Lykenstown, September 1861
The town was surely abuzz with the news. The former militia captain was at it again, only this time he had a commission in hand from Governor Andrew Curtin and Colonel Henry L. Cake.
Newly minted Captain James Douden sent word out to the residents of Lykenstown and Wiconisco Township that he was looking for new recruits. That unit would join as Company G, 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry upon its journey to the Schuylkill County seat at Pottsville.
Douden, a plasterer and recently disgraced captain of the Washington Rifle Company, was ready to sign up recruits in Lykens on September 23, 1861 for a three year enlistment in the Union Army.
Young printer Henry Keiser and his friends travelled from the mining village of Wiconisco, across a small stream to neighboring Lykenstown for the occasion. “Fifteen or twenty of us boys from Lykens, Wiconisco and vicinity enlisted,” wrote Keiser in his diary. It was his first entry in a diary that would stretch to cover almost four years in the service of the United States Army.
The “fifteen to twenty” boys from Wiconisco Township was a far-cry from the unit that the jurisdiction had first sent off to war in May 1861. Close to 90 men enlisted in the community’s “Washington Rifle Company,” which was brought into Federal service as Company F, 10th Pennsylvania Infantry. They served out their term of three months without seeing major action in western Maryland and in the Shenandoah Valley.
Likely thanks to the controversy surrounding Captain Douden and his time at the helm of that organization, fewer men were willing to head off to war at this moment. With enlistment papers signed, Captain Douden informed his men that they would depart for Pottsville on the morning of September 25.
On that morning, hired teams with wagons were at the ready to carry the young lads of Wiconisco Township off to war once more.
The trip took an interesting turn as the wagons stopped at each hotel or tavern on the way up Williams Valley and through western Schuylkill County.
“At seven this morning we left Lykens for Pottsville in two teams. We drank at every hotel on our route in ‘Uncle Sam’s’ credit, and all got pretty jolly,” wrote Keiser. The young enlisted man got a little more than he bargained for when got caught on a fence he was attempting to leap and badly sprained his ankle.
Despite their jolly, drunken escapades, the group made it to Pottsville at about 4 o’clock that afternoon. They were greeted by the regiment’s quartermaster and given their first accoutrement as members of the 96th Pennsylvania: a simple army blanket.
With the Civil War well underway and look increasingly like a long fight, the men of Douden’s Company G had quite a journey ahead of them. As other companies from all around Schuylkill County arrived at Pottsville to join the 96th Pennsylvania, their first task would be to become one cohesive unit. Their officers were to pound that into them on the drilling ground.
This series on the boys of Wiconisco Township in Company G, 96th Pennsylvania will continue over the coming months as we mark the 155th anniversary of the American Civil War.