A Pottsville Doctor Reports on the 96th Pennsylvania at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill

“I feel as if I owe it to the brave boys in the field and their families at home, to publish some sketch of my sojourn among them, and of their participation in the late battles.”

In the wake of the heavy fighting on the Virginia Peninsula in late June 1862, little news initially came back to the desperately nervous residents of Schuylkill County. Many families had relatives fighting in the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry, a unit that numerous major newspapers had cited as engaged with the enemy for more than week between June 26 and July 1 during what became known as the “Seven Days.”

A prominent resident of Pottsville, Dr. Charles Herman Haeseler, had embarked on a trip to the front lines to visit with the regiment. He met with the unit shortly after the trudged into Union lines near the James River on July 5.

C.H. Haeseler
Charles Herman Haeseler, 1881. (History of Schuylkill County)

He came back to Schuylkill County in mid-July with a story to tell. His account became the most in-depth story yet written from the 96th Pennsylvania’s first experience in combat. It was published in the Miners’ Journal on July 19, 1862.

Haeseler Headline

The 96th Reg., P.V., in the Recent Battles Before Richmond – Interesting Statement of Dr. C.H. Haeseler – Full and Complete List of the Killed, Wounded, and Missing of the Regiment. –

Much desire has been felt since the recent severe fighting before Richmond, in which the 96th Regiment, from this County, bore a distinguished part in the fight, as well as a complete list of the casualties sustained by the Regiment. We are indebted to Dr. C.H. Haeseler, of this Borough, who visited the Regiment a few days after the series of battles, for the following narrative of events, as well as for the list of killed, wounded, and missing, which will be of great interest to those who have friends and relatives in the Regiment. It is the first complete list of the casualties of the Regiment we have seen:

Pottsville, July 15th, 1862

Editors Miners’ Journal: – As it was my good fortune to arrive at the camp of the 96th P.V., in McClellan’s army, at Harrison’s Landing, but a few days after the late series of battles that were fought before Richmond. I feel as if I owe it to the brave boys in the field and their families at home, to publish some sketch of my sojourn among them, and of their participation in the late battles. The substance of my account of the battle has been derived from men and officers of the Regiment, as well as from those of the 16th NY, who were in intimate connection with them during the fight. I arrived at Harrison’s Landing on the Nelly Baker from Fortress Monroe at about sunset, of July 2nd, and learned that the 96th was encamped about a mile from the Landing.

As it was difficult, however, to locate a regiment at that time, in a strange country, and under very strange circumstances, I deferred my researches until the following morning, and returned for the night to the Nelly Baker. Next morning at 4 o’clock, in company with Asst. Surgeon Mays of the 93rd P.V., we started off in a direct line for the regiments. The ground having already softened by the rains of the few days previous, was dreadful rutted and cut up by the teams and cavalry of the army, so that it was more like traveling through thick mortar, about a foot deep, than anything I can think of.

Having proceeded about half a mile, I discovered where the regiment had been encamped the day before; but, which had advanced early that morning about two miles further to the right and front of the army. Some of the effects of the regiment, with the teams were still there, and among those attending to their removal, were the Assistant Surgeon and Chaplain, who kindly provided a horse for me, to facilitate my progress towards camp. There arrived, suffice it to say, that the luxury of being grasped by those brave and loyal hands can only be felt and not described.

To see those sun-browned countenances, expressive with anxiety about the loved ones left a home, is touching to the heart, but the pen is helpless in recording it. The locality of their camp was elevated and healthful, with sufficient woods to afford considerable shade; and the water, which they obtained from a small rivulet running through the camp, and from sundry little springs, was delightful.

The health of the regiment, now numbering about 700 men, was good, and their appearance comparatively cheerful. It is true, the forced marches, and sharp fighting of the previous week by day and night, during which time they were deprived nearly altogether of rest and nourishment had somewhat dashed their spirits and fatigued their bodies. Yet when the second day of my presence among them, a call was made for 500 to be ready for fatigue duty at 2 o’clock in the morning, they responded with readiness and good humor; and at 8 o’clock, when they were relieved by another regiment, they had showed by the increased depth and width of the entrenchment at which they labored, that they could handle the pick and shovel with Schuylkill County alacrity, and as much tact as the musket and bayonet.

They had evidently seen some practice in the digging line. By the way, the engineers of those entrenchments was conducted by our townsman, Lieut. Frank Farquhar.

The Fourth of July was characterized by nothing unusual in the camps, till late in the afternoon, when Gen. McClellan with his staff, reviewed the army, riding rapidly past each regiment drawn up in line, which greeted him with deafening cheers, and soul-stirring music. In the evening, the Glee Club of the Regiment sang some national and sacred airs, which amid the hushed stillness of the night, and all the … associations, touched the heart with pathos, and fired the soul with the keenest enthusiasms.

In reference to the part which the 96th took in the engagements, I have obtained date and memoranda from conversations with the soldiers, not only of the 96th, but of the whole brigade with which it is connected, and which is commanded by Col. Bartlett.

The substance of these is, that the 96th P.V., went into the Battle of Gaines Hill, with Slocum’s brigade, on the afternoon of the 27th June, coming into plain view of the action on the extreme left, and filing off to the extreme right under a hot fire of iron and lead that pitched into their ranks right and left, for more than two-thirds of the entire distance. When the position was reached that it was intended they should occupy, they were deployed in double column, and closed in mass to rest and await orders.

This was on the extreme right wing of the Union line of battle. It had undoubtedly been the intention of the commanding generals to move the 96th forward in column after the enemy had been driven back without its aid; but five minutes after the brigade was in position, it was discovered that the Federal line was outflanked.

Gaines Mill 1
Union soldiers engaging the enemy at Gaines’ Mill, June 27, 1862 (LOC)

A shower of spherical case was let into the brigade, the 96th occupying nearly the whole of a small valley that was enfiladed by the enemy’s battery. A shell fell into the closed masses of the regiment, but thank God! It did not explode, but bounding from the ground, flew hissing down the ravine.

Col. Cake promptly moved his column forward as much out of range as possible and soon received orders to form and “go in.” His line was formed amid a shower of ball and bullets; his front charging forward in a murderous fire. He calmly dressed his lines awaiting orders to charge. It soon came. “Forward! Double Quick!” It was here he lost Ellrich. At home or anywhere else he could have wept for Ellrich, as for a true, unquestioning friend; but, in such an emergency everything gives way to the one hope of being able to destroy the enemy before your ranks are decimated. There is a goal to be reached; it is the rest of the next rise in front.

The Colonel waves his hand and leads-alone, twenty yards ahead. The Regiment follows him with a shout. From the beginning of the fight the Colonel was grand, cool, thoughtful, careful of his men; according to the unanimous testimony of his soldiers.

Zach Boyer was urging a couple of boys to get up and go into the ranks. “Listen to the bullets,” says one. “What of that,” says Boyer, “Look! They don’t hit the Colonel!” “That’s so,” say the boys and they went in.

The Regiment was under fire from three in the afternoon until eight at night. When it left the field, the enemy was almost quiet in front, but an ugly shelling was hurting it from the right flank; the same that greeted it when it first went on the field. Officers and men were brave. They went on the field in good order, and only left the position they were posted in when ordered back to camp. Filing from the field in the dark; the last regiment to fire a volley, and the last to leave, they encountered the Third Regulars (the regiment to which Lieut. McCool belongs) the officers of which gathered about Col. Cake and congratulated him. They next marched through McCall’s Division; and when they found they were among Pennsylvanians, they halted and gave “three times three.” First, for the Reserves, second for Col. Simmons, third for Col. Black, who had been killed that day.

These forces had all been engaged, and were resting on their arms awaiting the morrow or orders. Orders came first; to cross the Chickahominy and destroy the bridge. All the wounded had been carried to the hospitals; but most them and all our dead were afterwards left to the tender mercy of the rebels. The 96th had been on picket on Wednesday night, and on Thursday night they dug a trench for the foundation of a redoubt in front of their lines, right under the teeth of the enemy. That made two successive nights that the most of them were without sleep or rest.

On Friday morning, they marched with the brigade to “Smith’s Bridge,” over the Chickahominy. Newton’s brigade had been over and returned. Col. Cake crossed the bridge, and reported in writing, the gathering conflict, much of it in plain view. He was ordered to tear up the bridge as speedily as possible. He worked at it several hours, and was finally ordered to rejoin the detachment with his regiment; the brigade being about to move.

A quick march was made down the Chickahominy to the Woodbury bridge. Newton’s and the Jersey brigade were ahead and deep in the fight, when Slocum’s brigade crossed over on the bridge. Loss of sleep, hard work, and forced marching had disheartened the men; but the regiment did all that its friends could expect or hope. Having had the pleasure of reading the Colonel’s report (which for the present must necessarily be Government property.) I observed that both officers and men were highly praised of the valor they displayed on the battlefield. The heroism of the dead was especially extolled.

After a sojourn of five days with the gallant 96th, I returned homeward with the John Brooks, a hospital transport, having about 250 sick and wounded on board. Coming down the James River at a place called Sandy Point, we were signaled back by a gunboat, and soon had an opportunity of witnessing a little gunboat target practice towards a field battery improvised by the Rebels on shore. We could distinctly see rebel cavalry scouting about some distance from the shore but they soon skedaddled, taking their brass cannon along.

At Fortress Monroe we stopped about eight hours to take in coal. This giving me time to stroll around Old Point, I was proceeding leisurely along the beach, and had just turned from a solemn inspection of the big Union and Lincoln guns, when who should confront me but a portion of Capt. Gilmour’s men of the 48th Pa. They had just landed from a yawl that belonged to the steam transport Cossack; but on seeing me took me right on board their yawl, and ferried me over to the Cossack, where the whole regiment gloried in the near prospect of strengthening McClellan, with a good, strong dose of Burnside.

This was indeed, a gratification that my wildest fancy would not have dared to hope for. If I had met one regiment from Pottsville that appeared somewhat crestfallen with the late terrible slaughter that had transpired upon the Peninsula, I also met the other, coming, as it were, to the relief, full of ardor, buoyant with hope, determined in purpose. From the Colonel, who is now acting Brigadier General, to the last private, they seemed filled with enthusiasm at the prospect before them. I have since learned that they have pitched tents at Newport News, for what reason is probably best known to the powers that be.

I wish here to express my heartfelt thanks for the great kindness with which I was received and entertained by the officers and men of the 96th and 48th P.V. Long and glorious may be their career, God bless them all! for there are no better man, nor more willing hands, nor more patriotic hearts in all our land. Below is a copy of the official list of killed, wounded, and missing of the 96th, which I append for the benefit of those whose families are represented in that regiment.

C.H. Haeseler, M.D.

[Casualty List Supplied by Dr. Haeseler, published as it appeared in the Miners’ Journal]

Co. A., Capt. Lamar Ray

Killed – Ord. Sergt. Jonas M. Rich, L. Gloss, Alex Rogers, H.C. Simpson, H. Stonefield

Wounded – Lieut. J.A. Saylor, Sergt. Jos. Dengler, Corporals F.B. Hanly, T.G. Houck, missing and supposed dead; H. Gearing; Privates D. Dampman, C. Grieff, E. Hayes, J. Hollister, D. McCoy, H.B. Nugent.

Missing – Corporal Larkin, A. Garber

Co. B., Capt. Filbert

Killed – Lieut. E.T. Ellrich

Wounded – J. Miller

Missing – M. Goss, A. Boeber.

Co. C., Capt. Lessig

Wounded – Sergt. Hugh Stevenson, Privates D. Kuhns, B. Haley, J. Davis, J. McCafferay

Missing – Privates J. Wolfinger, J. Hober

Co. D., Capt.  Boyle

Killed – James Hughes

Wounded – D. Wolff, Corporal Boyle, Sergt. Ira Troy, slightly

Missing – James Doyle

Co. E., Capt. Russell

Wounded – Corp. C. Godyke, slightly; Jacob N. Woodring, leg; Dan’l Woodring, arm.

Missing – Corporals Stephen Horn and John Miller, Private T. Cummerford

Co. F., Capt. Anthony

Killed – Privates Richard Walsh, Patrick Ferns, Sergt. Michael Boland

Wounded – Sergt. Dennis Carroll, right arm; Corporal James Brady, groin; Corp. Bernard Matthews, thigh, missing; Privates Domenick O’ Donnell, abdomen; Michael Melride, leg, missing; John Quinn, leg; Francis Blizzard, arm; Edward Britt, hand; William Quirk, hand; John McGarrily, dead; John Hanley, supposed to be dead

Missing – James Keating

Co. G., Capt. Haas

Wounded – Lieut. E. Sourbrey, right heel; Privates G. Nestor, both feet; U. Straugher, left leg; L. Romich, head, slightly; E. Moyer, head, slight.

Missing – S. Nester

Co. H., Capt. Boyer

Wounded – S. Callagy, hand; C.J. Zeigler, head, slightly.

Missing – C. Haley

Co. I., Capt. I. Cake

Killed – Sergt. Frank Canfield, Private Martin Foll

Wounded – Peter O’ Donnell, leg, missing; J. Ruddy, Thos. Burke, Thos. Dudlich, J. Hobbs (arm amputated, prisoner.) J. Hubbard, Stephen Horan, Michael Keating, Patrick Calinan, Jer. Dineen, (arm) Wm. Weaklin, Anth. Sheridan, J. Morril, (shoulder.) Pat Purcell, (arm and leg) James Cramer

Co. K, Capt. Budd

Wounded – Jno. Hulls, T. Moore, J. Farrell

Missing – J. Ryan, J. Kelly

Recapitulation.

Killed – 13

Wounded – 59

Missing – 14

Total – 86


Featured Photo: Battle of Gaines’ Mill from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

Read more about the 96th Pennsylvania

Want to know more about the Battle of Gaines’ Mill? Check out these links:

Civil War Trust

National Park Service

New York Times

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