob C. Higgins (part I)

In 1826, Jacob Higgins was born in Williamsburg, PA, in what would later become part of Blair County.  Growing up in a rugged, mountainous region of the state, and coming from an ancestry of "hardy stock", Higgins learned early many of the characteristics of toughness, and independence.

"My father's side of the house," wrote Higgins, "came from the North of Ireland.  My mother's side came from Germany.  My mother died when I was seven years old.  My father died a year or two after and I was left penniless and to shift for myself as best I could.  I worked on a farm for a while for my victuals and clothes, then I got a few dollars per month, and finally went to the carpenter trade and worked at that until the Mexican War broke out."

With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, Higgins soon joined "the Wayne Guards", Co. M of the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry in 1847.  Heading to their muster point at Pittsburgh, Higgins and his company floated along the Pennsylvania Canal, until reaching Hollidaysburg.  Here they boarded the famous Allegheny Portage Railroad, and rode it's series of incline planes up and over the rugged terrain of Blair and Cambria Counties, arriving at Johnstown.  From here, the Co. once again boarded canal boats for the final leg of their journey to Pittsburgh, where they would be sworn into Federal service, organized with the rest of the 2nd Regiment, and shipped off to the seat of war in Mexico, where they would fight in the army of Gen. Winfield Scott.

Jacob Higgins, ca. 1860 - Minute Men of Pennsylvania

While on picket duty one night, in the Sierra Madres, Higgins had a memorable run-in with a "local":
"I was quietly seated on the little knoll and no enemy appeared to be near me except the frisky mosquito, but all of a sudden some wild animal appeared in the forks of the road.  It looked to me to be about six feet long.  I at once cocked my gun and the click of the lock attracted the attention of the animal as it squatted down and then in one bound leaped across the road and disappeared.  I afterwards learned that the animal was a jaguar or American tiger."

Another dramatic moment took place in the small Mexican village of Azotla.  Trying to catch up with a group of his fellow soldiers, who had gone to the village earlier in the day, Higgins entered Azotla and found it deserted.  Entering a store, which was left wide open, Higgins recalled that he, "...heard a noise and on looking behind me saw three large brawny Mexicans standing at the front door with large knives or cutlasses in their hands and two others standing in the back door.  There I was without any arms whatever to defend myself.  I just leaned back against the counter shelf with a sigh of despair and as my eyes dropped down, as it were, I saw a large Mexican sabre lying under the counter unsheathed almost at my feet.  I stooped down, picked it up and walked out from behind the counter in a careless manner, but not a word had been spoken yet by the Mexicans or myself.  But at this time I raised my sabre, pointing up towards the stairs and called out to my comrades, which I knew were not there, to come down.  That threw the Mexicans off their guard and I kept advancing toward the door, swinging the sabre above my head and glancing toward the stair until I got close enough to strike which I did with all the strength I was able to command.  I struck one on the left side of the neck and another on the right side.  One fell to the right and the other the left and the third one jumped out of the way.  I jumped out the door and if ever I did any fast running it was at that time."

By September 1847, Winfield Scott's army had pushed within striking distance of the Mexican capitol, but first had to assault the remaining stronghold at Castle Chapultepec.  Higgins described the charge toward the castle gates: "The grape and canister came down on us thick, not to mention the continual rattle of the musketry which showered us with bullets as thick as hail.  Men were falling all around me, but I escaped unscathed.  Many of the bullets came so close that the wind off them nicked my hair.  I consider that close enough.  Some of the rascals stood until we ran bayonets through them or knocked them out with clubbed muskets.  We found the road strongly fortified and had to charge right up to the mouths of the cannons and turn them on the men that used them until we could reach the city gates.  It was at this point that I was struck on the leg by a splinter off of the gate.  We held our position all night and the next morning we marched into the besieged city.  Here we planted the stars and stripes on the capitol where they now proudly wave."

Lt. Col. Higgins, 1st PA Cav - AHEC
Upon returning home from the war, Higgins began work at the Portage Iron Works, while remaining active in the Pennsylvania Militia.  When the Civil War broke out, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin looked to all able military leaders of the Keystone State.  Higgins became commissioned as Colonel of the 1st Pennsylvania Militia (not to be confused with the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers, which served for three months).  In August of 1861, he raised and lead Co. G, 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, and was soon promoted to Lt. Col.  At the Battle of Drainesville, in December, Higgins personally lead the 1st Pennsylvania in an attack on the town.

In 1862, Higgins resigned from his position in the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, and was soon commissioned as Colonel of the 125th Pennsylvania Infantry, which he also helped raise.  Filled with over 900 men from Higgins' native Huntingdon/Blair County region, the 125th was to serve an enlistment of nine months.  Rushed to the front, the veteran Higgins would lead his "green" regiment into their first battle, the Battle of Antietam, as a part of the Union army's 12th Corps.

125th PA flag - Capital Preservation Comm.
 Just days before Antietam, the 125th was pushed towards the fighting at South Mountain, where they were spectators to some of the carnage of that battle.  The sight of the lifeless body of Union General Jesse Reno, who had been killed during the fight, and was being carried to the rear, was a memorable event for the men of the new Pennsylvania regiment.

Three days later, during the terrible Battle of Antietam, the 125th moved toward the battlefield to support the Union I Corps, already in action early in the morning.  Upon arriving at the gruesome scene that nearly two hours of prior combat had created, Higgins and the 125th advanced into the hotly contested West Woods.  "I gave the command," wrote Higgins in his Official Report, "and my men started forward with a yell, driving the enemy before them and gaining possession of the woods.  Here I took some prisoners whom I sent to the rear."  Soon, however, the overwhelming pressure of rebel reinforcements took it's toll on the 125th.  "[The rebels] continued to advance, when I ordered my skirmishers to rally, and gave the command to commence firing.  A most destructive fire caused the enemy to halt.  I held him here for some time, until I discovered two regiments of them moving around my right, while a brigade charged on my front.  On looking around and finding no support in sight I was compelled to retire.  Had I remained in my position two minutes longer I would have lost my whole command."  Within a very short time, the "green" 125th Pennsylvania suffered 229 casualties.  [to read Higgins' entire Report, click here.]

History of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers

Having been on the march from Harper's Ferry, the 125th was not engaged during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. 

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, in May 1863, after a surprise attack on the Union flank, the 125th helped to rally the shattered troops that were fleeing in confusion.  When their brigade commander, Thomas Kane, was injured, Higgins took command of the brigade and shepherded it through the chaotic battle.  The 125th performed admirably once again, and they, along with the rest of Gen. Geary's 12th Corps division, were one of the last units to leave the field at Chancellorsville.  Their coolness under the stress of battle was personally commended by both Geary and Gen. Henry Slocum, 12th Corps commander.  Within days of the fight, the Regiment was headed back to Harrisburg, having finally reached the end of their nine month enlistment.  The 125th Pennsylvania was officially mustered out of service on May 18, after which time, Higgins returned home to Duncansville, where he resumed his work at the Portage Iron Works. 

However, as events unfolded that summer, Higgins would soon be marching off to war again, but this time the march wouldn't be nearly as far.

(read Part II here)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

New National Park: Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the chance to take a short trip over to Paterson, NJ to visit America's newest National Park site; Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.   Anyone who knows me, knows that that I have always had a love for our National Parks, and all they do to protect and interpret our natural and cultural past.  So, I certainly couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit a "new" Park.

Paterson Great Falls - Dave Maher

As a native of the Garden State, I was aware of the Falls, but I had never before visited them, or knew of its, and Paterson's prominent role in the birth of the industrial might of the United States.  In the earliest days of the nation, Alexander Hamilton saw the importance of the water power that could be harnessed by the 77ft drop (2nd highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River), by creating the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.).  He realized that to become truly independent from Great Britain, the United States would have to have the industry in place to create what it needed to thrive.  Soon, mills, power plants, and other industries sprung up near the Falls, making the growing city of Paterson a true powerhouse.  Due to the abundance of silk mills near the Falls, Paterson soon became nicknamed "the Silk City."

However, it wasn't just silk that was produced there.  In the 1830s, Samuel Colt's first production facility was located along the Passaic River, near the falls.  It was here that the very first models of his revolving hand gun would be produced.  The Colt plant is largely in ruins today, but there are plans to stabilize and reconstruct some portions, as well as turn other parts into an archaeological "park within a park."  [The Colt Mill was placed on Preservation New Jersey's "Most Endangered" List in 1995]  During the Civil War, steam locomotives were produced in Paterson at a staggering rate of nearly one per day.  In 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, Engine No. 119 (on the right of the image below), which was built by the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works in Paterson, was present at the "Golden Spike" ceremony, marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. 

"Golden Spike" ceremony -

In 1967, the Great Falls was named as a National Natural Landmark.

In 1976, a part of Paterson, including the Falls, became a National Historic Landmark.

In 1977, the raceway and power systems at the Falls were named as a National Civil Engineering Landmark.

And finally, in 2009, a commission was established to include the Great Falls into the nation's remarkable National Park system.  In November of 2011, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park was officially designated.  Over the next several years, the National Park Service, and the community will plan for the park's interpretation and conservation, and make it one of the NPS's "must see" parks.  The city of Paterson, hoping to experience a tourism boom, is very excited to share their Falls with the rest of the world.

Currently there are no Park staff on site, and signage and interpretation are limited, but if you ever find yourself driving I-80 in NE New Jersey, make a quick stop and visit this great collection of industrial history and natural beauty.

Also, be sure to check out nearby attractions such as Hinchcliffe Stadium [which was placed on Preservation New Jersey's "Most Endangered" list in 1997, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Most Endangered Historic Places" list in 2010], and the statue to Paterson native Lou Costello

Please check out these related links:
Paterson Friends of the Great Falls
Paterson Museum

A news story from 2009 about the Great Falls

A video of the Nov 7, 2011 dedication, and the behind the scenes story of making a National Park site

A video I put together of some of the pics and video I took during my visit to the Great Falls

Friday, December 9, 2011

"It's a beautiful day in Pennsylvania!"

As we get further into the holiday season, the spirit of traditions, customs, and memories of holidays past can be seen and heard everywhere.  As an American Studies student, and a transplanted Pennsylvanian, I have always loved learning about the traditions and cultures of all the small tucked away nooks and crannies of the Keystone State (which there are plenty!).

Every month or so, the Pennsylvania State Archives offers a small sampling of audio clips from Pennsylvania's own Pete Wambach, and his radio shorts, "It's a Beautiful Day in Pennsylvania!"  Like Charles Kuralt, who roamed the nation, Wambach takes listeners on a journey across the fascinating landscape of Pennsylvania, introducing them to local stories along the way, using an entertaining blend of anthropology, ethnography, history, tourism, and just plain curiosity.

Airing from 1964 to 1985, Wambach's radio broadcasts now have a home in the State Archives.  This month, archivists have posted a collection of holiday themed broadcasts that highlight everything from Pennsylvania German's early use of Christmas trees, to Ambridge, PA's snow shovel riding championships.

Now, I know it's not necessarily Civil War related (although he has done many programs on the topic), but take a few moments to explore this "beautiful day in Pennsylvania," and don't forget to check the State Archives' website often for new audio clips.

Listen here.
(read about Wambach and his radio program at the top of the page)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Antietam Memorial Illumination - 2011

After several attempts in past years (thanks to illnesses and weather), I was finally able to attend Antietam National Battlefield's Memorial Illumination on December 3.  Along with July's 'Salute to Independence' event, and of course Battle Anniversary weekend, the Illumination is a must attend for any Civil War, National Park, or history buff alike.

For the past 23 years, over one thousand volunteers gather in early December, to carefully place 23, 110 luminaries throughout the northern portion of the battlefield.  Each flame represents a casualty from the bloody, one day battle.  As darkness ascends, and droves of park visitors slowly drive through the battlefield, the scale of 23,110 human casualties becomes clearer.  Each curve in the tour road, and the cresting of a hill offers another stunning view.

Staying late into the night with my camera, I walked along the rows of luminaries as the tour roads became more and more still, before finally heading home.  Another amazing weekend at our National Parks.

Please enjoy a sampling of some of my photographs from this weekend (below), as well as photographs taken by the National Park Service's Capital Region Social Media Team: here and here

photo by Dave Maher

photo by Dave Maher

photo by Dave Maher

photo by Dave Maher

photo by Dave Maher

photo by Dave Maher

photo by Dave Maher

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The 130th Pennsylvania

Having lived and studied in the small Cumberland Valley town of Shippensburg, I have always been drawn to the stories of the 130th Pennsylvania Infantry.  Nearly six full companies of the Regiment hailed from farms and communities within Cumberland County, including Company D, which was raised right in the heart of Shippensburg.  Much of the remainder of the 130th was organized in neighboring York County.

flag of the 130th PA - Capitol Preservation Committee
Raised in the late summer of 1862, the 130th was one of fifteen Pennsylvania regiments (122nd to 137th Regiments) organized to serve an enlistment period of nine months.  Even though many earlier Cumberland County men had enlisted for three years with the famed Pennsylvania Reserve Corps, and had already seen many grand battles, the men of the 130th would not be left out.  Those short nine months would take the 130th through some of the War's most terrible battles.  Antietam, where they doggedly battled the Rebels in the Sunken Road.  Fredericksburg, where they took part in the bloody and hopeless assaults on the enemy position at Marye's Heights.  Chancellorsville, where they helped solidify the Union flank after a surprise attack by Stonewall Jackson sent thousands of Union troops fleeing in fear and confusion.

The story of the 130th fits in well with the story of Pennsylvania's Emergency Men.  A month before Lee's movement northward, into Maryland, which triggered the "Emergency" in Pennsylvania, the 130th marched off to war.  With Harrisburg a perceived target, and the Cumberland Valley a natural highway for the Rebel troops, one can imagine that the minds of the men in the 130th traveled back to the homes they left behind.  The organizing of the Emergency Militia in defense of the Commonwealth may have helped put the 130th's mind at ease, but as they took part in the pursuit of the Rebel army through Maryland and into the southern portion of the Cumberland Valley, one would expect that their determination was at its height.

As chance would have it, the 130th's first battle was Antietam, the bloodiest single day in American history.  The men of the Regiment were no doubt unsure of what awaited them that September day, but by the end of battle, the 130th had held strong, and proved themselves veterans.  Forty six members of the Regiment were killed, 132 were wounded.  They did their part in ensuring the safety of their homes and loved not far to the north.

Nine months later in June 1863, after the 130th returned home, Robert E. Lee and the Rebel army once again threatened the peaceful Cumberland Valley by pushing north.  In fact, when part of Confederate General Robert Rodes' Division occupied Shippensburg, they pillaged the home of the Captain of Co. D, James Kelso, once word spread that a former Union officer lived there.  Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin once more called for the creation of a force of "Emergency Militia".  Scores of men who had recently returned home from service in a "nine month regiment" answered the call.  Since these men had military/combat experience, many were given higher rank and authority in the newly formed militia units, as they marched off to fight for their homes.

As a student of the Maryland Campaign, and an adopted son of the Keystone State, something has always interested me about the stories of Pennsylvania's nine month regiments.  While six of these regiments saw fighting during the Battle of Antietam, the 130th has always had a special place in my thoughts.  Perhaps it is the fact that I lived among the same towns, roads, and farms they once knew.  Or, maybe it is the fascinating loss of innocence that raw, 'green' troops experience the moment they fire their rifles at an enemy, or the first time they witness a comrade struck down in battle.  Either way, to best understand these men, it is best to hear their stories, thoughts, and memories in their own words.  Below are a few such voices.

Speaking to an audience in 1894, at the Capt. Colwell G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) post in Carlisle, 1st Lt. John Hays, formerly of the 130th Pennsylvania, Co. A, documents the Regiment's journey towards their "baptism of fire" at Antietam; a mere month since they enlisted.
"On Sunday, August 17, 1862, [the Regiment] was finally armed and equipped, and on Monday, August 18, it was carried in open cars over the Northern Central Railroad to Baltimore.  On its march through the city, though it met with some scowling looks, it was complimented on its fine appearance, and the First Sergeant of Company A received a beautiful wreath as a mark of admiration for his manly, soldierly bearing, or for the fine appearance of the command to which he belonged.  After reaching the station of the Washington Branch of the B. and O. Railroad, the Regiment was taken to the rooms of the Union Relief Committee and given a good supper.  Late at night it left Baltimore and arrived at Washington early the next morning."

Pvt. Edward Spangler
Pvt. Edward Spangler of Co. K, then sixteen years old, remembered leaving Washington bright and early that morning, writing in his 1904 memoir, "at daylight we got our first view of the white marble Capitol.  We had never before seen an edifice so large, noble, majestic and imposing in appearance.  Its present lofty dome, with its tiers of columns, beautiful ornamentations, its summit surmounted by the colossal statue of Liberty, was then erected only a score of feet above the adjacent wings, with a huge crane projecting from the opening.  After breakfast, the regiment with colors flying moved under a hot sun up Pennsylvania Avenue, unpaved and full of ruts, down to Long Bridge spanning the Potomac, which we crossed..."

Describing the 130th's march out of Washington, Lieutenant Hays adds that, "...[the regiment] marched down Pennsylvania Avenue and over the Long Bridge into Dixey's land to take its stand against the army of the Rebellion.  Marching down the avenue and across the city, the "Hallelujah Chorus" was started by some of the boys and when joined in by the whole regiment, nine hundred strong, it became a volume of sound that made the windows rattle and stirred the hearts of Union men in the Capital City.  Early in the afternoon of that day it reached Division Camp Welles, beyond Arlington Heights and became part of the force under General Casey, then in charge of the fortifications near Washington."

While in camp near Arlington, Co. K was ordered to stand guard around the impressive property, once home to Robert E. Lee.  Edward Spangler noted that the buildings of the estate were, "...surrounded by venerable trees, consisted of a large and stately brick structure with slave quarters and stables.  From the ample porch with its immense Colonial columns, we had a picturesque view of the Capitol City.  The old portraits of the Custis and Lee families were still hanging on the parlor walls.  The interior architecture in Mrs. Custis' time, was a perfect reproduction of an aristocratic Virginia interior of a century ago.  All about the place had the aspect of antiquity and former wealth and ease.  It was rumored that our company was detached to perform guard duty at Arlington during our entire term of service.  To this we emphatically demurred, as we had enlisted to fight the enemy, and not to protect from spoilation the property of the great Confederate chieftan."

The 130th would remain near Arlington until August 27th, when the Regiment marched off towards their next encampments.  For many of the men in the 130th, marching mile after mile was difficult and daunting.  The march for these new recruits was made all the more worse by the blistering heat of that late summer in northern Virginia.  Private Edward Spangler noted that the day, "...was very hot and sultry, and the marching with our heavy clothing and accoutrements very fatiguing.  Many were exhausted and fell out of the ranks before half the distance was compassed."  Writing home to his brother, Elijah Daihl, of Co. D remarked of the heat and spoiled landscape, "This Cutry [Country] is like a Desert I don't know what the rebbl wants with it now nor what any body els wins wit it I wouldn't live here for any thing but for to fight the rebbles for I intend to fight them till they kill me or els I kill them."  Hays noted that the Regiment arrived, "...there with hardly two hundred and fifty men out of over nine hundred, because of the almost intolerable dust and heat." 

During the devastating Union defeat at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, the 130th was marched back to Washington where it became part of the "reserve army corps of the Potomac."  "The terrific cannonading sounded to us like the continuous detonations of distant thunder.  We were anxious to know the result of the battle, and had not long to wait, for, on the second day after, along came the retreating Army of the Potomac [and the Army of Virginia], dust-laden, ragged and weary," wrote Spangler.

1st Lt. John Hays

The following week, Hays and the rest of the 130th Pennsylvania were "...ordered to take three days rations, canteens, blankets and overcoats, and join General Sumner's Corps at Rockville, Maryland.  Leaving a guard in charge of its camp and baggage, it marched over the Chain Bridge through Tenallytown to Rockville where on September 9th, with the 14th Connecticut and 108th New York Regiments, it was formed into the Second Brigade, commanded by Col. Dwight Morris, 14th Conn. of the 3rd Division, Gen. Wm. H. French, of the Second Army Corps, Gen. Edwin V. Sumner."

The added weight of blankets, overcoats, and other equipment on their first march with the Army was more than some could bare.  Spangler noted that, "...all superfluous clothing was doffed, and both sides of the highway were strewn with overcoats, knapsacks and other implements.  We had no tents, and our only covering at night thenceforward were thin woolen blankets...[which] were rolled up in the form of a scarf, tied together at the ends and worn from the left shoulder to the right side."  Hays adds that, "without tents and with scanty rations, the men slept on the ground and satisfied their hunger with hard-tack, green corn and apples.  A foraged potato, half roasted, was a delicacy, and meat had become almost a dream.  Time was precious and the march was too hurried and the confusion too great to keep up the supply of rations or even to cook them at all times."

Continuing their arduous march on September 13th, through stifling heat and choking dust, Spangler and the rest of the 130th, "...crossed a commanding range of hills...  We beheld the church-spired city of Frederick and the broad, fertile and opulent valley of the Monocacy, shut in by low mountains of surpassing grace and outline, with all nature abloom, - a scene in the fierce sunlight of enchanting beauty."  Once in the city, Spangler experienced a heart warming welcome from throngs of happy citizens.  Upon entering the city, "...with full brigades with all the pomp of war and past the Army Commander [McClellan] and glittering staff, the streets resounding with applause, amounted to an ovation.  The stars and stripes...were now unfurled and floated to the breeze.  Ladies, dressed in their best, waved their handkerchiefs and flags.  The populace cheered to the echo, tokens of a most cordial welcome, and supplied water and refreshments to the thirsty and hungry men.  Their smiles and tears of gratitude and joy, attested their loyalty to the Union in no uncertain degree."  Such a reception was a rare occurrence, especially for Union army veterans who were more accustom to the shuttered windows, jeers, and cold shoulders received while marching through towns in the South.  The patriotic display did much to raise the hearts of soldiers, whether veteran or untested, as in the case of the 130th.     

McClellan entering Frederick, MD - Library of Congress

The next day, the 130th Pennsylvania would get their first view of battle, albeit from a distance.  Hays remarked that, "on that beautiful Sunday afternoon, the 14th of September, 1862, when that battle [of South Mountain] was being the distance could be seen puffs of smoke rising from the mountain side and from its summit, and the dull sound of battle could be heard."  All day long, the men of the 2nd Corps were "start and stop" marched toward the passes on South Mountain at Turner's and Frostown Gaps.  Each stop brought rumors of Union victory and an end to the fighting, and with them, the men of the 130th prepared to bivouac for a much needed rest.  However, each time, "camp fires had been made, tin cups of coffee put on [the fire], and green corn placed on the coals to cook for supper...the order to advance was given, and at the double quick, away they had to go, three of four miles across the country, plunging down steep hills, falling into streams of water hidden in the darkness, until the battle field of South Mountain was neared and the noise of the conflict had died away and the battle was over."  Edward Spangler remembered of the exhausting ordeal that, "it fell to the unfortunate lot of our and other companies to be stationed in a meadow entirely too soggy to recline upon for much needful rest and slumber.  Fatigued, weary and almost famished, we were compelled to stand in this uninviting spot for hours."  

Soon, the men of the 130th would have their first taste of a Civil War battlefield, but probably not in the way many anticipated.  There in the dim light, remembered Hays, "...could be seen a long line of men resting quietly along the road, and beside them the wearied men of the 130th laid down to rest for an hour or two until early dawn, they were again roused to find that the tired men beside them were those gathered from the field whom the battle had put to sleep forever, and then on to the base of the mountain where still lay some who had been missed by their comrades."  John Hemmingen (or Hemminger), a Private in Co. E, "awoke and found where [he] had lain a human foot and fingers, that had been sacrificed for or against the Union cause."  For young Edward Spangler, a similar experience forever burned in his memory:  "The first evidence I saw of the conflict was a dead cavalryman, evidently a courier.  He was shot through the head, and his blood-covered face and glassy eyes made a ghastly sight.  He was the first dead soldier I saw, and it was by no means a pleasing spectacle.  As I reached the crest of [South Mountain],...hundreds of dead Union and Confederate soldiers covered the ground, denoting the violence of the contest."

The next morning, John Hays and the 130th made a "...weary march...over the mountain, through Boonesboro and Keedysville, across the [Little] Antietam [Creek], until at night a halt was made in the rear of the hill that overlooked the ground to be made historic by the efforts of the contending heroes.  There, during Monday night, all of Tuesday and Tuesday night, lay the Regiment with its, and other commands, old and new, and learned on [Wednesday] the never to be forgotten whiz and ringing bang of bursting shells.

Wednesday morning brought the terrible Battle of Antietam; the 130th Pennsylvania would be "green" no longer.

130th Pennsylvania monument at Antietam - Dave Maher

Armstrong Jr., Marion V. Unfurl Those Colors!: McClellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania volunteers, 1861-5 : prepared in compliance with acts of the legislature. Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.  

Carman, Ezra. The Maryland Campaign of September 1862. Vol. 1, South Mountain. ed. Thomas G. Clemens. New York: Savas Beatie, 2010.

Daihl, Elijah McGee. letter to brother Rueben. accessed 27 November 2011. available from:; Internet.

Hays, John. The 130 Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam. An address delivered June 7, 1894, before Capt. Colwell Post 201 G. A. R. Carlisle, PA: Herald Printing Co., 1894.

Spangler, Edward W. My Little War Experience. York, PA: York Daily Publishing Co., 1904.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Archive Find: "My name is Mrs. L. M. Ferman and am a soldier"

Lately, I have been drawn in several directions, on many research topics and projects.  When sifting through hundreds of archived records and other fascinating documents; one is bound to become sidetracked by an interesting photograph, a grabbing headline, or an eyebrow raising quote. 

Recently, while perusing the collections, at the Pennsylvania State Archives, my eyes came upon the intriguing quote seen in the title of this post.  Reading on, I became fascinated by the story of one "Mrs. L. M. Ferman".   

A family goes to war - Library of Congress, via

Writing to Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, Mrs. L. M. Ferman offer fascinating glimpses into the life of a woman "gone to war", who eventually finds herself caring for the sick and wounded in a Washington hospital.  While many women did follow their husbands into the army, their stories are not always as well known as their armed counterparts.  Mrs. Ferman's story reminds us of both the physical and mental hardships that these women suffered side by side with their husbands, and, as in the case of L. M. Ferman, with their patients as well.  Stories, letters, and voices like Mrs. Ferman's compliment the stories of battles and soldiers, and help paint a more rounded and vivid picture of the human tragedy that was the American Civil War.

Sept 18th 1862
Honorable Sir
Will you spare one moment of your limited time to read a few lines from a stranger altho I have had the Honor of seeing you that was on the 26th of last February at Camp Curtin Harrisburg Pa.  you may think strange of my addressing you, the Governor of the state of Penn. however I take the liberty to do so.  My name is Mrs. L. M. Ferman and am a soldier.  I enlisted with my husband one year ago the 10 of this month.  I have seen some hard time marching from place to place.  We belong [to] the 111 Penn Vol. [Pennsylvania Volunteers]  We belong in Crawford Co Penn. we camped at Camp Read Erie Pa. until the 25th of last Feb when they were ordered to Baltimore on our way we campt at Camp Curtin.  I remember it was bitter cold.  Our regiment was presented with a beautiful flag by Gov. Curtin.  We came on to Baltimore + campt at Camp McKim.  While then my husband was sick.  he was Seargant but they thought proper to detach him for the Hospital therefore put him + myself in the Hospital together.  I am the daughter of the 111 P.V. [Pennsylvania Volunteers]  When we were ordered to Harpers Ferry I was in the General Hospital then nurseing takeing care of the sick + wounded.  I left my home for the purpose of doing my duty to my Country in takeing care of the sick + wounded.  Therefore I wish to do all I can for  them  the poor sufferers my heart aches for them.  We are in the Georgetown College Hospital.  My husband is to work as a Wound Dresser, and of the best kind, and I am here with him and have no posision.  For in this place nurses have their appointment from Authority of those that have power to appoint nurses – therefore will you grant to me a situation as nurse.  You wil not only confer a great favour but the Almighty will Bless you.  I hear from a Lady that has just came through Harrisburg that you are one of the kindest Gov. that ever lived.  At any rate I suppose I can stay with my husband where he is in any Hospital.  Please tel me if I can.  We came here from Gen Hospital Harpers Ferry to this place the 26th of Aug.  could not get to our Reg. [Regiment] on account of this late [2nd] Battle of Bull Run.  We had our baggage marked for our Reg. but could not get them.  We have lost every thing we had to ware.  I have no clothes for a change and am entirely out of funds.  Therefore I wish to go to work for I must be going something.  My husband wil not get any money this 2 months.  I cannot be idle. No way.  I have been here one week in this hospital and have worked every day.  But I want a permanent situation.  Please write immediately.  Direct to my husband G. C. Ferman[1]  Georgetown College Hospital D.C.  there is other ladies here and more are needed

[written in the top margin of the third page]
P.S. I have a recommend from the Church but it is in my trunk and lost with the rest of my things therefore I wil send you one from our Reg that are wel acquainted with me at home.

[written along the left edge of the third page]
The Dr that takes charge here.  His name is Brown.

[written along the right edge of the third page]
Your most obedient servant  Mrs L M Ferman

[1] Samuel Bates’ History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865  lists George C. Ferman as a Private of Co. E, 111th Pennsylvania Infantry.  He enlisted for 3 years on November 22, 1861, but was discharged on Surgeon’s Certificate, March 14, 1863.

Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania volunteers, 1861-5 : prepared in compliance with acts of the legislature. Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869. 

Ferman, Mrs. L.M. Letter to Governor Curtin, September 18, 1862. Pennsylvania State Archives, Record Group 19, Office of the Adjutant General, Series 19.29, General Correspondence.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Meet a Militiaman: Daniel Nagle

In 1846, at the age of 18, Daniel Nagle marched off to war, for the first time, as a drummer in the Washington Artillery, a company raised in Pottsville, PA, and commanded by his older brother James.  Assigned to the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Nagle's company saw considerable action during the Mexican War. 

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, 15 years later, Daniel Nagle once again joined his older brother James as they marched off to answer President Lincoln’s call for troops just days after the rebel attack on Fort Sumter.  This time Daniel was commissioned as Captain of Co. D, 6th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, while brother James became the regiment's Colonel.  The 6th was organized to serve for a term of three months, which was spent in western Virginia, under the command of General Robert Patterson.  Although Patterson's force was a factor in McDowell's campaign of July 1861, they did not take part in the 1st Battle of Bull Run.  By late July, the enlistments for Nagle and the men of the 6th had run out, and they were soon transported to Harrisburg where they were mustered out of service. 

Daniel Nagle, ca.1862-63 - photo courtesy of John Hoptak
Nagle would not stay long back at home, for in September of 1861, Daniel became Captain of Co. D 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, after raising the company from men of his hometown of Pottsville.  After spending about a month organizing and training at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, the 48th was sent off to war, where they would serve admirably with Gen. Ambrose Burnside during his successful campaign along the North Carolina coast.  In November, Daniel was promoted to Major, and joined his brother James, the 48th's Colonel, among the commanding officers of the regiment.  However, in July of 1862, Nagle resigned from his position in the 48th. 

Just as before, Daniel Nagle would not stay long back at home.  A little over a month after returning home, General Robert E. Lee began to push his army northward through Maryland, threatening Pennsylvania.  On September 10, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin called out the “Emergency Militia” to defend the Commonwealth against rebel invasion.  Daniel Nagle once again stepped forward, and was commissioned as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 19th Pennsylvania “Emergency Militia”.  Made up of men from Schuylkill, Carbon, and Luzerne Counties, the 19th was organized at Camp Curtin on September 15th, and forwarded by rail to the Pennsylvania border (It is not clear at this time whether the 19th made it as far as Hagerstown, MD, as did many “Emergency Militia” units, but they certainly were organized early enough to assume they may have encamped with other units gathering around Greencastle, PA.  During the Battle of Antietam on September 17th, militiamen at Greencastle noted the sound of the distant thunder of battle).

After the Union victory at Antietam, and the threat of invasion by Lee, the “Emergency Militia” were ordered back to Harrisburg, and on the 27th of September, Nagle and the rest of the 19th were mustered out of service. 

post-war image (ca. 1880s?)
In case you haven’t already sensed a pattern, Daniel Nagle would not stay long back at home, once again.  In November of 1862, Nagle was appointed as Colonel of the newly created 173rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  The 173rd primarily performed garrison and provost duties while serving it’s nine month enlistment, however, in early July 1863, the 173rd was assigned to the 11th Corps and took part in the pursuit of Lee’s defeated army after the Battle of Gettysburg.  Once back in Virginia, the 173rd played out the rest of its days guarding the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, before being mustered out of service in mid August of 1863.

Daniel Nagle would live to the ripe old age of 90, passing away on January 11, 1918.  He is buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery, overlooking his hometown of Pottsville, PA, with a sizable tombstone worthy of a man who answered the call of his country time and again.     

photo by Russ Dodge -

(to "meet" other militiamen, click here)
Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania volunteers, 1861-5 : prepared in compliance with acts of the legislature. Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869

Bosbyshell, Oliver Christian. The 48th in the War: Being a Narrative of the Campaigns of the 48th Regiment, Infantry, Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, During the War of the Rebellion. Philadelphia: Avil Printing Co., 1895.

Civil War Muster Roll and Related Records, 1861-1866, 19th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia, Records Group (RG) 19, Series# 19.11, Carton 127, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA.

Dodge, Russ. Col Daniel Nagle (1828 - 1918) accessed 16 October 2011, available from; Internet.

Hoptak, John David. The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry... (blog), available from; Internet.

Thompson, Heber S. The First Defenders. 1910.