By Jaeger Held
During the Fall of 2019, a handful of first-year Gettysburg College students traveled down to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. to conduct primary source research into a group of Civil War soldiers whose “dog tags” now reside in the collections of the Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. This post is the first in a short series highlighting the stories of the men who wore these unique identification tags into battle. For a short history of military identification tags, or “dog tags,” check out Savannah Labbe’s (’18) 2016 article on the evolution of the dog tag.
Many thanks to Ray Richie, President of the Texas Civil War Museum, for his generosity in sharing these fascinating items from the museum’s collection with our students!
William H. Brierly, alternatively spelled Bryerly, was born in about 1822 in either Ireland or Lancashire, England. He immigrated to the United States and settled in Bucks County in eastern Pennsylvania, and was living there in 1862 as the American Civil War entered its second year.
As a result of the Federal Militia Act of 1862, William was drafted at age 39-40 and entered as a private into a nine-month regiment, Company A, 174th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment (Drafted Militia) on October 2, 1862, while residing in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Eight of the regiment’s ten companies (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and K) were drawn primarily from eligible male citizens living in Bucks County, with Companies H and I from Northampton County. Private Brierly was mustered into federal service on October 29, 1862. The 174th Pennsylvania was organized at the general camp of rendezvous in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in late October and November of that year, and on November 19 the following field officers were selected: Colonel John Nyce, Lieutenant Colonel Edward T. Hess, and Major Joseph B. Roberts. Later that month the regiment moved to Washington, D.C., then to Suffolk, Virginia, where it was assigned to duty and attached, along with the 176th Pennsylvania Infantry, to Brigadier General Orris S. Ferry’s brigade of Major General John J. Peck’s division at Suffolk, Virginia, 7th Corps, Department of Virginia. In late December the regiment was ordered south and moved to New Bern, North Carolina from December 31, 1862, to January 6, 1863, and there was attached to the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 18th Corps, Department of North Carolina. The regiment, as part of the forces in North Carolina under Major General John G. Foster, was ordered to reinforce the army operating in front of Charleston, South Carolina.
The 174th sailed for Port Royal Harbor, South Carolina, on January 27, 1863, and on February 5, the regiment debarked at St. Helena Island, South Carolina, where it was attached to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 18th Corps, Department of the South. The regiment remained in camp until February 27, when it moved to Beaufort and was attached to the District of Beaufort, South Carolina, 10th Corps, Department of the South. In June, the regiment was stationed at Hilton Head, South Carolina, and attached to the District of Hilton Head, South Carolina, 10th Corps, Department of the South. On July 28, 1863, the regiment embarked for Philadelphia and was mustered out on August 7. During its nine months and nine days of service, the regiment had served on occupation and garrison duty, and Company A did not suffer any deaths, though the regiment had lost 14 men due to disease. Five died in Company F alone. According to the regiment’s final roster, of the 87 members of Brierly’s company, a staggering total of 41, or 47%, deserted while in service, likely due to low morale among the drafted men worsened by their monotonous routine of rear echelon service and the proliferation of camp disease. Private William H. Brierly was mustered out of federal service with his regiment in Pennsylvania on August 7, 1863, having seen little combat but having played a necessary role in Union operations along the South Atlantic Coast.
William Brierly married Sarah Weaver, née Moatz / Moths (born May 14, 1838) in 1867, and with her had four children, all born in eastern Pennsylvania: Mary Alice Brierly (March 17, 1868–May 3, 1936), Anna Dora Elizabeth Brierly (December 7, 1869–January 31, 1912), James Albert Monroe Brierly (December 21, 1873–December 10, 1929), and Ida Savanna Brierly (January 9, 1876–September 11, 1945). William applied for an invalid pension from Pennsylvania on November 14, 1881, but died in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on July 31, 1882, of fatal cancer of the liver. He was 59-60 years of age. The Civil War veteran was buried in the New Jerusalem Old Cemetery in Lower Saucon, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and his grave was furnished with a U.S. government upright marble headstone that reads “Wm Bryerly CO. A. 174th PA. INF.” In 1888, his wife Sarah Brierly applied for a widow’s pension from Pennsylvania, but her pension application was denied on March 25, 1895. She died on December 6, 1899, at age 61, and was buried with her husband in the New Jerusalem Old Cemetery in Lower Saucon, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. All four of William and Sarah’s children married and had families of their own and lived out their lives in eastern Pennsylvania.
Headstone photos courtesy of Frederich Otto and Tom Myers, findagrave.com