The 96th Pennsylvania in the Overland Campaign: May 2, 1864

The second of May broke warmly over Culpeper County, Virginia with a breeze whipping across the ridges along the river. Everywhere, the signs of an army in motion were visible.  Beneath the spring sunshine, wagons and artillery rumbled along the plank roads towards the Rapidan crossing at Germania Ford. The nearby hills and gullies had been stripped of trees to make the wooden roads which kept the heavy loads out of the deep Virginia mud.

Company G and the 96th PA remained in the same campsite they had made the previous afternoon. Preparations were being made for their movement to the south of the river. In the squads of Upper Dauphin men, two brothers milled about the camp. Josiah and Franklin Workman had only just been reunited in February 1864. Josiah, 19, had been with the regiment since it had formed back in September 1861. Now, the younger Frank took his chance to join his brother in arms.

Josiah Workman and Henry Keiser had been fairly close throughout the war years in the regiment, Keiser reveals in his diary. Many lazy afternoons in camp or breaks from marches were spent fishing or hunting together with other men in the regiment. Workman had been severely wounded during the fighting in Maryland in 1862, spending months in a hospital recovering from the injury received during the fighting at South Mountain.1

Surprisingly, it has become clear that Workman likely lied about his age to the recruiter back in September 1861. The information taken from the U.S. Census in 1850 and 1860 shows that he was likely 16-years old at the time of enlistment, not 18 as it is listed. This trend of young enlistment continued when his younger brother Frank joined the regiment when the Company was on furlough in February 1864. Frank was listed as a mere 17-year old, but may have been as young as 15.2

The two brothers came from a meager home in East Wiconisco, children in a mining family. Their mother Mary, a widow, struggled to manage a family of nine children by herself. The prospect of adventure and a paycheck likely lured both boys away from their home in Dauphin County to the battlefields of Virginia.3

The Workman Family in 1860

The difference between the two boys in the spring of 1864 could not have been more striking. Josiah, at 19 already a wounded veteran of 3 years, must have been teaching his younger sibling the proper ways of soldiering. On the eve of the Overland Campaign, Frank likely suffered from the same anxiety that plagued all soldiers before their first combat experience. He would be lucky to have the well-worn brother to lead him in the right direction.

Company G’s registration rolls: Josiah Workman is incorrectly registerd as Joshua, which he may have used interchangeably with Josiah. 

For the Workman family, the campaign of the next few weeks would prove to be utterly disastrous, as it would be for thousands of families across both North and South. But as the warm May days came and went, all that was still on the horizon. For on May 2, the men of the 96th drilled in the encampment near the shores of the Hazel River, waiting for the word to move against the Rebel foe.

From Corporal Keiser’s diary:

Monday, May 2, 1864.  Company inspections at 10 a.m.  Wrote a letter to mother and my wife.  Received two papers from father.  Dress Parade 5 p.m.  Warm but windy all day.

1. Keiser Diary, September 14 and December 23, 1862. 
2. U.S. Census, Wiconisco Township, 1850 & 1860; Rolls of the 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Record Group 19, Pennsylvania State Archives. Web. Accessed 22 April 2014. 
3. U.S. Census, Wiconisco Township, 1860. 

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