Notes From Camp Schuylkill – 96th Pennsylvania at Pottsville

“The eastern slope of Lawton’s Hill, an eminence immediately overlooking the borough from the north, commanding from its summit one of the most delightful mountain prospects to be found in this or any other State was selected as the most desirable location for the proposed encampment.”

The eastern part of Lawton Hill today, now home to Nativity HS sports. This was the first home for the 96th Pennsylvania.

As the 96th Pennsylvania prepared for war on the heights above the bustling town of Pottsville, the regiment began its military career. The companies trained, men went out on their first guard details, the enlisted men grumbled about the weather, the food, their officers, and the officers concerned themselves with preparing the unit to enter into the bloody American Civil War.

In the process, the Pottsville Miners’ Journal, other publications, and members of the 96th themselves, recorded the transformation of this group of miners, laborers, and citizens into soldiers.

Medicine 

MEDICAL. Immediately after the camp was instituted, hospital tents were pitched and provisions made for the bodily ailments and physical infirmities of the men. Dr. Charles Haeseler, of Pottsville, a homeopathic physician of prominence, primarily superintended with very general acceptance the medical department, over which he had little or no control, ceased acting about the 12th of October, after Dr. D. Webster Bland, of Pottsville, had been regularly examined and appointed Surgeon by the State board of Medical Examiner, and Dr. Washington G. Nugent, of Norristown, Pa., Assistant Surgeon.

These gentlemen, respectively, while the regiment remained at Camp Schuylkill did all which duty required of them; and, gratuitously, attended to the medical wants of the families of such of the men who desired it, and whose pecuniary resources were not sufficient to meet the requirements of the case.

– Captain John T. Boyle

Over the course of the Civil War, the medical care for the men of the 96th Pennsylvania would largely be supervised by the two men mentioned by Captain Boyle: Dr. D. Webster Bland and Dr. Washington G. Nugent.

The number one cause of death in the American Civil War was disease, and the 96th Pennsylvania lost its fair share of good men to the perils of illnesses like dysentery and typhoid fever.

While encamped in Pottsville, the regiment lost its first man to disease. On October 21, 1861, Private Patrick Owens, age 45, died after a week’s illness. He was to be the first of many casualties that the unit suffered during its service in the American Civil War.

Religious 

Sunday October 6, 1861.  Had preaching on the camp ground this morning by the Rev. Mr. [Samuel F.] Colt, our regimental pastor , who distributed tracts among the boys. 

– Corporal Henry Keiser, Company G

The spiritual needs of the regiment were serviced by the 44-year-old pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Pottsville. He was mustered in as the regimental chaplain on September 23, 1861. He frequently gave Sunday services in Camp Schuylkill and saw after the health of the men as well.

He wasn’t alone in assisting with bolstering the men’s faith. On October 25, the men were marched into Pottsville for a ceremony with a Reverend Washburn and the ladies of Pottsville where they each received a bible and a needle-book. The Miners’ Journal recorded the “inspirational” words of Rev. Washburn to the troops:

In behalf of the Bible Society of the County of Schuylkill… its members and managers [are] about to distribute among the regiment a most valuable token of their interest in the cause which summons nearly another thousand of fathers, husbands and brothers into the battlefield. Forbidden to share with you the exposures and perils of war, these ladies would have you each and all to possess this real, tangible reminder of their active sympathy and best wishes…

In Him it presents the supplies of life eternal. And with such strength of life He gives the spirit of liberty. Citizen soldiers, the captain of our salvation is the very life-spring of the principles of the Republic which you are to strive to rescue from threatening destruction. Yonder Star-spangled Banner under whose folds you rally for the defense of the Union, borrows its original colors from the cross of our Redeemer.

The very stripes of the national flag are derived from the red and white cross of early Christendom. And its stars spangling the assure, do they not add to its celestial significance? So truly is this little book the rightful interpreter of the banner under which you go forth to battle.

For those principles you may well pledge your lives, and in them be happy to die.

Each man of the 96th Pennsylvania marched off to war in 1861 with a Bible in their pockets and the belief that the Almighty was on their side. But Rev. Washburn’s last line about pledging their lives to the cause of the Union proved prophetic for many a man in the 96th Pennsylvania.

The Coming of Fall

““The season of the red and yellow leaf is here with all its deepening shades of a dying year. The woods are still beautiful, like old temples as they are, but yet somber and full of low mournful whisperings. But there is a wealth in all these that makes the harvest full and enduring.” 

Miners’ Journal, October 19, 1861

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