Sunday, March 29, 2009

Schuylkill Boys at Vicksburg, Miss. 1863


General Ulysses S. Grant endeavored to take Vicksburg Miss. numerous times, constantly resulting in failure. The Vicksburg campaign was started on the 16th Of October 1862, the day he became commander of the Department of the Tennessee. This campaign lasted until the 20th of December 1862 ending in failure.
In the spring of 1863 Grant would change his strategy and attempt to take Vicksburg from the west bank of the Mississippi and attack the city from the south and east. The drive on Vicksburg started on May 14th with the attack on Jackson, Mississippi cutting of Confederate General Joseph Johnson from General John Pemberton and isolated Pemberton inside the heavily defended Vicksburg for the remainder of the campaign. Under the command of General Grant are Generals William Sherman, General John McClernand and General James Mcpherson. On the 16th of May the battle of Champions Hill was fought which became the most arduously fought battle of the Vicksburg campaign. The Union casualties exceeded over 2800 and the Confederates lost over 3850 men. Grant's forces moved closer to the fortifications outside of Vicksburg and on the 19th of May made a grand assault by Generals Sherman, McClernand and McPherson. The outcome of this failed attack would cost the Union close to 1000 men. On the 20th Grant met with his commanders and agreed the attack of the 19th failed because of the natural strength of the position and the nature of the ground. They were limited to attacking the most heavily defended points. They decided to attack again on the morning of the 22nd, with Sherman attacking on the right flank and McPherson in the center and McClernand on the left.
Fighting under the command of General Sherman was his old regular army regiment the 13th U.S. Infantry. Among the members of the 13th Regulars were 15 Schuylkill countians who were in all the engagements of the Vicksburg campaign. The 13th Regulars suffered heavily on the engagement of the 19th and while trying to plant their colors on the rebel works, they would lose three color bearers, and their colors would be pierced by fifty-five balls. They would once again be engaged on the charge of the 22nd.

On the 21st of May,1863 William R. Griffiths wrote a letter to his parents in Jalappa, in the Borough of Pottsville from Vicksburg, Mississippi: It was reprinted in the Miners Journal

There is nothing here at present but blood,
blood, blood; nothing but the continual roar
of cannons, musketry, gunboats, etc. We attacked
Vicksburg on the 14th. We have been fighting
almost day and night. We are in possession of
Jackson, and I hope and pray that Vicksburg
will be ours soon. We have whipped them almost
at every point, capturing thousands and
thousands of rebels, and have taken hundreds of
their largest guns. You can think yourself how
we have fought, when they had for 15 miles all
around the city, breastworks after breastworks
and our brave boys have driven them into within
one mile of the city. Gen. Grant has command.
Our regiment is under our favorite, General
Sherman. He has done his duty. Day before
yesterday Sherman's army corps took Haines
Bluff of which you have read about, with 9000
prisoners; but hundreds of our brave boys bit
the dust. Dear Mother I have stood before secesh
lead before but it was nothing to this time.
We have traveled for the last two days with
blood and mud and water up to our knees: but
we have won the laurels. We have driven them
over twelve miles in seven days, which they have
been fortifying for the last two years. Gen.
Pemberton, their commanding General was put in
irons by his own men because he wanted to
surrender the city three days ago. Gen. Taylor
old Zachariah Taylor's son has command in his
place. Yesterday they sent to General Grant
that they would surrender the city if he would
let them get all of their men out, but he would
not except it.
There are a great many of our brave boys in my
regiment killed. Our flag floats on the next fort
to the city, and before another sun sets Vicksburg
I hope will be ours. Our men are in great spirits
and put great confidence in Gen. Grant. It is true
a great many of our brave boys are killed, but not
near as many as the rebels.

The Coat of Arms 13th U.S. Infantry

The 13th U.S. Regulars, General William T. Sherman's favorite regiment performed a military funeral for his son, Willie, who became sick and died from the effects of typhoid fever on October 3rd 1863. General Sherman wrote a letter to the commanding officer of the 13th battalion tellling him that

"Willie was, or thought he was a sergeant
in the Thirteenth. I have seen his eyes brighten,
his heart beat, as he beheld the battalion
under arms, and asked me if they were not real
soldiers. "

General Sherman conveyed to the members of the Thirteenth battalion that in years after if they:

"Call on me or mine, and mention that
they were of the Thirteenth Regulars when
Willie was a sergeant, they will have a key to
the affections of my family that will open all
it has; that we will share with them our last
blanket, our last crust!"

June 13, 1863

Among the number of brave soldiers that fell at Vicksburg on the 22nd ult. Was James Robertson, Captain of Co. I 22nd Iowa Volunteers, while gallantly leading his men on the enemy’s works. Capt. Robertson has been in the service of his country since the breaking out of the rebellion, having been a member of Co. B 2d Regt. Iowa Volunteers during the three months service and was engaged in the battles ogf Dog Springs and Wilson’s Creek. While under the lamented General Lyon at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, he was slightly wounded. He was a brother of Mr. Andrew Robertson of New Philadelphia, Schuylkill County in which town he was brought up and lived. His age was twenty six years and during the last seven years he was a resident of Iowa.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Help This American Soldier Captain Roger Hill


I know this story has nothing to do with Schuylkill County soldiers but this story is a travesty to the American fighting man. This American soldier defending our way of life and protecting his men is once again caught up in this anti military liberal hatred of the U.S. Military and it makes me sick. Please read this story and act appropriately in contacting the Secretary of the Army or even this new President. Captain Roger Hill fully deserves an apology and his Honorable Discharge.
Capt. Hilll
Help Captain Roger Hill
by Lauren Hill

I am writing on behalf of my husband, Captain Roger Hill, and our entire family. Roger is now home (Fort Campbell, KY) awaiting the characterization of service from the Army. He expects to know something between four to six weeks from now.

You may have read about Roger's circumstances in either the Washington Post or World Magazine. They detail the challenges he and his men faced while in Wardak, Afghanistan this past year. Wardak is the province the Army has chosen to begin its spring 2009 troop surge into Afghanistan. Over 1,200 Soldiers from the Army's 10th Mountain Division are now surging into Wardak as a replacement to the 89 Soldiers of Roger's company. Wardak is the size of Connecticut.

Roger is facing an Other Than Honorable discharge from the Army as a result of the events outlined in those articles. All the people I have spoken to about this situation feel that Roger's actions were more than honorable as is his total time in service.

We hope to enlist your help in joining our letter writing campaign to the Secretary of the Army. The Human Resource Command (HRC) will review Roger's discharge packet and make a recommendation as to the characterization of his service to the Secretary of the Army Pete Geren.

Here are the facts.

1) Overview:

Captain Hill has served three overseas tours including his current tour as an Infantry Company Commander in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in 2008.
Captain Hill also completed a twelve month combat tour as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). For his duty and performance in Iraq, he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. While in Iraq, he served on multiple Transition Teams based out of Qayyarah of the Nineweh province and Ar Ramadi of the Al Anbar province. He mentored and fought alongside Iraqi infantry units from the platoon level up to brigade level staff.
In addition to the above awards, he is also Airborne, Air Assault and Ranger qualified. Captain Hill has been awarded the Expert Infantryman's Badge, three Army Commendation Medals, and three Overseas Ribbons as well as a number of other awards and medals during his over twelve plus years of collective Army Service.
He also served in the U.S. Army's prestigious Old Guard as a platoon leader and executive officer from 2002 to 2004. Captain Hill was hand selected to serve as the officer in charge (OIC) for the funerals of many dignitaries and fallen comrades. One such privilege included serving as the Guard of Honor OIC for former President Reagan's funeral (see pictures attached). Captain Hill's dress blues uniform coat, along with his commander's awards and decorations, was selected for permanent display at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
He also served as a platoon leader (mechanized and rifle), Assistant Battalion Operations Officer and as an Infantry Officer Basic Course Instructor where he trained and mentored dozens of Infantry Platoon Leaders that are currently fighting the Global War on Terror.
As reflected by all of his many officer evaluation reports (OERs), he was considered a top performer in every position that he held all with "promotion" designations.
He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy (West Point) with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Environmental Engineering.
2) Highlights of Current OEF Deployment (2008) with events that led to the Article 32 pre-trial hearing:

Captain Hill's company, the smallest infantry company in the brigade, was responsible for the entire province of Wardak. Wardak is equal to the state of Connecticut in total area with a population of 527,000.
Wardak is also one of the most kinetic operating areas for the brigade. His company suffered thirty wounded in action (WIA) and two killed in action (KIA) during their first six months in Wardak. This was approximately one third of Captain Hill's less than ninety man infantry company.
Despite the casualties, Dog Company's reenlistment retention rate was the highest in the Brigade.
In mid-August, Dog Company suffered the worst possible outcome in combat. First Lieutenant (1LT) Donnie Carwile and Specialist (SPC) Paul Conlon were killed in action (KIA) in an intricately planned and complex ambush along HWY 1. SPC Conlon and 1LT Carwile died from wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device (IED) just days before the events in question.
After verifying with several classified sources, Captain Hill along with a temporarily attached counter intelligence (CI) team, confirmed that there was an intelligence leak on forward operating base (FOB) Airborne. Through the use of classified technologies, Captain Hill and his CI team collected incontrovertible evidence against twelve Afghan spies who were providing intelligence to the enemy.
A feint operation to the same location SPC Conlon and 1LT Carwile were killed was conducted to verify that the infiltrators on the FOB were giving information about troop movements, locations and movement times. The enemy was waiting for the Soldiers on patrol that day just as they were the day SPC Conlon and 1LT Carwile were killed in action.
Repeated calls were made to Dog Company's battalion headquarters to coordinate for transfer of these twelve infiltrators to the battalion's custody in accordance with standard protocol. As evidenced in the Article 32 hearing, Dog Company's requests for assistance and/or guidance went unanswered. Soon those spies would be on the streets due to a theater wide time constraint on the custody of detainees.
* Captain Hill did not consider the consequences of his actions with respect to his career. Rather, his focus was on the possible consequences to his Soldiers if he took no action. None of the twelve detainees were hurt. This was confirmed by the base physician assistant's examinations, the battalion's Executive Officer who examined each detainee before transfer and in a personal written statement given by one of the twelve detainees.
After the Article 32 hearing was complete, the Article 32 officer stated that he found no indication that the actions taken by Captain Hill, First Sergeant Scott or their Soldiers were by nature unusually cruel, sadistic or that they were amused by what they did.
The Article 32 officer also stated that Dog Company was extended beyond its capabilities and that he believed that their actions were taken with a sincere desire to protect their Soldiers.
Captain Hill's actions resulted in obtaining valuable and potentially lifesaving intelligence.
The interrogations lasted less than thirty minutes.
3) Personal Considerations:

Like all military families, Captain Hill's wife and family have sacrificed much for the Army. He has spent almost three of his six years of marriage preparing for, and deployed overseas in combat. As Dog Company's Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader, his wife, Lauren, played an active role in the lives of every Dog Company family. Lauren's many duties included assisting with casualty notifications to the families of Soldiers of Dog Company who were either killed or wounded in combat. Dog Company suffered more casualties than any company in its battalion. Lauren volunteered to do all of this, in addition to her full time career as a public servant. She is a Masters degreed teacher of children with special needs at a public elementary school outside of Ft. Campbell. She has volunteered to bear a heavy burden for the Army and its families. The Army and infantry life style has also taken a heavy toll on Captain Hill's body over the past twelve years. Early in his career, he sustained a cervical spine injury in an Army combative course. His injury was misdiagnosed by the Army health care system at the time of the injury. By the time a proper diagnosis had been rendered, years had passed and irreversible damage had been done. Despite the injury and misdiagnosis, he completed every duty that the Army would ask of an infantry officer. An Other Than Honorable discharge would certainly limit if not eliminate the Army's responsibility for continued care.

An HONORABLE discharge is the only decent resolution to this case. Please write Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and express your opinion that this good soldier deserves an honorable discharge on behalf of his service to his country.

Pvt. John Killeen 96th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment Court Martial

96th PVI at Camp Northumberland



Before a General Court Martial, which convened at the Headquarters 3d Brigade 1st Division, 6th Corps, pursuant to Special Orders No. 62, dated January 31, 1863, and No. 75, dated February 13, 1863, Headquarters 1st Division, 6th Corps, and of which Colonel Emory Upton, 121st New York Volunteers, is President, was arraigned and tried—
Private John Killeen, company I, 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

CHARGE I.—" Disobedience of orders."
Specification—"\n this; that the said Private John Killeen, company I, 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, did, when ordered by the 1st Sergeant of his company to go on guard duty, refuse to go. This on the 7th day of February, 1863, at the camp of the 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, near Windmill Point, Virginia."

CHARGE II.—"Conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline."
Specification—" In this; that said Private John Killeen, company I, 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, upon being ordered to go on guard duty by his superior noncommissioned officer, 1st Sergeant John Bowler, company I, 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, did use abusive and insulting language to him, swearing, ' By my living Jesus Christ, I will have your life the first chance, you son of a bitch.' This on the 7th day of February, 1863, at the camp of the 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, near Windmill Point, Virginia."

CHARGE III.—" Using threatening and abusive language to his superior officer."
Specification—"In this; that the said Private John Killeen, company I, 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, did call Captain Matthew Byrnes, company I, 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 'a damned son of a bitch;' and did, in the presence of enlisted men, threaten to shoot said Captain Byrnes. This at camp of the 96th regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, near Windmill Point, Virginia, 18th February, 1803."

CHARGE IV.—" Violently assaulting his superior officer."
Specification—" In this; that he, the said Private John Killeen, company I, 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, did strike Captain Matthew Byrnes, company I, 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, while said Captain was engaged at his dinner. This at camp of the 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, near Windmill Point, Virginia 18th of February, 1863."

CHARGE V.—" Inciting to mutiny."
Specification—" In this; that the said Private John Killeen, company I, 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, being under arrest, did violently break away from the guard, enter his tent, seize a musket, and call upon enlisted men to assist him, saying, I'll shoot the first son of a bitch that comes to arrest inc.1 This at the camp of the 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, near Windmill Point, Virginia, 18th February, 1863."

CHARGE VI.—"Attempting to shoot a superior officer."
Specification—"In this, that the said Private John Killeen, company I, 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, did snap a loaded musket at Lieutenant Amos Frostman, 2d Lieutenant company D, while in discharge of his duty as Officer of the Guard, saying, You son of a bitch, I'll shoot you.' This at the camp of the 96th regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, near Windmill Point, Virginia, 18th February, 1863."
To which charges and specifications the accused, Private John Killeen, company I, 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers, pleaded " Not Guilty."

The Court, having maturely considered the evidence adduced, finds the accused, Private John Killeen, company I, 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers, as follows:

Of the Specification, “Guilty."
Of the Charge, “Guilty."

Charge I1
Of the Specification, “Guilty."
Of the Charge, " Guilty."

Of the Specification, " Guilty, except the word ' damned.' "
Of the Charge " Guilty."

Of the Specification, " Guilty."
Of the Charge, " Guilty."

Of the Specification. " Guilty, except the word ' violently.'"
Of the Charge, " Guilty"

Of the Specification, " Not Guilty."
Of the Charge, "Not Guilty."

And the Court does therefore sentence him, Private John Killeen, Company I, 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers, "To be shot to death with musketry, at such time and place as the Commanding General may direct: two-thirds of the members of the Court concurring therein."

Cressona B-26 Pilot Killed In Action

444th Bomb Group Squdron Patch

Captain Harold Dieter, only son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Dieter, of River St. Cressona, who has taken part in many important bombing missions in the North African area, one of them blowing up an oil dump at the then important Italian base of Cagliari in Sardinia, has been killed in action; his parents were informed by the War Department.
The telegram delivered at the home said briefly that the young man lost his life on September 18, in the North African area.
Captain Dieter, who was 25, has figured prominently in the news and was the subject of a special story written by a newspaper correspondent of the mission against Cagliari and the “Bad Penny” the B-26 which Dieter commanded.
He had been in the service for two years, receiving his training at Minter Field in California and Williams Field in Arizona getting his commission as a second lieutenant at the latter. He was promoted to captain before leaving the states by plane for North Africa in December. In the last letter received by his family he stated he was the Squadron Engineering Officer. His family read about him in the newspapers but he was modest and seldom told them anything about his experiences. He was a 1935 graduate of Cressona High School where he stared in athletics. Upon graduation he went to California and took courses in electricity and engineering at the National School there and enlisted in the Air Corps from California. His last trip home was made just before he left for Africa.

Editors Note:
Following is the mission report from the 320th Bombardment group (m) for September 18th in which Captain Dieter was killed. He was flying as an observer on this mission and not as pilot in command.

Headquarters 320th Bombardment Group (m)
Intelligence Narrative No. 81 Day operation 18, September, 1943

Twenty eight B-26’s of the 320th bombardment group took off this morning to bomb Fratica di mare L/G Italy. They accompanied the 17th and 319th bombardment groups, and were unescorted. Three B-26’s returned early, 1 because tail and turret guns were out and 2 were spares.
The target was bombed successfully. 1 B-26 left the formation after bombing and crash landed at Sateur to give possible medical aid to a pilot flying as an observer who had been hit by flak. The officer died without regaining consciousness. 1 B-26 left the formation and headed toward Sicily after leaving the target, the right engine smoking. It has not yet been heard from. Twenty three B-26’s returned safely to this base on schedule.
Routes and Altitude to the target
From rendezvous at 2500’ with the 17th and 319th groups at Djodieda, 30Deg. For 325 statue miles to Falmarola Island, 340 Deg. For 35 statue miles to I.P. 5 miles west of Anzio, climbing gradually to 11, 500 Bomb run 34 Deg. Bomb run 340 deg. For 17 miles at 11,000ft breakaway to the left.
From target curve left 201 deg. For 366 miles to this base, dropping gradually to 3,000 ft.
Bombs started at B/8 and walked in three strings in an excellent pattern across western portion of the field into northwestern dispersal area. 9/12 A/C were seen burning on the field among bomb bursts.
A probable gasoline dump k/10 was hit resulting in a sheet of flame 50 yards in diameter and white smoke reaching 5,000 feet in the air. Nearly the entire field was seen covered with bomb bursts on leaving the target area, as a result of the bombing of the three groups.
Flak: Moderate inaccurate to accurate heavy flak was encountered from Anzio to the breakaway from the target, and four to five miles out to sea. Over the target burst were seen successively stepping up apparently getting our range. At the same time several bursts of flak were seen. Suggested is a possible signal that range had been reached.
Losses One B-26 damaged by flak and landed at Mat our, destroying the A/C. One B-26 is missing. Seven B-26’s were damaged slightly. A pilot {Captain Harold Dieter} Flying as an observer was killed by flak.
Comments: Pilots reported having difficulty flying at slow speeds maintained by the leading group.

Editors Note.
Captain Dieter flew on this mission as an observer on board aircraft 147-83 from the 444th Squadron. They took off runway 1 at 1152 local. And crashed landed.

He went back to the bomb bay to photograph the bomb drop. While peering out of the bomb bay He was struck by a very small piece of shrapnel that apparently hit him in the head.

Pilot Captain Barrett
Co-pilot captain. Harris
Navigator 1st .Lt. Housne
Bombadier 1st. Lt. Stephens
Engineer gunner T/Sgt Weil
Radio Gunner Tsgt Kraker
Aerial Gunner, S/Sgt Hedgepeth.

Dieter was buried on Saturday September 18, 1943 at the North Africa American Cemetery, Carthage Tunisia in Plot E Row 11 Grave 9
He earned in his flying careeer An Air Medal With 5 Oak leaf Clusters

When Flying as pilot in command he flew Aircraft #-Ma 41-17863 “Bad Penny” 444th BS 320th Bomb group.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Richard "Dick" Wheeler Famous Author and Marine Lived In Schuylkill County

Photo of Richard Wheeler as a Corporal In The USMC
Photo taken by Carroll Jochesm for an article in the Pottsvile Republican Weekender July 1987. Richard standing by picture of his buddies who raised the flag on Suribachi.



Just recently the battle of Iwo Jima was remembered. It has been 64 years since this bloody battle was fought. Numerous men from Schuylkill County both Navy and Marine Corps fought in this battle. The invasion took place on February 19. 1945. and ended on March 26, 1945.
The subject of this sketch is Richard “Dick” Wheeler a nationally acclaimed author who lived with his sister Margery Wheeler Mattox at the Interesting old property in Pine grove called “Nutting Hall”.
Richard was born in Reading and grew up in Laureldale, He graduated from Muhlenberg Township High School.
Richard always had a passion for writing and at a very young age he wrote for the Reading Shopping Bulletin. After graduating high school Richard enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
As a Marine he was in the battle of Iwo Jima and wrote the best first hand account of this battle ever written. He was wounded severely early in the battle and was evacuated to a hospital ship off shore were he heard the roar of cheering Marines and sailors as the first flag was raised on Mt. Suribachi. A few hours later the now famous flag was raised on Mt. Suribachi. This flag replaced the small flag initially raised and a prize winning photo was taken by Joe Rosenthal. But this flag raising was personal for Richard, for it was his company and his buddies in his platoon that raised the flag that day.

Richard Wheelers platoon was the men who raised the flag in the famous photo.

After a long recuperation in hospitals Richard was discharged and went back to his old job of writing. He wrote for various national magazines, among them the Saturday Evening Post.
He moved to Pine Grove in 1950 and lived out in the Swopes Valley. Richard was a friend of another Schuylkill County author the Pulitzer Prize winning Conrad Richter. In 1965 Richard wrote his excellent book about the battle of Iwo Jima called “The Bloody Battle for SuribachI” written from his personal memories. If anybody is interested in the battle I highly recommend this book. Richard in the course of his writing career penned 17 books dealing with military history from the Revolution , civil War to World War 2. Another great book on the Marines in World War 2, and which I use constantly for reference in writing up stories about the Marines is his book “A Special Valor” The U.S. Marines and The Pacific War.

Richard was also a consultant for the latest movies about Iwo Jima called “Flags of Our Fathers”, James Bradley used Richard’s book for reference on the battle. It was known that Clint Eastwood the director of the movie had his cast read Richard’s Book before starting the movie.
Richard also wrote many great books on the Civil War, all of which are in my library at home. I had the great fortune of meeting him at our Historical Society of Schuylkill County and at a book signing for his book “Witness to Gettysburg”.
Unfortunately Richard passed away on October 21, 2008. To me he his another of the true heroes of that Greatest Generation. And just by talking to him you would never know it, just like the true heroes they are.

My Favorite books by Richard Wheeler are
The Bloody Battle for Suribachi”

“A Special Valor” 1983

“Voices of 1776: The Story of the American Revolution in the Words of Those Who Were There” 1972

“The Siege of Vicksburg” 1978

“Sherman’s March: An Eyewitness History” 1978

“Witness to Gettysburg” 1987

“Witness to Appomattox” 1989

“Voices of the Civil War” 1990

“Sword Over Richmond: An Eyewitness History of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign” 1991

“On Fields of Fury: From the Wilderness to the Crater” 1992

“Lee’s Terrible Swift Sword: From Antietam to Chancellorsville” 1993

“A Rising Thunder: From Lincoln’s Election to the Battle of Bull Run” 1995

“Gettysburg 1863: Campaign of Endless Echoes” 1999