Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Archive Find: Charley King, 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

"All the rising generation is ruined by the heresy of secession" ~ Worthington G. Snethen

Recently, I have been spending time transcribing a handful of soldiers’ letters from the Maryland Campaign.  While each one is truly fascinating, and offers a distinct view of the events and actions of that September, one in particular jumped out to me, as it makes mention of a truly tragic episode, among the many, at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

On September 9, 1861, Charles E. “Charley” King, of West Chester, PA, enlisted as a musician with Company F of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  Even though the Muster Roll [see image below] of Charley’s company lists him as being 18 years of age, Charley was in fact only 12 years old.  On the Roll, he was noted as having brown hair, hazel eyes, light complexion, and an occupation of “school boy”.  Undoubtedly, this “school boy” was swept up with patriotic duty, and a sense of adventure, not to mention the $12 a month he would receive, before drumming his company off to war. 

Pennsylvania State Archives
A little over a year later, at the Battle of Antietam, the 49th Pennsylvania was attached to General Winfield Scott Hancock’s brigade, of the Union Army’s 6th Corps.  Arriving in the vicinity of the East Woods, in the northern end of the battlefield, Hancock was tasked with securing the Union position after a 2nd Corps division, under Gen. John Sedgwick, had been flanked in the West Woods by a surprise rebel counterattack, several hundred yards to Hancock’s front.  With Sedgwick’s force shattered and swept from the field, the Confederates continued their push forward.  Hancock ordered his regiments to dash forward in order to break the oncoming enemy force, in order to stop them from over running a lone Union artillery battery, and completely devaste the Union right flank.   

National Park Service - Antietam National Battlefield
Corporal John Woods, a 21 year old in Company G, writing home to Spring Mills on September 22nd,  remembered of the moment:
“We saw the two long lines of battle [on the left] in an open field about 200 or 300 yds apart fighting as hard as a battle can be fought and at the same time the artillery on both sides playing on each other just as fast as the artillerymen could handle themselves.  It would have been a beautiful sight if there had been no one killed or wounded.  We got to our position just in time – it was on a little hill and the rebels and us were doing their utmost to get the position first but we beet[sic] them by a few hundred yards.  Our Batteries were scarcely on the hill till they opened on the rebs and kept them back and such a shelling for a few hours I never heard.”

49th Pennsylvania historian, Sgt. Robert Westbrook, of Company B, noted the desperate pace of the events:
“We were double-quicked in, and in line of battle Colonel Irwin’s orders were, ‘Steady, right dress;’ our lines are good; battery in our rear on a full gallop; we are afraid the rebels will get the position; we move a little to right oblique to make an opening for our battery; up [they] come to the crest and go into position; we support them; the position is ours; now the fighting is very sever on our immediate left; Company C is deployed as skirmishers; General Hancock is ordered to take command of General Richardson’s division, Richardson having been badly wounded today, and he leaves us at once; we kissed the ground to escape the flying missiles; now Colonel Irwin is taken away from us to take command of a brigade, and this leaves Major Tom Huling in command of our regiment; these changes were made in about five minutes, as there was no time to be lost...”
Of the ferocious artillery fire, Cpl. Woods stated that the men, “…had to lay flat on the ground and the rebel shell burst all around us.  Two pieces dropped within two feet of my head and one ball struck the ground a few feet in front and bounded over us and struck a tree back of us.  I felt the wind of it on my foot that had no shoe on."  [suffering from a swollen foot, and unable to wear his boot, Woods had made the march from Washington shoeless]  

It was at this point that Woods makes the simple, but tragic observation that, “…four of our Regt. Wounded and two I think have died since.  One little drummer boy of Co. F[Charley King] was shot through the lungs”.  Sgt. Westbrook added that King, “…fell into the arms of H. H. Bowles, of the Sixth Maine regiment;” a neighboring unit in Hancock’s brigade.

The 49th Pennsylvania would remain in this location for the rest of the day, and all of the next.  When they finally moved forward in order to probe the Confederate lines, and determine their whereabouts, both Woods and Westbrook were startled by the carnage of what was the single bloodiest day in American History.  “We passed over the battlefield the next day and oh! such a sight.  I never saw anything like it before or never want to again.  The fields were just covered with the dead and all the way to the river bodies were strewn along the road,” wrote Woods.  “It was a horrible sight in the road – the dead rebels piled on top of one another, and there was no room to walk.  We took the field to the right, and came on the pike above Sharpsburg,” remembered Westbrook.

After his terrible wounding, Charley King was immediately taken to a hospital in the rear of the lines, where he lingered for three more days before dying on September 20, at the age of 13.  It is not fully clear whether his body was buried on the battlefield, where it still might remain, or whether his father was able to return his son to his native Chester County.  King is widely believed to be the youngest soldier killed during the entire American Civil War.

History of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteers

Civil War Muster Roll, 49th Regiment, Records Group (RG) 19, Series# 19.11, Carton 24 & 25, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA.

John Woods, to Mother, 22 September 1862, Woods Family Collection, Manuscript Group (MG) 188, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA.

Marion V. Armstrong Jr., Unfurl Those Colors!: McClellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2008), 260-261.

Robert Westbrook, History of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteers (Altoona, PA: Altoona
Times Print, 1898), 125.

“Worthington G. Snethen to Winfield Scott, June 29, 1861[transcription],” accessed 29
June 2011; available from; Internet.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Salute to Independence - July 2, 2011

If you haven't yet figured out where to go to see fireworks this 4th of July holiday, fret no longer.  Saturday, July 2nd is the 26th Annual "Salute to Independence" at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD.  Each year the Maryland Symphony Orchestra kicks off their concert season with a patriotic concert right on the battlefield.  With the beauty and serenity of the Cumberland Valley, and the back drop of South Mountain, the concert venue alone makes the trip worth while.  The Orchestra plays for roughly two hours, with a rousing grand finale of the William Tell Overture, accompanied by the thunderous howitzers of the Maryland National Guard.  This classic event regularly draws twenty to thirty thousand spectators, so get there early, and bring some chairs, blankets, and picnic goodies.  This year's weather looks like it will cooperate once again, so come on out.  Proceeds from the event help continue preservation efforts at Antietam.  For more information, check out Antietam National Battlefield's website here.

In the meantime, enjoy a few photos from last year's event.

photo by Dave Maher - 2010

photo by Dave Maher - 2010
photo by Dave Maher - 2010
photo by Dave Maher - 2010
photo by Dave Maher - 2010

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reading, PA Responds to the Emergency

In September of 1862, Louis Richards was a Private in the "5th Ward Guards" from Reading, PA.  Eventually his unit would be sworn into state service as Company G, 2nd Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.  Writing some twenty years after the events of '62, Richards offers us a comical, if not somewhat innocent, view into the ranks of a "green" militia unit, as well as the excitement, patriotism, and fervor that was bubbling over in the streets of Reading, PA.

"The night was one of much activity and excitement.  Drilling was done in Penn Square to the inspiring accompaniment of fife and drum, which gave the town a decidedly warlike appearance.  This exercise was continued daily and nightly until the militia had marched, and at no period during the entire war did military enthusiasm of the people reach a greater height.

In the instruction of the troops, the manual of arms had to be omitted, for there were no guns.  Officers had been hastily selected, and the commands in most cases given to experienced soldiers, whose services were in sudden and great demand.  The fidelity of the men was accepted without any suggestion to the test of an oath.  The companies recruited rapidly, and were not long in filling up to the standard.  Their evolutions, which were conducted to a large extent in the open square, under the cover of darkness, were at times edifying to witness.  As the battalions marched with sturdy tread up and down on either side of the central market-houses, collisions would now and then derange the symmetry of the forces.  Frequent resort to unmilitary language on the part of the commanders was necessary to bring up the laggard platoons, and movements were habitually executed for which no precedent could have been found in either Scott or Hardee [military drill manuals].  But it was patriotism and not tactics that was uppermost in the minds of all, and trifling imperfections of military discipline were, for the moment at least, sunk out of sight in the sense of common danger."

Photograph of Penn Square in Reading, Pennsylvania, ca. 1870.
Historical Society of Berks County

Gayley, Alice J. "Histories of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments," accessed 26 June 2011; available from; Internet.

"Penn Street through the years," accessed 26 June 2011; available from; Internet.

Richards, Louis. Eleven Days in the Militia During the War of the Rebellion; Being a Journal of the "Emergency" Campaign of 1862. Philadelphia: Collins, Printer, 1883.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Meet a Militiaman: Charles Coatesworth Pinckney Rawn

Over the course of this blog, I hope to highlight individual soldiers of the Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.  Being able to attach faces to the names and events of this monumental time period is a powerful way to put one's self directly into the moment, by staring into the faces of those who actually lived it.  As images are uncovered over the course of my research, I will share them here, along with any information about that soldier and the unit he belonged to.  At this time, I am predicting that I will find more images related to men who served during the 1863 Emergency, since they were in service for a month or so, as compared to the majority of the 1862 soldiers, who served for a period of roughly two weeks.  Also, many of the regiments raised in '63 were populated by soldiers who had just returned home from nine months service, and had ample time to be photographed in uniform.  Who knows though, I may be proved wrong.  I can only hope not.

Our first 'Emergency Man', is Charles Coatesworth Pinckney Rawn.

courtesy of the Historical Society of Dauphin County
A resident of Harrisburg, Rawn was considered "one of the leading criminal lawyers of the Dauphin County Bar".  Don't let the gray haired beard fool you.  Before you assume that the above image is a post-war likeness of Rawn, let me tell you that at the time of his enlistment in the Emergency troops (September 11, 1862), Rawn was 61 years old.  What's even more surprising is that Rawn served in the "First City Troops"; Captain Eby Byers' Company of Independent Cavalry.  Spending days on end in the saddle is not the type of service that one would expect someone of Rawn's "vintage" to sign up for.  In fact, many of the 66 troopers on the muster roll of Byers' Company were in their 40s and 50s; Byers himself was 54.  However, Rawn made it a habit to walk, or ride on horseback, through the streets of Harrisburg for an hour each day, staying fit as well as becoming used to the saddle.  Byers' troopers are a great example of the proud and hardy stock of Pennsylvanians who stepped up (or perhaps trotted) to Gov. Curtin's call for state defense.  Many would normally be considered not suitable for federal service, but with an enemy invasion imminent, every man was called upon.

An interesting note about Byers' Company is that upon being mustered out of state service on September 24, 1862, every man in the Troop was paid a due for supplying their own horses.

I had the pleasure several years ago, while in grad school, to become "acquainted" with Charles Rawn.  For a period of roughly 35 years (1830s - 1865), Rawn kept a daily journal.  The majority of this 29 volume journal is in the collection of the Dauphin County Historical Society in Harrisburg.  One of the research projects I worked on was the transcription of a portion of the Rawn journals, which can be read here.  Rawn is a truly fascinating figure in history.  Aside from serving in an Emergency Militia unit, before the war, Rawn led the city's militia outfit,  the "Harrisburg Greys".  He was an ardent abolitionist, and many times defended runaway slaves in court.  He also seemed to know, or have "run ins" with some of the biggest names of the early 19th Century, from Daniel Webster to Simon Cameron to Abraham Lincoln.  In late July, 1861, Rawn traveled to Washington, and northern Virginia, and had a front row seat to the confusion and aftermath of the Battle of Bull Run.

Because I cannot pass up the opportunity to make a couple of Battle of Antietam connections, I must note that while in Washington, Rawn met and discussed the coming war with Gen. Joseph Mansfield.  On the morning of September 17, 1862, Mansfield would be killed while leading the XII Corps through the East Woods and beyond, becoming one of six generals killed during the Battle of Antietam.  Also, while on his Washington trip, Rawn visited his son, Charles Jr., who was an officer in the 7th U.S. Infantry.  Rawn's son would serve with the 7th throughout the Civil War, later fighting Indians on the frontier alongside John Gibbon, who, at Antietam, lead the famed "Iron Brigade" (the Western one) along the Hagerstown Pike and through the bloody Cornfield.  Both Rawn Jr. and Gibbon would witness the grizzly aftermath of the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

Charles Rawn (Sr.), as to be expected, kept track of the events during his two weeks in the Emergency Militia.  His journal entry during this time period will be highlighted at a later time.  I highly recommend reading through his journals, and get a fascinating look through history.

(to "meet" other militiamen, click here)

Barton, Michael. "Introducing Charles Rawn, his Journals, and their Editors," accessed 25 June 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.

Griffin, Dustin, compiler. "Biographical Profile of Charles Coatesworth Rawn, Jr. (1837-1887). in the possession of Dr. Michael Barton, Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg, PA.
The Rawn Collection, MG 062, The Historical Society of Dauphin County, Harrisburg, PA.

Unattached Cavalry Units Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia, RG 19, Series# 19.11, Carton 134, folder 1, Muster-Out Rolls, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Call To Arms!!

Welcome to post #1 of what I hope will be a truly fascinating (not just for the reader) and rewarding study of a topic in history that is generally glossed over in the History books.  Should my discovery of resources run dry by post #3, I will have found out why.

So you may wonder "Why this topic?"  As a Volunteer and Battlefield Ambassador at Antietam National Battlefield, I am constantly studying every aspect of the people, places, and events of September 1862.  Recently, while reading of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's first push north of the Potomac River (the Maryland Campaign), I began to wonder, "What role did the thousands of Pennsylvania Emergency Militia play?"  In the hopes of defending the Commonwealth from possible enemy invasion, thousands of citizen soldiers rushed to answer the call for troops put forth by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin.  What influence, if any, did this mass of armed men have on the strategies of Robert E. Lee, or of his opponent, Gen. George McClellan?

I soon realized, that I didn't know much about this hastily collected military force.  I knew they existed, but not for very long, and I knew they manuevered around Hagerstown, MD during the battle, roughly 10 miles to the north.  When the Militia was called upon again in 1863 to defend their native soil against an enemy force that was, this time, actually tramping Pennsylvania roads, these brave citizens built defensive forts on the hills over looking the Susquehanna River, in order to protect the capital at Harrisburg.  That was, for the most part, all I knew.  So, it was settled, I decided to start digging.  When I wasn't coming up with very much information, I decided that I needed a bigger shovel.  Archives, libraries, and historical societies are now my new homes away from home.

And with that, we come to the blog.  What better way to track my research, while at the same time share long buried stories of the past?  Like many of "Pennsylvania's Emergency Men" who had no military experience prior to marching off from home to protect their state from invasion, I have no blogging experience.  Like many of those brave souls who stood in lines of battle, nervously waiting for an onslaught from a battle hardened foe, I have enlisted for service in the History blogosphere, and am at the mercy of my battle hardened peers.  However, the story of the Pennsylvania Emergency Militia is truly fascinating, worth the telling, and the risk.

I sincerely hope, through my future posts, published articles, and beyond, you will enjoy exploring History along with me.

Check back for my first "real" post this weekend, in which I'll introduce you to an Emergency Militiaman.