South Mountain by Rick Reeve

South Mountain by Rick Reeve
South Mountain by Rick Reeve depicting the wounding of General Garland

Monday, December 20, 2010

Regimental profile: 1st Pennsylvania Reserves

The men of the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves, one company seen above, played a vital role in helping capture the Frostown Gap and turning the Confederate flank forcing them to abandon the defensive positions to the North of Turner's Gap.

What would become the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves/30th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was organized at Camp Wayne, outside of West Chester, Pennsylvania on June 9th, 1861. The men of the regiment elected R. Biddle Roberts, a lawyer from Pittsburgh, as colonel. Once organized, the regiment was paraded through the town of West Chester under the watchful eye of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. The 1st Reserves remained in West Chester as the first, and hopefully the last, campaign to capture Richmond kicked off in mid-July. On July 20th, Roberts was ordered to have his regiment ready to move at a moments notice depending on the outcome of a pending battle along the banks of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia. The next day, the order came to move with all speed to Harrisburg, after news was recieved by the War Department that the Irwin McDowell's army had been severely beaten by the rebels. Arriving in Harrisburg, the regiment immediately marched to Baltimore, Maryland arriving there late in the day on July 22nd.

An interesting incident occured when the regiment neared Baltimore. Warnings were issued from the local populace that certain unrest at the sight of Federal soldiers marching through the city would occur. Colonel Roberts was met by and even asked by the police force to not march through the city to avoid any violence that may occur. Roberts, prior to this unrest, had ordered some ammunition passed out to the men because of the violence that had occured the in April when Massachusett's infantry marched through the city and shooting erupted when civilians began throwing bricks and stones at the soldiers. The riot left four Massachusett's men dead and several civilians, Roberts was prepared for the worst. As the regiment began marching through the streets, the regiment was heckled by civilian's on the sidewalks and from windows above but no violence occured and the regiment arrived safely at Camp Carroll that evening. At Camp Carroll, the regiment was mustered into United States Service and immediately ordered to Annapolis, Maryland.

At Annapolis, the regiment set up base at the Naval Acadamy and several companies were posted along the approaches to the city to help stem the tide of southern aid from Baltimore. The regiment remained here until the end of August. After it's successful mission to stop the flow of medical supplies and spy communications from the area, the regiment was reassigned and ordered to join the Pennsylvania Reserve Division, in camp near Tenallytown, Maryland. It was placed in the brigade of John F. Reynolds. In October, the regiment marched with the division into Virginia for the first time and in December it made a reconnassaince towards Confederate positions at Dranesville, where it engaged in some skirmishing. Later in Decemeber, the regiment again marched towards Dranesville. Upon hearing the sounds of battle, Colonel Roberts rushed his brigade forward arriving on the battlefield as the battle concluded. The regiment returned to camp. In early January, Colonel Roberts was ordered to Washington and command of the regiment fell to Lieutenant Colonel Henry McIntire.

The regiment would remain in camp until early March when it was orderd to Alexandria, Virginia. It was here that Colonel Roberts returned after his duties in Washington were completed. After the colonels arrival, the regiment moved by rail to Manassas Junction and on towards the old battlefield where it encamped in the abandoned huts that Confederates had built. The next day, the regiment continued its march southward arriving at Fredericksburg with the First Corps under the command of Irwin McDowell. McDowell was to move to the support of McClellan's Army of the Potomac once it reached the outskirts of Richmond, forcing the Confederates to divide their already outnumbered army to deal with two threats. Unfortunately for Union military plans, Stonewall Jackson's Valley campaign pulled valuable troops away from the effort to capture Richmond. McDowell moved the Pennsylvania Reserves to the banks of the Rappahannock River to cover the city after two of his divisions were ordered to the Valley to deal with Jackson. Reynold's brigade, along with the First Reserves, was ordered across the river near the end of May. It would set up an advance position outside the city and act as a provost guard. The move did not last long with Reynold's being pulled back across the river just days after he had occupied Fredericksburg. The men of the regiment, having been in service for nearly a year, most certainly had to be itching for a fight. Unknown to them, that fight was just weeks away, at a place called Mechanicsville.

After spending the months of April and May 1862 holding the line along the Rappahannock, the 1st Pennsylyania Reserves, along with the rest of the Reserve Division, was ordered to board transport boats in a movement to the Virginia Peninsula to reinforce George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac arriving on the Peninsula on June 11th. After performing guard duty near the main Union supply base, the regiment was ordered to march for Mechanicsville on June 18th. The regiment would be assigned to Fitz-John Porter's 5th Corps holding Union army's right flank. Unknown to the Pennsylvanian's, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had plans for this portion of McClellan's army. On June 26th, two Confederate divisions fiercely attacked Porter's line. The slaughter that ensued stuck with the minds of the men and Company K historian, Henry Minnigh, wrote, " I need not write up of this battle in full detail, for those who were there, remember well the onward rush of the enemy, and how two whole divisions of Gen'l Lee. . . at 3 p.m. threw themselves upon our line only to be hurled back amid great slaughter, how amid the shriek of shell and flashing musketry they still advanced, how our 58 caliber elongated balls now for the first time were sent on missions of death . . . how Craig Wisotskey fell, and in a few moments expired, one limb being literally torn from his body, when Hamilton and Siplinger were wounded and assisted from the field, how . . . the shades of night fell, putting and end to the fight."

The regiments fight at Mechanisville was brutal to say the least but it was just the beginning. They would fight again the next day at Gaines' Mill. The regiment moved to support the 5th New York, Duryea's Zouaves, taking up position just behind the battered New Yorker's. They would repulse each Confederate assault against their lines, only the lack of ammunition caused them to retreat. The would again be engaged at Glendale and Malvern Hill. The fighting of the past week and had been the first for this regiment and they proved the could stand their ground. For the remainder of July and most of August, the regiment remained on the peninsula before being transported back to Northern Virginia arriving August 20th at Aquia Creek. It marched to Warrenton where it was again attached to the Corps of Irwin McDowell, now part of John Pope's Army of Virginia. The First Reserves engaged at the Second Battle of Bull Run, but suffered rather light casualties compared to other regiments. Following the 2nd Union defeat on the battleground at Bull Run, the Union troops retreated back towards Washington hoping to reorganize.

While at Washington, the army was reorganized with the First Corps recieving a new commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, and it was again attached to McClellan's Army of the Potomac. When word was recieved that Confederate forces had entered Maryland, all haste was made to get on the move and push them back across the Potomac. The First Pennsylvania Reserves marched to Frederick, Maryland via Leesboro and New Market. The regiment arrived in Frederick on September 13th, just days after the Confederates had evacuated. The regiment made camp along the Monocacy River that night.

At 5 AM on the 14th, the First reserves were set in motion towards South Mountain. The men of the regiment knew that the Confederates were out there somewhere, they just did not realize that just miles in front of them, D.H. Hill's division awaited them. Arriving in the Middletown, Maryland roughly around noon, The First Reserves were given a brief rest. They were then ordered to the town of Bolivar then to turn North onto Mount Tabor Road to outflank the Confederate defenders at Turner's Gap from that direction. At about 3 o'clock, the regiment is deployed on the right flank of the Reserve Division with the 13th Reserves (1st Rifles) to the front as skirmishers and the 2nd Reserves to their right. The advance began at about 4 o'clock and by 5, the small skirmish became a general engagement. The fighting was chaotic with smokefilled woods, stonewalls, and the boulderstrewn terrain playing havoc with regimental cohesion. When the battle commenced, Colonel Roberts had only two companies of the regiment on the front with the remaining companies in reserve. When brigade commander Truman Seymour ordered and advance, Roberts called up the rest of his regiment and the advance became a Union titalwave. The Confederates were posted strongly behind a stonewall when Roberts began his climactic advance. Through sheer determination and courage, with men suffering heavily, the regiment pushed forward gaining the crest of the mountain ahead of the rest of the division and sending the Confederate defenders fleeing to the West.

An interesting event occured prior to the regiments fight within that ranks of Company K. Lieutenant John D. Sadler predicted, from a dream he had the previous night, that he would be killed. From the diary of Private William Jobe:

"Another incident of this campaign is the relation by Lieutenant John D. Sadler of a premonition to the writer of his death in the approaching fight. He declared that it had ben revealed to him in his sleep the night before that he would not survive the fight. I told him laughing that was only a revelation of a streak of superstition in a highly educated Gentleman and proved nothing. He replied you may call it what you like. But the fact remains, he was killed about five PM at South Mountain by the last volley fired by the Rebels."

The diarist continues describing the fight:

"Gen'l Seymour coming up just then ordered the Regt. to halt saying it had dont enough. Colonel Roberts was unable to get his horse to clear the fences so was not with us in the last charge. Lieut. Sadler had received a permit to call on a relative living in Middletown, Md, but rejoined the Company by the time we had formed line of battle at the foot of the mountain. A fine setter dog had followed him and the same rebel volley that killed Sadler, killed the setter and also the Regiments mascot, a spotted b---h that had followed the Regiment through everything previous to South Mountain. The Rebels occupied a position at the top of the Mountain and parallel with it after reaching the top and turning the Rebel flank the Regt. being on the right was temporatil thrown out of the fight. The Regts. on our left taking up the fight but a short time had elapsed when Genl. Seymour in command of 1st Brigade came riding back and asked Col. Roberts if his Regt. would charge the position held by the Rebels on our left. The Col. made no immediate reply but whipped out his sword and ordered the Regt. into line, wheeled it on center point facing the position indicated, alligned it then turned and saluting replied, ' Yes Genl, the will do it' and the Regt was orderd to march quicktime. When we reached the top of the elevation in our front a view was had of the whole field. The Rebels were posted in a ravine ahead in open fields. We were ordered to charge over fences, stone heaps, and other obstructions. The Rebs fled to their right up a 45% grade and reformed at the top while our advance was over open ground. We advanced perhaps half the distance between the lines when the first volley struck us full in the face. Many of our men went down to rise no more. In ten minutes we were on them. They stood for a short time when they again broke and retreated but they paid dearly for their last stand."

The First Reserves help plow the way for Union victory to the north of Turner's Gap. Only darkness and the terrain kept the First Reserves and the rest of the division from sweeping down and capturing Turner's Gap and initiating a disaster that the Confederacy could never possibly recover from. That night, the First Reserves slept on the arms believing that the conflict would be continued in the morning.

On the morning of the 15th, the Reserves policed the battlefield over which they fought. Private Jobe counted four officers killed, three wounded, and 21 enlisted men killed and wounded. The regiment marched off the mountain later in the morning and arrived outside Keedysville, Maryland later in the day where the regiment bivouaced and recieved much needed supplies. On the 16th, the regiment crossed the Antietam Creek and formed line of battle near the East Woods and skirmished with a large body of Confederate soldiers. The skirmish lasted til darkness and forshadowed the bloodshed that would ensue on the following day. On the 17th, these men would face the bloodbath that was the Cornfield at Antietam.

Following the Battle of Antietam, the regiment remained in the area until the 22nd when it was order to Harper's Ferry then Berlin, Maryland, recrossing the Potomac at the spot and encamping near Hamilton, Virginia. It was here that the regiment lost it's beloved colonel. Governor Curtin requested to McClellan that Colonel Roberts resignation be granted so that the colonel could return to the state capital and serve on the governor's staff. McClellan granted the request and command of the regiment was given to William Talley, who was promoted to colonel after serving as captain of Company F. The regiment continued marching southward when at Warrenton, it recieved word that McClellan had been relieved of command and Ambrose Burnside was given command of the army. It was under Burnside, that the regiment would suffer heavily at the Battle of Fredericksburg where it would be part of the force that punched a gaping hole in Stonewall Jackson's defenses on the Confederate right before it was forced to withdraw do to lack of support and overwhelming pressure from a Confederate counter-attack. The regiment would remain on the field for the next two days before being withdrawn back across the Rappahannock. The regiment would participate in Burnside's infamous "Mud March" before being deployed along the Orange and Alexandria near Fairfax, Virginia to protect the railroad and supplies from Confederate raiding parties. As a result of this deployment, the regiment missed the Battle of Chancellorsville.

When Lee again pushed his Confederate troops northward across the Potomac, the First Regiment, broke camp, joining the rest of the Army of the Potomac as it pursued Lee through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. The First Reserves marched as part of the 5th Corps under the command of General Meade, who had lead the division at South Mountain and Antietam. As the army moved northward from Frederick, General Joseph Hooker was relieved of command of the army and the command was given to Meade. Meade was an unknown to the rest of the army but to the Reserve Corps, he was well known and was seen as a fighter. The Pennsylvania Reserves marched into Pennsylvania aware that for the first time they would be fighting on their native soil and the coming fight could decide the future of the nation.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, Company K of the First Reserves were literally fighting for their homes and land. The regiment arrived at Gettysburg on July 2nd and Henry Minnigh of the company recalled, "As we neared Gettysburg, in a number of instances we passed the homes of relatives and friends, but with the meerest greeting, the boys kept their places in the ranks. Reaching the summit of the hill east of the town, members of the company, with few exceptions, could see their homes, in the village before them, in the immediate vicinity or in the distance, and all of them within the lines of the enemy." This circumstance added an extra fury to the fight that was to come for the men of this company.

When the regiment arrived at Gettysburg, they bivouaced along the Baltimore Pike before being shifted to the endangered Union left when Confederate forces overwhelmed Daniel Sickles 3rd Corps. When the Reserve Division deployed, the First Reserves were deployed on the frontline of Colonel William McClandless' Brigade as it pushed from a position near Little Round Top and through the Wheat Field, pushing back the advance of Confederate regiments in that sector of the field. It would hold its line at a stonewall, remaining in position for the remainder of the day. The Reserves, according to one memoir written by John Urban, had saved Little Round Top with its desperate charge and was credited with killing Brigadier General William Barksdale as he attempted to rally his battered and disorganized brigade of Mississippians. On July 3rd, the regiment remained in position behind a stonewall bordering the wheat field and when the Confederate assualt against the Union center was repulsed, it was ordered to advance to clear the fields and woods to their front of any Confederate forces. The mission was undertaken and rather successful as reported by Colonel McClandless, "Having cleared the woods to the front and finding a line of the enemy in the woods to my left, I faced my command . . . and charged the enemy directly on the left flank, routing him, capturing nearly 200 prisoners [and] also a stand of colors." After the battle, the First Regiment encamped near its original position and several of the men from Company K, as stated earlier the company was recruited in Gettysburg, visited their homes with or without leave, according to Minnigh. The regiment joined in the pursuit of the Confederates as they retreated back towards Virginia, but another pitched battle was not to be. For the remainder of the year, the regiment skirmished with Confederate forces as the Union army returned to Virginia and winter set in.

When Spring 1864 came along, the regiment was about to embark on a venture that would see some of the most desperate and bloody fighting of the entire war. At the Wilderness, the regiment would be in the center of the Union line, which possibly saved it from some of the bloodiest fighting to occur there. The regiment a numerous occasions made reconnassainces in force to there front but nothing of great consequence occured other than some rather heavy skirmishing. When the fighting ceased in the wood thickets, each army licked its wounds and General Ullysses Grant, accompanying Meade as the overall commander of the Union armies, ordered the Army of the Potomac to continue southward. The two would collide again at Spotsylvania Courthouse and as skirmishing began for control of the crossroads, brigade commander Colonel McClandess was wounded and Colonel Talley of the First was elevated to brigade command and Lieutenant Colonel Stewart took command of the regiment. Colonel Talley would be captured by rebel forces during these opening clashes and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond. The two armies would remain in contact at Spotsylvania for most of May before Grant again moved the army southward.

As the armies came to the North Anna River, the first regiment was thrown across and the regiment was ordered to barricade a road near Bethesda Church to prevent any surprises from the Confederates. The regiment erected their breastworks and the men of Company K decided to rest since this would be their first reprieve from marching and fighting for nearly a month. When the men awoke from their slumber, they were startled by musket fire on either side and they discovered the regiment and brigade had abandoned them. The company ran pell-mell back to friendly lines, narrowly avoiding capture. The regiment again threw up a new barricade and awaited the advance of the Confederates. It would not be long, as Captain Minnigh states:

"The Brigade now took up a new position . . . and awaited the advance of the enemy, which was soon seen, in a well dressed battle line, emerging from the cover of the woods. . . . Orders were given not to fire until the enemy reached . . . an old fence half-way across the open space between us. We never saw a so deliberate advance by the enemy, in all our three years experience, as this was. Brave speciments of American soldier . . . conciously facing death, they came on. Two sections of . . . a battery, one on the right the other on the left, with enfilading fire, opened on them, then the infantry added their missiles of destruction; they come on no further, a few turn and flee to cover of the woods, the firing ceases and an advance is ordered, when the only enemy we find are the torn and shapeless forms, that literally cover the ground. . . ."

The fighting along the North Anna River would be the last for the First Pennsylvania Reserves. On June 1st, the regiment was ordered to return by way of Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to report to Philadelphia to be mustered out. The regiment arrived there on June 13th and were officially mustered out to return to their homes to fight no more.

The First Pennsylvania Reserves fought in many of the battles that occured in the Eastern Theatre of the Civil War from the Penisular Campaign to the Overland Campaign. Through the course of its service, the regiment had roughly 1,100 men serve within its ranks and lost nearly 600 in the course of its service in killed, wounded, missing, and due to disease. At South Mountain, the regiment helped bring about a Confederate rout and nearly win a major Union victory that could have possibly ended the war on September 14, 1862 with the capture of Lee and what parts of his army that were in Maryland.


Henry N. Minnigh. History of Company K, 1st Pennsylvania Reserves. Duncansville, PA: Thomas Publications, 1891.

Unknown. 1st Pennsylvania Reserves/30th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers.

John W. Urban. My Experiences Mid Shot and Shell and in Rebel den. Lancaster, PA: Hubbard Brothers, 1882.

Hawks Interactive. First Pennsylvania Reserves.

William Jobe. Recollections & Reminiscences of a soldier of the Union in the War of the Rebellion of 1861 to 1865. (Courtest of the Adams County Historical Society)

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