Wednesday, December 24, 2008









Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Schuylkill Countian Escapes From Andersonville Prison 1864

Arriving At Andersonville


Almost one third of the some 40,000 federal prisoners who entered the Confederate Prison at Andersonville remain there today in its cemetery. Strikingly it is estimated that only two dozen men broke out of Andersonville and successfully reached Federal lines. And despite legends to the contrary, almost none of them escaped by tunnel.
This is the story of Pvt. David Weir born in Kilmarnock, Scotland he resided in Branchdale, Schuylkill County. Unbelievably Pvt. David Wier is one of the two dozen men to have made history by escaping from Andersonville Prison.
David Wier enlisted in the Union Army on September 3, 1861. He enlisted in Company E of the 55th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry under Captain Horace Bennett of Minersville, who was killed in action bravely leading his men at the battle of Pocotaligo River in May 1862 Most of the men in Company E were from the Minersville, Frailey Township area of Schuylkill County.
Pvt. Wier took part in many of the engagements that the 55th was involved in from late 1861 until May 10, 1864 when he was captured in the battle of Drewry’s Bluff. During the battle he received a bullet wound in the thigh. He was taken prisoner and moved into Petersburg Va. Were the confederate surgeons worked on his leg. He was hospitalized for a month and later transferred to Charleston S.C. where he was processed and then sent on to Andersonville. Arriving sometime in July of 1864.

Captured along with Private David Wier was Pvt. Thomas Conway and Pvt. David Hughes both friends of his who grew up in Branchdale with him. Privates Weir, Hughes , Conway were mess mates in H Squad North Mess. The men usually formed into small messes with comrades from the same regiment or company. In this way they would draw rations and share everything they had with each other and also protected one another from the roving bands of thieves and murderers that existed in the camp. this was one way of trying to survive the horror that was Andersonville.

As stated above of all those who were held in Andersonville only two dozen men ever escaped. On October 18, 1864 Wier, Hughes, Conway and another man a Tennessee scout by the name of Thomas Cheshire made their escape. The story has it that Cheshire bribed one of the rebel guards to help them escape. Upon leaving Andersonville the group fled through the swamps Weir, Hughes, Conway and Cheshire continued their flight, hiding in the bushes by day and traveling by night while being pursued by Bloodhounds sent after them by the rebel militia.
In a story written by Wier that was published in the Pottsville Republican on November 16, 1927 Wier relates that Conway weakened by sickness and prison privation was unable to proceed and was caught by the rebel guards and their bloodhounds and sent back to prison along with David Hughes, but Cheshire’s report states that three of them escaped.
During this harrowing flight the remaining three somehow found a sympathetic slave who agreed to help them, the slave at great risk to himself hid the men in his wagon under a load of corn and took them over seventy miles through two Rebel towns and across a ferry. The slave turned the men over to another slave who guided them to some sympathetic white Floridians who were loyal to the Union. These people gave the men a boat that they took out into Ochlocknee Bay near Tallahassee.
Running down the coast was the U.S.S. Mortar Schooner Oliver H. Lee enroute to Key West. The Lee had just put some men in a small boat looking for fresh water, when the trio signaled the men and were rescued. Their journey took them over 200 miles, quite a feat for starving and sick men.

Later Thomas Cheshire would write an interesting story about his escape from Andersonville. The story is held in the Gettysburg College archives listed under the Thomas Cheshire Papers.
David Wier arrived in New York on Thanksgiving Day 1864. Unbelievably he rejoined his company immediately and participated in the fall of Petersburg April 2nd 1865 and was present at the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate forces at Appomattox, Va. April 9, 1865. On May 19, 1865 he was mustered out of Company E 55th P.V.I. In 1925 Pvt. David Wier was one of the last surviving members of the George Lawrence Post 17 in Minersville. After the war he went back to working in the mines where he worked as a breaker hand, he ran the engine in the Otto Colliery. One of those long lost heroes of Schuylkill County.
David Hughes also went back to the regiment and was mustered out December 29, 1864.
Thomas Conway survived the ordeal at Andersonville and was also mustered out with the company on August 30, 1865.

The Cost of Andersonville

For those interested in reading about the escapes from Andersonville Robert Scott Davis wrote an excellent book entitled “Ghost Shadows of Andersonville.”

Monday, November 24, 2008


The 96th P.V.I. In Full Regimental Dress Parade Camp Northumberland, Va. November 1861

On September 14, 1862 the 96th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, from Schuylkill County participated in the desperate engagement at Cramptons Pass, Md.. The 96th was in the thickest of the fight and some of the companies suffered heavily; the number in killed and wounded and missing was around 150. Among the officers killed was Major Lewis J. Martin, of Pottsville, and Captain John Dougherty of Palo Alto. Both of theses men were excellent officers. Following are some articles expressing the grief and the honor that was due both of these brave men. They are from the Pottsville Miners Journal

The Honored Dead
Oh! It was a glorious death for a patriot and soldier
Major Lewis J. Martin

Major Lewis J. Martin

The bitter fruits of this unholy rebellion was brought forcibly home to our very hearthstones on Wednesday last. The noon train from Philadelphia brought the dead bodies of Major Lewis J. Martin and Lieutenant John Dougherty, of the 96th Reg. Penna. Vol., killed in the battle at the pass of the Blue Ridge, on Sunday last. The news of their fall had not reached us before, and no words can describe the feeling of universal gloom throughout the Borough, as the word passed from mouth to mouth, that the mortal remains of these two brave soldiers, had reached our depot on their way to their bereaved families and friends.
Major Martin entered the service at the first call of the President, and was one of the Committee that offered the services of the National Light Infantry of this borough, to the Government, even before the rebels fired on the flag at Fort Sumter. He left as a corporal of the Infantry and was one of the members that entered the Capitol of the country on the 18th of April the day before the Massachusetts 6th was attacked in the streets of Baltimore. On the election of Lieut. Cake as Colonel of the Regt., Corporal Martin was promoted to First Lieutenant of the company, in which position he served during the three months. On the return of the tree month’s volunteers, he immediately recruited a company for the 96th, and was a leading spirit and acting superintendent of the regiment while forming on Lawton’s Hill, in this borough, and was selected as Major of the Regiment before departing for the field. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Gaines Hill, and after gallantly leading his men to the charge at Blue Ridge, on Sunday evening last, in which he was in the thickest of the fight, and just as victory had perched on our banner, Major Martin rushed to the brow of the hill, in company with others, to plant the colors, a ball pierced his head, about five minutes before six o’clock, and ten minutes after six, he breathed his last, remaining insensible during the whole period. Oh! It was a glorious death for a patriot and soldier thus to die, in the defense of the best Government on the face of the earth; and while we deeply sympathies with his near and dear relatives, for the heavy loss they have sustained, they have the consolation to know that he nobly performed his duty, a fell a martyr in the cause of freedom.
Major Martin was the son of the late John S. C. Martin of this Borough, He was a Civil Engineer by profession, and in the fall of 1859 had been elected County Surveyor, on the Republican Ticket. His manners were remarkably modest and unobtrusive-very quiet, of studious habits, attentive to business, and a hard worker at what ever he undertook. In point of morals, no better young man could be found anywhere.
We append a letter From Col. Cake, addressed to his wife, mother and sisters.

Colonel Henry L. Cake

Headquarters 96th Regiment P.V.
Camp in the field, Sept. 15, 1862.

My Dear Mrs Martin,
How shall I fulfill the harrowing duty that is mine? At the storming of the Blue Ridge, seven miles from Harper’s Ferry, I lost my brother, friend, constant companion-the bravest and most gallant soldier of the regiment-my Major.
The country has lost a soldier, I a friend, but oh! Who can describe your loss? He spoke of his mother continually, and of his little son, who must now be your consolation and your care. His disappointment at not meeting you was extreme. It was just at the moment of the complete victory. The 96th had again covered itself with what to me was horrid glory, when we felt the extreme danger was past, that he relieved his death wound. Adjt. George. G. Boyer was near him, and reports him hit at five minutes before six, and he ceased to breathe at ten minutes past six. He never spoke, was unconscious, and did not suffer. Mr. Boyer removed him from the field with his own hands. I have had a coffin made, and will send him to Washington to be embalmed, and thence to Pottsville, consigned to R.J.Weaver. Break the news to his poor wife. It breaks my heart to be compelled to communicate it to you.
The storming of the Blue Ridge will be memorable, and will render memorable Sunday, the 14th of September, 1862. It is seven miles to Harpers Ferry, near the village of Burkittsville, Md. It was here you laid your sacrifices upon the altar of your country. It was no widow’s mite, and all you give-a brave, good soldier.
The 96th suffered severely, losing, not less than a 150 in killed in wounded. I need not say how much I sympathize with you and your daughters. My own grief is extreme. Believe me dear madam.

Your most devoted friend,
H.L. Cake

On Thursday Major Martin’s body was conveyed to the tomb. A great concourse of people accompanied his remains to their last resting place, in the Presbyterian cemetery. Stores and other business places throughout the town were closed, and the flags were lowered at half mast, in token of respect to the brave dead. Rev. Joseph McCool, in his remarks characterized with a sprit of stirring patriotism as well as of piety-paid a marked tribute to the memory of the deceased, whom he had known intimately from his youth.
Major Martin leaves an interesting family consisting of his widow and three children, besides his widowed mother.

In the Lonely St. Patricks Catholic Cemetery high up on the hill in Pottsville, is a grave by a tree. The grave of Captain John Dougherty, Co. F 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Captain John Dougherty's Grave at St. Patricks Catholic Cemetery Pottsville

When I visit the graves of these heroes, I can almost see the large funeral taking place.

Thou his grave stone is fading. His memory and what he stood for and fought for and died for will never fade.

Captain John Dougherty
While bravely leading his company to the final struggle at the road.

Of Captain Dougherty, we are sorry to have but little knowledge, or the means of information (at the time we write) prior to his engagement in the service of his country.
He had served, we are told, a term of enlistment in the regular army of the United States, and on his volunteering at the outbreak of the rebellion, in the spring of 1861, being recognized as a good soldier and an efficient drill master, he was chosen to the position of 2nd Lieutenant of Capt. Anthony’s company of the 25th regiment of the three months men. Having discharged the duties of this post with great credit to himself and entire satisfaction to his superior officers, he was made 1st Lieutenant of a company under the same Captain upon the organization of the 96th. And since the promotion of Capt. Anthony after the ever memorable Seven Days battles in front of Richmond, in which the 96th took a conspicuous and honorable part. Lieut. Dougherty has been acting Captain of the Company, and would have received his commission as such as soon as the War Department could had leisure to make it out.
He was an active and energetic officer, highly beloved and respected by his men, and died where he had always been found at his post!
Capt. Dougherty was a single man. He had been employed for some years and up to the time of his entering the military service, a conductor of the coal trains on the Reading Railroad residing at Palo Alto.
He is buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Pottsville, yesterday. The funeral cortege was immense. The stores were closed and the flags lowered at half mast as on the day previous.
Thus two more of Schuylkill’s brave sons have laid their lives upon the altar of our country’s liberties, noble martyrs in a glorious cause.
Peace to their ashes!

Following is a letter written by Samuel Russel Lieut. Of the 96th on the battle.

The Battle of South Mountain Pass.
Cramptons Gap.
September 14, 1862.

We are permitted to copy the following letter from Lieut. Russel of Company C, 96th Regt. P.V. to his father, Andrew Russel, Esq. of this place. It will prove interesting to those having friends in the 96th, as showing, in a very plain matter of fact way, (The letter was not intended for publication), the gallant part enacted by the regiment in this memorable engagement of Sunday, the 14th.
Lieut. Russel (we understand from another r source) was personally complimented by his Colonel, while on the field and midst of the action, for his behavior during the fight.
The 96th forms apart of Gen,. Franklin’s army corps, and occupied the extreme left of the movement referred to. It has seen much hard service, as it reduced numbers sufficiently attest, and through it all we feel proud to add, has borne itself nobly-worthy of high hopes Schuylkill County entertains for all of her many sons in the field.

Camp at Crampton’s Gap Blue Ridge, Md.
September 15, 1862

My Dear Father: Yesterday we advanced from this side of Buckeyeville. Our regiment was in the advance some two miles. We found the enemy strongly posted on the mountain at Crampton’s Gap; the main body of our troops (Slocum’s Division) soon arrived and we made preparations to storm the mountain pass. The enemy had every advantage and we every disadvantage we were finally ordered forward and after advancing about a half of mile the rebels poured a tremendous fire of shell and grape upon us, still we kept on until we met the infantry at the bottom of the hill strongly posted behind a stone fence. It was perfectly useless to stand and fire at them. So there was but one thing left for us to do, and that was to charge and drive them at the point of the bayonet. Col. Bartlett rode in front of our regiment and said, “Now Pennsylvanians do you duty.” Oh! If 50,000 young men of Pennsylvania, who are now still at home, could have seen our regiment (very little over 400 strong) make the charge they would remain at home no longer. We were determined to take that place. Just before we reached the fence, we received a terrible fire; our men fell fast. Here our two color bearers were shot down. Two others immediately grasped the colors and were bearing them gallantly forward, when they too were shot down. Lieut. John Dougherty of Co. F was killed here, and I believe Major Martin also, but we were not too be kept back. On we went and took the fence, but that did not satisfy us, we kept on and drove the enemy to the top of the mountain with terrible loss, completely routing them. We could not use our artillery, but the bravery of our men made up for that. On reaching the top of the mountain we formed our lines again, but it was to dark to follow further. He we halted for about three quarters of hour., when we came down some distance and halted for the night. We had no blankets and it was quite cold. Among the killed of our regiment are Saul McMinze, color bearer, and Martin Sipe. Wounded are Sergt. Allison, Corporal Hilton, Pvts. Arthur Branigan, C. Bast, D. Thomas, H. Lynch, J. Frazlers and Thomas Oliver, color Bearer. None are very badly wounded. The loss in the regiment is 19 killed and 74 wounded. The loss to the rebels, five to our one and about 6 to 3 in prisoners. I eascaped without a scratch and was in the thickest of the fight. I found an opportunity of firing my pistol fourteen shots. It is now getting dark. Col Cake behaved most bravely, I will give you further description of the battle at the first opportunity.
Your affectionate son,

Saml. L. Russel

Battle of South Mountain

Report of Col. Henry L. Cake, Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania Infantry, of the
Battle of Crampton’s Pass
Camp near Williamsport, Md., September 2 3, 1862.

LIEUTENANT: I have the honor to submit the following report of the
engagements of the 14th and 17th instant so far as participated in by this regiment:
After marching through Jefferson on Sunday morning, I was ordered out upon the road to Burkittsville, the regiment having been indicated as the advance guard. When within 2 miles of the latter village, the cavalry advance came in and reported a skirmish with a superior force of the enemy’s cavalry. Companies A and F were deployed at once as
skirmishers, and moved forward, the balance of the regiment steadily moving on within easy supporting distance. The enemy retired to the South Mountain through Burkittsville, our two companies of skirmishers penetrating to within 1,000 yards of the base, the balance of the regiment halting at the entrance of the village a little after 1
o’clock p. m. As the skirmishers entered the village they drew the fire of the artillery posted on the heights, which was kept up during the day, the shot being divided between the skirmishers and the main body of the Ninety-sixth, drawn up in line on the Knoxville road, the enemy revealing the position of at least five of their pieces.
At about 4 o’clock I was ordered to draw in the skirmishers and rejoin the brigade with the regiment. Having posted a picket down the Knoxville road, this required some time, and the brigade had commenced to move, as had also the other two brigades of the division. Receiving an order from Major-General Slocum to move on in the rear of the New Jersey brigade, I did so, forming g where they formed and moving on the
field to their right. At about 5.30 o’clock the Ninety-sixth had marched to the line of skirmishers, and I was ordered by Colonel Bartlett, commanding the brigade, to take my position on the extreme right. The base of the mountain was now about 1,000 yards distant. At that point the road ran parallel to the mountain. On one or the other side
of this road a substantial stone fence furnished good cover for the enemy’s infantry, to say nothing of the wood on the side of the mountain. Brisk musketry firing was in progress on our left, but the good cover in possession of the enemy and the distance at which we stood rendered it quite certain that we could gain nothing at a stand-off fight,
while the artillery posted in the mountain was punishing us severely.
It was evident that nothing but a rush forward would win. The order to charge came at last, and with a shout the entire line started. The fields through which the Ninety-sixth charged presented many obstacles, and, in order not to meet the enemy with broken lines, I twice halted momentarily, with a stone fence for a cover, for a great portion
of my regiment to form. The last of the series of fields through which we had to charge was meadow and standing corn. As we emerged from the corn the enemy met us with a murderous fire.
We were within 20 paces of the road, at the base of the mountain, the stronghold of the enemy. It was here we met our great loss. Shocked, but not repulsed, the men bounded forward, determined to end it with the bayonet. The road was gained in a twinkling, 1 he
enemy leaving for the mountain. Those of the enemy who were not hurt, and who seemed too much surprised to get away, begged lustily for mercy. I had seen Lient. John Dougherty, one of my best officers, fall, but without waiting to see who were down or who were up, I hastily formed my line, Major Mcginnis, of the Eighteenth New York,
promising to form on my left and follow, and dashed on up the hill, keeping the line formed as well as possible, to guard against a probable stand of the enemy at the crest of the hill. I let the men advance nearly as fast as they could and wanted to.
It was a most exhausting charge. By the time we had ascended half way the cannon had ceased firing on our left, and the enemy seldom replied to our fire with their muskets. We made captures at every step. After passing the crest of the mountain, a lieutenant of the
Fifteenth North Carolina delivered himself up. I sent, during the charge, 42 prisoners to the rear, including the captain of Company G, Sixteenth Georgia, wounded, and other officers and men, most of them
unhurt. Sergeant Anderson, of Company K, shot the color-bearer of
the Sixteenth Georgia, but did not stop to secure the colors, which were
secured by some of our forces afterward.
After advancing beyond the crest of the hill, I formed my line for the purpose of resting the men, who were much exhausted by the march of the day and the furious dash up the mountain. It is with much gratification that l can report my companies all present inline,
fully and fairly represented.
Colonel Seaver, of the Sixteenth, as also the officers commanding portions of the Eighteenth and Thirty-second New York, joined their lines to the Ninety-sixth, and reported to me for orders. Having thrown our skirmishers to the right and front, I rested until the reception of orders to return to the foot of the mountain and go into camp,
which order was promptly obeyed, the brigade going into camp on the western side of the pass.
During the charge, and just at the moment when a splendid victory was opened, Maj. Lewis J. Martin was mortally wounded by a musket- ball in the head, and died while being carried off the field. He was an accomplished and brave soldier; an unassuming and perfect gentleman, beloved by all the regiment, and regretted beyond expression.
One of the first to volunteer in this war, he has at last laid down his life while gallantly and bravely fighting for his country.—the. only son of his mother, and she a widow. A minute before, First Lieut. John Dougherty, commanding Company F, was shot through the breast, at my side, while bravely leading his company to the final struggle at the road. Sergeant Casey, seizing his sword as he fell, valiantly raised it over his head and dashed forward at the head of his company, which never faltered. There was no better or braver soldier than Lieut. John Dougherty. The loss of these two officers falls heavily upon the regiment. During the charge I had 2 color-bearers killed and 3 wounded. Casualties: 20 killed, 71 wounded; total, 91.
The conduct of the regiment was excellent, my orders under fire being obeyed promptly and with great cheerfulness. Captain Lessig, Company C, deserves especial mention for brave conduct. •The prospect of a fight in the wood and among the rocks on the side of the mountain stimulated him to great exertions to gain that point, and he cheered on
his fine company most bravely. Captain Hay, Company A, also preserved his excellent reputation as a fighting officer, holding his company well in hand, always cool. and in line. His services were invaluable in the fight, as they always are on the march, on picket, or in command of skirmishers. Captain Budd, Company K, also fought gallantly,
leading his men bravely in the fight, capturing prisoners with his own hands. Captain Haas, Company G, also fought with coolness and courage, leading his men into the fire with promptness. Captains Filbert, Boyle, and Royer, of B, D, and H, also did their duty. I must also make special mention of Lieut. George G. Boyer, acting regimental adjutant, who bravely encouraged the men throughout the lines up to the time the road was gained. Upon the fall of Major Martin, Lieutenant Boyer was charged with his removal, hoping that prompt attention might save his valuable life.
The conduct of Lieutenant Byrnes, commanding Company I, and Lieutenant Oberrender, commanding Company E, was most praise-worthy. At the head of their companies their courageous example was most conspicuous. Upon the fall of Lieut. John Dougherty, Sergeant Casey assumed command of Company F, and conducted it through
the balance of the day with the coolness of a veteran officer. Lieutenant Sailor, Company A; Lieutenant Hannum, Company D; Lieutenant Russell, Company C, and Lieutenant Huber; Company B, rendered marked services on the field. Lieutenant Russell, Company C, dispatched to bring Company B forward to the regimental line on the side
of the mountain, displayed promptness, courage, and zeal in the discharge of his duty. Sergt. Maj. John Harlan deserves especial mention for the great coolness he displayed in the fight. In forming the lines to renew the charge after the enemy had been routed at the foot of the bill his services were invaluable. It is truly gratifying to be able to
make this truthful statement. Companies A, F, I, C, K, and 0- were the first in the road, Companies C, A, and K first and simultaneously. in taking the road we lost 2 color-beavers killed and 3 wounded, The names of those killed with the colors in their hands are Solomon M. Minzi, Company C, color-bearer, and Charles B. Zeiglei-, Company
H. The wounded are Thomas Oliver, Company C, color-bearer; Sergeant Johnson, Company II, and William Ortner, Company II.
I regret being compelled to report that our surgeons invariably leave upon the bursting of the first shell near the regiment. This has always heretofore deprived us of their services on the field, though I believe it is the custom to report for duty at the hospitals after engagements. This regiment would be quite as well off if its surgeons were left at
hospitals, Dr. Kugent having been promoted to the One hundred and twenty-sixth.
Very respectfully, lieutenant, your obedient servant,
Lient. H. P. WILSON, Colonel, Commanding.
Acting Assistant Adjutant- General.

On the 17th the regiment moved from camp at daylight and crossed the Antietam at 11 o’clock. With the balance of the brigade, it was sent to the front to support batteries. While lying in position, a round shot struck in Company G, killing Private Frank Treon and wounding Private McCoy Sargent. Ii have, happily, no other casualties to record.

Colonel, Commanding

Saturday, November 22, 2008



For Veterans Day this year the Historical Society of Schuylkill County is honoring the men and women of Schuylkill County for the sacrifices they made for their families, communities, and country. A display of some of the wonderful collection of military artifacts, covering all branches of the armed forces from the Spanish American to the Vietnam War is on display. And set up in the museum room.

The exhibit contains uniforms of many styles and era’s including the famous “Eisenhower” jacket from the 1940’s, and a complete Dough boy inform of World War 1. German Helmets of various design brought home by the 103rd Engineers during WW1. And to include many bayonets, daggers dog, tags, medals and ribbons from all wars. There is also a fantastic collection of posters and signs from WWI and WWII.

If you are in the area take the time to drop in and check it out. Also take the opportunity to visit the fabulous Civil War museum located in the Society.

FRIDAY 10 A.M.-4 P.M.




Francis W. Hughes Copperhead Blames Dana Troop For Breaking a Cemetery Monument. 1863

The Hughes Monument Apparently the Dove was on top. As you can plainly see something is now completely broken off.

In the August 22, 1863 issue of the Miners Journal an article appeared in reference to the Hon. F.W. Hughes, the “Notorious Copperhead of Pottsville” Apparently he was blaming members of the Dana Troop of cavalry for the act. it stated:
Hon. F.W. Hughes offers a reward of $200 “for the discovery of sufficient evidence to lead to the arrest and conviction of the miscreant or miscreants, who mutilated the ornamental part of the monument erected over the remains of a member of his family, in the burial lot of Mount Laurel Cemetery, Pottsville.”
The fracture bears evidence that the outrage was committed quite recently. How very a low a man or set of men must be sunk in the depths of degradation, who will deliberately invade the last resting place of the dead, to mutilate the monument erected to their memory. Shame on the miscreants.
Copperhead Organ of Saturday Last .

The Miners Journal Reply.
“How very low a man or set of men” in or out of the columns of a newspaper, “must be sunk in the depths of degradation” to endeavor for the sake of mere partisan capital, to impute an act of sacrilege where it is evident to every one who examined the monument, none was ever intended or attempted. As we have already said plainly, if we really thought that any one had intentionally broken the wing of the dove of Mr. Hughes’s monument, there are no terms of condemnation of such an act which we would not employ. But after examination we are convinced that the delicate piece of marble was broken off accidentally, and are assured by several ladies, who often visit the Cemetery, among them a relative of Mr. Hughes, that so far from it being of recent occurrence, they observed several months since it was broken. This fact should be stated in justice to the Dana Troop whose camp is in proximity to the cemetery, not a man of whom we firmly believe, would tarnish his honor by being concerned in any disreputable act, much less in one so base as that charged above.

I went up to Mount Laurel or known today as Charles Baber Cemetery and photographed the Hughes Plot. Take a look for yourself.

Monday, November 17, 2008



Marines Fighting In Belleau Wood


There were letters written during the Civil War that live unto this day. This letter written by Lieutenant Charles H. Ulmer of Pottsville, to his parents just before he went into the action in which he was mortally wounded, will live forever because of its simple beauty and depth of expression, because it is prophetic and because it breathes of a splendid heroism, a heroism that is wonderful and gripping because of the sublimity of its spirit of sacrifice.
This is a copy of Lieutenant Charles Ulmer’s last letter to his parents.

Dear Parents:
Beautiful June is here; what will it bring? I am going into line again and never felt happier over anything in my life. So far, I have been miraculously untouched, and it is surprising how much steel can pass you and yet leave you untouched. Something tells me I am going to have a chance this time. France has lost or sent all the young men, and only the aged an infirm remain, and the helpless and grief stricken women and children. If you could only see! Always so willing and ready to do anything to help. Sometimes I am so tired and weary that I stumble, and have to laugh at myself, but I am so thankful and glad of the chance to stand between these and the terrible enemy. Our glorious brave boys of German descent are out to fight down the wrong principles instilled for generations into the people; we shall live forever in the result of this war. The high cost of war has gone up in lives as well as money, but the higher price, the more valuable the purchase.

During the Fiercely fought battle of Belleau Wood on June 6th 1918, Lieutenant Charles H. Ulmer and a Lieutenant Donnelly of the 80th company, 6th Marines volunteered to take an important German machine gun nest near the edge of the woods which was raking the ranks of the Marines with heavy machine gun fire.
The men were advancing under temporary cover of and dodging from shell hole to shell hole and obstructions to stumps and everything that would afford a moment’s protection from the machine gun bullets, when a shrapnel shell fired by the Germans struck a tree a directly overhead of the men and riddled them with pieces of hot metal. Donnelly was wounded and while the wound was being dressed by Ulmer and another Marine another German shell suddenly struck nearby and killed Donnelly outright. Lieutenant Ulmer was so terribly wounded, he could only last for a few hours, and he died the next day.
He was buried in the courtyard of a little chateau overlooking the Marne where the hardest fighting took place, and won the day for America. Of the 250 men in Ulmer’s command only 40 were left on October 1st 1918 and all the officers were either killed or missing.

Charles Ulmer Marine
Croix de Guerre
Lieutenant Charles H. Ulmer 2nd Lieutenant
80th company, 6th Regiment U.S.M.C. 2nd Division
French Croix de Guerre with palm.
Order no. 10,965 “D”
October 28, 1918
“Rejoining his unit on the front, he immediately led his platoon with bravery
And initiative and displayed great qualities as a leader until he was
Severely wounded.



The Following story was written by T/S William K. Terry, Youngstown Ohio, a Marine Corps Combat Correspondent. In the Pottsville Journal March 22, 1944.

Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands… A Marine Corporal lay on a Jap hand grenade to give his life to save two buddies early one Sunday morning when Japs counter attacked with hand grenades, mortars, and rifle fire on Engebi Island.
The Corporal was Anthony P. Damato of 601 W. Penn St. Shenandoah, Pa. a truck driver before he joined the Marines. He would have been 22 in March.
“The Japs had thrown in two other grenades in foxholes where Corp. Damato and two buddies were set up for the night, “ an officer explained. “The Marines threw out the first two. Then the Japs got wise and threw in a grenade after holding it for a few seconds. The corporal saw he couldn’t throw it back in time, so he lay on it. This saved the lives of his buddies.”
The Corporal’s watch was stopped at 4:07 A.M. when the grenade went off. “He was one of the best men I had,” 2nd Lt. Richard Pfhul said. “I took him with me whenever I went. He was one of the Marines who spearheaded the invasion of North Africa and he trained the Seabees of our battalion.”
Cpl. Damato was an assistant squad leader of a crack outfit in the 22nd Marines which took the objective on Engebi Island in an hour and fifteen minutes.
His outfit met and repulsed the strongest Jap counterattacks on the island. “None of us slept a wink either the first or second nights on the Island.” The Lieutenant continued. “One of my men in an advanced position had only his knife and two hand grenades. His weapon had jammed, but he refused to fall back during the night assault.
“Most of our casualties came at night. We took the objective without suffering any casualties.
“We got 12 Japs for one Marine the second night we spent on Engebi,” he continued. “They would drag their dead back with them and we had a hard time finding them in the morning.
“One of my sergeants was hit in the arm. He wouldn’t go back to the battalion aid station until he was ordered to.
“At one time during the invasion day we shot at Japs like they were targets in a shooting gallery. We had advanced along the left flank of another battalion and then shoved the Japs back toward us making them excellent targets for all.
“two of my men had their helmets shot apart by rifle fire and mortar fragments, but they were not hurt. “ he continued.
“The Jap snipers gave us a lot of trouble when they climber in trees on that part of the Island which was wooded the thickest.
“One of my boys knocked off a Jap officer who was dressed in full regalia. He was hiding under a palm fronds, and the Marine saw his leg sticking out.
Lt. Pfuhl said Japs even used some Marine hand grenades which they either found or stole.
“They threw grenades at us for 15 minutes the second night. Then they walked up to our foxholes, threw their hands in the air and said,” So solly”. They turned to walk away and we let them have it.
The same night, he added a Jap pedaled a bicycle along the runway on Engebi to be killed by the Marines.
“The most welcome sight we saw was daybreak.” He said. Night fighting was the worst. We could dig them out of their holes during the day.”

Note: Corporal Anthony Damato’s MOH
Written by Jay Zane


When the destroyer USS DAMATO slid down the ways of the Bethlehem Steel
Company's yards at Staten Island on November 21, 1945, its name reflected
one of the most heroic acts of any Schuylkill County winner of the
Congressional Medal of Honor.

Corporal Anthony P. Damato, 21, of Shenandoah, died in a foxhole on Engibi
Island in the Marshalls Group in the SOuth Pacific on the night of Feb. 19,
1944, by throwing himself upon a Japanese-tossed hand grenade to save the
lives of two comrades.

But when his mother, Mrs. Frances Damato, smashed the traditional bottle
of champagne over the bow of the destroyer bearing her son's name, she was
already carrying the burder of the loss of another son, Captain Neil J.
Damato, an Air Force bombardier, who had been missing in action since
November, 1943.

Neil had already been in the service when younger brother, Anthony,
enlisted in the Marines a month and a day after Pearl Harbor.

Corporal Damato's story of heroism is told graphically in the Citation:

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above
and beyond the call of duty while serving with an assault company of the
Second Battalion, 22nd Marines, Fifth Amphibious COrps, in action against
the enemy Japanese forces on Engibi Island, Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall
Islands, on the night of Feb. 19-20, 1944.

Highly vulnerable to sudden attack by small fanatical groups of Japanese
still at large despite the efficient and determined efforts of our forces
to clear the area, Corporal Damato lay with two comrades in a large foxhole
in his company's defense perimeter which had dangerously thinned by the
forced withdrawal of nearly half of the available men.

When one of the enemy approached the foxhole undetected and threw in a
hand grenade, Corporal Damato desperately groped for it in the darkness.
Realizing the imminent peril to all three and fully aware of the
consequences of his act, he unhesitantly flung himself on the grenade and,
although instantly killed as his body absorbed the explosion, saved the
lives of his two companions.

Corporal Damato's splendid intiative, fearless conduct adn valiant
sacrifice reflect great credit upon himself and the US Naval Service. He
gallantly gave his life for his comrades."

Damato was the 26th member of the Marine Corps to recieve the
Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II and the ninth enlisted man,
only two of which were alive at the time of the award of honor to him. He
became Shenandoah's 23rd Gold Star of World War II.

He was pronounced by his immediate commanding officer, Lt. Richard M.
Pfuhl, "the best Marine in my outfit."

In making the supreme sacrifice he saved the lives of his two buddies,
Corporal Herman F. Dohms, Jr. and Pfc. George W. Gale. It was reported
that the Japanese soldier who threw the grenade died immediately at the
hands of a US Marine.

Mrs. Damato's health did not permit her to receive her son's award from
the President of the United States personally. The presentation was made
April 9, 1945, in the Lincoln School Building, Shenandoah, by Brigadier
General Maurice C. Gregory, USMC, acting for the President. Seven months
and twelve days lateer the USS DAMATO slid down the ways at Staten Island
to further memorialize this Schuylkill Conty hero.

Thursday, November 13, 2008




During the Civil War, many Schuylkill County men turned in their coal shovels for the musket and volunteered to join the army to serve their country and the Union cause. According to a Mr. A. Lee, a former Lieut. in the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry and a mine owner, the men and boys would have fared out better by remaining at home and working in the coal pits. From an article he wrote to the National Tribune on November 16, 1893 titled "A Computation" we learn the differences.


Editor National Tribune; The following is a comparison of work performed by a soldier in the war of 1861 to 1865, and his wages, with that of a laboring man at the coal mines of Pennsylvania at the same time.
The labor performed by a soldier was to march and carry his load; the average laboring man to load coal. The average day's work of a soldier we will say, was to march 16 miles per day, carry his gun, 40 rounds of ammunition, three days rations, and knapsack, which would weigh 56 pounds: the average weight of a soldier is 150 pounds; making a total weight of 206 pounds.
While walking on a level road his average step would be about 28 inches, and the height from the ground to his thigh joint would be 34 inches. At every step he lifts his center of gravity 2½ inches. All the weight above the knee would be raised 2½ inches at every step. Now we will assume 180 pounds to be lifted 2½ inches at every step.

In one mile there are 2,263 steps; 2,263 steps by 2½ inches equils 5,658 inch pounds; or 471 foot pounds by 180, equals 84,780 pounds. The soldier's weight with his load would equal 84,780 foot pounds, or 2,58 horse power per mile.
If a soldier marches 16 miles per day this would equal 41 horse power , or 1,383,000 units of work per day.


The work performed by a laboring man about the mines is to load eight cars of coal per day from the bottom of the chamber or gangway. As each car holds 96 cubic feet of loose coal it will take 350 No. 3 scoop shovels of coal to fill one car 350 by 8 cars equals 2800 shovels of coal per day. The labors throw the coal seven feet high into the cars. The weight of the coal and shovel is 20 pounds. The force necessary to throw the coal 7 feet high would be 40 pounds, making a total of 60 pounds. 2,800 by 60 equals 168,000 pounds by 7 feet high equals 1,176,000 foot pounds. The soldier received an average of $1.10 per day to perform 41 horse power. The laboring man receives $2.37 per day to perform 35.6 horsepower per day. The soldier received 26 months at $13.00 per month. $338.00; 10 months at $16 per month, $260.00: Us bounty, $100.00: Three years board at 25 cents per day $275.75: three years clothing $126.00; Total $997.75 . The laborer received 12 months at $30.00 per month; $360.00 12 months at $60.00, $720.00, 12 months at $87.50 per month, $1,030.00, total $2,180.000.
A soldier would have to receive a pension of $4.00 per month for 23 years 7 months and 2 days to receive as much wages as the laboring man who stayed at home. This average I send you is that of a strong young man employed by me in my mines for the last 13 years. If I should take the average of 300 men in my employ it would be 25 % less.
It is interesting to speculate as to how many men would have made a different choice knowing the facts presented, and would have stayed with the coal shovel instead of shouldering a musket for Uncle Sam. Either way both the soldier and the coal heaver suffered in their own way.







Major William W. Clemens died Saturday June 2, 1894 at the home of his mother in Pottsville. Major Clemens was a brave soldier and won high recognition for his service to the country. Major Clemens was born and raised in Pottsville he was 56 at the time of his death. His father was one of the early settlers of Pottsville, William attended all the Pottsville schools and was a graduate of the West Chester Academy.
Major Clemens who at the time of the civil war was living in Minersville and joined the Washington Artillerists as a private marched with the First Defenders to Washington.
He then joined the 25th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment as a private in Company H. After the muster out of the 25th on 7-23-61 Clemens enlisted in the 129th a nine month regiment under the command of Col. Jacob Frick on July 21, 1862. He enlisted as the First Lieutenant of Company A formed in Minersville under Captain George J. Lawrence. The 129th in its short career fought in two hard battles, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. During the battle of Fredericksburg Clemens and his men made the charge up Marye’s Heights with Humphries Division. Company A would suffer the loss of Captain George J. Lawrence, John M. Jones, John Nicholas, and Thomas Millington, and many more wounded.
Clemens saw Captain Lawrence fall and detailed a man to carry the body to the rear. Where Captain Lawrence would later die from his wounds. After Lawrence’s death Lieutenant Clemens was made commander of Company A.
An event that Major Clemens is famous for is his appointment as Chief Signal Officer to Rear Admiral Porter in the two attacks on Fort Fisher in January of 1865. Fort Fisher controlled the entrance to Wilmington, N.C. and Major Clemens as Chief Signal Officer, commanded the fleet which made the sea attack, also he signaled for the advance of the land attack, the result of which was the fall of Fort Fisher.
Major Clemens was highly recommended for his valor and dauntless courage displayed in his successful attack on Fort Fisher by Rear Admiral David D. Porter. Because of his actions he was appointed a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army . Soon after the capture of Fort Fisher, Richmond was taken and Rear Admiral Porter as a mark of esteem and regard invited Clemens to accompany him with President Lincoln on a trip up the James River to the capitol of the confederacy where they occupied the mansion deserted by Jefferson Davis.

Congress honored Major Clemens with a vote of thanks for his bravery, and he was appointed by the Secretary of War second Lieutenant, and was stationed at San Antonio. He had charge of all the government stores, and was subsequently promoted First Lieutenant of the 31st Infantry at Fort Garland, Colorado. From this he was transferred to the Fiftieth Infantry and served until his resignation in 1870 when he went to work for the Coal And Iron Company.
He became manager of the financial department of Bines & Sheaf, coal agents of the C&I . He remained with them until about 1880 and then became a bookkeeper for the Lehigh Valley Coal Company. He resigned this position in 1891 owing to illness and resided in Pottsville for his last few years.

President Lincoln enters Richmond, VA—under escort of Rear Adm Porter, a dozen armed sailors, and three aides (Capt. Penrose, Lincoln's military aide, Capt. Adams of the Navy, and Lt Clemens of the Signal Corps). Lincoln had been aboard USS Malvern but, when obstructions blocked her path, transferred with the admiral to Porter’s barge. Landing one block above Libby Prison, Porter left two sailors to guard the launch and formed the remaining ten into a guard, six in front and four behind. Porter reported to Secretary Welles, “We found that the rebel rams and gunboats had all been blown up, with the exception of an unfinished ram, the Texas, and a small tug gun-boat, the Beaufort, mounting one gun. The ships destroyed included the 4 gun ironclads Virginia No. 2, Richmond, and Fredericksburg; wooden ships Nansemond, 2 guns; Hampton, 2 guns; Roanoke, 1 gun; Torpedo, Shrapnel, and school-ship Patrick Henry.”

Major Clemens Award

U. S. Flagship Malvern, off Fort Fisher, January 17, 1865.
SIR: Second Lieutenant W. W. Clemens, U.S. Signal Corps, was detailed, at my request, for a signal officer by the chief of that corps, to serve as signal officer on my staff. Mr. Clemens has taught the army code to at least one of the regular officers on board each ship that had them, which has enabled me often to communicate when naval signals would have been of no avail.
In addition, his services have been to me of the utmost importance; thoroughly collected and competent at all times and under any circumstances; gentlemanly in his deportment, intelligent, always ready and cheerful.
I hope you will at least send a copy of this to the honorable Secretary of War, that it may be placed on file as a slight evidence of my appreciation of him as an officer and gentleman.
Through Mr. Clemens I was in constant communication with General Terry, even during the assault on Fort Fisher, and was enabled to direct the fire of the New Ironsides to the traverses occupied by the enemy without fear of hurting our own people from my complete reliance on him.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Secretary of the Navy.

Monday, November 10, 2008


My Salute to all the Veterans in America...........Thank you

On November 11, 1918 at the 11th hour the guns on the Western front fell silent, ending the horror of what was known as World War 1. This year will celebrate the 90th year since those guns fell silent. Today there is one remaining American WW1 veteran still alive, Mr. Frank Buckles who is 107 years old. All of our Schuylkill County Veterans have passed many years ago. Veterans Day is not a day to celebrate war, but is a day to celebrate the peace we as Americans have lived with for many years, because of those who fought for it and died for it. I want to take this time as a veteran to thank all those men and women from Schuylkill County and our great country who have served in time of peace and war.
What is a veteran? Sometimes I think people put aside the true meaning of this word. Veterans are that special unique group of men and women who for many reasons have worn the uniform of the United States in time of peace and war. A band of brothers and sisters inseparable from the common citizen, those special people who have taken the stand between freedom and tyranny. Americans who have taken up the sword of justice in the defense of those liberties we hold to be so dear. Americans who put country first above all agendas.
In this day and age I sometimes fear that these liberties we hold so dear are short changed by the elected politicians we have placed in office. I fear that they will take for granted all the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country for their own political agenda. These politicians who believe in a faceless dream of a world that doesn’t hate America and a world where we should give ground on our beliefs so that we will have a better imagine in the world. I asked these officials, even if you didn’t take the time to serve in uniform and know the cost of freedom to please stop and take the time to remember what this country is about, and take a look at the millions who are living today and have served this great country and those who have sacrificed everything for it. If only we could get them to read what those men who came before us held high, and see the passion to live out a dream that became this great country of ours. Please I beg, do not throw it a way for a faceless global image.
The great American Samuel Adams wrote in 1771 "The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men... It is a very serious consideration, which should deeply impress our minds, that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers in the event." I please ask these people to adhere to these principles.
It is well known that on this day we honor the living veterans who served honorably in the military, in wartime and peace. On Memorial Day we honor those who have sacrificed all for our country. So on this Veterans Day let us say; For those men and women who have served and returned home alive, we honor you, for you are the ones who left your home and your loved ones and have traveled to foreign lands, have taken up arms and fought many battles on behalf of the American people. We honor you who went and didn’t ask why our country called you served with pride and dignity you’re imagine is what needs to be held in high esteem. And to our men and women today, who are far from country and family and friend defending us against an enemy who hates our very way of life, we salute you, we honor you, we thank you for the freedom we so much enjoy. We salute you for putting country ahead of self. When you finally return home your lives will forever be changed, and we Veterans will welcome you into a fraternity of brother hood and sister hood that shines above all fraternities, those who have put their lives ahead of others to serve this great country. Remember, Veterans, “For those who fought for it, Freedom has a taste the protected will never know.” Thank You Veterans.

Stu Richards
Vietnam Veteran
Orwigsburg, Pa. 17961

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chasing Villa, A Schuylkill Haven Cavalryman in Texas

Schuylkill Countians at Camp Stewart Texas, 1916

The following letter was written by Earl C. Roeder, from Schuylkill Haven a member of Troop H, 8th U.S. Cavalry, stationed on Hester’s Ranch, at Cierra Blana , Texas.


Schuylkill Haven Call
November 30, 1917

“We arrived at our new quarters from Fort Bliss, a distance of 225 miles having covered the entire distance o n horseback. Maybe we were not tired. We rode during the entire day and at night would assemble in groups and carry brush together upon which some of slept, while others slept on the hard sand. It took us six days to make the hike down into the Big Ben Valley; two of our mules died enroute as the days were terribly hot and the nights almost freezing. The entire 8th Cavalry is here for patrol duty and it looks as we might be here until next summer. We relieved the 7th Cavalry while the 5th Cavalry took our place at Fort Bliss.
One of the first things we did after arriving was to divide the troop and send a company to each ranch along the entire Texas border. It certainly is a dead place and hardly fit to live in. If the Lord ever forgot to complete the creation of a place, it is some parts of this state. There are quite a; large number of wild animals strolling the plains and brush hills. It reminds me of a zoological ranch with raccoons, foxes, squirrels, wild doves, wild cats, jack rabbits. White wild geese are abundant along the river front and lakes. If we want any fresh meat, we shoulder a gun and in a short time the boys are preparing some of the above mentioned for a glorious meal.

As the Mexicans are fighting almost continuously among themselves we must patrol the entire border. Corp Labett and myself were compelled to patrol and we rode a distance of 44 miles return. It is evident that the Mexicans are preparing for a big battle among themselves as we could plainly see the Mexican Yakki Indians going down their side of the river to give battle to a crowd of Vila men, who were located about 80 miles from our camp. We can hear them shoot and on Friday, Nov, 2 they had a battle about 15 miles away from our camp. With the aid of a pair of field glasses, we could see their cavalry charging one another and watched them until dusk, but could not tell which side won the day’s conflict.
On our return back from patrol, we met our entire troop of 268 men. They had heard the shooting and believing we were attacked, were on their way down to assist us. We camped in the brushes until morning, and then returned to our camp or headquarters. We could observe a few of the fighters on the other side of the river. Again on Sunday our captain received a telegram that 600 of Vila’s soldiers were coming south. A new patrol was immediately made up and we followed the 600 Mexicans down the river so that they would attempt to enter upon American soil. The patrol followed them until it was observed that the Mexicans were watering their horses and were going to camp for the night. A second patrol was made up to relieve the first, as they had neither food, for themselves or their horses. I was in this second patrol. We started at nine o’clock at night, just as it was getting real cold.
During the night we were compelled to sleep on the sand, with no blankets or sweaters and we dare not make a fire for fear of them spying upon us from the other side. It was midnight when we arrived were the other patrol was stationed. We had taken food along to last three days. The following morning we had breakfast early. The Mexicans never rise until the sun comes out and it’s nice and warm. Long before they ready we prepared to follow them still further south. We had trailed them from Sunday night until Tuesday noon when we met troop F, who patrol the district south of us.
IN the afternoon we started back to our camp, a distance of 120 miles. Maybe our dinner after arriving at camp didn’t taste good, following several days with nothing to eat but hard tack and sleeping on the ground. We were in camp but a few hours when ordered patrol again. However this order was recalled when it was ascertained that we had arrived but a few hours before. When we go on patrol each man has a horse and a mule, one mule carries food and the other oats. This branch of the service I like as one can ride on patrol, and is not compelled to walk.
The YMCA is doing a splendid work here in Texas in the border; many soldiers have been with out money and have gone to the YMCA where they have supplied him with stationery and supplies in order that he might send a few lines home.

Chasing Vila Cavalry Style.

Editors Note:
Men from Schuylkill County served along the Border “Chasing Vila” as it was called in a few different Pennsylvania State Regiments. Notably the 8th Pennsylvania.
Doroteo Arango, alias Francisco “Pancho” Villa, was born in 1877 (1879 according to some sources) in San Juan del Rio, State of Durango, Mexico. During his lifetime, he was a ruthless killer (killing his first man at age sixteen), a notorious bandit (including cattle rustling and bank robbery), a revolutionary (a general commanding a division in the resistance against the 1913-14 Victoriano Huerta dictatorship), and despite his bloodthirsty nature, an enduring hero to the poor people of Mexico. In their minds, Villa was afraid of no one, not the Mexican government or the gringos from the United States. He was their one true friend and avenger for decades of Yankee oppression.

Schuylkill County Boys In Texas 1916

Villa and his “pistoleros” launched raids along the U.S.- Mexico boundary to frighten the Americans living in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona border towns. Concerned for the safety of Americans, President Wilson ordered the War Department to begin deploying troops to Texas and New Mexico. In April, 1915, Brigadier General John J. Pershing and his 8th Infantry Brigade were sent to Fort Bliss, Texas with the mission of guarding the U.S.- Mexico border from Arizona to a bleak outpost in the Sierra Blanca mountains ninety miles southeast of El Paso

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And Once Again More World War 2 Heroes

I just keep finding more and more of these great little stories of Schuylkill County World War Two Heroes.

Schuylkill County Heroes of World War 2


In the Second Wave at Okinawa
Cpl. Edward Gober
April, 1945

A former Pottsville Journal correspondent writes from the battlefield on Okinawa Island, Pacific Area. He landed on the beach at 8:30 a.m. Easter Sunday and his tractor was in the second wave to land. “We expected to draw a lot of fire when we approached the beach but the Navy had silenced anything that could be used against us, he states. He Continued” It was really a great sight when our convoy sailed into the bay. The heavyweights of our fleet and the naval air corps were already working the landing area over when we arrived. Every gun that could operate was firing. The navy fire continued until the first wave was a few hundred yards from the beach. At times the beach was hardly visible from the smoke and fire caused by our shells. There were very few enemy planes over our convoy on the morning of the landing. The ones that did appear were quickly eliminated. We are only three hundred miles from Japan and China.
“The fighting has become much tougher on the infantry. The Japs have caves dug in all over the hills and it takes time to clean them out. Each dugout has to be completely gone over before an advance is made. The initial landing was a lot easier than the one on Leyte in the Philippines but the inland fighting is a lot rougher. I was receiving the Journal regularly on Leyte. It has slowed up again due to the change. It was great to read the news way out here in the Pacific. His brother Sgt. Francis Gober, is seeing action on Luzon, P.I.

Note: The Assault Goes In
Admiral Kelly Turner gave the order to "Land the Landing Force" at 04.06, 1 April 1945 - Easter Sunday and April Fool's Day. The pre-invasion bombardment started at 05.30 and as the sun rose at 06.21 the soldiers and marines who would shortly be landing on it, saw Okinawa Gunto for the first time. Gradually, the amtracs formed into groups and started to circle, awaiting the order to head towards the beach. Carriers planes and gunboats bombarded the beaches and as the control craft pennants came down, an eight-mile line of amtracs began their 4,000 yard dash to the beach. At the same time, the 2nd Marine Division began their feint and ironically suffered the first casualties as kamikazes slammed into a transport and LST (Landing Ship, Tank or Troops) - apart from these air attacks the demonstration prompted no other Japanese reaction. Ushijima had few troops near the Hagushi Beaches anyway and the remainder were positioned exactly where he wanted them. The assault force churned their way past the Battleship USS Tennessee and formed into the regimental assault waves of two battalions abreast in eight waves:
• Wave 1 - twenty-eight LVT(A)(4) amtracs with 75mm howitzers;
• Wave 2 - sixteen LVT(4) amtracs with assault troops;
• Wave 3 to 6 - twelve LVT(4) with assault troops and crew-served weapons;
• Wave 7 - varied numbers of LSMs or LCMs with floatation-equipped Sherman tanks;
• Wave 8 - LVT(4)s with support troops.
There was only sporadic mortar and shellfire as the assault troops landed - resistance from the 1st Specially Established Regiment was light as it had only rudimentary training and few heavy weapons. Okinawa was not to be a repeat of Peleliu, Tarawa or Iwo Jima with the assault waves meeting fierce and coordinated resistance upon landing. Some 50,000 American troops landed in the first hour and the larger landing ships started to deliver heavy weapons and armoured vehicles at 14.00. By nightfall another 10,000 troops had come ashore and a 15,000-yard beachhead had been established with 6th Marine Division on the left, then 1st Marine Division, then 7th Infantry Division and 96th Infantry Division on the right. A 600-yard gap existed between XXIV Corps and IIIAC but this was closed on L+1. The first day saw the 4th Marines on the edge of the Yontan Airfield and 17th Infantry on the perimeter of Kadena. It also saw twenty-eight dead, twenty-seven missing and 104 wounded for the opening day of Operation Iceberg.

The landings on Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II.[1][2] The 82 day battle lasted from late March through June 1945.
The American casualties were:
12,513 killed in action,
38,916 wounded,
33,096 non-combat losses

Gunner on B-24 Liberator Flies 25th Mission

S/Sgt. Joseph L. Alessi,
April 1945
St. Clair.

Alessi a 19 year old aerial gunner on a B-24 Liberator, recently flew his 25th Combat mission to an enemy fighter field near Prague, Czech. Although no enemy fighters were encountered in the air many that were parked on the field were destroyed. Since arriving over seas last October he has participated in bombing missions attacking vital harbor installation, raided enemy airfields and industrial targets in Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Sgt. Alessi wears the air medal with two oak leaf clusters and also the distinguished unit badge as a member of a heavy bombardment group cited for “Outstanding performance of duty while in armed conflict with the enemy”

Orwigsburg Soldier Crosses the Sauer River
And Spends Christmas In A German Pill Box

76th Division Patch

Pfc. Emerson W. Kauffman
76th Infantry Division
April 1945

Christmas was a little late this year for the men of the 76th Infantry Division, holed up in pill boxes which less than two weeks ago were part of Hitler’s impregnable Siegfried Line. Christmas mail and packages which had followed the division across France and Belgium were given out at mail call the night before the division began its crossing of the Sauer River, and for the next six days and nights no one had any time to unwrap anything not containing ammunition. The river swollen twenty inches above normal by melting snows was crossed in inky blackness and under a concentrated hail of machine gun fire. Men of the 76th, although fresh from the states and untried in combat, were the first troops in this latest invasion of the Reich to achieve both the crossing and their initial objective a steep hill overlooking the town of Echternach. In the pillboxes scattered along the hill, men resting from their ordeal are enjoying the considerable comforts of the Germans vacated lodgings-stout concrete bunkers- some of which contained several rooms with stoves, ventilation apparatus and bunks fitted to the walls.
Pfc. Kauffman and three other Yanks moved into one of the pill boxes they helped capture. The tang of fresh coffee, the gay Christmas cards, the opened packages containing American things like candy bars and gum and “Do not open until Christmas” stickers are a far cry from the six days and nights these men have passed through. The four, held up by a mine field on the river bank the night of the initial crossings came over the Sauer next morning in broad daylight, perfect targets for the Nazi guns trained on them from the hill. Landing on the German side, they fought their way to a wrecked house where for two days and night were pinned down by a torrent of machine gun, mortar and artillery fire. Protecting themselves from the incessant shrapnel and bursting white phosphorus bombs, required every effort. During the first night American soldiers began stumbling into a Nazi mine field near the house. The four men organized themselves into volunteer rescue party, repeatedly risking the murderous fire and immediate danger of tripping over wires and being blasted, they brought the wounded into the house.


Pottsville Bombardier Earns Oak Leaf Cluster to The Distinguished Flying Cross.

1st Lieutenant Charles Zalonka
April 21, 1945

“Target time in two minutes,” came over the interphone. A shower of steel peppered against the wing and fuselage of the Flying Fortress that was leading the mission. The weather was hazy and the smoke pots set up a screen that further obscured the target. First Lt. Charles C. Zalonka of Pottsville, took a final look at his target chart and bent over the bombsight. His skilled hands set meters, turned knobs, last minute corrections were made. A dozen 500 pound bombs tumbled from the belly of the 15th Air Force B-17 Flying Fort. Crewman’s eyes strained as they followed the course of the explosives. Someone laughed and yelled, “Mr. Hitler, recount your oil refineries”. Smoke and flame billowed heavenward. The planes came off the target, rallied and headed home. Tail gunners watched the smoke and flame grow to 20, 000 feet and could still see it a distance of 250 miles. It was the last gas producing target within the operating area of the 15th Air force in Italy. Following this mission Charlie added one more oak leaf cluster to the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Citation read in Part.” On this and many other occasions, Lt. Zalonka has displayed superb skill and inspired leadership.” The man who wrote that citation has seen Zalonka records. There was Schwartsheide Synthetic Oil Refinery, 15th March, 1945 “good Results” Sopron Hungary, railroad Yards, “Very well hit” Linz Austria, railroad Yards “well Hit” in Italy. Zalonka has flown 23 missions; Five times he has lead his squadron as lead bombardier.


Tragically in 1955, then Captain Charles Zalonka was killed in an accident while flying as a navigator on board the B-36 Bomber.
A B-36J-5-CF Tail Number 52 2818A assigned to Walker AFB New Mexico, crashed on a training flight. They encountered sever turbulence and weather over Texas while flying at 25,000 feet.

The Aircraft began to disintegrate in flight resulting in the loss of control and went into a flat spin, and struck the ground at high impact resulting in the aircraft exploding. This made location of the bodies and identification very difficult.
Zalonka was the 2nd Navigator on board the aircraft.
One theory stated that the Fifteen airmen died in the flaming crash of the B-36 bomber in rugged territory 60 miles from San Angelo, Texas. Air Force spokesmen said apparently the big craft was snapped up by a howling tornado skipping high above the ground.

Navy Pilot Earns Gold Star on the Air Medal

Lt. J.G. Robert A Horn
April 25, 1945


Lt. JG Robert A. Horn was awarded the gold star in lieu of a second Air Medal at an East Coast Navy Air Field recently.
He holds the Navy Cross in addition to his two air medals, and was cited by his task force commander for courage and skill displayed as a pilot of a dive bomber in the strikes on Palau and the Philippines last September. In spite of intense anti aircraft fire he scored direct bomb hits on a large enemy vessel, which is known to have sunk later. He is a veteran of 41 missions against the Japanese and is a graduate of Pottsville High School and Oregon State University.

From the August 22, 1944 Pottsville Republican
Lt. Horn has been in the South Pacific for the last eight months and he particpated in all the major campaigns in the area during ththat time and two months ago he and his crew were afloat on the Pacific for a day in a ruber raft after their plane was forced down following a long distant assignment.
Lt, Horn has participated in the bombing and strafing of the japs on Saipan, Guam and other hot beds of battle activity and is due to be returned home in October for rest.

The Navy Cross is the highest medal that can be awarded by the Department of the Navy and the second highest award given for valor.

Wounded in The Phillipines

PFC. Ernest Keifer
April 14, 1945

For wounds received in action east of Olongapo during the 38th (Cyclone ) Division fight to avenge Bataan, Pfc. Ernest Keifer was awarded the Purple Heart, he is a member of Company I, 152nd Infantry Regiment and saw action with his regiment’s 16 day battle for strategic and heavily fortified Zig Zag Pass, which opened another route to Manila. He has recovered form his wounds and is now returned to active duty with his company. He has been overseas 15 months. He served previously in Hawaii, New Guinea and Leyte.

"The Avenger's of Bataan"

Commissioned by the 38th Division Association in 1999 to commemorate one of the most important events in the 38th Division's history, The Battle of Zig Zag Pass. Fought in the Phillipines during World War Two, The Battle of Zig Zag Pass was the turning point that led to the surrender of Japanese forces in the Phillipine Islands. As a result of the 38th Division's heroic performance during this battle, General Douglas MacArthur dubbed the 38th, "The Avenger's of Bataan". The painting was done by the renowned military historical artist Rick Reeves.

Note: The 38th Division History
Spearheading the drive which annihilated Japanese forces on Bataan, in the battle that liberated Luzon, is an achievement of which men of the 38th are justly proud. The division first saw action in Leyte December 1944, when the 149th Infantry Regiment was sent into Leyte P. I., for a month of mopping-up campaigning. It then moved on to Luzon, P. I., to make its now famous Subic Bay landing on Bataan Peninsula on 29 January 1945. Division troops poured in for 16 days of fierce action to smash through an intricate maze of Japanese fortifications at Zig-Zag Pass, key defense to the rapid reduction Bataan Peninsula. While one division regimental combat team made an amphibious landing at Mariveles, on the tip of the Peninsula, another force struck swiftly down the east coast through Balanga, Pilar and across the neck of land to Bagac the March of Death route – - to gain control of the entire peninsula. Some units of the 38th then landed at D plus 4, on Corregidor to assist in the defeat of the strong Jap garrison there. The division was then divided up into three regiment combat teams. One force mopped up remnants of enemy troops on the Bataan Peninsula. Another regimental combat team plus a provisional company organized from the 38th division artillery, struck north and west of Zig-Zag Pass against powerful Jap defense in the Zambales mountain ranges, while the third regimental combat team was charged with the reduction of enemy defenses on the remaining three islands – - Cabello, Fort Drum and Carabao – - guarding the entrance to Manila Bay. Later sent to the Marakina watershed, the Cyclone boys worked in May 1945, to free Eastern Luzon from the Gaps and helped preserve Manila’s water supply. This involved fighting in the Sierra Madre mountains northeast of Manila to oppose Jap forces drawn up behind the Shinbu Line, an area defended by almost impassable terrain in addition to a well developed and interlocking series of caves, pillboxes, tunnels and artillery emplacements. Here division troops defeated the Japanese in a series of bitterly contested engagements culminating in the seizing of the Marakina River line and the capture of strategic Wawa Dam, an important source of water supply to Manila. Division troops engaged in combat with the Japs in the bamboo thickets and mountainous terrain of the Marakina area up to and after V-J Day. The division was alerted for home in late September; elements arrived during October with inactivation shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Tag on Photo to enlarge

The Cannon on the left is the one made by Shalk the Gunsmith of Pottsville. The other is an Ager Gun. The men in the photo are all officers of the 96th. Col. Cake is the officer with the large feather on the Hardie Hat, looking at the Ager gun. There is no record of the 96th actually using this gun, nothing in any diary or letter I have read refers to this gun. This picture was taken at Camp Northumberland, in 1861.

The Ager Gun


Patriotism runs deep in the blood of Schuylkill County and when the southern traitors fired their guns on Ft. Sumter Schuylkill Countians by the hundreds volunteered their service for the defense of the Union. The issue of slavery was hardly thought of by the common man in the county. The men went of to war with a burning feeling of patriotism and a desire to preserve the Republic as their forefathers had. Bands played military marches, citizens made rousing speeches, women and children paraded in the streets waving flags and handerchiefs. What man could resist the call to volunteer and to fight for the Union?
Preserving the Union was one reason to fight but many Schuylkill County boys went for other reasons. Working in the mines, on the canals, or as laborers weren't jobs that many of the boys wanted. The adventure of marching off to war with flags waving, people cheering while wearing fancy uniforms enticed many of the men to join.
Poverty was a major fact of life in rural Schuylkill. Posters showing a fifty dollar bounty, and an advance of thirteen dollars, the monthly pay of a private soldier, and with bonuses of up to one hundred dollars certainly encouraged some of the men to enlist. For whatever reason the men of Schuylkill did enlist and went off to war with pride and a sense of honor. They fought and died on the bloody battlefields of America for the next three years.
Many of these men were local members of volunteer fire companies. One of these companies was "Pottsville's Good Intent". On April 17, 1861 twenty three men from the Good Intent enlisted in volunteer companies from Schuylkill. The majority enlisted in the Washington Artillerists and the National Light Infantry, the famed First Defenders. Subsequently, they marched off to Washington to defend the Capitol.
On September 7, 1861 at a meeting held by the Good Intent a resolution was passed that, due to the large number of men serving in the volunteer regiments from the fire company and the depressed state of finances, each member would be credited with six months dues. A committee, consisting of I.E. Severn, John Lesig, Samuel R. Russel, Wm. Lessig, Wm. B. Severn and Geo. Foltz, was appointed to procure a light rifled cannon for the company. On that day in the Miners Journal a short article appeared.

Good Intent Light Artillery is the name of a new military organization intended to be connected with Col.Cake's Regiment. It was started by members of the Good Intent Fire Company of this borough. Quite a large number of names are involved. A brass field piece intended for use of the company will be cast by G.W. Snyder and rifled by Mr. Shalk. It will have a point blank range of 2 miles.

Mr. Hugh Stevenson of 332 E. Arch St. and a former member of the Good Intent Light Artillery shared an interesting story regarding the service of many of these boys. It appeared in the April 18, 1900 Pottsville Daily Republican.

The members of the battery were mostly firemen of the Good Intent Co. after which the battery was named. The battery which was first commanded by Capt. Wm. Lessig; First Lieut. Isaac Severn; Second Lieut. Samuel Russel and First Sergeant Edward L. Severn, was to be short lived, that is as far as the name was concerned. The members were unable to secure any ordnance to drill with and finally the "boys" decided to swipe brass and make a cannon themselves. Piece by piece they scraped together the brass while some poor, unsuspecting victim scratched his head and wondered at the mysterious disappearance of some article of brass from his shop or household. When enough had been secured the brass was melted and molded into a fine cannon by Geo. W. Snyder. The cannon was the "only one" in the eyes of the boys and carefully guarded. The battery camped on Lawton's hill and awaited a call to the front. The Good Intent Battery would undoubtedly have become famous, as the members did, but for an unlooked for occurrence. The 96th regiment had been recruited and lacked but one company. The Good Intent Battery was mustered into this regiment and the members then became infantrymen and "shouldered the cannon" as they remarked for ever afterward. The precious cannon was taken along with the 96th Regt., but was finally turned over to a New England Battery, and that was the last seen or heard of it, although the members of the old battery after the war made many an attempt to discover its whereabouts, the cannon accomplished valuable service and the men feel confident that they have been forgiven for pilfering the brass with which it was made.

The cannon was a centerpiece of pride for the citizenry of Pottsville. In the Miners Journal for October 5, 1861 it was reported that.

The Good Intent Light Artillery Company, attached to Col. Cake's regiment pitched its tents on the hill this week. A cannon for this company is being cast by Geo. W. Snyder and the gun carriage is also being made here. This company has some thirty men encamped on the hill.

From the Miners Journal of October 19, 1861 this interesting article appeared:

The Good Intent Light Artillery Co. took a brass field piece up to their camp on Saturday last. It was cast by Mr. George W. Snyder and rifled by Mr. Schalk. A trial of the gun was held last week at Tumbling Run and was satisfactory. At 500 yards it planted a ball one pound and a quarter in weight within three inches of the center of the target. With a couple of these guns, and three or four howitzers this company could bring an effective battery into the field. We understand that it is rapidly filling up.

The men of the Good Intent Artillery now attached to the 96th P.V.I. as company C (The Color Company) would make their mark throughout the war with the 96th and famed Sixth Corps. Because they were an infantry regiment, the men would lose their cannon to a Massachusetts Battery while attached to the First Brigade of the Sixth Corps in July of 1862. The only Massachusetts Battery attached to the first Brigade was the 1st Mass. Artillery. The Miners Journal of August 2, 1862 reported the transfer of the cannon to the 1st Mass:

The small rifle cannon cast by Mr. George Shalk, for Company C 96th Regiment is now in a Mass. Battery and the men think so much of it that they would sooner part with any other pieces than it. This speaks so highly for its quality.

Where is the cannon? Did it survive the war? We may never know the answers to these questions. The whereabouts of this cannon still remain a mystery one hundred and thirty seven years after it was turned over to the 1st. Mass. Battery..

96th at Camp Northumberland