HAS A LARGER CIRCULATION, AND IS MORE EXTENSIVELY READ, THAN ANY OTHER PAPER PUBLISHED IN THE ANTHRACITE COAL REGION.
POTTSVILLE, SCHUYLKILL CO. PENNA. SATURDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 18, 1886.
THE NINETY-SIXTH REG’T. ITS ORGIN AND EARLY ORGANIZATION.
A Brief History of the Several Companies - Whence They Came and When They Went Into Camp Schuylkill - Recollections of Capt. John T. Boyle. The Ninety-sixth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, was organized by Colonel Henry L. Cake, at Pottsville, Schuylkill county, Pennsylvania, under authority derived directly from the War Department at Washington, under date of August 12th, 1861. It was one of the regiments thus authorized under the President’s call of July 22, 1861, to serve three years, and which were thereafter by orders from the same source of 28th September, 1861, placed under the control of the Governor of the State.
Pottsville, being the capital of a large and flourishing county; the wealthy centre of the Anthracite coal trade of the State, the nucleus around which gathered a large floating population drawn thither by its collieries and iron manufacturies [sic], easy of access by rail and highways radiating in all directions’ in point of health unrivalled [sic], as thousands of invalids from a distance, who had drawn a new life from its pure mountain air and conglomerate crystal waters could testify to - was selected as the rendezvous, possessing as it did many and superior advantages overall all the proposed localities of the region from which it was designated the material of the regiment should be drawn.
Besides, it’s boasts of a community whose patriotism was as lofty in sentiment and as deep in conviction as was that of the fathers of the Revolution, a population whose footsteps had ever been guided by the light of the constitution, and whose heart had ever throbbed responsive to the music of the Union. Early taught the lessons of the Fracmers [sic] and signers of the Declaration, its leading citizens had been trained in the school of Clay and Webster, and the loyal sentiments enunciated by them had become in their minds fixed and living realities.
These were the reasons why, when the life of the Nation was threatened, a military organization within its limits whose birth was coeval with its own existence had been the very first to, officially, offer its services to the National Government through the Secretary of War and to be accepted by the same; and the wherefore, that, ere the thunder of the first gun fired by the hand of Secession at the walls of Sumpter had died in reverberating echoes among the mountains and vallies [sic] of the North, it had sent forth in the ranks of the National Light Infantry and Washington Artillery two hundred and thirty-four of the four hundred and eighth [sic] two men of immortal memory, who, on the 18th day of April, 1861, passed through the treason-heated furnace of Baltimore, on their way to the defense of the National Capital.
The eastern slope of Lawton’s Hill, an eminence immediately overlooking the borough from the north, commanding from its summit one of the most delightful mountain prospects to be found in this or any other State was selected as the most desirable location for the proposed encampment; and, during the latter part of August, 1861, all the preliminaries having been previously arranged, the National Light Infantry, of Pottsville, an old established military company whose date was coeval with the existence of the town, which, under Captain Edmund McDonald, had been the first company in the United States to officially offer its service to, and be accepted by, the Secretary of War which had but recently returned from the three months service, and which had just been reorganized and recruited for the regiment by Captain Lewis J. Martin, its former Second Lieutenant, marched from its Armory, in Clayton’s building on Centre street, to the hill, pitched tents, posted sentinels, and inaugurated the duties of the new camp.
The infantry was almost immediately followed by the Pottsville Cornet Band, Lieut. Nicholas J. Rehr, leader, number-ing twenty-four pieces; and shortly after, on the 2d of September, by Capt. Peter A. Filbert’s company of Pinegrove sharp-shooters. These two companies whose ranks were full at the time of their going into camp were thereupon constituted the flanking companies, and lettered respectively A and B. Almost simultaneously detachments of men belonging to Companies C, E, and F, raised respectively by Captains Beaton Smith, James Russell and Joseph Anthony, the two first in Schuylkill and Luzerne counties, the latter in Schuylkill, appeared on the hill and were assigned their positions. These were at intervals followed by Company D, Captain John T. Boyle, raised in Schuylkill; Company G, Captain James Dowden, recruited in Berks, Dauphin and Schuylkill counties; Company I, Captain Isaac M. Cake, raised in Schuylkill; Company H, Captain Charles D. Hipple, raised in Schuylkill and Montgomery counties, and Company K, Captain Richard Budd, raised in Schuylkill.
Notwithstanding the difficulties which the organizers had to contend with, which, at the time were so many and trying; so successfully and energetically had they and their friends pushed the work, that on the 23d day of September, 1861, the ten companies with their officers were informally, but in a formal matter, mustered as a regiment into the service of the United States by H.L. Taliaferro, 2d Lieut. 5th Artillery, U.S.A., who had been specially detailed for the purpose. Thereafter, on the first day of October, some thirty men belonging to Captain Wm. H. Lessig’s company, which was being recruited as a battery to be attached to the regiment come on the hill and occupied a plateau below the main camp where they pitched their tents and remained until the ranks were nearly full. This company at first had no letter assigned it but when previous to the regiment leaving Pottsville, on an order of the Governor, Captain Beaton Smith’s, Company C, was transferred to Colonel Dodges, Fifty-Second Regiment, P. V[sic] it took its place and letter and there continued until its term of service expired.
CAMP SCHUYLKILL. The camp was christened Schuylkill in honor of the county which gave it birth, and from the time that the first tent was pitched to the period the last was struck, it presented a busy and animated appear-ance. As the regiment expanded, people from all parts of the county drawn thither through curiosity or to visit their friends or relatives continually thronged its spacious avenue, or sauntered through its commodious streets, and the scenes within its boundaries on a gala day, once seen, was not likely to be forgotten.
Upon their arrival in camp the men were assigned quarters, and supplied by their officers with blankets, knife and fork, tin spoon, plate, and cup, which articles were, in the majority of instances, thereafter charged to their individual clothing and miscellaneous account.
Having thus identified themselves with the regiment they entered immediately upon the duties of their new vocation, and day after day, responded with alacrity to the calls of the company cooks, the commands of the drill sergeants, and the orders of their line officers. The great majority of the men and some of the officers were entirely ignorant of even the rudiments of a soldier’s education, and many and laughable were the mistakes made and blunders committed, as, under the orders of some finished veteran of the three months service, they essayed to attain the correct position of a soldier, to educate their eyes to cast themselves to the right or left at will, to master the mysteries of the facings, the puzzlings of hayfoot, strawfoot, or to unravel the labyrynthian [sic] intricacies of the march.
Often were new or would-be offices placed for the moment in some ridiculous position out of which with the best grace they could, they would have to extricate themselves amid the smiles of their men, or the scarce suppressed titters of the critical bystanders. Notwithstanding these little episodes incident to all new military organizations the officers and men brimful of patriotism and determination soon posted them-selves in the routine of camp life and perfected themselves so far as practicable in the rudiments of drill. Gradually the complicated machinery was adjusted and set in motion and then the war engine moved along over the way of regiments with only those slights jars which pertained to all similar arrangements.
CLOTHING. for a time the men, excepting those who had previously served out an enlistment of three months, were habilitated in their home garb which was as varied as the tastes and fortunes of their possessors and strongly reminded one of the days when militia training were in vogue when our sires toed the curbstones or gutters, and in homespun habits of antiques cuts and weapons of domestic utility went through a manuel [sic] not found in regulations or exercised in evolutions whose brilliancy threw those of the line entirely in the shade. Colonel Cake having been authorized to procure the requisite material to have the command properly uniformed, on account of the great pressure and constant demand and consequent scarcity found it an exceedingly difficult task and it was not until he had searched Philadelphia in vain and New York almost through that he was able to negotiate with a party for a complement of clothing, and when, after much delay, it did come to hand, it was of an inferior quality was as good as could be procured at the time.
CAPS. The first article of wearing apparel distributed and which, for a time, served to distinguish the men of the regiment, were blue shoddy forage caps with paper shields coated with leather, low paper crowns, and red worsted cords for trimmings. In a very short time by a series of chemical changes brought about by the weather the shield and crown underwent a complete metamorphoses and the blue of the cloth faded to a dirty brick red, the whole presenting an appearance which Hogarth might have essayed but in vain to caricature.
HATS. The cap soon gave place to the regulation felt hat adorned with brass eagle, black feather, cord and tossel [sic], which, though of good material and suitable for show, were afterwards like the brass shoulder scale-plate found altogether unsuited to the active duties of the field, and almost universally dis-carded.
SHOES. The shoes furnished, except-ing such as were contracted for and made in the town, manufactured as they were out of new leather were of very inferior quality, and the fact of many men actually using up, not trading them for whiskey, for the parts did not hold together long enough to wear out, two and three pairs in a single month showed conclusively their character. Concerning shoes nothing very favorable could be said of them, their contractors, or the officers whose duty it was to inspect them during the first two years the regiment was in service, excepting at rare intervals, they being invariably made out of “green leather,” but after that there was a decided improvement both in quality and finish.
ACCOUTERMENTS. The knapsacks, haver-sacks and canteens furnished were good; the two former articles much superior to any subsequent issues made throughout the whole term of service.
FIRST UNIFORMS. Through the instru-mentality of Lieut. Ellrich, himself a superior tailor, who was so fortunate as to secure from the leavings of the three months’ service, a sufficient number of uniforms to fit out a portion of Company B, its members were the first of the Regiment who gloried in blue coats and brass buttons and brass shoulder scales, and were for the while the pet of the ladies and the envy of the other men of the command.
CAMP COMMANDERS. Col. Cake, owing to the peculiar state of his private affairs, to the multiplicity of causes which were then incumbent on the organizer of a volunteer regiment; and, also, because of his taking an active part in a warm political contest as the nominee of the Republican party for the State Senate, his competitor being the Hon. B. Reilly, was frequently absent from camp, therefore the command until Lieut. Col. Frick appeared devolved on senior Captain, afterwards Major, Lewis J. Martin, under whose supervision the camp had been laid out. When, during the latter part of September Lieut. Col. Frick took up his quarters of the hill, the command was transferred to him, and under his guidance the men unarmed, were several times exercised in battalion movements.
DRESS PARADES. After the men were uniformed dress parades were of frequent occurrence, and owing to a stagnation in business and various other causes were always attended by a numerous assemblage of citizens and strangers. The ladies, particularly, with the sweetest of smiles graced the scene with their presence, and together with the band helped materially to enliven the monotony of the occasion.
INCIDENTS. STORMS. The month of September was prolific in storms and the exposed situation of the camp caused it to receive a full share of their attention. During one which raged on the afternoon of the 3d, a flash struck the rear pole of a marque shivering it to atoms and affected five members of the band, its occupants. By the visitation, the limbs of Lieutenant Rehr and Drum Major Henry K. Downing were completely paralyzed, but receiving the immediate attention of Dr. Charles Haeseler, the then acting Regimental Surgeon, their rise was soon restored to them. The others were not so seriously affected. Afterwards, on the night of the 10th, a “Nor’ Easter” struck the camp overturning all the tents which were not properly secured, but as there were few persons occupying them at the time, it discommoded none and did very little damage.
Again on the evening of the 27th, a “Sou-Easter” after passing in a hurricane over a great extent of country, hovered over the borough and camp for the space of two hours amusing itself in the meanwhile with dashing in windows, unroofing houses and stables, uprooting trees or denuding them of limbs, hurling bricks from dilapidated chimneys, bending liberty poles and twisting flag staffs, overflowing streams and flooding streets prostrating tents or tearing them into ribbons and such other innocent amusements as unrestrained storms of vicious propensities delight in. The men in their tents engaged in various occupations, or amusing themselves as soldiers generally do, like sleeping sentinels, were illy [sic] prepared to meet the sudden emergency and went the spirit of the storm garbled in robes of darkness drew near in his cloudy chariot, drawn by his lighting-winged steeds they immediately succumbed to his resistless fury.
Scrambling from the ruins of his Marque which had been overturned by the wild-deamons [sic] after repeated assaults, the sights revealed by the lightnings to the eyes of the writer, though infinitely sublime above, were extremely ludicrous below. Many like himself were scrambling from the debra of the camp, filling the air as they did so with barberous [sic] exclamations, laughing with cisms or echoing shouts. Tent flies flew in every direction, or slapped their loosened guys on the bellied canvas with sounding fury. Blankets took to themselves wings and sought the shades in company with vagrant caps, hats, handkerchiefs and a motley array of cast off garments.
Drums rolled without sticks, while camp-kettles and all the other tin et ceteras of the mess and cuesine [sic] clattered in tin-tin abulatory [sic] chorus as they rattled over the stony ground. Trees creaked and groaned as their branches were violently wrenched from their swaying trunks, while birds, startled from their nests but the sudden uproar, with drooping wings and melancholy cries fluttered around in evident distress.
The ground was flooded with water, which, gathering in torrents rushed furiously down the steep hill sides, swelling rivulets into creeks and creeks into rushing, roaring rivers. The thunder leaped from cloud to cloud in echoing reverberations and died away in flashes of blinding electricity. Escaped from their startled subjects, Kings and Queens on witches’ pinions whirled madly away with Jacks and Aces in the wild Walpurgian dance, while through the afrighted air, in inexplicable confusion, flew glittering diamonds, shining spades, dog-eared hearts and sportsmen’s clubs. Bewildered by the din and almost stifled by the deluge of water, the men sought safety in ignominious flight, and soon the camp was entirely deserted for the town.
As if to proclaim their victory the winds caught up the instruments of the musicians; and, like Orlando at Roncesvalles, blew some of them so furiously, that when, next morning, their owners sought them, they, in some cases, found their favorites hundreds of yards from the camp grounds, battered, slit and tuneless. Taking advantage of the opportunity, bummers and pilferers from the town after the storm had subsided, scoured the camp and adjacent ground, and possessed themselves of much private and public property which in a very short time found its way into the hands of those who furnished a villainous decoction which they sold as a “splendid article” of “real stuff,” or a certain of the men designated it “Paddy’s eye water” at ten cents a quart. After this storm was introduced a system of blanket purloining which for a while, prevailed to a great extent, eliciting much feeling and causing unlimited trouble to men and officers.
PRESENTATIONS. FLAG. On Tuesday, the 15th day of October, Mr. A. L. Gee, of Gordon, presented to the Regiment through the writer of this a large 13x26 and handsome American flag. The gift was received on behalf of the officers and men by Lieut. Jenks, of Company C, in a neat and pertinent speech. The day being very fine many citizens were present with their families. The regiment was formed in a hollow square around the speakers stand which was at the base of a tall liberty pole previously erected. At the conclusion of the writer’s remarks, the flag already attached to the halyard was given to the breeze amid the huzzas of the men, the waving of handkerchiefs by the ladies, and discharges from the field piece of Lessig’s Battery, a two pounder cast at Snyder’s shops and a rifle by A. Schalck, the band at the same time rendering the “Star Spangled Banner,” with fine effect. After the ceremonies the regiment directed by Lieut. Col. Frick, went through a few field evolutions to the palpable delight of those present - especially the ladies.
COLONEL CAKE. A few particular friends of Colonel Cake had prepared for him an elegant field glass, which, being on show for a period at the jewelry store of Mr. Joseph Elliot, on Centre street, was presented to him by the donors in an appropriate manner. The glass bore the following inscription. Presented to Col. H. L. Cake, By a few friends, Pottsville, Pa., October 1st, 1861
CAPTAIN BUDD. To show their appreciation of the services of Captain Richard Budds [sic], of Co. K, who had so strenuously exerted himself so far as he was able to maintain the integrity of the Government, and who had made great personal sacrifices for the Ninety-sixth and other regiments, certain of the principle [sic] citizens of Pottsville, on the afternoon of the 30th of October, visited his quarters, and, through their spokesman Lin Bartholomew, Esq., presented him with a handsome sword, belt and sash. The articles were received on behalf of the captain by the Hon. James H. Campbell, M. C. Street Parade. On the 22d day of October, the uniformed men of the regiment to the number of four hundred and forty made a street parade under the Lieut. Col., and on the 7th day of November, with augmentec [sic] members, and others.
RELIGIOUS. Spiritual wants. The spiritual wants of the men were ministered to by their Chaplain the Rev. Samuel F. Colt, of the Market street Presbyterian church, who, on all fitting occasions exhorted the men to righteousness and to the knowledge of him whom to know aright is eternal life. In these laudable endeavors he was occasionally assisted by the clergy of the town, who, with a becoming zeal did that which in them lie to further through the fitting out of the men, the glorious ends which their Divine Master had in view from the beginning. Sabbath afternoon services held in the open air were numerously attended, not only by the men of the command, but by crowds of people from the borough and surrounding country, and the effects produced on the minds of some of the hearers was marked and distinct. On several occasions gentlemen and lady members of various church choirs graced these convocations with their presence and materially assisted with their singing in elevating the devotional feelings of the auditors.
SPIRITUAL PABULUM. Tracts and religious newspapers were frequently distributed, and the “American Tract Society,” through the hands of the Chaplain, forwarded to the commander of each company, for the use of his men, a “Soldier’s Camp Library,” containing twenty-five small volumes of select and appropriate reading matter.
TESTAMENT PRESENTATION. On the afternoon of the fifth of November, the ladies of the “Schuylkill County Bible Society,” presented, through their almoner, the Rev. Daniel Washburn, of Trinity Episcopal Church, a pocket Testament, and needle book, to each individual member of the regiment. This interesting spectacle was witnessed by hundreds of citizens and their families who had assembled to witness it.
MEDICAL. Immediately after the camp was instituted, hospital tents were pitched and provisions made for the bodily ailments and physical infirmities of the men. Dr. Charles Haeseler, of Pottsville, a homeopathic physician of prominence, primarily superintended with very general acceptance the medical department, over which he had little or no control, ceased acting about the 12th of October, after Dr. D. Webster Bland, of Pottsville, had been regularly examined and appointed Surgeon by the State board of Medical Examiner, and Dr. Washington G. Nugent, of Norristown, Pa., Assistant Surgeon. These gentlemen, respectively, while the regiment remained at Camp Schuylkill did all which duty required of them; and, gratuitously, attended to the medical wants of the families of such of the men who desired it, and whose pecuniary resources were not sufficient to meet the requirements of the case.
PRESENTATION OF THE STATE COLORS. On Wednesday, the 7th of November, Governor Curtin visited Pottsville for the purpose of presenting to the regiment the sand of colors provided in accordance with a resolution of the legislature appropriating fund donated by the “Cincinnati Society,” of Philadelphia, for the purchase of flags for the Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments. It had originally been intended to have had a grand display, and, in anticipation, a programme had been prepared for the occasion, but owing to the unpropitious state of the weather, the rain falling continually, what would otherwise have been a triumph worthy of the occasion, was reduced to a mere presentation.
The Governor, attended by several members of his staff, arrived in town by the noon train from Harrisburg via Reading. Immediately after alighting, the party was escorted by the Reception Committee, and a great crowd of people, headed by the band playing “Hail to the Chief,” to the “American House” a few steps distant from the depot, where rooms had been secured for the accommodation of the visitors. The presentation was to have taken place at Camp Schuylkill, but owing to the incessant rain it was resolved that it take place from the balcony of the hotel. At 2 o’clock the regiment directed by Lieutenant Colonel Frick, preceded by the band marched from its camp into town and took its place, first in line, and afterwards closed en masse in front of the American House.
Notwithstanding the rain, a great crown of spectators from the borough and the surrounding country had assembled to witness the patriotically interesting sight, and when the Governor appeared at the door opening on the balcony, graced by the presence of ladies, and crowded by his many warm political admirers, it was the signal for waving of handkerchiefs, and cheer after cheer broke spontaneous from the lips of the soldiers and their assembled friends. Advancing, flag in hand, to the railing overlooking the street, he delivered, as soon as the plaudits of the surging crowd below him had subsided, one of his electrical orations which stirred the hearts of the surging crowd to their deepest depths, and drew out their latent patriotism in storms of patriotic applause. At the conclusion of his remarks the Governor handed the flag to Col. Cake, standing by his side, who received it in behalf of the officers and men of the Regiment in such choice and elevated language as to elicit the warmest applause from the Regiment and their army of friends.
CONCLUSION OF THE CEREMONY. The close of the Colonel’s remarks was greeted with cheers of approbation, and as the beautiful banner was unfurled in the humid atmosphere to the air of the “Star Spangled Banner,” the enthusiasm of the men and their friends was raised to the highest pitch of feeling. The ceremony having concluded, the regiment was marched back to camp. Many of the officers remained to pay their respects to the Governor who held an impromptu levee, which was numerously attended in the front parlor of the hotel. After an hour spent in the interchange of courtesies, the distinguished visitor and his retinue left for Harrisburg, conveyed by special train, via the Mine Hill and Shamokin Railway, to Sunbury and from thence to his home. Description of Flag. The flag presented was in dimensions eight feet by six feet. It was made of silk and bound around the edge with yellow or gold-colored silk fringe about one and a half inches wide. The Pennsylvania State Coat of Arms encircled by thirty-four stars, emblazoned its azure field, and on one of its white bars was inscribed in letters of gold. NINETY-SIXTH REGIMENT P. V.
PARADE MARCHING ORDERS. On the afternoon of the 7th day of November, the regiment with minimum number paraded through the principal streets of the borough, in full uniform, and after executing several movements to the manifest gratification and satisfaction of their fellow-citizens, they returned to camp. About five o’clock p.m. to the great delight of the men, the great majority of whom had grown weary of camp life so near their home, and who desired other scenes and more active operations at the front, the order came to “pack up” and move to the spacious hall of the Court House, there to remain for the night. The order, almost instantaneously from the company, street to street and mouth to mouth, was obeyed with so much alacrity that ere the dreary night of rain set in, Camp Schuylkill, the scene of so much patriotic labor, and of so many pleasant hours now fraught with delightful reminiscences of the past, was as deserted and silent as a city of the dead.
GOOD BYE! On the morning of the 8th, bright and early, after having previously partaken of a sumptuous breakfast, provided by the citizens of the town, the regiment moved from the Court house to Market street, along which it proceeded towards its immediate destination, the vicinity of the hamlet of West-Wood, two miles distance. Great crowds of citizens, friends and relatives of the men, on foot, on horseback and in vehicles, escorted the regiment along its way, and many were the endearing expressions of regret which fell from the lips of those whose hearts were overflowing with grief. Among the women and children there was scarcely a dry eye, while the men turned away their heads to hide their silent grief. The lively music of the band fell on leaded ears, and the pomp and circumstance of war on eyes which heeded not. The scene at the point of departure was mournfully touching and stirred the hearts of the participants to their deepest depths. Fancy may faintly recall and reproduce on the canvas of the mind the picture of the parting, but it is for the imagination along [sic] to convey that which words, and pen and pencil but inadequately express.
This document is a retyped copy of the original article in the possession of George Hay Kain, III, 29 North Queen Street, York, PA 17403, whose maternal great-grandfather, J. Jerome Miller, enlisted as a private in Company G, 96th Pa. Volunteers, on November 4, 1861, six days after his eighteenth birthday.