A Pottsville Civil War veteran recalls his teenage years in a community at war and enlisting to fight for the Union

In early 1927, a reporter from the Pottsville Republican sat down in the home of 79-year-old Civil War veteran Charles Albert Kershner for a discussion about his youth and growing up in the Schuylkill County seat.

Kershner was born in Pottsville in 1848 and served in the Civil War in Company B, 48th Pennsylvania from 1864 to 1865. The interview, conducted as part of a series stretching from February to April 1927, touched on Kershner’s [also spelled “Kerschner”] recollections of Pottsville during the Civil War and his service as a teenage soldier in the conflict.

Charles Kershner Photograph Small
Charles Kershner in the 1920s – Pottsville Republican

This is only part one of a three-part series that the Republican ran featuring the interview with Kershner as he sat puffing on a cigar and remembering his youth. It is a fascinating opportunity to read a first-hand remembrance from someone who grew up amid the chaos of the Civil War and all that it meant on the home front in Schuylkill County.

Seated in the front room in his S. Centre Street home, Mr. Kerschner reminisced in a very interesting manner. He is a native of Pottsville, 79 years of age, and very well preserved.

He is not active, in the sense of being employed, any more, having retired last fall; but his keen brain functions as well as ever, although he may at times feel his age in limb and body. I asked him to tell me something about his war experiences.

“Well,” he began, “my Civil War service didn’t amount to much, to tell the truth. You see, I didn’t enlist until I was 16 years of age, and that was in ’64, when the war was purt’ near over.”

“But,” he added, “I did see some of the fighting at that. And after that fracas was over, I came back home, but found I was not satisfied outside the service. So I re-enlisted, and for more than 13 years, I fought Indians in the West.”

There was a pause during which Mr. Kerschner puffed contemplatively on his stogie, while I plied a few questions. Then he resumed.

“I had tried to get in the fray before ’64. Two attempts to run away from home were unsuccessful. In ’62, Mose Candee and myself tried to join the army which was then stationed at Aquia Creek. We got to Washington alright, but were stopped at the Long Bridge. Too many guards,” he chuckled, “so we had to come back. And the next year while the Battle of Gettysburg was being fought, I again ran away. This time I got as far as [Wrightsville] before I was stopped and returned to Pottsville. Then the following year, my father gave me his permission to enlist in the regular fashion, which I did.”

Long Bridge DC
The Long Bridge over the Potomac River during the Civil War. The guards on the bridge, like the ones photographed here, prevented Kershner from illegally crossing to join the US Army. (Library of Congress)

In reply to my comment that he was a mere boy when he became a warrior, he said, “They all were. That war was fought by boys, and especially near the end.”

I asked him how Pottsville had appeared during Civil War times. I wanted some information covering recruiting, and other war activities.

Pottsville Prospect Hill
Pottsville in the mid-19th century (Getty Museum)

“When I enlisted in ’64 recruiting was done in a shack which stood on the corner at Second and Norwegian streets, where the post office now stands. That was the provost marshall’s office. there were two armories in town, one of them over on Norwegian Street near the present day Pennsy station, where the Washington Artillery, and the Scott Rifles used to drill, and the other on Centre Street, between Market and Arch, the meeting place of the National Light Infantry. All these companies enlisted in a body at the beginning of the war, and these places with the old barracks on Lawton’s Hill, were at some time or other during the war used to house the invalid soldiers.

Location of Recruiting Office in 1864
Box highlights the location of the US Army’s recruiting office in 1864. From the 1864 Map of Schuylkill County in Library of Congress

Pottsville had a real warlike atmosphere, for besides these invalid barracks there was an encampment of the 21st Penna. Cavalry out at Baber’s Cemetery, and at one time the [10th] New Jersey camped at Tumbling Run. I lived over on East Market Street at that time, and some of the boys who lived in my neighborhood were with me in the old 48th. There was Charley DeLong, who got homesick and died in Virginia (that homesickness was an awful thing), and Jake Stevenson, also dead now. Bill Stevenson gone too, Al Sands, and Johnny Olewine. Johnny lay in a hospital beside me, when I was wounded in the foot. He had been hit in the head.”

Charles Delong Death Notice
Death notice for Private Charles DeLong, Company H, 48th Pennsylvania – Appeared in the Miners’ Journal on May 14, 1864
Mount Pleasant Hospital
Mount Pleasant Hospital in Washington where Kershner was treated for a wound during the Civil War. (Library of Congress)

The old warrior displayed the emotion he felt at the recollection of these old buddies by puffing furiously on his cigar…

We will share Part 2 of this interview soon. In that part of the discussion, Kershner talks about Pottsville in the 1850s and his service in the regular United States Army on the western frontier in the years after the Civil War.


Featured Image: Charles Kershner in his older years and Pottsville in the mid-19th century 

Read more of our coverage of the Civil War HERE


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