Charles Kershner describes Pottsville in the 1850s and details his service in the US Army after the Civil War

After discussing his Civil War service with a Pottsville Republican reporter in early 1927, Charles Kershner turned next to the appearance of the Schuylkill County seat in the years before the Civil War. He later discussed re-enlisting in the United States Army and some brief recollections about his service in the Indian Wars. 

Read Part 1 of this series HERE

The conversation with Kershner reveals a bit about the veteran’s persona as a trouble-making, adventure seeking young lad who apparently enjoyed the fights that frequently occurred on the streets of Pottsville in the 1850s and knew the best places to find a bottle of rum as a child. All of this was recalled in a cloud of cigar smoke. 

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

Not wishing to break into his thoughts, which were sacred to the memory of pals now gone, I remained silent until perceived that Mr. Kerschner had returned to the present. Then I asked him questions concerning his boyhood days in Pottsville and how the town looked in pre-war days.

“There were not so many stores in those days, and the town was rather sparsely settled except for Centre Street and thereabouts. Over on Norwegian Street, where Adam’s Express office now stands, there was a screen factory. Next to that, to the east, stood the Washington Artillery and Scott Rifles armory, then came Strouse’s shoe store, and next to that stood Masser’s carriage place.

Pottsville 1854 (1)
Pottsville in 1854. (Gleason’s Pictorial)

“On the corner where now stands the hotel and cafeteria there was a livery stable, kept by Nicholas Fox.

“Each store in those days was more specialized, selling on the one line of merchandise. Meat, for instance, was sold only in butcher shops, and the same was true of other good. Grocery stores handled on groceries,” he added with a grin, ”a person could also buy rum in them.”

“At the corner of Centre and Norwegian, near where Squire Davies now has his office, my father sold merchandise from a stand, somewhat like the one that is there now. I remember that on July Fourth, he would stock up with fireworks – those were the days when the Fourth of July was a noisy day – and that seldom did that day pass without a fire at the old stand. Somebody would throw a lighted dynamite cracker or something into the works and there would a be a beautiful display, followed by a fire. The fourth was a wild day.

“St. Patrick’s Day was another wild one; and on these two days there would be fights from one end of Centre Street to the other. Prohibition was unheard of, and drink entered into the celebration of those two days. Then there would be fights.”

Pottsville 1852 - Clearer (1)

From his tone it could be inferred that he rather enjoyed watching, and perhaps participating in, those celebrations.

Drunken Brawl - March 1856
“Drunken Brawl” – Two men arrested for fighting on St. Patrick’s Day, 1856

“Out on North Centre street where the Safe Deposit Bank now stands, was the old Mortimer House headquarters for the stage coaches which carried passengers between here and surrounding towns. Jake Huntzinger’s bank was also out there, and alongside it was an alley, separating it from a hotel kept by Jake Lindermuth, who also ran the Exchange Hotel. In this alley there was a man shot, a deserter from the [10th] New Jersey, which was stationed at Tumbling Run.”

Then the conversation reverted to the army, which is Mr. Kerschner’s  favorite topic. He said that after the Civil War, he found himself still craving action of a military nature, so he went over to the Silver Terrace building, which was then the recruiting office, and which stood on the site now occupied by the Sheafer estate building, and there he was signed up by Col. Wister.

He entered the Third Battalion, 12th U.S. Infantry, which became, after the reorganization which created a regiment of each battalion, the 30th Infantry. Two enlistments in this regiment, and then he joined the 5th U.S. Cavalry, serving under Col. Merritt. He fought Indians in the West.

I asked him whether he liked to fight Indians.

“They were mean fighters,” [he] replied, “especially after they learned to fight the white man’s way. Sioux and Apaches. They would throw up embankments of earth and lie behind them and shoot. Trenches. And when they got Winchesters, it was terrible. The Custer massacre was horrible. I didn’t see it, but, I was in that territory when it happened.”

His tone implied that Indian fighters in that region were not exactly jubilant over the outcome of this affair…

We will release Part 3 of this series on Charles Kershner next week. 


Featured Image: Pottsville in the 1850s and Charles Kershner in the 1920s. 

Want to read more about the Indian Wars that Kershner participated in during the 1860s and 1870s? We highly recommend The Earth is Weeping by military historian Peter Cozzens. 


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