This is an article my wife Danielle wrote about a woman who made an enormous effort during the Civil War for good old Schuylkill County.
NOBLE WOMAN OF SCHUYLKILL
Like most women in history, Miss Amanda Silliman was lost over the last 130 years to slow the passage of time. Her remarkable patriotic spirit and zeal during the Civil War was no longer spoken about by her neighbors, sisters, Union soldiers, and friends, they too long gone. Her many acts of Charity and kindness toward Civil War soldiers and their families, her support for the Union cause and her remarkable fund raising efforts on behalf of the Pottsville Ladies Soldiers’ Aid Society were largely unrecorded, undocumented, and unrecognized in Schuylkill County and Pennsylvania History.
She, like many women of the time, received no testimonials, no high and lofty praises, no gold medals and no flowery accolades for her service on behalf of the Union. There would be no “likeness” recorded of her, no great bombastic newspaper accounting of her heroic war efforts, no gold, jewel-encrusted presentation swords 9inscribed with her name and offered to her on behalf of the grateful soldiers. Her fate would be to lie forgotten in the dark, silent halls of time for more than a century until 130 years later, the memory of her deeds of selfless patriotism and unselfish devotion to country and cause would be rediscovered, recognized and rewritten back into history.
Amanda Silliman was born in Pottsville, a prosperous anthracite coal mining town in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Her father, James Silliman, was a prominent and wealthy coal operator in the area, and it is likely that Amanda, along with her eight siblings enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle.
Amanda’s greatest contributions came during her late thirties when, upon the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, she promptly volunteered to Secretary of War Cameron along with twenty other Pottsville ladies as nurses for the sick and wounded of the Schuylkill County regiment of volunteers. She then lead an ambitious effort on behalf of the Pottsville Ladies Soldiers Aid Society to sew towels, needle cases and head coverings for the soldiers in the field.
During the early part of the War of the Rebellion, while she served as principal of the Pottsville Female Primary School, she actively participated and led local efforts to recognize and applaud Schuylkill County Soldiers and their officers in appreciation of their sacrifices while leading Schuylkill County Regiments.
Amanda orchestrated the sewing of a special silk battle flag for presentation to the Schuylkill County 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment. The 48th played a major role in the July, 1864 Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia ( The Story of The 48th ).
As the war continued, Amanda with her sister, Sarah, and other prominent Pottsville women, organized the Ladies Aid Society of Trinity Episcopal Church. Through the efforts of this and similar Aid societies, local donations consisting of wooden boxes filled with shirts, mittens towels, bandages, dried fruits and vegetables, soap and rice were sent to the soldiers at the front. The contents of these boxes were a blessing to thousands of sick, wounded and dying soldiers. Later in the war the Ladies Aid Societies of Schuylkill County assisted larger, nationwide Sanitary Commission (forerunner of Red Cross) with large fundraisers called Sanitary Fairs. The function of these fairs, held throughout the northern states from 1863 on, was to raise valuable funds to provide food medical supplies for sick and wounded soldiers.
In June 1864 the great Sanitary Fair of Philadelphia was held. Amamda Silliman was appointed chair of the committee upon “Labor, Income and Revenue” in the female department of labor in Pottsville. ( Memorial to the Patriotism). Contributions from Schuylkill County to the Fair amounted to over $8,000. Through these contributions ined largely by the volunteer work and dedication of Amanda and other Schuylkill County women, the Sanitary Fair of Philadelphia succeeded and many soldiers’ lives were saved.
In 1865, despite great personal risk Amanda traveled the long distance from Pennsylvania to Petersburg, Virginia to nurse her wounded brother, Thomas, of the 48th P.V.I. He was wounded April 2, 1865 during the Battle for Fort Malone. According to Old Schuylkill Tales. Amanda was the first woman granted permission at Petersburg to enter the lines after the battle. The commanding general supplied her with a pass and granted her an escort. To undertake such a long and arduous trip through Confederate territory, attested to Amanda’s courage and her loyalty to family, country and cause.
Sadly, it is difficult to find anything written about Amanda’s activities and service to her community and church following the Civil War. One can assume she remained dedicated, as she had during the Rebellion to making a difference in the lives of her family, friends, neighbors and country.
Perhaps we can glimpse a warm early spring day late in May, 1904. A large funeral cortege makes its way to Pottsville’s Mount Laurel Cemetery, graves just growing green with the new spring rains, Tearful mourners, dressed in black, take their places by th4e freshly dug grave. Today, they are lying to rest lady. A gentle voice speaks to the assembled mourners:
“Gently she sleeps. Her rest is in the bosom of God. Asleep, far away from cares and woes of this life. Asleep, after a long life of service to her God and humanity. To her many friends here on earth she will ever sleep and never awaken. Who will now answer the frail cry of the poor orphan, the call for help from the widowed mother, the wail of the repentant sinner, who used to come to her gates? Who will now bind the wounds of the soldiers and sailor as she bound them? Who will now heal the sick and distressed as she comforted them? Where is the woman who could take her place in heroic action becoming good womanhood? There are those who can but few are possessed of her courage.
Her life was as pure as that of Ruth. Her example in the heroism of true life as great as that of Ruth. Her accomplished work in the furtherance of public good in her community was probably greater than that of any man who lived therein. Her life was a beautiful picture. Her lifework stands in imperishable bronze. The fleeting years pass away, so shall we, but her sweet memory never.”
…..Rest in Peace, ministering angel to the afflicted. Your Courageous acts and patriotic deeds are remembered and celebrated.
Elliot, Ella Old Schuylkill Tales: A history of interesting Events, traditions and Anecdotes.
Of the early settlers of Schuylkill County, 1906
Wallace. F. Memorial to Patriotism, 1865
Gould, Joseph, The Story of the 48th, 1908
The Miners Journal. May 28, 1904.