© Alice J. Gayley, all rights reservedOn the 21st of August, 1861, John R. Brooke, of Pottstown, Montgomerycounty, was commissioned Colonel of the Fifty-third Regiment. He hadserved as Captain in the Fourth (three months') Regiment. Recruiting wasimmediately commenced, and on the 28th of September, the first Company wasmustered into the service of the United States.
During the period of its organization it occupied Camp Curtin, and while here did provost guard duty in Harrisburg. The following field officers were selected:
- Company A was recruited in Chester County
- Company B in Chester and Montgomery Counties
- Company C in Blair and Huntingdon Counties
- Company D in Centre and Clearfield Counties
- Company E in Carbon and UnionCounties
- Company F in Luzerne County
- Company G in Potter County
- Company H in Northumberland County
- Comapny I in Juniata County, and
- Company K in Westmoreland
On the 7th of November it moved to Washington and encamped north ofthe Capitol. On the 27th it crossed the Potomac, went into camp near Alexandria, and was assigned to a brigade commanded by General Wm. H. French.It remained here during the winter of 1861-2, and was constantly drilled anddisciplined in the routine of a soldier's duty. It participated in the generaladvance of the Army of the Potomac in March, 1862, arriving at ManassasJunction, which had been evacuated by the rebels, on the 12th.
- John R. Brooke, Colonel
- Richard M'Michael, of Reading, Berks county, Lieutenant Colonel
- Thomas Yeager, of Allentown, Lehigh county, Major.
- Charles P. Hatch, of Philadelphia, was appointed Adjutant
On the 21st it was marched to Warrenton Junction to support a reconnoissance of Howard's Brigade, which was being pushed towards the Rappahannock. The object having been accomplished, on the 23d it returned to Manassas, and from thence toAlexandria.
Peninsula CampaignUpon the re-organization of the army the regiment was assigned to the Third Brigade,1 First Division, Second Corps. On the 3d of April itwas transferred with M'Clellan's Army to the Peninsula, and formed part ofthe reserve division during the siege of Yorktown.
The enemy having retreated on the 4th of May, the regiment marched toYorktown, and late on the afternoon of the same day moved through a peltingstorm of rain towards Williamsburg. It was ordered back on the 6th, and remained until the 12th, when it was transported to West Point, at the head ofYork River. Later in the month it assisted to build the grape-vine bridgeacross the Chickahominy.
The regiment took a prominent part in the engagement at Fair Oaks on the 1st of June, where, though surprised and thrown into temporary confusion, it rallied, and in a short time forced the enemy from his line. Its conduct on this occasion was such as to elicit the commendation of the Generals commanding. It suffered a severe loss in the death of Major Yeager, who was killed in the early part of the action, while gallantly leadinghis men. The regiment lost ninety-six men in killed, wounded, and missing.It bivouacked upon the battle-ground and supported a battery in positionon the York River Railroad.
On the 27th it moved to the right, where a deadly conflict was raging, and was thrown forward to the assistance of Porter's troops. It crossed the Chickahominy and came under fire of the enemy at Gaines' Mill. Forming in line of battle the command covered the withdrawal of the troops, and at midnight silently re-crossed the Chickahominy. Here began the memorable "change of basse," in which it was the arduous duty of Sumner's Corps to cover the rear of the retreating army. The post of honor and of danger-the rear of the rear-guard-was assigned to the Third Brigade.
At Peach Orchard, on the 29th, it participated in a fierce engagement, in whicha number of casualties occurred, but none were killed. Immediately after theclose of the action, General Sumner rode up and complimented the regimentfor its bravery, saying, "you have done nobly, but I knew you would do so."
Moving to Savage Station, Sumner made another stand to check the enemy.The regiment occupied a position in a wood parallel to the railroad, and wasfortunately favored by the high ranged shot and shell of the rebel artillery.After a short but desperate encounter, the enemy withdrew, and at midnight.the line of retreat was silently resumed.
The march now began to test the endurance of the troops, and the situationbecame one fraught with peril. One small brigade, standing fearlessly alonein midnight darkness, was holding in check, almost at the point of the bayonet, one-half the rebel army, while friends from whom no succor could be expected were swiftly moving to the rear. Silently the command plunged intothe deep shadows of White Oak Swamp. At daylight the regiment reachedWhite Oak Creek, beyond which was its corps in bivouac. Crossing the creekit immediately began destroying the bridge. The advance of the enemy soonmade its appearance, and commenced skirmishing, but was prevented fromcrossing the stream. Several of his batteries having been placed in position,opened fire, and were very annoying. Although not actively engaged, the'regiment had several killed and wounded.
Withdrawing at midnight, the Fifty-third arrived at Malvern Hill on themorning of July 1st, and was almost constantly under fire although it did notparticipate in the engagement. The duty assigned to it, in the retreat from theChickahominy to the James, was of such an important nature as to merit andreceive the thanks of the Commanding General as well as of the intermediatecommanders, and Colonel Brooke was highly complimented for the skillful andsoldierly qualities displayed in conducting his command successfully throughso many perils. Arriving at Harrison's Landing, the regiment remained untilthe 16th of August. Here the Sixty-fourth New York was temporarily attached to the Fifty-third for the purposes of drill, discipline, and camp duty, allunder command of Major Octavius S. Bull, who had been promoted to fill thevacancy occasioned' by the death of Major Yeager, Colonel Brooke being incommand of the brigade and Lieutenant Colonel M'Michael absent on accountof sickness.
Moving via Yorktown to Newport News, it embarked for Alexandria, whereit arrived on the 28th, and encamped on the following day at Lee's Farm, nearthe Aqueduct Bridge. The cannonade of the contending forces at Bull Runwas distinctly heard, and the men were eager to again meet the foe. At twoA. M. of the 30th, in light marching order, the command moved towards Centreville. But the battle had been fought, and Pope's Army was retreating to the defences of Washington. Reaching Centreville on the 31st, it was promptly deployed in line of battle, protecting the exposed fanks of the Union army.
Here again Sumner's Corps was interposed between the enemy and our retreating troops. Near Vienna, the regiment, and one section of a battery, werethrown forward on the Leesburg turnpike to guard the flank of the columnagainst any sudden attack of the enemy. A force of rebel cavalry made a dashupon the Union troops between the pike and Chain Bridge, entirely separatingthe regiment from the main column. Colonel Brooke, seeing the danger and thedifficulty of cutting his way through, moved his command at double-quick downthe pike and thereby insured its safety before the enemy discovered the manoeuvre.
On the 3d of September it re-joined the army at Tenallytown. On the 11th, General French, who had endeared himself to the troops of his brigade, was assigned to the command of a division, and was succeeded by Colonel Brooke.
Battles of South Mountain and AntietamThe enemy was now marching into Maryland, and the Third Brigademoved rapidly through Washington to Frederick, and thence to South Mountain, where it was held in reserve during the battle. On the 15th it moved inpursuit, skirmishing during the morning with the enemy's cavalry, drove himthrough Boonesboroe and Keedysville, and encountered his army in strongforce on the highlands beyond Antietam Creek. The following day was occupied, chiefly, in manoeuvring for position, the regiment being under artilleryfire and suffering some casualties.
At four A. M. of the 17th, the regiment left its position on the Keedysville road, and moving a mile to the right, crossed Antietam Creek at a ford. It occupied the extreme right of the division. In front was the "sunken road" occupied by the enemy's first line. His secondline was protected by a stone wall on the hill beyond. To the right and rearwas an orchard, immediately in front of which was the cornfield, where, subsequently, the battle raged with great fury. It was important to drive theenemy from this position, and the Fifty-third was chosen for the charge.Changing front to the rear, and advancing at double-quick, in a short but desperate' contest it drove him from his well chosen ground. The regiment was subsequently engaged in the hottest of the fight and shared the varying fortunes of the day. The position gained was of great importance, and was held with tenacity until the regiment was ordered to the support of a battery.
Lieutenant Weaver of Company K, a brave young officer, was mortallywounded. The loss in killed and wounded was twenty-eight.
On the 22d it forded the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, and encamped on thefollowing day on Bolivar Heights. Here the wasted energies of the troopswere recruited, and full rations and clothing, which had been much needed,were furnished. On the 16th of October it participated, under command ofMajor Bull, in a reconnoissance to Charlestown, skirmishing with, and drivingthe enemy, and occupying the town. Captain Mintzer, of Company A, was appointed Provost Marshal of the place, who at once instituted a search, andcaptured a number of prisoners. The object of the reconoissance having beenaccomplished, the command returned to camp.
Moving from Bolivar Heights on the 30th of October, it crossed the Shenandoah River, and proceeded down the London Valley, participating in a skirmish with the enemy on the 4th, at Snicker's Gap, driving him out and occupying it until the column had passed. It arrived at Warrenton on the 9th, when General Burnside assumed commandof the Army of the Potomac and projected the movement upon Fredericksburg.
Battle of FredericksburgThe regiment proceeded to Falmouth, where it arrived on the 19th, and performed provost guard duty until the 11th of December, when it left quarters,and took position nearly opposite Fredericksburg in support of the batteriesthat were engaged in bombarding the town. Early on the 12th it crossed theriver, and forming a skirmish line, drove the enemy's sharpshooters out of thecity, with the loss of one mortally wounded, when it was relieved, and restedfor the night on the river bank.
Early on the morning of Saturday, the 13th, under a dense fog, the regiment marched into the city, and halted for an hour under fire of rebel artillery. The fight was opened at the front, near Marye's Heights, by French's Division, which was repulsed. Soon after, the Third Brigade, led by the Fifty-second, moved, amidst a shower of deadly missiles, by the right flank, up St. Charles street, and formed in line of battle along theedge of the town.
The rebel infantry, but a few hundred yards in front, wasprotected by a stonewall along a sunken road, while immediately above, thehilltops were bristling with cannon. At the word of command, Colonel Brooke,at the head of his regiment, led the charge, under a storm of shot and shellthat swept the ranks with terrible effect. But, undismayed, they closed up andpressed steadily on, till they reached a position within one hundred and fiftyyards of the enemy's lines, which was held, despite every effort to dislodge them,even after their ammunition was spent. At evening, when the battle was overand the day was lost, what remained of the regiment retired silently from itsposition, and returned to the city. It went into battle with two hundred andeighty-three effective men. Of these, one hundred and fifty-eight were eitherkilled or wounded. Among the former, were Lieutenants Cross, M'Kiernanand Kerr, and the latter, Captains Coulter and Eichholtz, and LieutenantsPotts, Root, Hopkins and Smith.
The regiment now returned to its old position as provost guard to Falmouth.On the following week, it formed part of a detachment, under command ofColonel Brooke, that crossed the river, under a flag of truce, for the purposeof burying the dead. During the two days occupied in this work, nine hundred and thirteen were interred, and six were dispatched to their friends. Therebel soldiers had stripped the bodies of the dead in the most heartless manner.In many cases fingers were cut off to get possession of rings.
The Fifty-thirdremained at Falmouth until February 1st, 1863. While here, three companiesunder command of Major Bull, were detailed as provost guard at division headquarters. The Major was assigned to the staff of General Couch, and remainedsuccessively with Generals Couch, Hancock, Hays, Warren, and again withHancock in the Wilderness campaign, until the 18th of May, 1864.
Battle of ChancellorsvilleOn the 28th of April, the regiment moved on the Chancellorsville campaign,and crossing the Rappahannock at United States Ford, for three days wasactively engaged, suffering considerable loss. Upon the withdrawal of thearmy, it returned to its old camping-ground near Falmouth.
Gettysburg CampaignOn the 14th of June, the Fifty-third, which was now attached to the Fourth Brigade of theFirst Division of the Second Corps, left camp, and marched to Banks' Ford towatch the movements of the enemy, who was about entering on his Penusylvania campaign. Withdrawing from the ford, when it was found that the rebelcolumns had passed, the command moved forward with the army, and onthe 20th, made a forced march to Thoroughfare Gap, where it remained in position until the 25th, when the enemy attacked, driving in the pickets, and asour columns had now passed, the command was withdrawn.
Marching rapidlytowards Gettysburg, it arrived upon the field at eight o'clock on the morningof the 2d of July, and took position in rear of the line of the Third Corps, thenforming. Later in the day it moved to the left, near Little Round Top, and atthree o'clock P. M., became hotly engaged. A rebel battery, posted upon aneminence beyond a wheat field, had become very annoying to our troops.Colonel Brooke led a charge, in the face of its destructive fire, to capture, ordrive it away. At the word of command, the men dashed forward, and withloud shouts drove the enemy, scattering his ranks, and gained the position.The lines upon his right and left had failed to advance as far, and discoveringthat the enemy was taking prompt advantage of his fearfully exposed flanks,the Colonel reluctantly ordered his men to retire to their first position, whichwas executed, but not without serious loss.
On the 3d, the regiment was undera heavy artillery fire, but was not actively engaged. In this battle the commandwas much reduced in number, three companies being still on detached duty,and the remainder having but one hundred and twenty-four men. Of thisnumber only forty-five escaped uninjuired. Six were killed, sixty-seven wounded,and six missing. Of the latter were Captains Dimm and Hatfield, and Lieutenants Pifer, Shields, Root, Smith, Whitaker and Mann, and Sergeant MajorRutter.
Remaining upon the battle-field until noon of the 5th, the regiment marchedin pursuit of the retreating enemy, and arrived on the 11th at Jones' CrossRoads, near which the rebel army was in position. In the evening it advancedin line driving back the enemy's skirmishers, and during the following nightthrew up breast-works. On the 14th it was deployed in line at right angles tothe Williamsport road, and advanced cautiously only to discover that the rebelshad vacated their works and fled. After remaining for a few days in PleasantValley, it crossed the Potomac, and marching down the London Valley, madedescents upon Ashby's and Manassas Gaps, passed White Plains, New Baltimore, and Warrenton, and arrived, on the 1st of August, at Morrisville, where itwent into camp.
Mine Run CampaignIn the toilsome campaigns which followed, ending at Mine Run, the regiment participated, encountering the enemy at Rappahannock Station, and at Bristoe, and losing some men. It went into winter-quarters at Stevensburg, where the men re-enlisted, and on the 27th of December proceededto Harrisburg, where they were dismissed for a vetertan furlough.
Upon their return to the army they again encamped near Stevensburg, in their old quarters, where they remained until the opening of the spring campaign.
The Wilderness CampaignOn the 4th of May, 1864, the regiment broke camp, and crossing the Rapidan at Ely's Ford, marched to Chancellorsville. On the following day it moved forward and confronted the enemy in his earthworks, and again on the 6th wasengaged, but without serious loss. At evening of the 9th it moved forward tothe River Po, which it crossed, and at once met the enemy, the contest beingcontinued with spirit for several hours, resulting, in considerable loss to thecommand, but owing to the woods and undergrowth taking fire from the explosion of the shells, without any decided advantage. Late on the evening ofthe 11th, withdrawing from its position on the Po, it proceeded about six milestowards Spottsylvania. There, on the following morning, it stood, in column, inreadiness to join in the grand charge of the veteran Second Corps, upon thestrongly fortified position of the enemy. Advancing silently until within ashort distance of his works, the well formed lines rushed forward with wildhurrahs, and in face of the desperate defence offered, carried the positionc ptluring an entire division. No more brilliant or decisive charge was made during the campaign than this.
Captain Whitney and Lieutenant Foster were among the killed. Colonel Brooke was promoted to Brigadier General soon after this engagement, Major Bull to Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain Dimm to Major; subsequently, upon the muster out of service of the latter, Captain William M. Mintzer was made Major.
Battle of Cold HarborThe regiment remained in the vicinity of Spottsylvania, throwing up earthworks at different points, and almost constantly under fire, until the 25th ofMay, whei it crossed the Pamunkey, thence to Tolopotomy Creek, and on the2d of June arrived at Cold Harbor. It was pushed close up to the enemy'sentrenched line, and immediately threw up breast-works. At five o'clock onthe morning of the 3d, a furious but futile effort was made to drive the enemyfrom his position. Two other gallant charges were made, wherein men nevermarched to death with stouter hearts; but all in vain. In these charges theFifty-third suffered severely. General Brooke, commanding the brigade, wasseverely wounded by a grape-shot, in the hand and thigh. Captain Dimm,and Lieutenant Pifer were also severely wounded.
In Front of PetersburgOn the night of June 12th, the regiment marched, and crossing the Chickahominy and James Rivers, arrived on the evening of the 16th in front of Petersburg. In the afternoon a charge was ordered upon the enemy's strong works,which was gallantly executed, but was repulsed, the Fifty-third losing in thisdesperate struggle, nearly seventy men. On the 22d, an attempt was made toestablish a new line, which proved alike unsuccessful. For several weeksdigging and the construction of defensive works, constituted the principal occupation of the troops.
On the 26th of June, the regiment moved with the brigade to the right ofthe line, beyond the James River, and for two weeks was engaged in promiscuous skirmishing, along the rebel works, after which it returned to the neighborhood of Petersburg. On the 12th of August, the command again returnedto the left bank of the James, where it skirmished heavily with the enemy, untilthe 21st, when it re-crossed the James and the Appamattox, and passing inrear of the army to the extreme left of the line, commenced demolishing theWeldon Railroad, near Ream's Station. Five miles had already been destroyed, when the enemy appeared in force, and a line of battle was hastilyformed to repel his advance, and protect the working parties. His first chargewas gallantly repulsed. But re-forming, and massing his troops in heavycolumns, he again struck with overpowering force upon the Union lines, andwas partially successful in breaking them. But his advantage was gainedat a fearful cost, and he was finally forced to abandon the contest, and theUnion forces retired to their lines in front of Petersburg.
During the autumn and winter months the regiment was engaged in severe duty in the front lines before the besieged city. On the 18th of September, Colonel M'lMichael having been discharged, upon the expiration of his term of service, Lieutenant Colonel Bull was promoted Colonel, Major Mintzer, Lieutenant Colonel, and CaptainPhilip H. Shreyer, Major.
In November, upon the muster out of service of the Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel Mintzer was made Colonel, Captain George C. Anderson, Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain George D. Pifer, Major.
Appomattox CampaignOn the 28th of March, 1865, the regiment moved on its last campaign, proceeding directly to the Boydton Plank Road, where on the 31st it was brisklyengaged. The Fifth Corps was now actively employed in pushing the enemyfrom his foot-hold about Petersburg, and in this the Second Corps was called toits aid. In the operations at Five Forks, the regiment joined, charging theenemy's lines, driving him in confusion, and taking possession of a portion ofthe South Side Railroad. In this engagement, Major Pifer led the Fifty-third,Colonel Mintzer having been placed temporarily in command of a detachmentskillfully deployed to deceive a division of the enemy, and prevent him fromchanging his position. For the success attained in this service, Colonel Mintzer was promoted Brevet Brigadier General.
Following up the retreating enemy, the regiment participated in the capture of his wagon trains at Deep Creek, on the 6th of April, and was at the front on the day of the surrender of the rebel army. Encamping for a short time near Burkesville, it proceeded from thence, through Richmond and Fredericksburg, to Alexandria, participated in the grand review of the armies at Washington, on the 23d of May, and was finally mustered out of service on the 30th of June, 1865.
1Organization of the Third Brigade: Brigadier General William H. French, First Division, Major General Israel B. Richardson, Second Corps, Major General E. V. Sumner. Fifty-third Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel John R. Brooke; Fifty-second Regiment New York Volunteers, Colonel Frank Paul; Fifty-seventh Regiment New York Volunteers, Colonel Samuel K. Zook; Sixty-sixth Regiment New York Volunteers, Colonel James C. Pinckney; Second Regiment Delaware Volunteers, Colonel I-Henry W. Wharton; Battery B, First NewYork Artillery, Captain Rufus D. Pettit.
Source: Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Harrisburg, 1868-1871.
Organization:Organized at Harrisburg October, 1861.
Left State for Washington, D.C., November 7.
Attached to French's Brigade, Sumner's Division, Army Potomac, to March, 1862.
3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps, Army Potomac, to April, 1863.
4th Brigade, 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps, to June, 1865.
Service:Duty in the Defences of Washington and Alexandria till March, 1862.
Advance on Manassas, Va., March 10-15.
Ordered to the Virginia Peninsula. Siege of Yorktown April 5-May 4.
Duty near Yorktown till June 12.
Construction of Grape Vine Bridge over the Chickahominy May 28-30.
Battle of Fair Oaks (Seven Pines) May 31-June 1.
Seven days before Richmond June 25-July 1.
Gaines Mill June 27. Peach Orchard and Savage Station June 29.
White Oak Swamp Bridge and Glendale June 30.
Malvern Hill July 1. T.
Turkey Bend July 2.
At Harrison's Landing till August 16.
Movement to Fortress Monroe, thence to Alexandria and Centreville August 16-30.
Assist in checking Pope's rout at Bull Run August 30, and cover retreat to Fairfax C. H.,
August 31-September 1.
Maryland Campaign September 6-24.
Battle of Antietam September 16-17.
Duty at Bolivar Heights September 22-October 29.
Reconnoissance to Charlestown October 16-17.
Movement up Loudoun Valley and to Falmouth, Va., October 29-November 17.
Snicker's Gap November 2.
Manassas November 5-6.
Battle of Fredericksburg December 12-15.
Duty at Falmouth till April, 1863.
Chancellorsville Campaign April 27-May 6.
Battle of Chancellorsville May 1-5.
Gettysburg (Pa.) Campaign June 13-July 24.
Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., July 1-3.
Funkstown, Md., July 12-13.
Advance from the Rappahannock to the Rapidan September 13-17.
Bristoe Campaign October 9-22.
Auburn and Bristoe October 14.
Advance to line of the Rappahannock November 7-8.
Mine Run Campaign November 26-December 2.
Payne's Farm November 27.
Mine Run November 28-30.
New Hope Church November 29.
Regiment reenlisted December 27, 1863.
Duty near Stevensburg till April, 1864.
Demonstration on the Rapidan February 6-7.
Rapidan Campaign May 4-June 12.
Battles of the Wilderness May 5-7; Spottsylvania C. H. May 8-21; Po River May 10.
Assault on the Salient May 12.
North Anna River May 23-26.
On line of the Pamunkey May 26-28.
Totopotomoy May 28-31.
Cold Harbor June 1-12.
Before Petersburg June 16-18.
Siege of Petersburg June 16, 1864, to April 2, 1865.
Weldon Railroad June 22-23, 1864.
Demonstration north of the James at Deep Bottom July 27-29 and August 13-20.
Strawberry Plains, Deep Bottom, August 14-18.
Ream's Station August 25.
Reconnoissance to Hatcher's Run December 9-10.
Dabney's Mills, Hatcher's Run, February 5-7, 1865.
Watkins, House, Petersburg, March 25.
March 28-April 9.
Boydton Plank Road, Hatcher's Run, March 31.
White Oak Road March 31.
Fall of Petersburg April 2.
Sutherland Station April 2.
Sailor's Creek April 6.
High Bridge, Farmville, April 7.
Appomattox C. H. April 9.
Surrender of Lee and his army.
March to Washington, D.C., May 2-12..
Grand Review May 23.
Mustered out June 30, 1865.
Losses:Regiment lost during service:
5 Officers and 195 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and
1 Officer and 193 Enlisted men by disease.
Total 394.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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