© Alice J. Gayley, all rights reservedSome time previous to the first Battle of Bull Run, Colonel Hartranft, who commanded a regiment in the three months' service, applied for, and received authority to recruit one for the three years' service. Calling about him many of his old officers and men, the ranks of the new regiment were soon filled with a body rarely excelled for qualities essential to good soldiers. With the exception of a few enlistments, companies A, C, D, F and I, were recruited in Montgomery County.The companies rendezvoused at Camp Curtin, and the regiment was organized by the selection of the following officers:
- Company A - Norristown
- Company B - Northampton County
- Company C - Montgomery County
- Company D - Norristown
- Company E - Union and Snyder Counties
- Company F - Montgomery County
- Company G - Centre County
- Company H - Union and Snyder Counties
- Company I - Montgomery County
- Company K - Union and Snyder CountiesOn the morning of the 18th of November the regiment left Camp Curtin, and proceeded by rail to Annapolis, Maryland, where, beneath the venerable elms of Saint John's College, it was for the first time formed in line, its details made, and its arms stacked. Burnside's expedition to North Carolina was now being fitted out, and the best drilled and most reliable of the volunteer regiments were selected for that service. The Fifty-first Pennsylvania was early designated as one. Upon its arrival at Annapolis it was at first quartered in the buildings of the College, and subsequently went into camp on the old French burying ground. On the 1st of December the camp was moved two miles beyond the city, and for six weeks it was subjected to continuous and laborious drill, during which its efficiency and discipline were rapidly improved, and a foundation laid for its future renown. In the final organization of the corps, it was assigned to Reno's Brigade.1
- John F. Hartranft, of Montgomery county, Colonel
- Thomas S. Bell, of Chester county, Lieutenant Colonel
- Edwin Schall, of Montgomery county, Major.
On the 6th of January, 1862, the regiment embarked, and on the 9th, the fleet, in three squadrons, set sail from Annapolis, and with sealed orders passed out to sea. No sooner had it reached the open ocean than it was overtaken by a succession of violent storms. It seemed as though a tempest had been lurking in the waste of waters ready to burst upon it the moment it should appear. For nearly two weeks, staggering beneath the giant waves, it was swept about at the mercy of the elements. Braving successfully the tempests, it finally passed Hatteras Inlet, and came to anchor in Pamlico Sound. On the morning of the 5th of February, the Flag Ship Philadelphia was anxiously watched, as it moved, followed by the fleet, and it soon became evident that Roanoke Island was its destination.
At early dawn, on the 7th, a landing was effected, and the movement commenced. The enemy was found strongly posted in earthworks on the north-west corner of the island, nearly surrounded by an impenetrable swamp, approached in front by a single causeway, which was swept by the guns of the fort. Upon arriving at the edge of the swamp, Reno's Brigade was sent to the left, to cut off the enemy's retreat south, while. Foster was directed to penetrate the swamp to the right of the road, and attack the enemy upon that flank. Hartranft soon found his way completely blocked, and returned upon the track of Foster, leaving two companies of the Fifty-first, which had the advance, still groping in the mire. But before he had reached the lines, Foster had already opened upon the enemy with infantry and artillery, and as the regiment came into position on the right of the line, Foster ordered a final charge, and the enemy was driven from his works, and fled in confusion. The demonstration upon the left of the road served to heighten his confusion, as he anticipated that his way of retreat was effectually broken. A hot pursuit was immediately made, and the entire force, with numerous heavy guns and small arms, was captured.
1862 BATTLE OF NEWBERN
On the 3d of March the regiment embarked for the expedition to Newbern, and on the 4th changed its muskets for Enfield Rifles. The fleet sailed on the 11th, and entered the Neuse River on the 12th, anchoring off Slocum's Creek, fifteen miles from Newbern, where, on the following day, the regiment debarked.
A portion, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Bell, was detailed to assist in moving the artillery. The rain was descending in torrents, and the roads were soon trodden into a stiff mud, which rendered the movement of the pieces next to impossible. Many of the men lost their shoes, and went into battle on the following day barefoot. But without faltering or pausing by the way, they toiled on over the weary miles, and brought up the pieces in time for the attack. For this important service, General Burnside personally thanked Lieutenant Colonel Bell.
In the meantime Colonel Hartranft, with the remaining companies, pushed on with the advance column. Upon its arrival in front of the enemy's earth-works, dispositions for attack were made, Foster occupying the right, Reno the left, and Parke in support upon the centre. The enemy's line upon the left was masked by timber, and in the thick fog which prevailed the extent of his works was undiscovered. They proved to be of great strength, consisting of thirteen finished redans" bristling with cannon, protected in front "by an almost impassable morass filled with fallen timber,"2 and stretching away far beyond the railroad, where his right was supposed to rest. Foster attacked upon his left; but the enemy concentrating his strength proved more than a match for him.
As soon as he could gain his position on the left, Reno attacked, and the battle soon became general, raging with great fury for three and a half hours. The Fifty-first had been held in support, and though exposed to a severe fire had not been allowed to return a single shot. General Reno becoming impatient at the delay, and at the losses he was sustaining, ordered up Colonel Hartranft for the decisive charge. Forming within a short distance of the rebel intrenchments, the regiment was led forward through the ranks of the Fifty-first New York, which cheered the column as it passed, to a little hill beyond.
General Reno, in person, his face beaming with an expression seen only in battle, ordered the charge. With determined valor the regiment rushed down a ravine chocked with felled timber, up the opposite bank, and without a falter carried the redan in front, planting the old flag upon the ramparts."All this, says General Reno in his official report, " was gallantly executed, and the enemy fled precipitately from all their intrenchments. Some fifty prisoners were captured in these works, many severely wounded. Upon reaching the rebel in trenchments I was rejoiced to see our flag waving along the entire line of the enemy's works."After setting fire to the railroad bridge, and a number of factories, the rebels abandoned Newbern.
Detachments were frequently sent out by General Burnside to reconnoitre and hold important points upon the coast. One was entrusted to Colonel Hartranft, who moved with his regiment into the interior and acquired valuable information. On the 16th of April, a force was sent out consisting of the Fiftyfirst Pennsylvania, Ninth and Eighty-ninth New York, Sixth New Hampshire and the Twenty-first Massachusetts, which proceeded by transports to a point four miles below Elizabeth City, where it landed.
Pushing inland about twenty miles, the weary troops came upon the enemy strongly posted. Two companies of the Fifty-first, A and F, Captains Boulton and Hart, were considerably in advance of the main column, and when they had arrived within an eighth of a mile of the rebel line, they were suddenly opened upon from the enemy's guns. They were ordered to shelter themselves as best they could, and to hold their position. General Reno now led the Twenty-first Massachusetts, and the balance of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, through the woods to the right, bringing them into position upon the enemy's left flank, where they immediately opened fire. In the meantime, the Ninth New York had taken position on the enemy's left centre, and had prematurely charged upon his guns. The ground was open, and being fearfully exposed, the Ninth was repulsed with considerable loss. The Sixth New Hampshire advanced upon the left, and with the two companies of the Fifty-first holding the road, kept the enemy well employed upon that part of the line. The Fifty-first had now turned his left flank, and was pouring in most deadly volleys."In the meantime," says General Reno, "the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, and the Twenty-first Massachusetts kept up an incessant fire upon the rebels, who had now withdrawn their artillery, and had commenced to withdraw in good order. The Sixth New Hampshire had steadily advanced in line to the left of the road, and when within about two hundred yards poured in a most' deadly volley, which completely demoralized the enemy, and ended the battle. Our men were so completely fagged out by the intense heat and their long march, that we could not pursue them. The men rested under arms until about ten o'clock P. M., when I ordered a return to our boats, having accomplished the principal object of the expedition, conveying the idea that the entire Burnside expedition was marching upon Norfolk."The loss in the regiment was three killed and twenty-one wounded. The brigade was here commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bell, and the regiment by Major Schall. On the 30th of June the regiment embarked for Fortress Monroe, but was detained until the 5th of July, when it set sail with the rest of the command, and arrived on the 8th, Here General Burnside commenced organizing the Ninth Corps, destined to win an enviable place in the national armies, and the regiment was assigned to the Second Brigade of the Second Division, composed of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, Fifty-first New York and the Twenty-first Massachusetts, commanded by General Edward Ferrero.
On the 12th of August, Burnside hastened with his command to the support of Pope, and landed at Fredericksburg, whence he pushed forward two divisions to Cedar Mountain, where they formed a junction with General M'Dowell. The enemy had already made his appearance on the Rapidan, and Ferrero's Brigade, under Colonel Hartranft, was sent to guard the fords from Mitchell's Station to Raccoon Ford. Lee's columns soon after arrived in force on the opposite bank, and began to press heavily to gain a crossing, when the brigade was withdrawn, and returning through Stevensburg, re-crossed the Rappahannock at Kelley's Ford. Four companies of the Fifty-first were detailed for the rear guard, and held the enemy at bay until so far separated from the main body as to excite serious apprehension for their safety; but they succeeded in bringing in the gun with which they were entrusted, and crossed the river in safety, losing only a few stragglers.
Pope's army manoeuvring for several days, finally formed in line on the old Bull Run battle-ground. Kearney held the right, with Reno on his left. Several batteries were posted on a commanding ridge, and away to the right was a wood in which the enemy was concentrated in heavy force. The Fifty-first supported these batteries. On the afternoon of the first day of the battle, the 29th, Lieutenant Colonel Bell, with a portion of the regiment, was detailed to advance to the picket line in Kearney's front, and remained in this position until the morning of the second day, when it re-joined the regiment, which had been withdrawn during the night.Towards evening, our forces having been driven back, began to move from the field. The line of retreat was along the Centreville road to the right of the position held by Graham's battery. This road was soon completely blocked with the artillery and trains, and much confusion prevailed. It was a critical moment. The enemy, exulting in his successes, was pushing on to break in upon the column, while impeded by its trains, and to crush it in its crippled condition by a single blow. Graham's pieces were admirably posted for its protection, and were already dealing their death laden volleys upon the advancing foe; but should his supports fail him, his guns would be lost, and our whole left flank exposed.
Ferrero saw the necessity of holding these guns at all hazards, and of keeping them in full play. Undaunted by the masses of the foe hurled against him, he clung to the ground, and poured in double shotted canister and rapid rounds of musketry, until the enemy's lines were broken and driven in confusion. Again and again they returned to the contest with fresh troops, and with renewed zeal; but no valor could withstand the shock of Ferrero's column, and the enemy finally retired, leaving our lines intact, and our trains safe. Ferrero, with the Twenty-first Massachusetts, now moved off, and had become separated from the rest of his brigade.
The command of the two remaining regiments devolved on Colonel Hartranft. Retiring across Bull Run, the two regiments filed into the fields to the right of the pike, and bivouacked for the night. In the morning they moved on to Centreville, and re-joined the army. It was soon after discovered that the rebels were in motion to strike the Union column by a movement upon its right, and cut off its retreat. Reno's Corps was immediately put in motion with the cavalry in advance, and was soon joined by Stevens and Kearney.
Hartranft had the rear of the column, and was moving with two batteries, though under no orders to support them, when he suddenly found himself confronting the enemy. The two armies were moving on divergent roads, and the lines were here first struck. Seeing that these batteries were in peril, he instantly ordered them into a commanding position on the left of the road and drove back the foe. It was nightfall, and a terrible thunder storm prevailed; but Kearney and Stevens and Reno, three impetuous leaders, immediately forming, moved upon the foe, and fought in the darkness. They knew nothing of his strength and little of the ground, and contended to a great disadvantage; but the enemy was beaten back, which was the principal point, though Kearney and Stevens both yielded up their lives.
At his own request Pope was now relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac and M'Clellan was restored. On the 3d of September, the Ninth Corps moved through Washington, and on the 11th reached New Market, on the Maryland campaign. The passage of the Monocacy was not disputed. On the 12th, the command entered Frederick, and had a brisk skirmish with the cavalry, which was covering the withdrawal of the rebel army, now concentrating in the passes of the South Mountain, which it was determined to hold. Before reaching the mountain, Ferrero's Brigade moved by a country road leading up to the summit on the left of the Sharpsburg pike. Upon encountering the enemy's lines, the Seventeenth Michigan, a new regiment, full of enthusiasm, but little schooled in those cardinal virtues of the soldier imparted by veteran discipline, made a most gallant charge diagonally across the road from left to right, in the face of a murderous fire, which swept the ranks at every step, and soon disappeared in the woods beyond.
General Reno, coming up soon after, and supposing that this regiment had established a line in the woods, and was holding the ground it had so gallantly won, ordered Colonel Hartranft to lead his regiment across the open field in rear of the supposed line, and close up to the edge of the woods. While the regiment was thus moving, and was stretched out upon the march unsuspicious of danger, the enemy suddenly opened upon it from the wood a most withering fire.
The Seventeenth Michigan had advanced and driven the enemy, but had neglected to hold its advantage, and the rebels returning, had awaited until the Fifty-first was upon their bayonet ends, when they deliberately opened fire. The column was instantly drawn under cover of the wall that flanks the road, and soon after was deployed to the left of the road, under a fence that stretches at right angles to it. Fire was immediately opened upon the enemy, which was kept up until the ammunition was spent, when it was relieved by the Fifty-first New York, Colonel Potter, lying in close supporting distance.
Returning again to the contest, fire was continued until the enemy, finding himself hard pressed on all sides, and his position rendered insecure, fled under cover of darkness, and in the morning the columns advanced without opposition. General Reno was killed early in the contest.
1862 STORMING OF THE BRIDGE AT ANTIETAM
The battle of Antietam opened on the afternoon of the 16th of September, General Hooker, crossing Antietam Creek and attacking the enemy's left with great impetuosity and the most triumphant success, and was followed up on the morning of the 17th with even greater impetuosity by the commands of Mansfield and Sumner. In the meantime the left and centre of the Union line, stretching away towards the Potomac on the left bank of the creek, remained quiet spectators of the desperate encounter on the right. At nine o'clock on the morning of the 17th, when the struggle upon the right had been four hours in progress, General Cox, in command of the Ninth Army Corps since the fall of Reno, was ordered to advance and carry the stone bridge on the extreme left of the line, firmly held by the enemy. The bridge itself is a stone structure of three arches, with stone parapet above, this parapet to some extent flanking the approach to the bridge at either end. The valley in winch the stream runs is quite narrow, the steep slope on the right bank approaching to the water's edge. In this slope the road-way is scarped, running both ways from the bridge and passing to the higher land above by ascending through ravines, above and below, the upper ravine being some six hundred yards above the bridge, the town about half that distance below. On the hill side immediately above the bridge was a strong stone fence running parallel to the stream; the turns of the road-way were covered by rifle-pits and breastworks made of rails and stone, all of which defences, as well as the woods which covered the slope, were filled with the enemy's infantry and sharp-shooters. Besides the infantry defences, batteries were placed to enfilade the bridge and all its approaches."3
Against this position, strong by nature, rendered doubly strong by art, the Eleventh Connecticut and Crook's Brigade, supported by Sturgis' Division, were ordered to the assault. As this force advanced up the open valley, by the road which leads along the river bank to the bridge, it was exposed to so warm a fire from the opposite heights, alive with the enemy, that it was forced to halt and reply. Sturgis' troops reached the head of the bridge, and the Second Maryland and the Sixth New Hampshire charged at double quick with fixed bayonets; but the concentrated fire of the enemy upon it, forced them to fall back. After repeated efforts these regiments were withdrawn. Burnside, nettled at the failure of this attempt, and the consequent delay of his columns, and knowing full well in whom he could trust, ordered forward the Fifty-first.
General Ferrero dashing up to the regiment said, "'General Burnside orders the Fifty-first Pennsylvania to storm the bridge." Hartranft, avoiding the road by the river bank, led his men in rear of the heights overlooking the river, until he arrived opposite the bridge, when he moved boldly down the slope for the crossing. The instant his men came into the open ground in the valley they received a withering fire from the enemy's well posted infantry, and many fell. A fence skirting the road proved a serious impediment, and in crossing it, the men were particularly exposed. Here fell Captains Bolton and Hart, severely wounded, a serious loss at this juncture.
Unheeding the enemy's bullets or the obstructions by the way, the column moved forward with a determined front, and made straight for the bridge. As they entered, a storm of missiles swept it, but no danger could stay that tide of living valor. Hartranft, who led the way, paused in the midst, and was hastening on the rear of his column, when he was joined by Colonel Potter, with the gallant Fiftyfirst New York. With a shout that rang out above the noise of battle, the two colums rushed forward, and were soon firmly established on the thither bank. The bridge was carried! A regiment was quickly advanced, and took position on the heights commanding the bridge and its approaches, driving out the enemy and rendering the crossing for infantry secure. The whole corps now advanced rapidly, took position on the heights above the bridge, and immediately advanced to the attack. The Fifty-first was posted on the second range of hills overlooking the creek, some distance below the bridge. Here it was soon hotly engaged with the enemy under cover of a stone wall, and in a cornfield on its left. Its ammunition was soon exhausted, and a fresh supply failing to arrive as ordered, the men held their position with the bayonet until relief came.
But all this struggle and costly sacrifice was vain. The enemy, relieved by the slackening of the battle on the left, and the arrival of a fresh corps from Harper's Ferry, was enabled to concentrate an overwhelming force upon this single corps, and it was forced to yield. The loss of the regiment was one hundred and twenty-five. Among the killed was Lieutenant Colonel Bell,4 a vigilant officer and most estimable man, and Lieutenants Beaver and Hunsicker. Of the wounded were Captains Bolton and Hart, Adjutant Shorkly, Quartermaster Freedly and Lieutenant Lynch. Upon the fall of Lieutenant Colonel Bell, Major Schall was promoted to fill the vacancy, and Captain William J. Bolton, of company A, was promoted to Major.
1862 BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG
Moving leisurely from the field of Antietam, the army crossed and again proceeded to the Rappahannock. General Burnside, now in chief command, determined to cross the river at Fredericksburg, and seek the foe beyond. Much delay was experienced in bringing up the pontoons, and when they were at length at hand, the enemy had concentrated in his immediate front, and stood ready to dispute the passage and contest the ground on the impregnable heights beyond.
General Wilcox was now in command of the Ninth Corps, and on the afternoon of the 13th of December, the day on which the troops under Franklin had attacked on the left, it crossed the river upon the pontoons in front of the town, and advanced by the road leading to the left towards the heights. At a point intermediate between the heights and the town, the brigade, consisting of five regiments, under command of General Ferrero, was deployed to right and left under partial cover. Upon emerging from the town, the troops were at once met by the enemy's fire. A steady fire was returned but with little effect, his lines lying close and securely behind his einrenchments. A lime-kiln marks the position where the brigade was deployed. Whence it advanced gallantly, in face of a murderous fire, to a position on the left ot the line occupied by the Second Corps.
On the evening of the 14th, Sunday, one regiment, the Eleventh New Hampshire, was ordered forward on picket, and was hardly in position, when Colonel Hartranft received orders to proceed with the remaining four regiments, and relieve a division upon the skirmish line. On passing the neighborhood of a hospital, some entrenching tools were discovered scattered about, and the men were ordered to take them forward. Arriving upon the line they were directed to throw up a breast-work for their protection. This they at first refused to do, digging not having at this time become fashionable. The command was renewed and the men fell to work, and when they began to see the fruits of their labor, they prosecuted it with a will, and by morning of Monday had a good line of works formed. This was the first experience of digging by the Fifty-first.
Here the line was under a fierce infantry and artillery fire, and the men were obliged to hug closely their cover. But the enemy manifested no disposition to attack, and after remaining in position until the morning of Tuesday, the brigade was withdrawn, and re-crossed the river upon the pontoons, which were soon after taken up. The advantages in this engagement were all on the side of the enemy, the attacks in front of the town proving futile; but nevertheless the history of the war furnishes few instances where the mettle of the troops was more severely tested than in the blows aimed at the fastnesses of those frowning heights. The loss was twelve killed and seventy-four wounded.
On the 25th of March, 1863, the regiment was ordered to Fortress Monroe, where it joined the brigade, now consisting of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, Fifty-first New York, Twenty-first Massachusetts, and the Eleventh New Hampshire, and thence proceeded, with two divisions of the Ninth Corps, to Kentucky. At Cincinnati General Burnside met the troops, welcoming them to his new department, and encouraging them to deeds of patriotic devotion. The regiment moved by rail to Paris, and was posted successively at Winchester, Lancaster, Crab Orchard and Stanford, principally engaged in holding the interior of the State against the invasions of the raiders Wheeler, Morgan, and Pegram.
From Kentucky the corps, under the command of General Parke, was ordered to the support of Grant at Vicksburg. The Fifty-first broke camp on the 4th of June, and arrived in the rear of the great stronghold of the Mississippi on thbe4th. Its camp was established at Mill Dale, where little of interest occurred until the 23d, when it was detailed to dig rifle pits and cut away the woods, for the protection of the rear against a rebel army under Johnston, now assuming a threatening attitude. Working parties were relieved every two hours, and the duty was diligently prosecuted until miles of pits and field-works were constructed, and whole forests slashed away.
On the morning of the 29th the division was ordered to Oak Ridge, where it relieved a portion of M'Pherson's Corps, and was again employed in fortifying. At ten o'clock on the morning of the 4th of July came intelligence of the fall of Vicksburg, and with it, twentyone bags of mail matter for the division, of not less interest, for the moment, than the surrender.
The regiment accompanied Sherman in his campaign to Jackson, and on the 11th arrived upon the enemy's front. It was immediately placed in position on the left of the line in support of the Second Michigan, Colonel Humphrey. At eight o'clock on the morning of the 12th a heavy cannonade was opened on both sides, which was kept up during the entire day, the regiment suffering considerable loss. During the night the men were busy digging rifle-pits, at many points within a few yards of the rebel sentries.
On the morning of the 14th, after three days and two nights of constant skirmishing and fatigue duty, the regiment was relieved and withdrawn to the rear of the Insane Asylum. On the 15th detachments from several regiments, embracing two companies, F and I, of the Fifty-first, all under command of Major Wright, of the Fifty-first New York, were sent to reconnoitre the left as far as the Pearl River, and ascertain if a crossing could be effected. By accident the command struck the river opposite to the point where the enemy's trains and reserve artillery were parked. The appearance of our troops in this quarter was reported to Johnston, who, supposing it to be a demonstration in force, and fearing for the safety of his army, at once commenced a retreat.5
The city was occupied on the 18th, the regiment stacking arms in front of the State House. Remaining two or three days to complete the work of destruction, Sherman marched back to Vicksburg.
The Ninth Corps now returned to Burnside's command, and went into camp in Kentucky, the Fifty-first leaving the railroad at Nicholasville, and taking post at Camp Nelson. Here it rested and re-fitted. The service in Mississippi had been very severe. Digging, felling forests, and making forced marches under the burning suns of the South, had broken down the health of many a strong man, and had induced fevers peculiar to the region. Colonel Hartranft fell a victim to their influence, and was for a long time prostrated.
1863 BATTLE OF CAMPBELL'S STATION
From Camp Nelson, the regiment moved to Crab Orchard, where it received recruits, and thence marched across the mountains, via Cumberland Gap, to Knoxville. Soon after its arrival it was ordered down the valley to Loudon, where preparations had been made for going into winter-quarters; but scarcely had it arrived, when it was ordered back to Lenoir, where it remained several days. Here Colonel Hartranft, who had so far recovered as to take the field, re-joined the regiment and immediately assumed command of the Second Division of the Ninth Corps. His arrival was opportune. Longstreet, cutting loose from Bragg, at Chattanooga, was threatening Burnside with a force thrice his number, and had already arrived in the neighborhood of Loudon. Perceiving his advantage, the rebel chief pushed across the Tennessee, and put his columns in motion for Campbell's Station, a point where several important roads centre, with the design of reaching it in advance of Burnside's forces, and thus cutting off and capturing his whole command. In this he had the advantage of the shortest and most direct road.
Burnside discovered his danger just in time to avert it. The Fifty-first was charged with moving Benjamin's heavy battery. The mud was very deep, and the roads, badly cut up by the trains, were next to impassable. All night long the regiment toiled through the mire to bring up the guns. The station was reached in advance of the enemy, and immediately proceeding out upon the Kingston road, Colonel Hartranft deployed his division across it, with his left thrown forward to cover the Loudon road, along which our army and trains were moving.
Before these dispositions had fairly been made the head of the rebel column appeared. Held back for awhile by a few mounted infantry, Longstreet soon brought up heavy columns and opened a furious attack. This was met by a destructive and continuous fire from Hartrantt's lines, which caused the enemy to recoil in confusion. Steadfastly holding his ground until the remainder of the army and all the trains had safely passed the threatened point, Hartranft withdrew his troops, regiment by regiment, and took position on the left of the new line of battle, which had been formed on a low range of hills beyond the station.
In the meantime Benjamin's Battery, which had been brought safely in, took position and did most efficient service, engaging and driving the enemy's artillery whenever it made its appearance. So much were the Union forces outnumbered, that the contest was waged with no hope of victory, but only to save the army and its material.
Accordingly successive lines of battle were taken up in advantageous positions, and each was held until forced from it, when the troops retired behind fresh troops that had occupied the next. In this way the enemy was held at bay until dark, when he rested, and Burnside's columns, under cover of darkness, were all brought off safely into Knoxville.
Here the troops were immediately put to fortifying. Ferrero, with the First Division, held the left of the line with the river upon his flank, and Fort Sanders, an earthwork mounted with Benjamin's guns, in the centre. Hartranft held the right, his line crossing the principal road leading from Cumberland Gap to Knoxville. Upon his right was a mill fed by a small stream. Across this, a heavy dam was built which flooded the ground for a considerable distance around. Upon this lake the right of the line rested securely. For many days the work of fortifying was prosecuted without cessation. Fortunately Longstreet delayed his attack until the works were completed, and the army was secure.
But the troops were exposed to a danger more imperious and fatal than rebel bullets. It was hunger. During all the hardships of the siege the men had been compelled to subsist on meagre rations of a quality hardly capable of sustaining life. The days were counted when even these would fail. Fortunately before they were numbered, Grant, having relieved the army at Chattanooga from its toils, sent a powerful force under Sherman, to the support of Burnside, and the siege was raised.
Trains soon after arrived with provisions, and pursuit of the enemy was at once commenced. In this the Fifty-first joined, and came up with the rebel rear guard at Rutledge, in the valley of the Holsten, where skirmishing ensued Here the pursuit was stayed and the regiment retired to the neighborhood of Blaine's cross-roads, where it went into winter quarters. Still only meagre supplies of food and clothing were received, and the troops suffered much.
On the 5th of January the regiment re-enlisted for an additional term of three years, and received orders to commence the homeward march. Poorly clad and short of rations, the men braved the perils of a wintery march across the mountains of East Tennessee, and after enduring untold sufferings and hardships by the way, finally arrived at Camp Nelson, where abundant supplies of food and clothing were received.
Pausing a few days at Cincinnati for the preparation of the company rolls, the regiment proceeded to Harrisburg, where it received a veteran furlough. Upon his arrival at Norristown, Colonel Hartranft, and the five companies from Montgomery county, received a flattering ovation, in which the speaker upon the occasion, Mr. B. E. Chain, said:" It is to you, Colonel, that the regiment owes the character it bears. Your discipline in the camp, your foresight on the march, your coolness, bravery, and judgment on the battle-field, have won the confidence and love of your men, and made them heroes in the fight. They knew that you never ordered where you did not lead."So popular was the regiment at home that it was soon recruited to more than the maximum strength, and upon the expiration of the veteran furlough rendezvoused at Annapolis, Maryland, where the Ninth Corps was assembling. It was here assigned to the First Brigade of the First Division, consisting of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, the One Hundred and Ninth New York, and the Second, Eighth, Seventeenth, and Twenty-seventh Michigan, Colonel Hartranft in command, Lieutenant Colonel Schall leading the regiment.
1864 GRANT'S OVERLAND CAMPAIGN
Upon the opening of the spring campaign under Grant, the Ninth Corps broke camp, and moving through Washington, where it was reviewed by the President, joined the army, and on the 5th of May crossed the Rapidan. It immediately moved to the front and took position between Hancock and Warren. Hartranft's Brigade was upon the centre of the line, and it was with considerable difficulty that it could be got into position. Captain Hart, who was now serving upon the staff of the Colonel, was ordered to go forward until he found the enemy's skirmishers. Pushing through the thick growth of pines, the first intimation he received of an enemy's presence, was a rebel bullet whistling by his ears. The brigade was now led in by regiments, the men creeping through the dense undergrowth as best they could."The advance was made," says Colonel Hartranft in his official report, "with great difficulty on account of the woods and underbrush, which were on fire. I formed my line, making nearly a right angle facing south and east. The enemy was in force in front of my left. While in this position, I received orders from Major General Burnside to advance and carry the enemy's works. I ordered the advance at ten A. M., holding the Second Michigan in reserve, and directing the Seventeenth Michigan to watch well the right flank. The lines moved forward and I carried the enemy's works and held them for a moment, until a panic seized the left, which brought the whole line back in confusion. I immediately advanced skirmishers from the Second and Seventeenth Michigan, also moved the Seventeenth more to the left, and on these regiments re-formed my line. In this charge many prisoners were taken from the enemy, but lost perhaps an equal number."In the afternoon the brigade again advanced, but encountered stern resistance, and lost many in killed and wounded. On the 7th the line was again moved forward, breast-works were thrown up, and considerable skirmishing ensued.
On the morning of the 9th the brigade was withdrawn and moved to the Ny River, where the enemy was soon found. A crossing was effected on the 12th, and the rebels, after a stern resistance, were driven back. In this engagement six companies of the Fifty-first were deployed as skirmishers, supported by the remaining four, and gallantly carried the wooded heights in their front, compelling the enemy to burn a house in which he had taken shelter, and retire.
To date from this battle, Colonel Hartranft was promoted to Brigadier General, Lieutenant Colonel Schall to Colonel, Major Bolton to Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain Hart to Major. From the 12th to the 18th, the line of the brigade remained substantially unchanged, the enemy hugging closely his works, ready at any moment to repel an attack. Upon the withdrawal of the brigade from the position occupied on the 27th, a few men, belonging to the Fifty-first, engaged upon the picket line, could not be brought in, and fell into the hands of the enemy.
A succession of movements by the left flank brought the brigade to Cold Harbor on the 1st of June. At six o'clock on the morning of the 3d, the brigade advanced with orders to re-take the line from which the enemy had driven our troops on the previous day. Potter's Division advanced at the same time on the right. In the face of a terrific fire of infantry and artillery, the lines rushed forward, routed the enemy, and were soon well established within two hundred yards of his main line, where, in a re-entrant angle of his own works, he had four guns. These proved of little value to him, as they were so closely watched by our sharp-shooters that it was impossible for the gunners to work them. In this charge, at the head of his column, Colonel Schall was killed, and was succeeded in command by Lieutenant Colonel Bolton. The loss here, as in the preceding battles of the campaign, was very heavy, but for want of data cannot be given.
Crossing the Chickahominy and the James, the Ninth Corps arrived in front of Petersburg on the 17th, and at once engaged the enemy. General Hartranft's Brigade made a most gallant charge in face of a galling fire of the rebel artillery, suffering heavy loss. On the following day it was again engaged upon the railroad-cut in front of the locality afterwards selected for the mine, and gained a position in close proximity to the enemy's works, which was held and fortified. So close to the rebel line was this position, that it required unceasing vigilance to hold it, and for seventeen successive days and nights an unceasing fire of musketry was kept up, one-third of the men being constantly employed.
After a few days respite it was again returned to the vicinity of its old position, where it remained until the explosion of the mine. On the day previous it was relieved and ordered to form part of the storming column. When the explosion took place it advanced, and two companies had reached the brink, when General Hartranft, who was in the crater, finding that more troops were already in than could be used, ordered it back. In this perilous advance Colonel Bolton was severely wounded, and the command devolved on Major Hart.
The brigade was again put upon the line fronting the crater, where it remained for a few days, when it was relieved and passed to the rear out of harm's way. Here it remained in camp until the 19th of August, when it was ordered to the support of Warren, on the Weldon Railroad. Crawford's Division formed the connecting link between Hancock and Warren, a distance of a half mile. Upon this the enemy fell in heavy force and captured the greater portion of it, making a dangerous gap, and exposing Warren to imminent peril. Hartranft, who was lying in supporting distance, and judging by the sound of battle that our forces had been dispersed, though not under orders, magnanimously moved to the rescue, and by interposing his brigade and by stubbornly holding his ground, saved the day. A permanent lodgment was thereby made upon the Weldon road, which had been one of the enemy's chief lines of supply.
In the subsequent operations of the brigade, the Fifty-first, under command of Colonel Bolton, participated, engaging the enemy at Poplar Spring Church, at Ream's Station, at Hatcher's Run, and in the final attack on the 2d of April, which resulted in the evacuation of Richmond. On the 27th of July, after four years of arduous service, extending over the whole line from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, it was mustered out of service at Alexandria, Virginia.
1 Organization of the Second Brigade, Brigadier General Jesse L. Reno, of Burnside's Corps; Fifty-first Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel John F. Hartranft; Fifty-first Regiment New York Volunteers, Colonel Robert B. Potter; Twenty-first Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel Albert C. Maggi; Ninth Regiment New Jersey Volunteers, Colonel J. W. Allen.
2 General Reno's Offcial Report.
3General Cox's Official Report-Moore's Rebellion Record. Docs. Vol. 5, p. 454-5.
4 "After crossing the bridge I took the regiment to the right and halted. When the regiment was reformed, I moved it from the bed of the road towards the creek, and rested, while several other regiments passed up the road. Colonel Bell here came up to me, saying that more troops should be sent over. I replied: "well, go and see about it." He went, but no farther than the bridge, and soon I saw him coming back on the bed of the road, (which was now clear of troops,) a few feet from the edge of the road nearest the water. When about thirty yards from the bridge I saw him struck on the left temple, as I at that time thought, and now believe, by a canister shot. He fell backward and rolled off the road to within six feet of the water. He spoke freely, saying 'never say die,boys;' 'standbythe colors'; 'take care of my sword.'
He was immediately taken back to the Barn Hospital and examined by some Surgeon, (our own Surgeons being at another hospital, ) who pronounced his wound not dangerous. Bleeding soon stopped. I directed Sergeant Major Stoneroad to remain with him and take charge of his effects. I was under orders at this time to move forward, and could not leave the regiment. In little less than an hour after I received permission to go back to the hospital to see the Colonel. I saw him, (Sergeant Major with him,) but he did not recognize me. In an hour after he passed off calmly. "-Letter of General Hartranft.
5"All night Sherman heard the sound of wagons, but nothing that indicated evacuation, for the picks and shovels were at work till midnight; but, at the dawn of day, it became evident that the enemyhad withdrawn across the Pearl River. The rebels had burned all the bridges in retreating and placed loaded shells and torpedoes on the roads leading out from the river. All the material of war had been removed, in advance of the retreat, by means of the railroad running east. "-Military History of U. S. Grant, Badeau, Vol. I, page 396.
Source: Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Harrisburg, 1868-1871.
Organization:Organized at Harrisburg November 16, 1861.
Left State for Annapolis, Md., November 16.
Attached to Reno's Brigade, Burnside's North Carolina Expeditionary Corps, to April, 1862.
2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, Dept. of North Carolina, to July, 1862.
2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, to April, 1863: Army of the Ohio to June, 1863; Army of the Tennessee to August, 1863, and Army of the Ohio to April, 1864.
1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 9th Army Corps, Army Potomac, to September, 1864.
1st Brigade, 1st Division, 9th Army Corps, to July, 1865.
Service:Duty at Annapolis till January 9, 1862.
Burnside's Expedition to Hatteras Inlet and Roanoke Island, N. C., January 9-February 8.
Battle of Roanoke Island February 8.
Moved to New Berne March 11-13.
Battle of New Berne March 14.
Expedition to Pollocksville March 21-22.
Expedition to Elizabeth City April 17-19.
Camden, South Mills, April 19.
Duty at New Berne till July.
Moved to Newport News, Va., July 6-9, thence to Fredericksburg August 2-4.
March to relief of Pope August 12-15.
Pope's Campaign in Northern Virginia August 16-September 2.
Battles of Groveton August 29; Bull Run August 30; Chantilly September 1;
Maryland Campaign September 6-24.
Battle of South Mountain September 14.
Antietam September 16-17.
Duty at Pleasant Valley till October 27.
Movement to Falmouth, Va., October 27-November 19.
Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., December 12-15.
Burnside's second Campaign.
"Mud March" January 20-24, 1863.
Moved to Newport News February 19, thence to Covington and Paris, Ky., March 26-April 1.
Moved to Mount Sterling April 3, to Lancaster May 6-7 and to Crab Orchard May 23.
Movement to Vicksburg, Miss., June 3-17.
Siege of Vicksburg June 17-July 4.
Advance on Jackson, Miss., July 5-10.
Siege of Jackson July 10-17.
At Milldale till August 6.
Moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, August 6-20.
Duty in Kentucky till October.
Operations in East Tennessee till November 14.
Knoxville Campaign November 4-December 23.
Campbell's Station November 16.
Siege of Knoxville November 17-December 4.
Pursuit of Longstreet December 5-29.
Regiment reenlisted January 1, 1864, and on Veteran furlough January 11-March 9.
At Annapolis, Md., till April 23.
Rapidan Campaign May 4-June 12.
Battles of the Wilderness May 5-7;
Spottsylvania May 8-12; Ny River May 9; Spottsylvania Court House 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, Peeble's Farm, September 29-October 2.
Reconnoissance on Vaughan and 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 Farmville.
Moved to City Point, thence to Alexandria April 20-28.
Grand Review May 23.
Duty at Washington and Alexandria till July.
Mustered out July 27, 1865.
Losses:Regiment lost during service;
12 Officers and 165 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and
137 Enlisted men by disease.
Total 314.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
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