His gaze shows steely determination and confidence. Captain Alexander B. Frazer looks every bit the soldier he had become.
During a recent research binge over the holidays, I found myself immersed in the life and times of Kalmia Colliery, a small village on the southwest fringes of Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Coal Region. In the meager documentation that exists on the place and its people, I came across a reference to “Captain A.B. Frazer” who worked as an inside foreman for the mining operation at Kalmia.
A little digging into census records, military muster rolls, and newspaper archives told the story of a Scottish immigrant who found his way to success in America during and after the Civil War. It also led us to a photograph of Captain Frazer, immortalized in the pages of the History of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry. That image captured my interest in this soldier who later made his way in post-war Schuylkill County.
Born in Stirlingshire, Scotland on February 1, 1837, Alexander Frazer grew up near mining districts and likely would have been familiar with their function. He came to America in 1857, settling in Philadelphia where he worked as a machinist until the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861.
Upon the outbreak of war, Frazer volunteered to serve his county. He joined up with Company A, 21st Pennsylvania Volunteers in Philadelphia on April 29, 1861. His three months in the service as first sergeant of Company A consisted of marching and countermarching, but little contact with the enemy. He was mustered out with the regiment after three months service and returned to Philadelphia.
The 23-year-old machinist then joined with a new three-year regiment, the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, serving as a sergeant in Company M.
The 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry was stationed with the Army of the Potomac and saw action in numerous immense battles – the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign, Petersburg. Sergeant Frazer served in Company M through each of these engagements until he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in September 1864 and transferred to Company D.
In Company B, Frazer quickly gained a reputation as a steady officer with leadership abilities. He rose to 1st Lieutenant and soon found himself in command of the company in early 1865.
At the Battle of Hatcher’s Run in February 1865, Lieutenant Frazer led Company D, 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry in a charge at Confederate defenses that helped Union forces consolidate a new position during the Siege of Petersburg. For his actions, he was promoted to Captain, a rank he held until his discharge from the army in July 1865. Looking back over his career, a friend wrote that “the scenes of his military actions and honors were along the Potomac river and about Richmond, where he bravely battled for his adopted country on the bloodiest fields of the world.”
After the war, Captain Frazer’s exact moves are unclear. A friend briefly describes his transition to civilian life: “…through the crucible of carnage he comes, and on the return of peace, Capt. Frazer went to work in the coal mines of Pa., where he was again favored with successive promotion.”
By 1870 he had found work in the coal mines of Reilly Township, Schuylkill County. He had married Margaret Reid, also a Scottish immigrant, and had started a family. The successive promotions began in the late 1870s, when Frazer had ascended in the mining hierarchy. He took command of inside mining operations at Phillips and Sheafer Co.’s Kalmia Colliery in Tremont Township.
While in Kalmia, Captain Frazer taught Sunday school at the community’s small community building that doubled as church and school in addition to his work as mine boss. As the patch town’s leading Civil War veteran, he also took up the charge of leading military observances on Decoration Day and on the Fourth of July. He was described as an eloquent and respected speaker.
When the mines at Kalmia Colliery were being worked out in 1885-1886, Captain Frazer was transferred to another colliery being operated by subsidiaries of the Pennsylvania Railroad near Shamokin. From there, he moved to Wilkes-Barre in 1889 to take up position as the inside foreman at the South Wilkes-Barre collieries. Through his mining career, he came to be a respected foreman with deep knowledge of the region’s coal mines from southwest to northeast.
He threw this away, however, when an opportunity in Oklahoma came his direction in 1890. “Indian Territory” held allure for Frazer because it gave him what he had always craved: promotion. He took up the position of mine superintendent for the Chocktaw Coal and Railroad Company. His position likely came to him through connections with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, who had employed him in Wilkes-Barre. The railroad had made a sizable investment in coal lands in Oklahoma in 1887. Coal had been mined near the village of Hartshorne since 1850, but now those mines were to be controlled by an efficient Pennsylvania-trained mine foreman named Alexander Frazer. And he held that job until an accident brought about his untimely demise on November 22, 1895.
The Scranton Republican carried the news and circumstances of Frazer’s death several weeks later:
CAPTAIN FRAZER KILLED.
His Gun Slipped, Fell, and was Discharged Into his Body.
News has reached here that Captain A. B. Frazer, who left here six years ago for lndlan territory, died in Hartshorne last month. Captain Frazer had many warm friends in this city and vicinity where he was well known. He was foreman in the South Wilkes – Barre shaft. The accident occurred on a hand car. While standing he was leaning upon his gun, a Winchester, the muzzle pressing against this right side at the lower part of the rib.
The, car floor being wet, the pressure upon the gun caused it to slip on the planks, the butt of the stock sliding on at the edge, dropping down and the hammer striking on the edge, the jar exploded the loaded shell in the gun barrel, the bullet entering the body at the vest pocket, passing upward through the lungs and just below the right shoulder blade.
The wound was at once pronounced fatal. The sufferer lingered about five hours and passed away, surrounded by his family and a few of his immediate friends. Captain Frazer was assistant superintendent of the mines at Hartshorne, Alderson and Gowen. He was a member of the Knights of Pythias. Odd Fellows and Free Masons. He carried $7,000 on his life which will go to his family. Many here will learn of his death with regret.
A friend in the community described the circumstances of Frazer’s death with less description and more emotion:
Shortly after 2 o’clock last Saturday, Nov. 22, occurred one of the saddest accidents in the history of our town. While acting as one of the guards to the pay master, and on boarding the little engine car to run to Alderson, Capt. Frazier fatally shot himself by accident. All hearts were instantly filled with excitement and anxiety, save his own. He was conscious that his wound was mortal, yet he endured it with the fortitude of a martyr until 7 o’clock when he died.
He also described “the throng that followed in his funeral through the rain and cold was proof of his host of friends and their sad regret at his sudden and untimely death.”
The writer of his obituary in the South McAlester Capital summed up the life of this forgotten hero of the Civil War who was buried in a grave far from his home in Pennsylvania and even farther from his native Scotland, yet surrounded by friends:
As a man, Capt. Frazer was worthy of universal esteem, and worthily, too, was he admired and loved by all who knew him and most by those who knew him best. [This was a] brief sketch of his career as a soldier and citizen; yet incomplete without mention of the crowning and immortal beauty of his life, that expressed itself in his deep Christian piety, and all the attendant graces of a good and godly life. He was Sunday School superintendent 24 years; and but one less, a local preacher in the M. E. Church. As he lived–a patron of education, a pillar in his church, and a public benefactor, so he died, a patriot and a Christian. May God comfort his bereaved wife and children and may we all ever cherish with Christian charity the memory of such men as our lamented friend and brother, Capt. A. B. Frazer.