US East Coast Drive with Two Cousins: Chancellorsville Battlefield

May 8, 2019

Today began with a drive to Lititz, Pennsylvania through Lancaster County which is just packed with Amish. With town names along our way such as White Horse, Intercourse, and Leacock-Leola-Bareville, how could we not have a good start to the day? When I was small I can remember my family saying that we were once “Pennsylvania Dutch”. “What does this mean?” I thought. Later, I learned that we were German and that the word for “German” (in German) is “Deutsch”. To an American English speaker the word “Deutsch” looks like it should be pronounced “Dutch”, and this is confusing since people from the Netherlands are referred to as the “Dutch”. Anyway, the term “Pennsylvania Dutch” referred (and still refers) to all of the Germanic people who began their settlement in America in the Pennsylvania area.

Lancaster County is known as an area where the Amish, sometimes specifically called Pennsylvania Dutch, settled in large numbers and still live there today in large numbers retaining much of the old traditions. The Amish began as a religious sect in Switzerland when they split from another religious group, called the Mennonites, in 1693. Today’s Amish are located worldwide and most of them dress simply (or plainly). The men wear beards and black hats, drive horse and buggies (rather than cars or trucks), are only allowed to use electricity if it is 12 volts or less, and embrace non-violence. Driving through Lancaster County gives a good impression of these peaceful people going about their work and socialization of the day. The “exhaust” from the horse and buggy vehicles can cause a problem for cars that follow too closely behind.

John Sutter was a Swiss immigrant who help shaped the face of the American West when gold was discovered at his sawmill on the American River in 1848 sparking the California Gold Rush. He is buried in a Moravian cemetery in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

In Lititz we stopped by the Moravian Cemetery to say “hello” to Capt. John Sutter, a Swiss immigrant who founded Sacramento, California but is better known for gold being discovered at his mill on the American River in 1848.

Without him, the face of the American west might be quite different if the California Gold Rush had never happened. We are the only ones visiting his resting place today, and we think about the contributions this one man made to the shaping of America during the 1840’s. Most importantly for our family is that he sent several relief parties into the Sierra’s to rescue members of the Donner Party during the winter of 1846-47. Leanna Donner, second oldest daughter of leader George Donner, survived and went on to marry John App in 1852 at Sutter’s Fort.

 

 

Map of the area.

Now it is time to turn south and join the Civil War following the App brothers, Solomon and Jeremiah, as they marched toward Chancellorsville (in Virginia) in 1863 with the 147th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Company G from Snyder County.

With his cigar and USS Nimitz hat, Pius App (Admiral of the Swiss Navy, we think) is a noble representative of the fellows of Company G, 147th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry as he guards Hartwood Church.

 

 

We will begin our march with them north of the Chancellorsville Battlefield at Hartwood Church. The route we are following is the same one they marched along during that campaign, which makes it very special to us because of the following diary kept by Company G Sergeant, Michael Schroyer, who tells these stories and impressions. Keep in mind that during the war each man carried a load of 75-80 pounds (34-36 kg):

April 28th (1863). Broke camp, traveled 13 miles, passed Hartwood Church and encamped in the vicinity of the church.

Kelly’s Ford, maybe the most important river crossing of the Civil War, was where the App brothers and Company G crossed the Rappahannock River on their way to Chancellorsville.

At the time, the bridge over the Rappahannock River was a canvas pontoon bridge, and thousands of troops and horses crossed it with their artillery.

April 29th. Broke camp, crossed the Rappahannock River, at Kelley’s Ford on a canvas pontoon bridge. We also crossed Cedar Creek, and the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford, and having traveled 18 miles encamped just beyond the river. Here a bridge was in course of construction. General Lee preparing for a northern invasion.

The final river crossing before encountering the Chancellorsville Battlefield, was over the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A spy of [Union] General Geary’s, disguised as an old planter, was sent ahead of the army, rode to the bridge and engaged these workmen in a conversation about the invasion, hoping that the Confederates would be successful, and the Yankees badly beaten. During the conversation he looked around and said to these men “See, there the Yankees are coming. Let us flee out this way.” They all took his advice and were captured. This was all planned before he started away from headquarters. The prisoners were then taken back to where General Geary was and he seeing them said, “What is that old man doing in there?” and ordered him out. He was taken to the rear, his disguise removed, and he came up on another horse and conversed with the old Confederates with whom he had been captured. Those of us who knew this spy could scarce believe that he was the same person. Eighty Johnnie Rebs were in this bridge gang and all were made prisoners.

April 30th. We are again on the move, traveling on the Old Plank Road leading to Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. We skirmished along this road until we reached what was to be one of the greatest battlefields of the war. As we were advancing the skirmish line the Confederates opened on us with artillery. This was our initiation and introduction to rebel shell. The skirmishers captured about 200 rebels, with a loss of only one man. Traveled 10 miles and encamped in sight of the Chancellor house.

May lst. Our line was advanced about two miles on the plank road in the direction of Fredericksburg. We halted in an open field where someone was burning charcoal. Here the boys divested themselves of all their surplus clothing and everything that would lighten their load. In the distance artillery and musketry could be distinctly heard. A few shells were thrown around us, and later in the day we were withdrawn to our former position near Chancellor house. Here we remained all night.

Saturday, May 2. We constructed breast works as best we could with the few implements we had. We lay behind these works until 7 o’clock in the evening, when down the plank road a charge was made upon us and after some very hard fighting the Confederates were compelled to withdraw.

After the charge had been repulsed, a Confederate, who had been badly wounded, lay on the plank road. At one time he would call for help, then he would pray, and again cursing the Yankees, would call for his parents.

Captain Mackey, of Company C, who had command of the skirmishers, advanced the line until we could hear the Confederate officers cautioning their men to keep quiet. We finally reached the wounded rebel, and brought him in, and had him taken to the hospital. We found that a shell had torn all the flesh off his hips. Poor fellow; although an enemy, yet how horrible it made war appear to us. Sometime during the night the skirmishers were withdrawn, and they joined their respective companies. About midnight we had a very heavy artillery duel lasting several hours. Stonewall Jackson [Confederate general] was killed on Saturday night.

Sunday morning, May 3rd, 1863. Fighting began this morning about 4 o’clock. Stonewall Jackson’s troops attacked the 11th Corps commanded by General O. O. Howard, in front, and flank. Fighting was severe. The rebels slowly pushed our lines, until about 10 o’clock A. M., when there was a general route. The bullets came from front, flank and rear. The onslaught was fearful. Before the battle opened Colonel Pardee made a speech. He said that we were about to go into battle; that he knew the five old companies of the 28th regiment, who had been tried in the fire of battle before, would again prove true to their country, and their flag. As to the three new companies F, G and H, he hoped they would follow the example of the old companies.

We were in our breastworks when the battle opened. We gave “three cheers”, and our color bearer, Sergeant Henry, of Company C, who had taken off his cap and cheered, was just replacing it when a rebel shell killed him.

We now fell back again to the plank road, formed in line, and were ordered to lie down, and we were only a few moments in this position until H. J. Doebler was wounded. Orderly Sergeant B. T. Parks told him to get up and run, and after a little while someone helped him off the field. Again we charged with only a few of our company present, owing to the breaking of our lines, by one of the Ohio regiments of our Brigade, which was driven by the Confederates. The last time we charged with only a remnant of our regiment, and we gained the ground on the right of our regimental line, when to our surprise the Johnnies almost surrounded us, except along left of line of battle, which afforded the only avenue by which to escape. Both Yankees and Rebels had empty guns, having fired them during the charges and unable to reload on the run.

The Rebels charged and we were followed closely and the writer never ran faster in his life, to escape being captured. A long legged Confederate yelled at me: “Halt, you Yankee son of a gun!” I replied in not very complimentary language. He at the same time had his bayonet on his gun and we were running at breakneck speed. He lunged at me with his gun. Just then I happened to look around and saw how close his bayonet was to me, and I want to tell you that on the battlefield at Chancellorsville there was one twenty-year-old boy that was nearly scared out of his boots. I know from that time on I put in my best licks to get out of reach of another lunge from that old Confederate. I often wished I had the record of the time I made. Do you know that made such an impression on me that since then whenever I hear any rattling in the rear, I feel like running away.

To describe a battlefield with all its horrors, especially a panic stricken army, is simply out of the question. You may read war history and look at battle illustrations until you grow gray but no one knows anything about it except those who participated and have learned by cruel experience.

The writer saw men shot in every conceivable manner. A soldier next to me in above battle had an eye shot out. When struck he reached his hand to his face and said, “Well, the eye is gone.” Raising his loaded gun to his shoulder he said, “Here’s one more shot for the Union”, and fired his piece at the enemy. Brave fellow, he was! A number of years after the war he was appointed superintendent or chief of police of Philadelphia, which position he held until his death. This brave fellow was Sergeant Harry Quick, of Company E, 147th Regiment.

The loss in our regiment was 125 men. The number engaged was 3,500. The entire loss of our army was 16,030. That of the Confederate Army was 12,581, making a total of 28,611. Three thousand were killed on the field, and many more died in hospitals from wounds. When the remnant of our regiment left the field, the ground we had occupied was covered with the dead of the enemy, and scattered over the field were the dead and dying of both armies. Can you, dear reader, imagine the horrors of this battlefield with its thousands of dead and dying? All of them had loved ones somewhere. Here they lay on this field without care or sympathy from any one about them. Later on I will tell about some who lay upon this field for many days before being removed. If these 28,000 were to march in procession it would at least take five or six hours to pass a given point, and these were the flower of our country, men who died to offer their lives for their country’s flag.

Today, a four-lane highway occupies the center of the Chancellorsville Battlefield. This is the Old Plank Road, but today it is State Road 3. Because of this there is not much that remains to pause and reflect upon, but we are fortunate to have the stories from Sergeant Schroyer as a reminder of what the brave men, on both sides, endured.

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About storiesretoldblogger

I am an Elkhart, Indiana native and became interested in applying video to history when consumer video cameras were first introduced on the market in the late 1970’s. My production company, Stories Retold, specializes in preserving oral history, traditions, and values with video. Primarily interviewing individuals, I sometimes document families, and on occasion document an entire community. My niche is developing a personal relationship with clients which helps me to tell their story just the way they would like to have it told. Everyone has a story worth preserving, and I enjoy discovering interesting stories from people with whom I come into contact on a daily basis. In years to come, these videos will be priceless as they portray original stories complete with visual images and actual voices filled with all the primary material and emotion that was intended to be. I gain a strong sense of personal satisfaction with each completed project whether it involves an individual or an entire community.
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2 Responses to US East Coast Drive with Two Cousins: Chancellorsville Battlefield

  1. Tom Russell says:

    A GREAT READ LARRY…… I sure did enjoy. Keep um’ coming old friend.

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