by Avery C. Lentz, ’14
In 1861 there were thousands upon thousands of young men who signed up to fight for their country for a multitude of reasons. In the case of George Washington Beidelman, his motivations were stated: he was “in a fighting mood to risk it all for the best Constitution and government the world has ever seen.” He like so many others would go into battle and discover that war wasn’t the glamorous adventure that they had dreamed it would be, but instead, a very violent affair.
George Washington Beidelman was born in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania on March 26, 1839. He was raised there by his mother and father, Jacob Beidelman, a local lawyer and businessman. George’s first known employment was with the Star, a Bloomsburg newspaper. Feeling he had learned all he could there, he moved to Norristown, Pennsylvania, to apprentice under the printer of a newspaper called The Watchmen. Around 1858, he relocated to Philadelphia where he worked as a bellman and salesman. Unable to find a suitable position, he placed himself under the tutelage of Charles T. Bonsall, a Philadelphia lawyer, in March 1861. George’s life changed when he heard about the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Shortly thereafter, Beidelman enlisted as a private in Company C of the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers and remained a private for the duration of his service. George didn’t know it then, but the journey the 71st PA was about to embark on would be a journey in which many of the men, including George himself, wouldn’t come back.
The 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers found its ranks filled with over 1100 men by July 1861. On July 1, 1861, it proceeded to Fortress Monroe, via Philadelphia, and was immediately assigned to picket and scout duty. After the battle of Bull Run it moved to Washington. Early in October it moved to Poolesville, Md., where with other regiments it formed the Philadelphia brigade, commanded by Col. Baker, Gen. Stone’s division. In the engagement at Ball’s Bluff, Col. Baker fell at the head of his command while cheering his men. The regiment lost 312 men out of 520 in this action.
The 71st would recover from its disastrous defeat at Balls Buff, refit, and in 1862, would participate in the Peninsula Campaign in June and July, Antietam in September, and finally the brutal Fredericksburg campaign in December. Serving in reserve of the 2nd Corps at Chancellorsville in May 1863, the 71st didn’t participate really in the battle, but their time would come a month later at Gettysburg. Being part of Hancock’s 2nd Corps, the 71st PA found themselves anchored at the center of the Union line. The 71st was posted to the left and front of Gen. Meade’s headquarters, a little to the left of the angle in the low stone wall. In this exposed position it suffered severe casualties in the two days’ fighting, losing over 40 in the second day’s contest, being subjected to a fierce artillery fire for more than 2 hours on the third day, and receiving the full force of the enemy’s charge which followed the artillery duel.
George Beidelman was wounded in the leg on the third day at Gettysburg. He remained in a series of hospitals until he died on March 14, 1864 of disease. The 71st continued to fight in the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac in 1864 in the battles of The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and finally Cold Harbor, which turned out to be the regiment’s last battle. The veterans and recruits were transferred to the 69th Pa. on June 12, and the others returned to Philadelphia, where they were mustered out on July 2, 1864. Out of a total enrolment of 2,200 men only 153 were mustered out. Henceforth, the journey had come to an end and Beidelman, along with many others, had become casualties of war.
Gary Lash, “Edward Baker’s California Regiment”, eHistory Archive.
Samuel P. Bates, “71st Infantry Pennsylvania”, Civil War Index.