Thursday, January 25, 2007
Fifty-Fourth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment
The regiment was initially ordered to Washington where they practiced drilling. On March 29, 1862, the regiment arrived at Harper's Ferry for the purpose of defending the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Company G was assigned to guard Back Creek Bridge eight miles west of Martinsburg; Company F at Sleepy Creek Bridge, nine miles further west; Company D at Alpine Station, five miles beyond the Sleepy Creek post; Company I at Sir John's Run, six miles further west; Company C at Great Cacapon Bridge, five miles west of Sir John's Run; Company H at Rlckwell's Run, six miles beyond' company E at No.12 Water Station; company B at Paw Paw, three or four miles further on; company K at Little Cacapon Bridge, and company A at South Branch Bridge, sixteen miles east of Cumberland, and sixty-two miles west of Kartinsburg. The distance to be guarded was fifty-six miles.
The country through which the railroad ran was considered by the Rebels to be their own territory. Roving guerrilla bands roamed the country, pillaging and burning the property of Union Inhabitants and always watchful for an opportunity to burn the railroad bridges. To guard this great thoroughfare, of vital importance to the government, to suppress guerrilla warfare, to afford protection to the harrassed and helpless people, was the duty to which the regiment was assigned to perform. Colonel Campbell, the regimental commander, at once assumed, as a cardinal principle, that the true way to deal with guerrillas was to assume the offensive, and hunt them, instead of waiting to let them hunt him. Almost daily, from some part of the line, squads were sent out to engage and capture these roving bands and many were brought in. Some were sent to Harper's Ferry, others, after taking the oath of alligience were released. From June 1st to September 10th, two hundred and thirteen gurrillias and two hundred and seventy-three horses, together with muskets, sabers, pistols and other military trappings, were captured.
At daylight on the 4th of October 1862, a rebel force, Partisan Rangers, 700 strong, attacked company K's position. The men were at roll call when the enemy , under cover of a dense fog, rushed into their camp. The Union troopers attempted to drive out the hostile force, but the odds were too great, and they were forced to yield. Thirty-five of the company escaped; but Captain Newhard and fifty of his men were captured. Seven men of the company were wounded. The enemy had two killed and eight wounded.
The Rebel marauders then proceeded to the next post where it quickly captured all men of company B. The men of both companies were taken to Richmond, Virginia and confined in Libby Prison in that city.
Soon afterwards, the regiment was attached to the command of General Morrell, and moved to the defense of the Upper Potomac. In December, companies B and K, having been exchanged, returned to the regiment. The 54th performed various duties in the area until it received orders on the 6th of July, to co-operate with the Army of the Potomac, now driving the enemy from the field of Gettysburg. The 4th Brigade, to which the regiment was attached, followed the Confederate Army's retreat into Virginia.
The Fifty-fourth was not further engaged in any serious activity until early May, 1864 when, with the Eighth Army Corps, it commenced a campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. The Corps encountered an unusually large force commanded by General Breckinridge, near New Market, Virginia. The battle raged with great fury, but the enemy's superior numbers began to prevail and the Union lines were forced back. The fifty-fourth retired in good order, returning the fire of the rebel forces until they ceased to pursue. The Corps retreated to Cedar Creek where they threw up defensive works. The regiment lost one hundred and seventy-four killed, wounded and missing.
On June 5th, the First Brigade met the enemy in force near New Hope Church, where he was well posted behind breastworks. Three successive charges were made by this gallant bridage, but was as often swept back by a murderous fire. The Fifty-fourth had been posted to the left of the line, where, from early morning until noon, it was maneuvred in the face of a destructive fire of shot and shell, holding in check the enemy's cavalry, and protecting that wing. At one p.m. the Second Brigade, of only three regiments, was ordered to storm and carry the works, which six regiments had vainly, but well fought for all morning. The brigade charged the works, and poured a single volley in upon the rebel mass, then used muskets as clubs in a terrible hand to hand encounter. With unflinching bravery, the small brigade held the ground against repeated attempts of the enemy to regain it. Finally, the rebel leader went down with a shot to the head and the rout of his forces commenced. The regiment lost thirty killed and wounded in this battle.
On the 17th of June, the Fifty-fourth now assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the Second division, arrived at Lynchburg, where the enemy had concentrated in large force. Heavy skirmishing immediately commenced, and the fighting soon became general. For the next two days the contest was waged, raging at times with great fury. The regiment lost fifty-four of their number killed in the engagement. Finding the enemy too strong and too well entrenched, the Union forces withdrew and eventually made its way to Martinsburg, arriving on the 14th pf July.
Meanwhile, General Early, who had been detached from Lee's Army, had advanced into Maryland, had driven Wallace from the Monocacy, and had approached to the very gates of the Capital. The timely arrival of General Wright, with the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps, from Grant's army, turned him back. The 3rd Brigade was ordered from Martinsburg to intercept his retreat. The command hastened through Lovettsville to Snicker's Gap, only to learn that Early had already passed through. The Army of West Virginia joined the pursuit. Three Union Brigades passed the Blue Ridge, and, avoiding the main ford, which was strongly defended, crossed at an unfrequented ford. Early's entire force was here concentrated, but the three brigades immediately attacked. However, being vastly outnumbered, the Union forces were driven back and recrossed the river. The loss to the Fifty-forth was seven.
General Wright with his two Corps crossed the river and pressed the enemy who fell back to Winchester. Here the pursuit was stayed and Wright, with his force, returned to Washington. When Early was apprised of this, he immediately began to again move forward and press the attack. As the day wore on, the fighting became more and more intense, particularly in the vicinity of Kernstown. The Union commander order a general retreat in the face of a superior force, eventually crossing to the north side of the Potomac.
During the remaining summer months, the regiment participated in the marches and counter-marches of the command. About this time, General Sheridan took command and reorganized the army in preparation for an active campaign. The Fifty-fourth, with the rest of the command, marched to Cedar Creek where it engaged in some minor skirmishes. Then on August 28th, the whole force marched to Charlestown and then to Berryville. On its arrival in Berryville on September 3rd. a severe engagement occurred, lasting far into the night.
At two o' clock on the morning of the 19th of September, 1864, Sheridan advanced to drive the enemy from its strongly fortified position near Winchester. The Battle at Winchester was a complete rout of the Confederate forces. Several days later, it enjoyed similar success.
On the 19th of October, in the absence of General Sheridan, Confederate General Early, passed silently from his camp at midnight, and dividing his command into two columns, gained a position undiscovered, very close to the Union force, whence, in the mist of the early morn, his forces fell with crushing force upon an unsuspecting Union force. The rout was complete, the rebel forces were in full possession of the Union camps, artillery, and many prisoners.
When General Sheridan, who was at General Grant's hedadquarters at the time, learned that the Confederate force under Early, had attacked his camp, he immediately mounted his horse and rode like the wind toward his embattled troops. In a short time Sheridan arrived upon the field, and with remarkable coolness and assurance, collected his scattered forces, formed his line of battle, and when well in hand and inspired with the spirit of their leader, he fell upon the enemy, rioting in the captured camps, and before night fall had retrieved all that was lost, and was glorying in his captures of artillery, small arms, and a great crowd of prisoners, the exultant enemy reduced to a flying mob. The 54th suffered severely in this engagement. Being posted in advance, and the first to feel the enemy's blow. This engagement ended the campaign of the Shenandoah, and the enemy never afterwards made his appearance in the valley in force.
Sheridan's Eighth Corps marched from the valley to join Grant at Petersburg. The Fifty-fourth was reassigned to duty in the Army of the James. The Fifty-fourth was then consolidated with the remnants of the Third and Fourth Reserve Regiments in February, 1865. On the 2nd of April the regiment was ordered to join a general forward movement. At Fort Gregg it met spirited resistence, but the enemy eventually yielded. In the brief engagement, the regiment lost twenty killed and wounded.
The rebel army had been routed from its works at Petersburg and was rapidly retreating toward North Carolina. The Fifty-fourth was one of two regiments ordered to destroy High Bridge to cut off the rebel forces avenue of retreat. The rebels had taken precautions to protect their only way of retreat and the advancing Union force was met with substantial Confederate forces. After a desparate struggle, a large portion of the Union command was either killed or taken prisoner and those remaining found themselves surrounded. Surrender was the only option. Although the Union force was not successful in destroying the bridge, it did delay the main force for several hours, allowing Sheridan to sweep around the rear of the rebel force and complete the destruction and capture of that once proud and defiant army.
After four days of marching, without rations, with the retreating rebel army, the Union captives were, to their great joy, released from captivity by Grant's victorius cloumns. The Fifty=sourth made its way to Appomattox Court House and from there, the regiment made its way to Harrisburg where it was mustered out of service on 15 July 1865.
Some of the men of the Fifty-fourth had been mustered out in July, 1864 having served their full three-year term. Many of the men in Company K' were transferred to Company B' at some unknown date and a large number of men of the original Company K' were simply reported as 'not present for muster' when the unit was mustered out in July, 1865. Most of Company K had joined the Fifty-fourth in October, 1861 and would have completed their three-year commitment in October, 1864 and thus would not have been present for final muster in July, 1865.
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