© Alice J. Gayley, all rights reservedThe Fiftieth Regiment was recruited in the counties of Berks, Schuylkill,Bradford, Susquehanna, Lancaster, and Luzerne and rendezvoused atCamp Curtin. It was organized on the 25th of September, 1861, by the choiceof the following officers:The State colors were presented by Governor Curtin on the 1st of October. While at Camp Curtin the men were drilled by companies. From Harrisburg the regiment proceeded on the 2d to Washington, and encamped at Kalorama Heights, where it remained until the 9th, andthence moved to Annapolis. Here it was assigned to Stevens' Brigade1, of T. W. Sherman's Corps, about fitting out for an expedition to South Carolina.
- Benjamin C. Christ, of Schuylkill county, Colonel
- Thomas S. Brenholtz, of Berks county, Lieutenant Colonel
- Edward Overton, Jr., of Bradford county, Major.
On the 19th of October the regiment embarked upon transports, the rightwing, companies A to E inclusive under command of Colonel Christ on theWinfield Scott, and the left wing on the Ocean Queen. On the night of the 1stof November a heavy gale was encountered off Cape Hatteras, and the Scott,which proved to be an unseaworthy craft, was in imminent peril. Her mastswere cut away, the freight and camp equipage were thrown overboard, a portion of her officers and crew deserted her, and every thing was given up forlost. She was finally saved through the saperhuman efforts of the soldiers,who had been left to their fate without food or water.
After the capture of the forts at Hilton Head by Admiral Dupont, in thatbrilliant sea fight which has immortalized his name, the regiment went intocamp upon the island, and was employed in building fortifications. On the6th of December it proceeded to Beaufort, and was the first regiment to occupythat place. On the night after its arrival a skirmish occurred, in which theenemy was driven off the island not again to return. A few were wounded onboth sides, and the men had their first experience in combating the foe. Atmidnight of the 25th Captain Parker, with company H, and a squad from company D, crossed Broad River in small boats, with the intention of capturing apicket post; but hearing the muffled dip of the oars, the enemy took the alarmand hastened away for reinforcements.
On the 1st of January, 1862, General Stevens led his brigade, under coverof the gunboats, across the Coosaw, and captured a fort in process of construction at Port Royal Ferry, and two heavy guns. The enemy was driven andthe fort destroyed, when the brigade returned to Port Royal Island. This wasthe first engagement in force, and was known as the Battle of the Coosaw.
On the 29th of May General Stevens was ordered to join General Hunterin his demonstrations against Charleston, and Colonel Christ, with his ownregiment, two companies of the First Massachusetts cavalry, and a section ofartillery, was ordered to move upon the main land, and burn the railroad bridgenear Pocotaligo. Leaving Beaufort in the evening, the command crossed theferry at daylight, and soon found the enemy well posted on the opposite sideof the stream near Old Pocotaligo. The approach to this place was by a narrow causeway, a fourth of a mile long, flanked on either side by a marsh throughwhich a sluggish stream winds. The enemy had removed the planks from thebridge spanning it, and a crossing could only be effected by running the gauntlet of the causeway, and walking the stringers which still remained.
For some time firing was kept up from the opposite sides of the stream; but itsoon became evidept that the enemy could only be dislodged by crossing. Atthis juncture Captain Charles Parker of company H, volunteered to brave thedanger of the causeway, risk the insecure footing upon the stringers of thebridge, and lead his men over. The feat was accomplished, and six companiespassed successfully. Under command of Lieutenant Colonel Brenholtz theydrove the enemy, and the bridge was quickly re-planked. The cavalry underMajor Higginson was immediately ordered in pursuit; but the enemy had takenrefuge in a wood where the cavalry could not operate, and the infantry was toomuch fatigued to follow. The delay had given time for him to be reinforced,and the ammunition was nearly expended. It was accordingly determined toreturn. The loss was four killed and nine wounded. Captain Parker, who hadsuggested the plan which gained us our success, and who led where the danger was greatest, was killed."His gallantry in crossing the frail bridge atPocotaligo cost him his life. He was pierced by three rifle balls, and fell whilecheering his men on the perilous passage."2The command was followed inits return by a large force of the enemy. The weather was intensely hot, andfor one day and two nights the men marched with scarcely a halt, except whileengaged. Although the expedition failed to accomplish the object for whichit was sent out, it had the effect to draw a large force from Charleston, andfrom General Hunter's immediate front, and brought in some prisoners, and alarge number of contrabands, who took with them all the property of theirmasters for which they could find transportation.
The regiment remained at and near Beaufort until July 12th, when it wasordered to Fortress Monroe, and was incorporated with the Ninth Corps underGeneral Burnside, who had just then returned fronm his highly successful operations in North Carolina. Soon after its arrival the corps was ordered to thesupport of Pope on the lapidan. At Fredericksburg Stevens' Division nowforming part of Reno's command, was detached from the corps, and was pushedforward to confront the advance of Lee, and had several skirmishes with thehead of his column at the fords of the Rapidan and the Bappahannock. Theregiment was now under command of Lieutenant Colonel Brenholtz, ColonelChrist being at the head of the brigade. On the first day at Bull Run, Christ'sBrigade was attached to Schurz's Division of Sigel's Corps, and was engagedduring the greater part of the day, occupying a position on the right wing ofthe army, and'driving the enemy at several points, sustaining heavy loss. Atnight the brigade returned to Stevens' Division"In the second day's fight," says Captain Dimock, "we lost less, but fought harder. Stevens' Brigade drove the whole line in front of it, and we supposed we had gained a victory. I heard Captain Lusk, aid to General Stevens, order Colonel Christ to bringhis men out of the woods. He did so, faced his men towards the enemy, andordered rest after giving three cheers for victory. We had scarcely laid downbefore Captain Lusk returned in great excitement exclaiming,'For G —s sake,Colonel Christ, get your men away from here.' We now observed as it grewdark that the fighting to the right and left of us was terrific, that the two wingswere driven far back of us, and that we were nearly inclosed as in a horse-shoe.We made a hasty retreat and were soon after joined by General Stevens, whosaid that the Eighth Michigan was still missing. In less than five minutesafter his arrival a volley from the enemy forced us again to fall back."Theregiment did not leave the field until nine o'clock at night, and in every encounter with the enemy during the two days drove him back. The loss wasfive killed, six severely wounded, and a number taken prisoners. Among thekilled was Lieutenant Charles H. Kellogg, of company K, and among thewounded was Lieutenant Colonel Brenholtz.
On the 31st Christ's Brigade was posted upon the heights beyond Centreville, where it was vigorously shelled. On the following day it was engagedin the battle of Chantilly, where the brigade was early in the fight, and drovethe enemy, holding the advantage gained until relieved. The conduct of theFiftieth in this battle was not excelled for gallantry. It lost seven killed, which,together with the wounded and missing, embraced one-fourth of the entire number that entered the fight. It was led by Major Overton. General Stevenswas killed while carrying colors of the Seventy-ninth (Highlander):Regiment,after several of the color bearers had been shot down.
The division, under Colonel Christ, moved to South Mountain, where GeneralO. B. Wilcox was assigned to its command. It formed part of the left wing of thearmy, and was engaged at Turner's Gap. The Fiftieth, still under commandof Major Overton, was at first engaged in Wilcox's Division, but was subsequently ordered to the support of General Cox, who was being hard pressed onthe left. Here it remained during the day of Sunday, the 14th, and with Ohiotroops charged the enemy, and drove him from the field.'On the 16th the regiment arrived at Antietam,,and at night Major Overtonwas ordered to proceed with his own, and the Twenty-eighth Massachusettsto the support of the Ira Harris Cavalry which was'to connect General Burnside's left with the troops of General Franklin. Here it remained on duty during the night. On the 17th it re-joined the brigade, and, upon the advance ofBurnside's Corps, crossed-the stone bridge and drove the enemy back. Christ'sBrigade charged with great spirit and gallantry, and attained a position inadvance of the Union lines, where it was exposed to a terrible cross-fire of artillery; but it maintained its position until the rebels were forced to retreat. Inthe midst of the fight Major Overton fell severely wounded, and the commanddevolved on Captain Diehl. The loss was seven killed and seven severelywounded. Captain James B. Ingham, of company K, was among the killed.The regiment was present at the battle of Fredericksburg on the 13th ofDecember, but was not actively engaged."I had command of two companies,"says Captain Dimock, "on picket duty near, and in full view of Seminary Hill,and stood in plain sight all day of the stone wall which proved so disastrous to our charging columns. I sent word to Colonel Christ that it was impossible to carry that wall by direct assault, that it must be attacked in flank, from the point where I stood, to be successful."After General Burnside was relieved of the command of the Army of thePotomac, the Ninth Corps was for a short time in camp at Newport News.Subsequently it was moved to Kentucky, where it was attached to the Armyof the Ohio, and the Fiftieth Regiment was stationed at Camp Dick Robinson,Stanford, and Somerset. From the latter place it moved to Vicksburg viaCincinnati and Cairo. During the progress of the siege it was posted atHaine's Bluff, and after the fall of Vicksburg it was attached to the commandof General Sherman, and was with him in the campaign to Jackson. In thebattle which occurred for the occupancy of this place, the regiment wasengaged, and was deployed as skirmishers in a very exposed situation. Here,its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas S. Brenholtz, while gallantly leading his men before the enemy's works, was mortally wounded. Hisfall was greatly lamented, and his loss to the regiment irreparable. Much ofthe credit which the organization had acquired was due to his excellent qualities as a soldier. No braver man ever led in battle, and upon his fall the service was deprived of one of its most valued leaders.
The regiment remained in Mississippi until August 10th, when it returnedto Kentucky, and in September moved across the mountains via CumberlandGap to Knoxville. At this time the number present for duty in the regimentwas but eighty. The rest were in hospitals suffering from wounds received inbattle, or from malarious diseases contracted in Mississippi. Of the eightywho remained in the ranks, nearly all had chills and fever. It remained incamp near Knoxville for some time after its arrival, and the health of the menrapidly improved, its numbers continually increasing by the return of thosewho had been left in hospitals by the way.
While here a force of the enemy entered East Tennessee from Virginia.The Twenty-third Corps was sent to repel it, and drove it back as far as BlueSprings, where it made an obstinate stand. Christ's and Morrison's brigadeswere promptly sent to reinforce the Union columns. The regiment arrivedupon the field on the 10th of October, and was immediately brought into position on the left of the front line. A charge was ordered, and the enemy wasdriven back in confusion, and pursued to a point near the Virginia line. Itwas estimated that the enemy's force in this battle was double that of our own.The loss of the regiment was inconsiderable.
Returning to Knoxville it was soon after sent out to Lenoir Station, whereit was ordered to build winter-quarters, and hold the approaches from the southwest. Scarcely had it been established two weeks in camp, when Longstreetwith a heavy force advanced from Chattanooga along the Tennessee Railroad,and routed a portion of the Twenty-third Corps stationed in advance. TheNinth Corps was sent to its support, and the enemy was pushed back into abend of the river. The engagement lasted until late in the evening. Duringthe night, while advancing the line, the Fiftieth was twice halted by the enemy,and one of his officers came into our lines supposing he was among his ownmen. It was supposed that only a part of Longstreet's force had crossed theriver, and that unaccompanied by artillery. The regiment accordingly receivedorders to charge at daylight. But during the night it was ascertained that theenemy was in full force in our front, and the regiment was ordered to retirewith all possible haste. The mud was very deep and, it was with great difficulty that the trains and artillery could be moved.
On the following night the men lay on their arms at Lenoir Station, the enemy being in close proximity,and several times opening-fire. So close did he follow up the pursuit that itwas found necessary to destroy every thing that could impede the progress ofthe column, that was not of the last importance to its safety, and the officers'baggage was sacrificed together with all the books and papers of the regiment.At Campbell's Station a stand was made, and the enemy was successfully heldin check until the forces were all safely withdrawn to Knoxville.
The Fiftieth reached the town at daylight, November 17th, and immediately commenced fortifying. The labor was very severe, the men being constantly on duty, and obliged to subsist on quarter rations, consisting of freshpork and corn-cob bread. The regiment occupied a central position on the leftwing in rifle-pits, a part of the time so near to the enemy that conversationwith his men was not an uncommon occurrence. On the 29th of November, atearly dawn, the enemy charged Fort Sanders. The Fiftieth held a positionjust to the right of the fort, and two companies were sent to assist the garrisonin repelling the charge. The attack was made with great impetuosity andsustained with unflinching valor, but was repelled with terrible slaughter, andon the 5th of December the siege was raised. Longstreet retreated in the direction of Virginia, and the regiment moved in pursuit, skirmishing with his rearguard until it reached Blaine's Cross Roads, where it went into camp.
Here, on the 1st of January, 1864, nearly the entire regiment re-enlisted tothe number of about three hundred men, and was ordered to Nicholasville,Kentucky. The men had drawn no clothing or shoes from September to January, and very few were supplied with blankets. Their suffering during December and January was intense; but they endured all without a murmur. OnChristmas day they had nothing to eat until evening, and then only a part ofa ration. The march to Nicholasville, a distance of two hundred miles, wasperformed in ten days. Many of the men were barefoot and the earth was covered with snow. Before leaving their camps they had drawn thirty raw hidesfrom which they made moccasins; but during the middle of the day, whenthe roads were soft, the green hide became pliable and so stretched that theycould not be kept upon the feet. As they passed over the rough roads of themountain regions, the chilling blasts of winter swept their shivering ranks, andto add to their distresses, they were nearly perishing with hunger.
On arriving at their destination, they drew rations and clothing, and soon after started for Pennsylvania, arriving at Harrisburg on the 6th of February. Here theregiment was given a veteran furlough, and the men departed for their homes.
On the 20th of March the regiment rendezvoused at Annapolis, where itwas recruited to the minimum standard, and was fully re-organized and drilled.It was assigned to the Second Brigade, of the First Division, of the NinthCorps. Passing through Washington, where the corps was re-viewed by President Lincoln, the regiment marched over the Bull Run battle ground, on the28th of April, arriving at the Rapidan on the 5th of May. Early on the following morning it was heavily engaged in the battle of the Wilderness, whichcontinued during the entire day, losing seventeen killed, and fifty-three woundedand missing. In moving from the field, the Fiftieth was designated for the rearguard to the corps, and was closely followed up by the enemy's cavalry. Onthe 9th it arrived at the Ny River near Spottsylvania Court House, and wasthere immediately engaged. Christ's Brigade carried the heights in its front.
With fixed bayonets the Fiftieth, led by Lieutenant Colonel Overton, chargedup the steep ascent, and routed a force of the enemy greatly superior in number; but the success was gained at a fearful cost, loosing in killed, wounded,and missing, one hundred and twenty men. Among the killed was Captain H.E. Cleveland, of Company H. The gallant conduct of the regiment in thisaction was much commended, and the credit of the sucess attained was justlyawarded to it.
Again, on the 12th, the regiment had a desperate encounterwith the foe, and a hand to hand struggle, in which the loss was considerable.Adjutant Henry T. Kendall, three sergeants, and twenty-five privates weretaken prisoners. From the Ny River to the North Anna, and thence to ColdHarbor, it was almost daily engaged, losing a few men killed and wounded.In the battle of the 2d of June, at the latter place, the Fiftieth was uponthe front line and suffered severely, having eight men killed. Crossing theChickahominy on the 12th, it proceeded rapidly to the James, and was soonafter in line fronting Petersburg. On the 8th Colonel Christ was wounded,and Captain Henry A. Lantz, of company E, and several men, were killed.
From June 21st to the 25th of July, the regiment performed picket duty infrontof Petersburg. It was then relieved by colored troops and proceeded to theextreme left of the Union lines, where it was again engaged in picket duty.On the 29th it proceeded to the rear of the mine, and upon its explosion on thefollowing morning, was ordered in to the support of the troops led to the charge.It reached the crater; but, with other troops, was forced back, losing threekilled and a number wounded.
Remaining in the works in front of the ruinedfort until the 19th of August, it was again put upon the march, and proceededto the Weldon Railroad, where, at four P. M, it was attacked, and in the engagement which ensued, Sergeant Charles Brown, of Company C, captured oneof the enemy's colors. On the following day the enemy again attacked, butwas repulsed. Marching, fortifying, and fighting continued with but little interruption until the end of the month. On the 30th, Colonel Christ and Lieutnant Colonel Overton, and about thirty men, were honorably discharged, theirterm of service having expired.
Remaiming upon the front the regiment was actively engaged until the 12thof October, when it received one hundred and forty-seven recruits, and for twoweeks remained in camp engaged in drill and discipline. On the 27th it againmoved to the front, and remained on duty until the 29th of November, whenit proceeded to Fort M'Gilvery, on the banks of the Appomattox, in the immediate front of the city of Petersburg, and remained there during the winter.
Captain Samuel K. Schwenk, who was severely wounded in the engagement atCold Harbor, was so far recovered in February, 1865, as to return to the regiment, and assumed command, having been promoted to Major. Upon the occasion of the surprise and capture of Fort Steadman, on the 25th of March, MajorSchwenk, leaving a thin skirmish line upon his front, hastened with his regiment to the scene of conflict. His prompt action was highly complimented byhis superior officers.
On the first of April the Union lines began to close in upon the rebel works,and during the operations of the 2d and 3d, the Fiftieth was engaged, and wasamong the first regiments to reach the city of Petersburg upon its fall. On the.15th it moved to City Point, and thence by boat to Washington, where it remained until the 30th of June. Preparations had been extensively made forlaying the corner stone of the National Monument at Gettysburg on the 4th of July, and by order of the Secretary of War, upon the recommendation of Lieutenant General Grant, the Fiftieth Regiment was ordered to represent the infantry of the army in the ceremonies of the occasion. Returning from Gettysburg it went into camp near Georgetown, where, on the 31st of July, it was mustered out of service.
1Organization of Stevens' Brigade, Sherman's Corps. Seventy-ninth Regiment N. Y. Volunteers, Colonel Isaac I. Stevens; One hundredth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Daniel Leasure; Eighth Regiment Michigan Volunteers, Colonel Wm. M. Fenton; Fiftieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Benjamin C. Christ.
2 Moore's Bebellon Record, Vol. V, page-478.
Source: Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Harrisburg, 1868-1871.
Source: Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion Compiled and Arranged from Official Records of the Federal and Confederate Armies, Reports of he Adjutant Generals of the Several States, the Army Registers, and Other Reliable Documents and Sources.Des Moines, Iowa: The Dyer Publishing Company, 1908
Organization:Organized at Harrisburg October 1, 1861.
Left State for Washington, D.C., October 2, 1861, thence moved to Annapolis, Md., October 9.
Attached to Stevens' Brigade, W. T. Sherman's South Carolina Expedition, to April, 1862.
District of Beaufort, S. C, Dept. South, to July, 1862.
1st Brigade, 1st Division, 9th Army Corps, Army Potomac, to September, 1862.
2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 9th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, to April, 1863,
and Army of the Ohio to June, 1863.
3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee, to August, 1863.
2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 9th Army Corps, Army Ohio, to April, 1864.
2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 9th Army Corps, Army Potomac, to September, 1864.
2nd Brigade, 1st Division, Army Potomac, to July, 1865.
Service:Sherman's Expedition to Port Royal, S. C, October 21-November 7, 1861.
Sailed on Steamer "Winfield Scott" and shipwrecked off coast of North Carolina.
Occupation of Beaufort, S.C., December 6. Port Royal Ferry, Coosaw River, January 1, 1862.
Duty at Port Royal Island, S.C., till July, 1862.
Barnwell's Island, S.C., February 10 (Co. "D").
Pocotaligo May 29.
Camp Stevens June 7.
Moved to Hilton Head, S.C., thence to Newport News, Va., July 14-18,
thence to Aquia Creek and Fredericksburg, Va., August 3-6.
Operations in support of Pope August 6-16.
Pope's Campaign in Northern Virginia August 16-September 2.
Sulphur Springs August 24.
Battles of Groveton August 29; Bull Run August 30; Chantilly September 1.
Maryland Campaign September 6-24.
Battles of South Mountain, Md., September 14; Antietam September 16-17.
March to Pleasant Valley September 19-October 2, and duty there till October 25.
Movement to Falmouth, Va., October 25-November 19.
Battle of Fredericksburg December 12-15.
Burnside's 2nd Campaign January 20-24, 1863.
At Falmouth till February 12.
Moved to Newport News February 12-14, thence to Kentucky March 21-26.
Duty at Paris, Ky., till April 27.
Moved to Nicholasville, Lancaster and Stanford April 27-29, thence to Somerset May 6-8,
thence through Kentucky to Cairo, Ill., June 4-10, and to Vicksburg, Miss., June 14-17.
Siege of Vicksburg, Miss., June 17-July 4.
Advance on Jackson, Miss., July 5-10.
Siege of Jackson July 10-17.
At Milldale till August 12.
Moved to Covington, Ky., August 12-23.
Burnside's Campaign in East Tennessee August to October.
Action at Blue Springs, Tenn., October 10.
Clinch Mountain October 27.
Knoxville Campaign November 4-December 23.
Campbell's Station November 16.
Siege of Knoxville November 17-December 5.
Pursuit of Longstreet's army to Blain's Cross Roads December 5-26.
Reenlisted at Blain's Cross Roads January 1, 1864.
Moved to Annapolis, Md., April, 1864.
Rapidan Campaign May 4-June 12.
Battles of the Wilderness May 5-7; Spottsylvania May 8-12;
Ny River May 9; Spottsylvania C. H. May 12-21.
Assault on the Salient May 12. North Anna River May 23-26.
Ox Ford May 24.
Line of the Pamunkey May 26-28.
Totopotomoy May 28-31.
Cold Harbor June 1-12.
Bethesda Church June 1-3.
Before Petersburg June 16-18.
Siege of Petersburg June 16, 1864, to April 2, 1865.
Mine Explosion, Petersburg, July 30, 1864.
Weldon Railroad August 18-21.
Poplar Springs Church or Peeble's Farm September 29-October 2.
Reconnoissance on Vaughan or Squirrel Level Road October 8.
Boydton Plank Road, Hatcher's Run, October 27-28.
Fort Stedman March 25, 1865.
Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9.
Assault on and fall of Petersburg April 2.
Pursuit of Lee to Burkesville April 3-9.
Moved to City Point, thence to Washington, D.C., April 21-28.
Grand Review May 23.
Present at the laying of corner stone at Gettysburg July 4.
Mustered out July 30, 1865.
Losses:Regiment lost during service:
8 Officers and 156 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and
4 Officers and 180 Enlisted men by disease.
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