Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Schuylkill County Color Bearers During the Civil War Only the Brave were Chosen


The regimental flag was to be protected at all costs, even with the lives of the men entrusted with its care, the color bearers and the color guard. To be selected as a member of the color guard was one of the most distinguished honors bestowed upon a Civil war soldier. To carry the colors into battle meant that one was in the fore front of the regiment. One knew that enemy fire would be focused on one's position and the possibility existed that one would be killed or wounded. It took a man of extraordinary courage to be a color bearer, and men from Schuylkill County courageously filled this post of honor often paying with their lives. Not once in battle did a Schuylkill county regiment permanently lose their colors to an enemy regiment.
At the out break of the Civil War every regiment had a flag that was either given to them or was purchased by the individual companies comprising the regiment. The call went out in 1862 for volunteers to enlist for three years. These regiments were formed from the remnants of the three month volunteers. After forming and being mustered into service the regiment was issued a regimental flag by the State of Pennsylvania. The flag had the regimental number painted on the center red stripe and the state coat of arms was centered in the blue canton surrounded by the stars representing the States of the Union.
In 1861-1862 Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania personally presented the flags to the regiments. He presented the 48th's at Camp Curtin on the outskirts of Harrisburg just before their departure from Camp Curtin. The 50th P.V.I. was drawn up in position of a three square, with Col. Christ in the center. Governor Curtin arrived and presented the regiment with their flag in the name of the Commonwealth. After an emotional speech by the Governor, the flag was accepted by Col. Christ and he returned his most grateful thanks to the authorities of the State.
On November 6, 1861, the 96th P.V.I. marched down from their Camp on Lawton's Hill to the American House hotel in downtown Pottsville. There at the hotel was Governor Curtin, with flag in hand. He addressed the men in a long, patriotic speech, and at the conclusion of his speech he presented the flag to Col. Cake, who made a short acceptance speech. When the ceremony was over, the men cheered the Governor and the flag.
The 129th, also encamped at Camp Curtin, had their flag presented to them by Col. Samuel B. Thomas, an aide to the Governor. On a cold December 18, 1861 the 7th Penna. Cavalry marched dismounted into Harrisburg and formed in front of the Capitol and listened to a stirring speech by the Governor who then presented the State Standard and 10 guidons to Col. George C. Wynkoop. Many other men from Schuylkill County in various other regiments would witness the presentation of their regimental colors by the Governor or his aide.
The regiments carried their State flags into battle and also flags that were presented to them by the people from their communities. The 96th carried with them a flag that was presented to the old 25th Regiment and Col. Joseph W. Cake who commanded it. This flag was carried on the Peninsula Campaign and was used in the fight at Crampton's Pass Md. on September 14, 1862. On June 11, 1863 a flag was presented to the regiment by a group of men on behalf of the Ladies' Aid Society Of Pottsville. It was a magnificent flag that carried the names of the battles that the 96th had participated in up till that time. On February 22, 1864, Webster Bland of Pottsville, the Surgeon of the Regiment, brought home the battle damaged and worn flag.
The 48th carried a flag given to them by a citizen of Pottsville, a Mr. John T. Werner. The flag had the regimental number painted on the center red stripe, and in the blue field were painted the words "In The Cause of The Union We Know No Such Word As Fail." This flag was carried by the regiment until 1864.
The men of the 48th came home on veteran furlough in 1864 and while at home were presented with a blue regimental flag with the state coat of arms on one side and the national arms on the other. Surrounding the coat of arms were the names of four battles the 48th participated in. This flag was presented to the regiment by Representative John H. Campbell on behalf of Mrs. E.R. Bohannon and Miss. Miesse both ladies of Pottsville.
The 7th Penna. Vol. Cavalry received a blue standard and 12 swallow tailed guidons on March 1, 1864, given to them jointly by the Ladies Aid Societies of Pottsville and St. Clair. They also carried two state standards throughout their service.
The 129th, a nine month regiment carried a state flag and a national flag, both of which would fall into enemy hands during the battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, but would be immediately recaptured by the heroic actions of Col. Jacob Frick and returned to the regiment.
In February 1865 Pottsville lady friends of Capt. Edward H. Lieb, of the Fifth United States Cavalry, presented a flag to the regiment. They valued his service and that of the regiment and had a silk flag made that was on display in Capt. David A. Smith's store on Center street in Pottsville. The flag was forwarded to the regiment in February but was delayed in getting to them. The 5th did not receive the flag until June of 1865. J.W. Maron of the 5th U.S. wrote to the Ladies of Pottsville thanking them for the flag.
The color company of a Civil War regiment was usually" C" company and always placed in the center of the regiment. The other nine companies were placed around the color company usually by the seniority of their Captain. Such as:
The color guard was composed of eight corporals and one or two sergeants who were selected to carry the flags. The formation of the color guard was highly visible in line of battle as these men were usually out in front marching ahead of the regiment. The color guard was formed up in the following fashion.
As men were wounded, the color guard would naturally diminish in size and upon the order to halt, the colors would retreat behind the double lines of infantry and remain there until the order of "advance the colors" was given. At that time they would move to the front once again.
On September 14, 1862 the 96th P.V.I. went into action at Cramptons Gap, Md. northeast of Harpers Ferry, in an effort to thwart Robert E. Lee's proposed invasion into Maryland and the taking of Harpers Ferry. Opposing the 96th were Confederate soldiers of Gen. Lafayette McLaws.
Advancing in line of battle and being shelled by Confederate artillery postioned on the slopes of South Mountain, the 96th approached a stone wall that was heavily defended by Confederate infantry . The order to halt was given by Col. Cake. John. T. Boyle, the captain of company D, continues the narrative which he wrote for the Pottsville Republican on September 30, 1871.
" The disposition for the final charge having been made, the 96th was ordered forward to draw the concentrated fire of the enemy, and turn his left which was immediately in front, and held by the 16th Georgia. Stepping over the reclining men of the 27th New York picket reserve, whose ammunition was nearly expended, the regiment some distance in the advance of the main line, pressed forward to the attack. Obliquing to the left to keep as much as possible under cover of foliage and a slight elevation, it moved forward until within five or six hundred yards of the enemy, when the right was delayed by a stone wall, and the left by a high worm fence and by a galling cross fire of the enemy.
Col. Cake, on foot, as were most of the officers, was the first man on the right to leap the fence, waving his sword and calling on the men to follow. Seeing some hesitate, he returned toward the fence from which he and others had gone a dozen steps or more, just as some of the more nervous of the men fired their muskets at random, some in the air, others into the earth at no great distance ahead, and a few in the direction of the enemy. The very great majority, however, returned their fire, and a few moments thereafter used it most effectively.
The regiment or that part of it which now remained, was within forty or more paces of stone wall behind which the enemy was fortressed. Here a narrow patch of standing corn hid the centre companies from view, the right companies being fully exposed to the foe together with the left, which was a distance to the rear of the 5th Maine, 16th New York, and Newton's Brigade. It was her that the regiment met with the heaviest loss. Scarcel had it entered the corn patch than the companies were thrown into charging disorder, and their further progress momentarily stayed by a tremendous reserve fire from the enemy behind the stone wall. First Lieut. John Doughert, commanding Company F. Who was some few paces in advance of his command, and waving his sword in the air and calling on his men to follow, received a ball in his breast and sunk down within sword length of the writer.
"Here, Casey," he exclaimed to his first sergeant, "take my sword and follow the Colonel." Casey moving near received the sword from the hand of his dying leader, whirled it around his head and called on the men who were now as fierce as bloodhounds, to move forward. For this act which transpired under the immediate notice of Colonel Cake, the sergeant received honorable mention in that officer's official report, and shortly afterwards became the recipient of a second Lieutenant's commission, which he foully disgraced. A moment after Dougherty fell, the gray headed Scotchman color Sergeant Sol. McMinzie of company C, who was bravely upholding the State Ensign received a mortal wound in the breast. "I am shot," he exclaimed, as he staggered forward his eyes sparkling with unearthly luster and his manly frame - inured to war by twelve years in the Royal Artillery - trembled all over with excitement, and again he cried. As the flag staff slipped from his nervous grasp, and with shattered thigh, he sank with a sigh into the arms of death. The old standard shot-torn and gory with the blood of Gaines Hill, had scarcely kissed the earth, before the regimental or Col. Joseph C. Cake flag, which thus far had been borne by Sergeant Thomas Oliver, of company C. trailed its drooping folds in the dust, its carrier having received a disabling wound in the foot. A cry of exultation went up from the rebel line, and a chill of dismay shivered through the frames of those of the regiment who saw the occurrence. The situation was critical; The moment one of terrible apprehension enough to appall the stoutest heart.
Ordered by Captain Royer, private William Ortner,of company H, stopped to take the flag staff from the hands of Sol. McMinzie, but scarcely had he touched it before he was struck by a ball, which forced him to relinquish his hold. Color Sergeant Johnson raised the staff, but relinqushed it with a disabling wound. Seeing this private Charles Ziegler of the same company, with distinguished gallantry, rushed from his position, grasped the staff and essayed to roar it in the air, but before he could accomplish it, a bullet deprived him of life and he fell forward to earth, covering its silken folds with his blood. Nothing daunted by the fate of his comrades, Corporal Henry H. Hunsicker caught up the standard and had the honor unscathed of carrying it through the rest of the engagement. The other flag after passing through the hands of private David Thomas, William Miller and others, came at length into the keeping of gallant Patrick Powers, of company F. who bore it full high advanced to the top of the mountain."

The two color bearers who gave their lives on this gallant charge were Solomon McMinzie, a forty - one year - old native of Scotland, who resided in Pottsville at the time of the Civil War. He laid in pain for an additional day with a minnie ball lodged in his chest. The second color bearer, Charles Ziegler, died painfully with his left thigh shattered and broken by a musket ball. He was initially wounded while at the stone wall with a bayonet to the stomach.
On April 2, 1865 the largest cavalry force ever used in the Civil War was on the move near the outskirts of Selma, Alabama. This force was commanded by a young Brigadier General named James H. Wilson. Wilson was ordered by Gen. George H. Thomas commander of the Department of Tennessee and the Cumberland to mount an attack against Selma, Alabama, a vital munitions depot. The campaign began on March 22, 1865 and the troops arrived on the perimeter of the heavily fortified city of Selma about 3 P.M. on the 2nd of April.
Riding with Wilson on this raid was the Seventh Penna. Cavalry consisting of two full companies of Schuylkill County boys. Along with the Seventh in their brigade was the Fourth Michigan, Fourth Ohio and the Seventeenth Indiana. This brigade and other brigades numbered 13,000 mounted troopers.
Facing the Seventh and her sister regiments was a formidable array of defenses. The Union troops looked out upon an open field with no natural cover. If that field was successfully crossed while enduring constant enemy shot and shell, the troops would fall upon abatis, sharpened wooden stakes pointing toward them. If they made it beyond the abatis, they entered into a deep ditch which fronted a fifteen foot embankment. Behind the embankment, the rebels waited to repulse their Union enemies.
A mounted attack would never work on this type of defense so Gen. Wilson ordered the men to dismount. The Brigade Commander, Gen. Eli Long, gave his 1500 men the command to advance. With officers out in front, the Seventh boys, now dismounted, started across the open field to their front. Under heavy shot and shell the whole way across the open field, the Seventh successfully reached the stockade where they pulled out some of the abatis and made a small opening through which they passed. Just outside the fortification, Sergeant John Ennis, color bearer from St. Clair, was fatally wounded by a minnie ball. Sergeant Louis Bickel, company I, retrieved the standard from the dying grasp of John Ennis and carried the colors to the top of the embankment and into the rebel held fort.
This charge cost the life of one officer killed, three wounded and forty seven enlisted men wounded. The Seventh captured 198 prisoners, seven pieces of artillery and over 250 enemy muskets and rifles.

John Ennis was the only enlisted man from the Seventh killed in the charge. He would lay wounded for five more days dying on April 7, 1865 two days before Gen. Robert E. Lee would surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virgina. He was also a member of the British Cavalry participating in the famed charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava in the Crimea, holding several medals of honor for his service to Crown. He was commended in orders numerous times with the Seventh Pa. Cav. Also the John Ennis Post No. 44 of the Grand army of The Republic was named in his honor by his comrades from St. Clair.
On December 13, 1862 the battle of Fredricksburg was raging. As the 129th P.V.I. was attacking the enemy postions on the Heights above the city, most of the color bearers were down with wounds. Leading his men, Col. Jacob Frick of Pottsville, saw the State Colors fall to the ground. He ran to them, picked them up and waved them over his head and advanced forward. While charging, a rebel bullet would shatter the flag staff. Col. Frick retrieved the colors back to the Union lines and received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his deed.
Again on May 3, 1863 Col. Frick would be involved in another rescue of the regiments colors at the batte of Chancellorsville. While rebel soldiers tried to capture the regiment's colors, Col. Frick recognized the danger and went forward and in hand to hand fighting rescued and saved his regiment's colors.

The color bearers from Schuylkill County were:

Sgt. John Roarty Company C. to 10-02-64.
Sgt. Samuel Bedall Company E. 10-02-64 to 07-20-65. Tamaqua.
Sgt. John Taylor Company A. 04-02-65. Port Clinton.
Sgt. Arthur Hatch Company C. Port Clinton.
Sgt. Edward Flanagan Company G. Pottsville.

Sgt. Joseph S. Johnston Company H. Wounded 09-14-62 Cramptons
Corp. William Ortner Company H. Wounded 09-14-62 Cramptons Gap.
Sgt. Charles B. Zeigler Company H. Killed 09-14-62 Cramptons Gap.
Sgt. Solomon McMinzie Company C. Died 09-17-62 Cramptons Gap. Pottsville.
Corp. Thomas Oliver Company C. Wounded 09-14-62 Cramptons Gap.
Port Carbon.
Pvt. Harry Hunsicher Company H. Carried Flag at Cramptons Gap.
West Brunswick.
Sgt. J.W. Conrad Company Wounded 5-9-64 at Spotsylvania Va. Campaign. Pottsville.
Corp. George W. Foltz Company C. Wounded 05-10-64 Spotsylvania Va. Campaign. Tremont.
Corp. William Beynon, Co. A Killed May 11, 1864.
Sgt. Fredrick Snyder, Co. B wounded May 10, 1864.
Sgt. Charles Fisher, Co. C wounded May 10, 1864.
Sgt. Ezra Hendley Company D. Wounded 05-10-64 Spotsylvania Va.
Sgt. William Lord Company A. Carried Colors 05-10-64 Spotsylvania Va. Campaign. Pottsville.
Sgt. John Shan, Co. H. Wounded May 10, 1864 died May 15, 1864.
Sgt. John Keegan Co. I.
Sgt. John Gough, Co. D killed May 10, 1864.

Sgt. John Ennis Company A. Killed Selma Alabama, 07-04-65. St. Clair.

Corp. Thomas Foster. Company I.
Sgt. James B. Murray. Company H. Killed Reams Station. Va.

Corp. Thomas J. Foster.
Fifty-Second P.V.I.
Corp. Samuel Williams, Co. I
Fifty-Fifth P.V.I.
Color Sgt. Michael Murry, wounded at Cold Harbor. 6-3-64
Color Sgt. James Miller, died of disease at Beaufort, South Carolina. He was a native of Scotland and had served in the Crimean War, and lived in Minersville.
One Hundred and Sixteenth P.V.I.
Sgt. Charles Mauer Co. F. The regiments last color Bearer.
Sgt. Edward Kelly Co. F.
Pvt. James M. Seitzinger Co. G
One Hundred and Twenty Ninth P.V.I.
Sgt. Lewis S. Boner Co. E
Col. Jacob Frick rescued and carried the colors at Fredricksburg.

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