History of the 96th PVI from Bates' Pennsylvanians in the Civil War

NINETY-SIXTH REGIMENT.* ___________________ The National Light Infantry of Pottsville, a company of over thirty years’ standing, the first organized body of men in the United States to offer its services to the General Government at the outbreak of the rebellion, and have them accepted, one of the first five companies from this State to reach the menaced capital, and afterwards a part of the Twenty-fifth Regiment in the three months’ service, formed the nucleus of the Ninety-sixth Regiment, and recruited and re-organized under its former Second Lieutenant, Lewis J. Martin, was the first to report in camp. Henry L. Cake, who had commanded the Twenty-fifth Regiment, had received authority from the War Department, on the 13th of August, 1861, to raise a regiment for three years, and establishing a camp at Lawton’s Hill, overlooking the town of Pottsville, at once commenced the work of recruiting, many of the officers and men of his old command entering the new. With the exception of companies C, E, G and H, in which some men were from Luzerne, Berks, Dauphin, and Montgomery counties, the regiment was recruited in Schuylkill county. On the 23d of September the command was mustered into the United States service with the following field officers: Henry L. Cake, Colonel; Jacob G. Frick, Lieutenant Colonel; Lewis J. Martin, Major. A week later, a company under Wm. H. Lessig, organized as a light battery, to be attached to the regiment, came into camp. Subsequently company C, Captain Beaton Smith, was, by order of the Governor, transferred to the Fifty-second Regiment, when Lessig’s company was substituted as infantry in its place. On the 6th of November, Governor Curtin and staff visited Pottsville, and presented, with appropriate ceremonies, the State colors. On the 8th of November the regiment moved by rail to Washington, and upon its arrival went into camp at Kendall Green, where it was armed with Harper’s Ferry muskets. Colonel Cake promptly reported to General Casey, and was at once placed in command of the First Provisional Brigade, of which the Ninety-sixth formed part. The regiment was here thoroughly drilled in the manual, company, and battalion exercises. On the 25th it crossed the Potomac, and encamped on the Leesburg Pike, a short distance beyond Fort Ellsworth. It was assigned to Slocum’s Brigade** of Franklin’s Division, and on the _____________________________________________________________________________________ *The history of the Ninety-sixth is in a measure a continuation of the history of the First Five Companies and of the Twenty-fifth Regiment. In the note to the fifth page of the first volume, relative to the National Light Infantry, the name of Henry L. Cake, was by mistake omitted from the names of Captains, and to his exertions was it largely due that when the crisis of the rebellion came this company was organized and ready to move. **Organization of Slocum’s Brigade, Franklin’s Division, subsequently the Second Brigade, First Division, Sixth Corps. Sixteenth Regiment New York Volunteers, Colonel Joseph Howland; Twenty-seventh Regiment New York Volunteers, Colonel Joseph J. Bartlett; Fifth Regiment Maine Volunteers, Colonel Nathaniel J. Jackson; Ninety-sixth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Henry L. Cake. The One Hundred and Twenty-first New York, Colonel Emory Upton, was added to the brigade in September, 1862. ______________________________________________________________________________________________ 27th of December went into permanent winter-quarters on the Loudon and Hampshire Railroad, near its crossing of Four Mile Run. It remained engaged in drill and occasional picket duty until the 10th of March, 1862, when it joined in the abortive movement upon Manassas, but soon returned to camp. On the 4th of April, with M’Dowell’s Corps, it took up the line of march for Fredericksburg. On reaching Catlett’s Station it went into camp, and remained until the 12th, when Franklin’s Division returned to Alexandria, and embarked for the Peninsula. M’Clellan was now engaged in the siege of Yorktown, and on the 23d, the division having arrived, a part of it debarked in the vicinity of Cheeseman’s Creek. The enemy having evacuated Yorktown on the 4th of May, the troops on shore again embarked, and proceeding up the York river, on the 6th, in company with the divisions of Sedgwick, Porter, and Richardson, arrived at four P.M. at Brick House Point, below West Point, where the Twenty-seventh New York, and companies A, B, C and D, of the Ninety-sixth debarked, and forming in line of battle, with skirmishers thrown out, advanced for the protection of the pioneers engaged in slashing timber and obstructing the roads. “At nine o’clock on the following morning the order was given for the Sixteenth, Thirty-first, and Thirty-second New York, and the Ninety-fifth and Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania regiments to advance into the woods and drive off some of the rebel scouts who were firing occasional shots at our pickets, supposed to be supported by a force concealed in the woods. This proved correct; for no sooner had our men made an advance into the woods than they were received with a volley of musketry from the rebels who were hidden in the dense undergrowth. Our men pressed on and gave them a volley, after which the enemy retreated further into the woods, with the Thirty-second New York close at their heels; but they were too swift footed for our boys--being more protected--and they soon left the Thirty-second struggling in the mud.”* (*Moore’s Rebellion Record, Vol V, page 29, Docs.) The Ninety-sixth was now held on the extreme left of the line, nearest to Brick House Point, to prevent a flank movement of the enemy in that direction, while the fighting on the right centre, where his forces were concealed in a dense swamp, was animated, the Thirty-first and Thirty-second New York, and the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania sustaining considerable loss. After the engagement at West Point, the Fifth and Sixth Provisional corps were organized, to the latter of which General Franklin was assigned, General Slocum being promoted to the command of the division, and Colonel Bartlett, of the Twenty-seventh New York, to that of the brigade. On the 25th the division moved past Gaine’s Mill, and went into camp in the vicinity of Hogan’s House, just beyond. A few days later the brigade moved up to Mechanicsville, where it remained doing picket duty along the Chickahominy until the 6th of June, when it returned to its former position at the Hogan House. On the 18th the division was relieved by the Pennsylvania Reserves, and crossing the Chickahominy at Woodbury Bridge, took position on the right bank, between Smith’s Division, which had the right, and Sumner’s Corps the left. Here the brigade remained engaged in arduous picket and fatigue duty until the opening of the Seven Day’s Battles. On the evening of that day, the 26th, a detail of three hundred and fifty men of the Ninety-sixth, with a like detail of the Seventh Maine, under Lieutenant Colonel Frick, advanced to the front in the direction of Old Tavern, and under cover of darkness, threw up a redoubt in close proximity to the enemy’s lines. At early dawn it retired unassailed, leaving the relief to fight during the day, what was known as the battle of Golden’s Farm. Returning to camp near Strong Courtney’s House, it re-joined the brigade, and with the entire division moved to a position on the right of Smith’s Division, between Lewis’ Hill and the Chickahominy, the right resting near Duane Bridge, opposite the left of the Gaines’ Mill battle-field. Here it remained until two o’clock, when Porter’s forces being hard pressed in the battle, under orders, Newton’s, then Taylor’s Jersey Brigade, and shortly after Bartlett’s, marched to his support, crossing the Chickahominy by the Woodbury Bridge. Previous to starting, a detail from the Ninety-sixth, with one from the Third Vermont, under Adjutant M. E. Richards, destroyed Duane Bridge. At twenty minutes past three the brigade reached the scene of action on the left of the line, moved past General St. George Cooke’s Cavalry, occupying a sheltered position to the rear and left of Adams’ House, and was immediately afterwards ordered to the relief of Sykes’ command, which was engaged in supporting Weed’s, Edwards’, and Tidball’s batteries, the latter on the extreme right of the position. The arrival of the brigade was opportune. The Fifth and Tenth New York, on the left of Sykes, driven back, had been re-placed by the First Pennsylvania Reserve, which in turn was relieved by a part of Newton’s Brigade. The Regulars, hard pressed, were wavering. Instantly the Fifth Maine, then the Twenty-seventh New York, the Sixteenth New York, and shortly after the Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania, advanced across the field under a heavy fire, and took position along the crest of the hill, from the left of Griffin’s--then supported by Newton’s men--to the rear of Tidball’s Battery. The Ninety-sixth was at first held in support, closed in mass in the open valley below, where it was fearfully exposed. To shield his men and save them from the destruction to which they seemed almost inevidently condemned, Colonel Cake moved them close up on the side of the hill. The Sixteenth New York, which was ordered to advance, soon came under a fearful enfilading fire, and was driven in some confusion. The Ninety-sixth, which had in the meantime been deployed in line, was brought to confront the enemy’s line, and the word given to advance. It was answered with a cheer, and as by one impulse, the line dashed forward, re-took the lost ground, and held it until night. The boldness of this charge undoubtedly saved the right of the army from disaster. The loss of the brigade in this engagement was severe, that of the Ninety-sixth was thirteen killed, fifty-nine wounded, and fourteen missing. Lieutenant Ernest T. Ellrich was among the killed. Retiring to its old camp beyond Woodbury Bridge, the brigade rested for the night, and on the following morning was moved to Fort Davidson, to the right of the line. Scarcely had it got into position, when the enemy opened a heavy artillery fire from the vicinity of Dr. Gaines’ House, on the opposite bluff of the Chickahominy, rendering the position untenable, and obliging it to retire, when, with the entire army, it about faced, and commenced the march for the James. After crossing White Oak Creek, it was posted to defend the passage, and in the battle of Charles City Cross Roads occupied a position to the right of the line, in the vicinity of Glendale. During the night of the 30th, it retired to Malvern Hill, where, during the terrific fighting of the 1st of July, it was posted on the extreme left of the field, near Carter’s Mill, and Colonel Cake was placed in command of the brigade. Retiring with the army to Harrison’s Landing, on the morning of the 3rd of July, the regiment pitched tents on the muddy plains of Westover Landing. From this it moved out on the Westover Road, and after two successive changes of camps, on the 15th moved with the brigade into the breastworks looking towards Malvern Hill, where it remained employed in picket and fatigue duty until the evacuation. While here the regiment received Enfield rifles in exchange for the Austrian muskets with which it had made the campaign. The Pottsville Cornet Band, which had been attached to the regiment from its organization, was by a general order of the War Department relieved from further duty, and returned home. On the 29th Lieutenant Colonel Frick resigned, to take command of the One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania, Captain Joseph Anthony of company F, to be Major of the same regiment, and Lieutenant Z. P. Boyer of company D, to be Lieutenant Colonel of the One Hundred and Seventy-third Regiment. On the 16th of August the brigade moved from camp on the James, and taking transports at Newport News, arrived at Alexandria on the 24th, and went into bivouac along the Little River Turnpike, below Fort Ellsworth. On the 27th it moved into Fort Lyons, but was relieved on the 29th, and followed the rest of the corps, joining it at Annandale. On the 30th the corps pushed forward through Fairfax and Centreville, crossed Cub Run, and arrived in time to join in stemming the tide of disaster, which was sweeping the Bull Run battle-field. Returning to Alexandria, the regiment joined in the Maryland campaign, which was immediately after inaugurated. The army moved for the crossing of the South Mountain, by Crampton’s and Turner’s passes, each held by strong bodies of the enemy. Franklin’s Corps arrived in front of Crampton’s Gap, which debouches into Pleasant Valley in the rear of, and but five miles from Maryland Heights, opposite Harper’s Ferry, at noon of the 14th of September. The Ninety-sixth in advance of the column, entered Burkettsville early in the morning, driving out the rebel skirmishers, and drew the fire of his artillery upon the mountain developing his line of defense. Immediately forming with Slocum on the right, his line being composed of Bartlett’s and Torbert’s brigades, supported by Newton’s, with Smith disposed for the protection of Slocum’s flank, Franklin attacked. The pass was held by M’Laws’ Division of the rebel army, under General Cobb, the position an excellent one for defense. The brigade was formed on the right of the line, and advanced to within a thousand yards of a stone wall, where the enemy was making a final stand. The Ninety-sixth, which had been engaged upon the left of the line, now came up, and the other regiments of the brigade, with ammunition exhausted, falling back, advanced upon the concealed foe, in line with Torbert’s Brigade, which had the left. The path of the Ninety-sixth was across open fields, intersected by fences and hedges, where every man presented a fair mark for the keen eyed rebel sharp-shooter. But the line dashed forward, pausing at each fence to fire a volley, until it reached a thin strip of corn. As it approached this field the enemy’s fire ceased, and while it was passing through it an ominous silence prevailed; but the moment it emerged from this slight cover a perfect sheet of flame was poured upon it, and many of the bravest fell. But unflinching the survivors dashed forward with the bayonet, completely routed the enemy’s line, and took many prisoners. The loss in the Ninety-sixth was twenty killed, seventy-one severely, and fourteen slightly wounded, out of less than four hundred effective men who entered the engagement. Major Martin, and Lieutenant John Dougherty, were among the killed. On the 17th, at Antietem, Franklin’s Corps arrived upon the right of the field, where the fighting had been most terrific, at a time when the corps of Hooker and Sumner, broken and greatly thinned, were yielding ground, and immediately hurled back the foe, sweeping across the corn field, and holding firmly the gory ground, over which the fiery bellows of the battle had been sweeping to and fro, until the close of the contest. The position of Bartlett’s Brigade was to the rear and left of the batteries of Porter, Walcott, and Williston, where it remained throughout the day. Though exposed to a continuous and heavy artillery fire the loss in the regiment was only two killed. After the battle the corps was posted at the cross-roads north-east of Bakersville. General Slocum, who had been promoted to the command of the Twelfth Corps, was succeeded in command of the division by General W. T. H. Brooks. Captain Peter A. Filbert was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, to date from July 30th, and Captain William H. Lessig to Major, to date from September 15th. With the corps the regiment moved back into Virginia, and followed the army in its subsequent maneuvers, until, under Burnside, it entered on the Fredericksburg campaign, Colonel Cake in the meantime being placed in command of a mixed force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, which was in position at Thoroughfare Gap, and subsequently in command of the brigade. On the 12th of December, after having first assisted in laying the pontoons at Franklin’s Crossing, it moved over the Rappahannock, and after some skirmishing took position with the brigade along the Bowling Green Road at a point above where it crossed by Deep Run. Here it remained, under an almost continuous shower of shot and shell without becoming actively engaged except upon the skirmish line, until the night of the 15th, when it re-crossed the river, the army at the same time retiring, and went into camp near White Oak Church. Late in December, Lieutenant Colonel Filbert was honorably discharged, Major Lessig being subsequently promoted to succeed him. On the 16th of January, 1863, the regiment moved to Belle Plain Landing on fatigue duty, retiring on the 19th, and on the 20th joined the column in its movement upon the Mud March. Returning to the old camp grounds of the brigade near White Oak Church on the 25th, the regiment remained until the 1st of February, when, with the exception of companies C and K, it was detached, and sent to Woodmill Point on heavy fatigue duty. Here, subject to the orders of General Patrick, Provost Marshal General of the army, it was engaged in constant service until the 1st of March, when it again re-joined the brigade. Colonel Cake received his first leave of absence since entering the service, in January, 1863, resigned March 12th, and his resignation was accepted on the 2d of May following. The command of the regiment then devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Lessig. Towards the close of April, the army having been thoroughly re-organized under General Hooker, stood ready for the order to advance on the Chancellorsville campaign. To the Sixth Corps, now under command of General Sedgwick, was assigned the part to advance by way of Fredericksburg and Marye’s Heights. At two o’clock on the afternoon of the 28th of April the brigade occupied Stafford Heights. On the night of the 29th, following closely Russell’s Brigade, it passed over the Rappahannock at Franklin’s Crossing, and with slight loss occupied the enemy’s works on the Bernard Farm. On the morning of the 3rd of May, the regiment was sent out by General Brooks to clear the front of the enemy’s sharp-shooters, who were annoying the Union artillerists posted beyond the Bowling Green Road, in front of the Bernard Mansion. This order was successfully executed, but not without stubborn resistance, the regiment losing five killed and eighteen wounded. After the capture of Marye’s Heights--which was handsomely accomplished by Newton’s and Howe’s divisions--Brooks’ Division, which had been held in reserve, now advanced,--with the exception of the Twenty-seventh New York, left behind for guard and observation,--and took the lead in pursuit of the retreating enemy. In the vicinity of Salem Church, Bartlett’s Brigade was drawn up, and advanced in line of battle on the left of the road, Torbet’s Jersey Brigade on the right, Russell’s Brigade, with the artillery, moving upon the road in reserve, ready to act as occasion might require. It was known that the enemy was in the woods beyond, but it was supposed to be the rear guard of his retreating column, and the information had been derived from rebel deserters, doubtless sent back to mislead the Union Generals, that his trains had fallen into hopeless confusion and could be easily captured. Without stopping to shell the woods or develop the enemy’s strength, Brooks’ Division was pushed forward, on the very heels of the skirmishers, until it came suddenly upon three divisions of the rebel army,--most of which had been sent back from Chancellorsville,--drawn up in ambush, awaiting the advance of the Union column. The surprise was complete, and the division with its support was driven back, suffering grievous slaughter. The loss in the regiment, including that at the Bowling Green Road, was sixteen killed, fifty-seven wounded and twenty missing. Lieutenant Alexander Allison was among the mortally wounded. Unable to hold the ground the corps retired by Banks’ Ford, and at midnight of the 4th of May, the regiment bivouacked on the heights overlooking the ford. The Twenty-third New Jersey having been left to cover the ford and remove the pontoons, unable to accomplish the work, the Ninety-sixth was sent to take its place, and successfully performed the duty. Relieved by the cavalry on the 8th, it re-joined the brigade, and again went into camp near White Oak Church. About the middle of May, the term of service of the Sixteenth and Twenty-seventh New York regiments having expired, they were mustered out, and the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania and Thirty-first New York, of Russell’s command, were transferred to the brigade. A few days later General Brooks was ordered to the command of the Department of the Allegheny, headquarters at Pittsburgh, and General H. G. Wright succeeded him in command of the division. Early in June, great activity being manifested by the rebel army, the Sixth Corps was again ordered to cross the Rappahannock, for a reconnaissance in force. At two P.M. on the 6th, the brigade occupied Stafford Heights, and at evening passed over at Franklin’s Crossing. Extensive earthworks were thrown up all along the line of the Bernard Plantation, from Deep Run Ravine to a point beyond the ruins of the Bernard Mansion. Continuous skirmishing was kept up with occasional artillery practice. From supporting the Fifth U.S. Battery, the regiment was sent on the 7th to picket the Deep Run Ravine. Here it remained under a continuous fire until relieved by the Forty-ninth, and One Hundred and Nineteenth Pennsylvania regiments, and late at night on the 10th it returned to Stafford Heights, where, on the following day, in presence of nearly the entire division, a beautiful silk flag, the gift of friends in Schuylkill county, was presented by a committee of citizens. Early on the morning of the 12th, the brigade was sent out on picket, covering the country from the Rappahannock nearly to the Potomac. At nine o’clock on the evening of the 13th the regiment was withdrawn from the picket line, and re-joining the brigade at White Oak Church, started on the ever memorable Gettysburg campaign. With only short intervals of rest the movement continued until the afternoon of July 2d, when at the moment of great peril in the battle, as the veterans of Longstreet, massed upon the extreme left, were doubling up and driving the corps of Sickles, it arrived upon the field. Foot sore and weary, the men were at once formed, and with scarcely a moment’s rest, were pushed forward upon the right of the road leading out to the Peach Orchard, to a slight elevation, on the right and front of Little Round Top, and took position behind a stone fence which it held with slight loss until the close of the battle. On the morning of the 5th of July the Sixth Corps started in pursuit of the enemy. Prisoners were taken at every turn, and the enemy’s rear guard was closely pressed, compelling to open frequently with his artillery. The sufferings in this pursuit were intense. The crossing of Cotoctin Mountain, along a by-road, at night, and in the midst of a terrific thunderstorm, will ever be remembered for its hardships. On the 10th the regiment, with two companies of the One Hundred and Twenty-first, skirmished in the advance along the Funkstown Road, and drove the rear of the enemy, after stubborn resistance, across the Antietem at Claggett’s Mills. In this skirmish, and subsequently, while upon the picket line in front of Hagerstown, the regiment lost several wounded. Without coming to battle the enemy escaped into Virginia, and the Union army followed. After successive marchings and countermarchings, the brigade, in the latter part of July, was detached from the division and sent to New Baltimore, where it was employed in picketing and scouting, and the usual rounds of drill and parade. On the 4th of September rebel guerrillas made a midnight descent upon General Bartlett’s headquarters. The regiment was at the time on picket, and in the encounter three of its number were wounded, the enemy being quickly routed. On the 15th of September the command left New Baltimore, and moved to Warrenton, where it entered on Meade’s Rapidan campaign, returning from Centreville to the vicinity of Warrenton on the 20th of October. Here it remained until the 7th of November, when, with the command, it moved to Rappahannock Station, the brigade supporting Russell in the battle which ensued. The loss was one severely, and several slightly wounded. The command went into camp near the confluence of the Aestham with the Rappahannock, and with the exception of the movement to Mine Run, and in support of the cavalry in the reconnaissance to Robertson’s River, it remained in quarters here during the winter, a considerable number of the regiment re-enlisting, in the meantime, as veteran volunteers. On the 4th of May, 1864, the brigade broke up winter-quarters and crossing the Rapidan, joined in the battle of the Wilderness. It was almost constantly engaged in skirmishing during the five succeeding days, and on the 10th of May took part in the charge of the twelve picked regiments of the Sixth Corps on the enemy’s works. The loss in the command was very heavy, Captain Edward Thomas being among the mortally wounded. On the 12th, at the salient known as the Slaughter Pen, in front of Spottsylvania, the fragment of the regiment remaining, with the division decimated as it was, held the position from early dawn until late at night, exposed during the whole time to a fire of musketry, which for severity, has few parallels in the history of warfare. So incessant was the shower of missiles, that trees over a foot in diameter, were cut off by the constant stroke of bullets. The loss in this series of engagements was thirty-three killed, one hundred and thirteen wounded, and thirty-nine missing, of whom the greater part were subsequently ascertained to have been killed. Remaining in the vicinity until the 14th, under almost continuous fire, the command moved to Bleak Hill, where, as at Salem Church, the division was pushed against the enemy in force; but soon finding itself overpowered, rapidly retired, some of the general officers making a narrow escape. Upon reaching Cold Harbor, the brigade, to which the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery had been added, stormed and carried a portion of the enemy’s works in front of the Cold Harbor House, sustaining heavy loss. It was here that acting Adjutant John T. Hannum received his mortal wound. From Cold Harbor the brigade moved to the James, bivouacking on Tyler’s Plantation, and moving thence by water to Bermuda Hundred. Crossing the Appomattox it moved up to the Petersburg front, arriving on the 19th of June. Here the regiment was employed in building breast works, picketing, sharp-shooting, with occasional charges on the enemies works, involving sharp fighting. On the 29th it took part in the descent upon the Weldon Railroad, in which a considerable portion of the track was completely destroyed. Remaining in front of Petersburg until July 10th, the brigade, in company with a part of the corps, marched to City Point, whence it moved by transport to Washington. Upon its arrival it was at once put upon the track of Early, who, with a considerable body of the rebel army, was threatening Washington. With the army of the Shenandoah the regiment participated in all the operations in the Valley up to September 22d, when, its term of service having expired, leaving a battalion composed of the veterans and recruits, which was subsequently consolidated with the Ninety-fifth Regiment, it withdrew from the front of Strasburg, and took up the line of march for Harper’s Ferry, convoying thither a train of ambulances filled with the wounded. Proceeding by way of Baltimore and Harrisburg it reached Pottsville on the 26th, and on the evening of that day received at the hands of the citizens, a most flattering public welcome. On the 21st of October, at Hestonville, in West Philadelphia, it was paid and finally mustered out of service. ***This text taken directly from “History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers”, Bates., 1870.