Through many of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, Sergeant Henry Keiser had avoided Confederate bullets and shells. But on October 19, 1864, the soldier from Lykens, Dauphin County experienced his closest brush with death on the battlefield.
As the Battle of Cedar Creek raged, Keiser and members of a battalion of veterans and recruits formerly with the 96th Pennsylvania (the regiment had left for Pennsylvania on September 22 – the 96th Pennsylvania was formally mustered out on October 21 in Philadelphia) were caught in the middle of a furious Confederate assault in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A rebel bullet slammed into the cartridge box on Keiser’s hip. The cartridge box and the loaded cartridges inside took the brunt of the impact, but the hit caused Keiser significant pain and distress. He limped away to a field hospital.
The whole incident, and the Battle of Cedar Creek, was recorded in Keiser’s remarkable war-time diary. The soldier from Pennsylvania’s Coal Region recorded nearly every day of his Civil War service.
In these excerpts, we can see Keiser with his comrades in the lead-up to the battle, his wounding at Cedar Creek, and his actions in the days that followed. The Battle of Cedar Creek was a resounding victory for the US Army in the Shenandoah Valley and all but sealed President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. The battle occurred just a few weeks before the November 1864 presidential contest.
Monday, October 17, 1864. We were under arms a short time this morning. It was very cold last night, Christian Kiesling, who left the Regiment at Cold Harbor, sick, re-joined the Regiment this evening. The day was fine.
Tuesday, October 18, 1864. It was very cold last night. I do not feel well this morning. Had a General Inspection at 2 o’clock p.m. and Dress Parade at six. The day was fine.
Wednesday, October 19, 1864. I with 22 others of our company were detailed to go out with a foraging were about ready to start for Brigade Headquarters when we heard a few shots on the right, and shortly after (before daylight) we heard cannonading and musketry on the left. The Rebels had surprised the 8th and part of the 19th Corps, and drove them back, in fact, routed them. As our corps was on the right and rear, we were ordered to pack up double-quick, and were run down toward the left.
The jinnies had driven the 8th Corps and in fact were in their rear. Our Division formed in line of battle, and for some time held back the jinnies in our front, but in a short time they got around on our right and on our left, placing us in a horseshoe, the bullets coming from right, left, and front. So we received the command to about face and fall back in order.
We had not gone more than fifty yards back when I made a half right turn in order to keep a man, who was leaving the ranks, back in place, and as I did so, a minie ball came through the ranks and entered my cartridge box, striking one of my bullets fair in the center, carrying it along and breaking the outer leather next my hip, bruising my hip very bad, and paralyzing my right leg, although it did not knock me down, I then used my gun as a staff, and by hard work I managed to get back about two miles to a large mansion, with an open yard, which was used as a field hospital.
Our troops in the meantime checking the Rebels. Gen. Sheridan had been to Washington and was on his way back, twenty miles from the battle ground, when he found it out. As soon as he arrived he rallied such troops as had run away, reformed the army, and at 4 o’clock p.m. re-charged the Rebels driving them in every direction, re-capturing about forty pieces of our artillery, and forty-eight belonging to the Rebels, Over one hundred wagons, forty ambulances, and about three thousand prisoners.
Our cavalry had cut them off and this evening occupy Fishers Hill. I stayed all night at the field hospital. The following of our company were killed and wounded. Sergeant Kulp, killed, Capt. Burns, seriously wounded in left breast, did shortly after, Corporal William Buck, in left arm, Corporal L.C. Romich, in left hand; Andrew Hughs in leg; Joseph Pascoe, in leg; Sergeant John Brennan, slightly in side; David Lanblack, seriously through body; Walter Kenny in arm, and Christian Kiestling in foot. The wounded were all sent to Winchester.
The physician wanted to send me too, even sending an ambulance for that purpose, but I would not go. Word was received at the hospital that the troops were all back in their old camps again. So I made up my mind to get back to the Regiment tomorrow morning. The day was fine. Owen Flaherty was also wounded today.
Thursday, October 20, 1864. This morning with the assistance of a soldier I saddled up my knapsack etc. and started for camp, using my musket as a staff. I had a hard time of it, but finally got there all tuggered out. When I got to the Regiment they had marching orders. Elias Stahl, who was the only one of our mess who was not wounded, had gone into another mess, but when I returned he got his shelter tent and we again messed together. My hip is still very sore. I was at Headquarters and seen 2200 prisoners and 46 pieces of artillery which were captured yesterday. All but our Company went on picket last evening. Received a letter from William, from near Nashville, Ten. One mile from Abe Dreibelbis, one from Jacob Alvord, and one from Nathan herb, Minersville. Answered Jacob Alvord’s letter. The day was fine.
Friday, October 21, 1864. My leg and hip is still and sore this morning. Our Company and part of the 121st N.Y. went on picket this morning, relieving the 95th. I am off of duty and did not go out. The old pickets came in at 2 p.m. The day was fine.
Saturday, October 23, 1864. We moved our camp one hundred years to the rear. A few of us moved all the wood and boards belonging to our Company, to the new camp. My hip is pretty nearly well again. The 2nd Division of our Corps, moved from our right toward the left yesterday. Had Dress Parade at 5 p.m. It was cold and very windy all day.
Keiser and his comrades in the 96th battalion were formally consolidated with the 95th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers on October 27, 1864. Keiser served with this regiment until July 1865 when he mustered out and went home to Dauphin County.
Featured Image: Henry Keiser and his wife Sallie in early 1864.