Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Schuylkill County in the Battle of Salem Church, Fredericksburg Va. May 3, 1863

Sixth Corps Troops, Before Fredericksburg, May 1863. I often wondered are we looking at men from the 96th in this photo.

Salem Church.

This is the story of the 96th P.V.I. and their costly fight at Salem Church, Fredericksburg Va. May 3, 1863.

Salem Church, May 3, 1863

On May 3, 1863 after a short rest the 96th P.V.I. received orders to attack confederate positions along the wooded ridge west of Fredericksburg near the old Salem Church. The 96th was placed to the left of the Orange plank road leading west out of Fredericksburg. On their left was the 5th Maine and on their right was the 121st N.Y. along with the 23 N.J. just touching the road. Also on the right of the road consisted of the 1st N.J. and 3rd N.J with the 16th N.Y, 95th Pa. and 119th Pa in reserve. 6 companies of skirmishers advanced in there front. Leading the ten companies of the 96th was Lt. Col Lessig. This fight would prove to be one of the most costly the 96th would engage in. Advancing in line of battle the 96th entered a heavy wooded area. Concealed in trenches beyond the woods were soldiers of Gen. Cadmus Wilcox. Most of the rebs were Alabamians. As the 96th exited the woods a heavy volume of musket fire erupted from the trenches as men of the 8th Alabama stood in two ranks and opened fire on the advancing 96th. Capt. Jacob Haas company commander of G Company described the fight:
As we got in the edge of the woods I saw a few rebels
Skirmishers popping at our skirmishers. I told my men
to take plenty of room and leave a pace between each
file. We passed on and within 30 paces of the field on
the other side of the woods, suddenly I saw two lines of
Battle of the “Rebs” rise to their feet. I ordered my men
to put a volley which they did with fine effect. And then
the circus commenced. We fired as fast as we could and
Johnny Reb did the same.
Volley after volley was fired but the 96th could not break the rebel position, during this fight Lieut. Alexander Allison was ordering his men to load and fire, at some time a rebel soldier fired his musket and a musket ball entered his right side knocking him down with a painful wound that would cause his death two days later. It’s not known whether John Allison was killed before Alex was wounded. But during this heavy fire fight with Minnie balls flying in every direction John was dropped and instantly killed. William Madara another Corporal of Company C was hit squarely between the eyes and instantly killed.
The fight was very costly to the 96th having 16 men killed and 54 wounded, and 9 men listed as missing or captured. Retreating back through the woods the 96th would fire a final volley at the rebels in defiance. Alex was probably carried back to the hospital at Acquia Creek were he was laid out with the rest of the wounded from fighting in and around Fredericksburg. He would die two days later on the 5th of May with grief in his heart at knowing his younger brother was also killed. In all probability William Madara and John Allison were left on the field of battle and buried by the rebels. Sometime in May Mrs. Allison would receive the news that two of her sons were killed in battle.

The Ground over which the attack was made. Salem Church in the background.

There were others from Schuylkill County who fought in this battle here is a short story from the Miners Journal.

Salem Church
May 3, 1863

On May 3, 1863 General John Sedgwick's Union troops crossed the Rappahannock river at Fredricksburg and attacked the old confederate works on Marye's Heights. After taking the heights the Federals moved about 7 miles west along the Plank road to help Gen. Joseph Hooker fighting at Chancellorsville. On a small ridge outside of Fredricksburg stood an old Baptist church known as Salem Church, and located in and around this church were rebel soldiers of Gen. Lafayette Mclaws division. The fight at Salem Church would cost the Union army over 4,700 casualties, among the casualties would be many Schuylkill countians.
Sergeant John J. Jones, formerly from Pottsville but was residing in Frankford, Pa. in 1861 enlisted in the 15th New Jersey Volunteers, he was the son of the late John J. Jones of Pottsville, and was 39 years old. Sgt. Jones was a member of the Sixth Corps under Gen. John Sedgwick, the 15th New Jersey was the second regiment to cross the Rappahannock at Franklins crossing. On Sunday May 3d, 1863 the 15th was marching toward the church on the heights, posted on the extreme left of the line the 15th N.J. Vols. advanced through the woods in their front and came out the other side were they were meet by a tremendous volley of musketry from the rebels who were posted in a ditch and behind a fence. Advancing as a file closer with his regiment Jones was struck by a musket ball and died on the field near Salem Church. Jones leaves a wife and five children to mourn his loss.
Fighting with the 98th Pa. Vols at Salem church were two Pottsville residents, H.K. Seddinger a Hospital Steward, and Lt. Col. George Wynkoop, Seddinger wrote an interesting article to the Miners Journal on May 30th, 1863 about the battle.
"During the battle at Salem Heights, the 98th P.V.I. and the 62d N.Y.V., were necessarily left on the south side of the main road where they performed gallant service under the officer in charge of that portion of the line. They lost heavily and held their position to the last. Col. John J. Ballier, of the 98th received a serious wound in the foot and was taken from the field. At 5 P.M.

The Ninety-Sixth Regiment in the Battle
Of Second Fredricksburg
May 3, 1863

In the May 23rd issue of the Miners Journal a annoynamos writer of the regiment by the pen name of Amicus Curae wrote a first hand account of the action taken by the 96th P.V. during the battle of Second Fredricksburg and Salem Heights.

Lacy House opposite Fredricksburg, Va.
May 13, 1863

Dear Journal: In my last communication I predicted an early crossing of the Rappahannock by our forces-but at the time I must confess, that I was not in the least apprehensive of recrossing. The complete success with which we effected a crossing you have been informed of. The blunt of the campaign seems to have fallen to the Sixth Corps, and I am proud to say they performed their whole duty upon all occasions. The terrible and fearful odds with which we were obliged to contend, and the wholesale destruction dealt out to them attests in words of high praise to the indomitable valor and energy of our tired troops. The Corps fought like tigers. The confederate army are willing to admit that we fought superior to any other time.
After the crossing the men at the same point crossed in December, the 1st division of the 6th Corps were drawn up in line of battle, the 2d Brigade being on the extreme left and had anything but a pleasant position to occupy. The rebel battery, located so as to control the railroad and the depot of supplies proved a formidable opponent. The accuracy with which our batteries were used silenced that of the enemy on several occasions during the day. At this point the 96th was ordered to take the railroad, with the promise of support from the 5th Maine. The 96th reached the road in most splendid style, but without any support-hence were ordered to fall back. During the operation we had several men killed and quite a large number wounded. Had the regiment received its proper support we would have charged upon the battery and no doubt captured it.

The 96th Pennsylvania at Camp Northumberland 1861
This is the story of William Harrison Madara, born and raised in Pottsville. Madara was my wife Danielle's relative
A Soldier

When the rebel guns fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, 21 year old William Madara of Pottsville, Pennsylvania was working as an errand boy and assistant in Mr. Edward McDonald's mercantile store located at the corner of Center and Arch Street.
His wages were almost wholly paid to him in dry goods and groceries from the store. The goods were used in support of his widowed mother and sister with whom he lived. There was also another brother, Charles, who was older than William and who also helped in support of the family.
What compelled William to enlist in the army is not known. It could have been the need for money or the patriotic fever that struck most of the 13,000 young men from Schuylkill County. But on April 15, 1861 William enlisted in the National Light Infantry from Pottsville. He departed Pottsville in company with the Washington Artillery, another local company, on a very cold and raw day. They would be cheered by thousands of people who came to Pottsville to see the first volunteers. The two volunteer companies marched down Center Street to the railroad depot and arrived in front of a very large crowd of people. The Pottsville Coronet Band played "Hail Columbia" and "Yankee Doodle". As the train departed. The depot, the thousands of spectators let out cheer upon cheer until the train was out of sight. William and his company passed through Baltimore on the 18th unarmed and subjected to the insults of the secessionist people of that city.
Arriving at Washington in the evening, William and his company were the first volunteers to enter Washington at the call President Lincoln and would be forever known as the "First Defenders". The two companies would be formed into the 25th P.V.I. and serve at Fort Washington, on the Potomac for about three months and finally returned home to Pottsville in July.
As soon as the three month regiments returned to Pottsville, Col. Henry L. Cake received permission to raise a regiment of infantry for the period of three years. This regiment would be known as the 96th P.V.I. and William once again volunteered joining company C, known as the" Good Intent Light Artillery" On November 11, 1861. William served unharmed for a period of 18 months with the 96th through all their major battles and campaigns.
After leaving winter camp at White House Landing, the 96th crossed the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863. William had just been promoted to corporal on the 1st and was with his company as they advanced at the double quick to a railroad area near Fredericksburg known as Deep Run. With orders to move out of Fredericksburg, the 96th was assigned a position south of the Orange turnpike. They move west on the turnpike with the 5th Maine on their left flank and the 121st NY on their right, advancing into a wooded area. The regiment received a heavy volley of musketry from the ridge line near Salem Church when two lines of rebel infantry rose up and fired directly into the advancing 96th. In the center of the regiment was company C, the color company of the 96th. Whether William was a member of this group of brave men was not stated, but he was in the center of the action. Firing at the regiment was the 8th Alabama Infantry, members of General Cadmus Wilcox's brigade. The firing went back and forth for a very short time when the federals finally began to fall back. Giving the rebels a final volley, the regiment retreated back toward Fredericksburg. The 96th would suffer 16 men killed, 54 wounded and 9 men missing. Lying somewhere on that field near Salem Church was 23 year old William, his blood flowing on to the Virginia soil. A musket ball had entered his head right between the eyes.
This story occurred many times to families in Schuylkill County and shows the ultimate price that is paid to defend one's country by the common soldier.

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