Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fredericksburg and the 130th PA monument at Antietam

By September 17, 1862, the men of the 130th Pennsylvania had barely been in the Army for more than a month, and were ill-prepared to face the wholesale slaughter that they would experience that day while attacking the rebel position in the Sunken Road during the Battle of Antietam.  Despite being "green", the 130th  performed as well as could be expected for a group of soldiers who had only been trained to load and fire their weapons in the days leading up to the Battle.

The 130th Pennsylvania was sworn into Federal service to serve for a period of nine months.  Antietam, the single bloodiest day in American History, would only be the 130th's first of three battles they would fight in over the coming months.  Their second battle, the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, would continue to test these young soldiers' mettle, and present them with a whole new host of tests of bravery, and horrific sights that they would not soon forget.  Private Edward Spangler, a sixteen year old from York County, would later recall one such sight soon after crossing the Rapahannock River into the City of Fredericksburg: 
There were, "...many dead Confederates along the houses skirting the river.  One dead Confederate especially attracted my attention.  He was in a standing position leaning against the corner of a block-house with his gun in his hands, and all of the head above his mouth was taken off by a shell.  I have read in a magazine an article describing the attitude of soldiers who maintained a life like attitude after death by reason of rigor mortis; but none of these equalled in peculiarity the remarkable standing position of this beheaded soldier."

Pvt. Edward Spangler

"Early the next morning," continued Spangler, "we prepared for battle."  As a regiment in William French's division, the 130th was amongst the very first regiments to charge the strong rebel position on Marye's Heights; the high ground over looking Fredericksburg to the west.  Spangler recalled the events of that day:

"Emerging into the open we were about to deploy in line of battle under a deadly fire, when we encountered a mill-race or canal, from four to six feet deep and fifteen feetwide,which ran clear around the city in the rear."  "It was impassable, except at the few street bridges, some of which had nothing left but stringers over which we had to pass in single file.  It was first discovered in our division by the head of column, and was a most serious and embarassing obstacle, and very disconcerting under a raking storm of projectiles. After crossing, we were compelled for a considerable distance to march by columns of four.  While in this formation a shower of missiles created havoc in our ranks, one of which took off the head of Captain McLaughlin of Company H, scattering the brains over our company. In re-aligning, we had to climb over a rail fence, and as my brother reached the top rail, a cannon ball cut the third rail below, only three feet to my right. A second either way would have been a fatal shot to him, or three feet to the left would have obviated the infliction upon the reader of this common place and unvarnished narrative.  As we came to the slope of the first elevation, we were met with a still more frightful fire of shell, grape and musketry.  The Confederate artillery converged its fire on our hapless division, and our men were stricken down by hundreds.  When we approached the crest of the hill in the immediate front of Marye's Heights we were ordered to lie down. As my haversack was filled to the brother requested me to doff it as it would retard me in charging up the Heights, and I reluctantly complied.  Lying on my left was Eli Myers, formerly a clerk in P. A. & S. Small's store, and on my right was William Clemens, and next to him, Frank.  A bullet knocked off Clements' cap, and a moment later a shell exploded over us, a piece of which violently struck Myers in the back.  I got up to assist in carrying him off the field, but being small, was pushed aside by others equally anxious to get beyond the range of fire, for we all felt that success was a forlorn hope.  The wound proved fatal.  We then moved forward and as we approached the stonewall, rifle pits and redoubts on the Heights, we poured in a heavy volley and charged, but were swept back a short distance by blazing musketry, grape and canister, rising tier after tier, which no troops could withstand.  As we were about to renew the charge the Confederates sprang from their breast works and charged, but were hurled back in confusion. Confederate reinforcements arrived, all veteran marksmen, until  they were four ranks deep and completely sheltered.  These poured forth such an unremitting blast of deadly fire that our regiment again began to waver.  It was then that Colonel Zinn, our heroic commander, seized the regimental flag staff in his left hand, and waving his sword with his right, cried out, "Stick to your standard [flag], boys!  The One Hundred and Thirtieth never abandons its colors; give them another volley!"  The words had scarcely left his lips, when his brain was pierced by a Confederate bullet. He was an intrepid and accomplished officer, a strict disciplinarian, and an adept in tactics, and would, had he lived, have attained high rank." 

130th PA flag

Col. Henry Zinn
Zinn's grave, Mt. Zion Cemetery

Originally from York County, Zinn resided in Churchtown, Cumberland County, with his wife and three children. At the age of 27, Zinn, a teacher, was selected to lead the 130th Pennsylvania.  Zinn became loved and respected by the men of the 130th, and his last brave act would help rally a portion of his regiment, and help them maintain order through the remainder of the hellish fight.  Zinn would leave behind a young wife, Mary, who had already been grieving for the loss of two of her small children, from disease, earlier in the year.  Zinn's final resting place is in the Mt. Zion Cemetery, near Churchtown.

The spring would see the 130th Pennsylvania go into action once again at the Battle of  Chancellorsville, in May of 1863.  By mid June, the regiment's nine month enlistment was over, and many of the men returned home, while others quickly reenlisted with other regiments, to return to the front for the remainder of the war.  Either way, the 130th Pennsylvania had officially completed it's chapter in the history of the American Civil War.   

Forty two years after their "baptism of fire, on September 17, 1904, the surviving veterans of the 130th would return to the Antietam Battlefield to dedicate a monument to their regiment's memory.  It is the regiment's only monument on any of it's three battlefields, so creating a memorable and fitting design would have been very important to the veterans.  Other than a carved stone figure of a young soldier standing at 'parade rest', the veterans chose to adorn their monument with the bronze face of their beloved Colonel Zinn, who had lead them so bravely through Antietam, and who had fallen so tragically at Fredericksburg.  His likeness forever stoically faces forward, toward the enemy lines. 

130th PA monument at Antietam

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

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

No comments: