Petersburg: Fort Stedman 10/2/2016

12 10 2016

The reason I opted for a trip to Petersburg as opposed to a whirlwind tour of Seven Days on my return home from Williamsburg is that my great-grandfather John B. Smeltzer had fought there with the 205th Pennsylvania. I was in Williamsburg with my brother, who lives in Charleston, SC, and whom I see only sporadically, so it seemed like a cool family trip, and not too far out of either of our ways home. The first stop was Fort Stedman, which lies within the confines of the battlefield park.

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Found this image of J. A. Mathews at the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center a few years back

The Battle of Fort Stedman – also known as the Battle of Hare’s Hill – took place on March 25, 1865, and has been described as “Lee’s Last Offensive.” In brief, feeling that “to stand still was death,” Robert E. Lee ordered Much of his army, under the direction of John B. Gordon, against a point in the Union siege line occupied by Fort Stedman and batteries X, XI, and XII, manned by Napoleon B. McGlaughlen’s 3rd Brigade of Orlando Willcox’s 1st Division of John G. Parke’s 9th Corps. Fort Stedman and the batteries were quickly overrun, but were retaken with the help of John F. Hartrnaft’s 3rd Division, the 2nd Brigade of which great-grandpa’s regiment was a part, under the command of Joseph A. Mathews. From the maps in Volume XXV, #1 of Blue & Gray magazine (maybe 8 years ago), it looks like the 205th PA’s involvement was around Batteries XI and XII. But it’s all very confusing, with post-war fighting for accolades fogging up the picture. Regardless, thanks to my typical piss-poor planning, I only stopped for photos at Fort Stedman proper, and here they are. Click on the images for larger ones.

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Petersburg: The Crater, 10/2/2016

7 10 2016

Last week, on my way home from a golf outing in Willimasburg, Va, I stopped in Petersburg. The original plan was to hit as many Seven Days battlefield sites as I could on the way back home, but since I was with my OLDEST brother Jerry, I opted to visit a few of the sites at which our great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, had fought with his regiment, the 205th PA. That meant Petersburg. In the process, we also visited The Crater, since it’s within the boundaries of the Petersburg National Battlefield. Below are a few photos from that visit. Click the images for larger ones – I think they’re all pretty much self-explanatory. The crater itself is fairly small, but consider the erosion over the years and the use of the site as a golf course for a while. I suspect the remnants are more impressive from atop the works, but access is for good reason restricted.

 

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Fort Morton, the 14 gun battery from which Ambrose Burnside observed the Battle of the Crater

 

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Preview – Alexander, “Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg”

6 05 2015

51At1BPGMzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Breakthrough at Petersburg has a special interest for me, because my great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, a private in the 205th PA Infantry/9th Corps, was wounded there (see here.) So when I received Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg, March 25 – April 2, 1865, by Edward S. Alexander, I was pretty excited to see how the action was described. This is an entry in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series, and exhibits those features with which we have become accustomed: Hal Jesperson maps (7 of them); 129 pages of text taking the reader from the beginning of the siege through the fall of Petersburg; plentiful period and current photographs; orders of battle; field fortifications definitions; and an appendix on Pamplin Historical Park. Nice and compact. However, this study suffers from what afflicts most studies of the Breakthrough: it stops with 6th Corps and does not continue to the right to cover 9th Corps. Is this some sort of conspiracy? Does it have anything to do with the fact that 9th Corps operations took place outside the current boundaries of Pamplin Park? I have my foil hat ready for the investigation…





150 Years Ago Today

2 04 2015

1506594_10202031686936001_8118502619450450512_nOn this day 150 years ago, my great-grandfather Pvt. John B. Smeltzer stepped off with his comrades of Co. C, 205th PA Volunteer Infantry, in their assault on Battery 30, part of the defenses of Petersburg near Ft. Mahone. John, of Hopewell Township, Bedford County, had enlisted on August 24th, 1864 at the age of 18 years 8 months, and served until mustered out with his regiment at Alexandria, VA, on June 2nd, 1865. He was wounded in the leg during the assault. After the war he was employed as a coal miner and steelworker, married Hannah Virginia Gates, and fathered 8 children including my grandfather, Harry Gates Smeltzer. He lived variously in Bedford County, McKeesport in Allegheny County, PA, and for 6 months at the Soldiers’ Home in Dayton, OH, before returning to Hopewell where he died on Sept. 22, 1923, at the age of 77. He is buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Yellow Creek, Bedford County, PA, next to his granddaughter Pauline.

Update: Friend and Sesquicentennial tourist extraordinaire Craig Swain took this photo of the site of Battery 30 today:

Site of Battery 30, Petersburg, VA, 04/02/2015.

Site of Battery 30, Petersburg, VA, 04/02/2015.

Apparently, (and according to Craig who also took these snaps) great-grandpa had to charge past the dumpster by the Pizza Hut,

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and through the playground,

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to take that flower bed.

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My Wife Calls This a “God Wink”

11 12 2011

I prefer to use the words of the Zen philosopher Leon Spinks: “Freaky Deaky.”

This is a little convoluted, so bear with me.

A few years ago I learned (from a total stranger via a gen group for the Smeltzer line) that my great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, served in the 205th PA Infantry and was wounded during the Petersburg breakthrough in 1865. You see, most of my family, if we’re interested in genealogy at all, have always focused on my mother’s side of the family, I think because her father was from Ireland and we have always identified ourselves as “Irish”. We went to the Irish school and the Irish church (as opposed to the German, Polish, Italian, Croatian, or Greek churches and schools in our little town). Yes, with a name like mine that has required a lot of explanation over the years, but my dad was in fact president of our local AOH, and I have the throne from the now defunct group in my garage right now to prove it.

Given my interest in the Civil War, this was pretty cool news to me. I haven’t done much other than get his pension file from NARA (for some reason I forgot to order his service record) and locate his grave in Vicksburg Cemetery in Roaring Springs, PA – though I have yet to visit it (UPDATE – good thing I didn’t visit, as he is actually buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Hopewell, PA, Bedford County.) I learned from the gen group that John was born in 1846, his father’s name was Joseph and his mother was Susan. He had, IIRC, four siblings. It looks like he signed up when he turned 18. Later in life, he suffered from pretty much the same physical maladies as do I. Weird how that works.

OK, fast forward a few years and here’s where it gets freaky.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Milann Ruff Daugherty. She had found a collection of her great-great-uncle’s letters and published them, and wanted to know if I’d be so kind as to review the book here. I informed her, as I inform everyone, that if it was a novel I was not interested, but if it was truly non-fiction and Civil War focused I’d be happy to take a look, and at worst I’d give it a preview. Not long after, Your Affectionate Son: Letters from a Civil War Soldier arrived in the mailbox. I glanced through it and noticed that, while the letters had some good stuff, the letters that have the really good stuff, written before, during, or just after big engagements, were missing (or, less likely, had never been written: really, how affectionate could a son be if he didn’t write home after a battle, if only to let his folks know he was OK?). So I put it aside with the intent of writing said preview when I had the time.

Jump forward about a week. I received an unrelated email from my good buddy and battlefield stomping pard Mike Pellegrini:

Hope all is well with you and your family. Found something on Ancestry.com that might interest you, see attachments for JB Smetlzer. On another note, why haven’t you mentioned your other CW ancestors, one being buried at Antietam NMP Cemetery?

Huh? I too subscribe to Ancestry.com, but simply haven’t had the time to use it much other than to trace down various individuals about whom I write. Really haven’t done anything much with my own family. So I responded to Mike that the reason I never told him was that I never knew. I got this in return:

John Smeltzer’s wife Hannah Virginia Gates had a few brothers: James Gates Co F, 8 PA reserves aka 37th PA died of wounds 16 Oct. 1862 at Smoketown or he died during the battle depending which web site you want to believe and is buried in the Nat Cemetery.

I know a little about Antietam (since I’m on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation I better know a little), and recognize Smoketown as a place where many Union wounded were sent after the battle to recover. Or, as in the sad case of James Gates, to not recover. A quick web search turned up this photo of his headstone, for the above use of which I thank Sharon Murray.

My great-great-uncle James Gates is buried in grave #3717 in Antietam National Cemetery. When I saw this photo I was immediately reminded of something my father said on occasion. His father, John’s son, was named Harry Gates Smeltzer. My father’s mother’s maiden name was Dorr. So my dad quipped, “My father was a Gates, my mother was a Dorr, and I was the Grand Slam.” OK, you had to be there.

Mike hepped me to a little more info on my Gates ancestors:

The Gates family goes way back. I saw a Rev war soldier and it looks like the town of Gatesburg was named for them: it’s out by State College [PA].

Damn, can you imagine me as an SAR? Or my sisters walking into a DAR meeting? I’d PAY to see that! I mean, I suspect that I was perhaps descended from a Rev War soldier, but always thought it most likely would have been from one of the Hessians who stayed here after the war (yes, a couple of them were Smeltzers).

The last little tidbit is even better. I asked Mike if any of my great-grandfather Smeltzer siblings were in the war:

JBS did not have any soldier siblings, but there appears to be a step brother KIA at South Mountain, William Harker Co. E 8th PA Reserves.

[Hmmm…there’s that regiment again. Maybe this explains how John B. met Hannah! Wait a minute – step brother?]

When I started looking for siblings I found JBS living with a Miller family in the 1850 & 60 census, so I thought maybe he was orphaned. Next I tried looking at some existing family trees that were posted and here’s what I found: Joseph Smeltzer [my great-great grandfather] married Susan Barley and they had 5 children before she passed about 1850 (then i saw the Joe S and  2 kids living with the Strayer family & JBS with the Miller’s on the same 1850 census page)   I guess splitting up the kids with different families was common when the mother of young children passed so the father could still go to work, that happened in my family when one of my great grandmothers died.  Joe then married Mary Ann Harker (who had 4 kids of her own). Joe & Mary went on to have 6 more kids. It was like the Brady Bunch on steroids!  So it looks like you have hundreds of relatives.

Wow. I’m really indebted to Mike for all this info.

So, I think so far you’ll agree this has been freaky, right?

But I also promised you deaky.

Something about the 8th PA Reserves struck me as familiar, and I looked down to my right as I was typing away during these exchanges and saw Your Affectionate Son. And wouldn’t you know, Millan Ruff Daugherty’s great-great uncle James Cleaver was a lieutenant in the 8th PA reserves (AKA 37th PA Volunteer Infantry, but the Reserves were a proud bunch and liked to go by their Reserves unit number – add 29 to the Reserves number and you get the PAVI number). Not only that, he was in Company F, my great-great uncle’s company. James’s name appears in a roster in the back of the book.

Now, that’s deaky, which makes this whole thing Freaky Deaky.

Stay tuned – more to follow. Your Affectionate Son will be getting a closer look than I at first thought.





Shout Out

23 01 2007

OK, enough with the telling you what I’m going to do.  Last week I got some good news from Art Bergeron at the United States Army Military History Institute (USAMHI) in Carlisle, PA.  Art is a fellow member of Dick Weeks’ The Civil War Western Theater Discussion Group, and I’ve enjoyed his comments there for some time.  I didn’t realize that in addition to being an author of some note (Confederate Mobile, The Red River Campaign, Guide to Louisiana Confederate Military Units, to name but a very few of his published works), Art is also Reference Historian at Carlisle.  I dropped him a line and asked how to go about doing some research at the facility as I had been asked to submit an article on a Bull Run personality to America’s Civil War magazine.  Not only did Art give me that information, but he also told me what type of information (documents and photographs) they have on my subject – one “box” each.  Thanks Art!

I’ll be heading out to Carlisle hopefully within the next few weeks.  I really wish they were open on Saturdays, but beggars can’t be choosers.  To be safe, I’m going to schedule two days in town.  I’m also going to check and see what they have on the 205th PAVI.  I recently learned that my great-great-grandfather John B. Smeltzer was an 18 year old private in Company C, and was wounded on April 2, 1865 in the regiment’s assault on Battery 30 at Petersburg.

Dang, it looks like I wound up talking about what I’m going to do again!  Well, since I’ve already done it, I may as well say that I hope to make a post tomorrow about this infuriating Tidball biography I’m reading, and that right now I’m going to do a little more work on the Confederate OOB.  I’ll let you know when it’s ready to be viewed.