We would like to thank Robert Melphis for generously sharing the letter transcriptions, muster rolls, and several photographs of his ancestor, Erasmus D. Clark, with CWI and thus allowing for our students to study and learn from Clark’s life and wartime experiences.
During the late summer of 1862, a twenty-year-old soldier from Newport, Rhode Island named Erasmus Darwin Clark had his picture taken at a portrait gallery wearing his newly issued Union uniform. In the image, a boyish, clean shaven, and smartly dressed Clark is standing in the position of parade rest while wearing a dark blue forage cap, frock coat and trousers with waist belt and holding an Enfield rifled musket with fixed bayonet. Near the end of his service as a private in Company I of the Seventh Rhode Island Infantry almost three years later, Clark had a second photograph taken which contrasts sharply with the earlier image. In this second image, a seasoned, bearded, and bedraggled Clark faces the photographer and leans back in a chair. The veteran is wearing a forage cap set back on his head, a plain, unbuttoned Army fatigue blouse and federal issue shirt, and sky blue trousers without a waist belt. These two portraits of a single Union soldier are exceptional among Civil War imagery for what they convey of the physical and emotional fatigue of war.
Erasmus Clark was born on July 18, 1842 in Newport, Rhode Island to Octavia Lodiska Willey and William Clarke. He had two younger sisters, Laura (born 1847) and Lydia (born 1849). When the American Civil War began he was living in Newport, and on August 11, 1862 during the second year of the war he enlisted in the Union army for three years’ service. In addition to his change in appearance between 1862 and 1864, Clark’s letters to his family at home shifted significantly after he experienced difficult campaigning with the Ninth Army Corps through Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi. In the early months of his service, Clark wrote long letters to his family at home describing his experiences and the places he went. On November 4, 1862, he wrote to his mother from Virginia, “We have been on the march for a week and I can tell you it is pretty hard work with them knapsacks on our back. But then I suppose that is nothing to what will come.” Clark’s foreboding proved true, as the Seventh Rhode Island fought and suffered heavily in the disastrous Union assaults at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 13, 1862. The regiment then moved west, serving in Kentucky and participating in the Vicksburg Campaign in Mississippi during the summer of 1863. There, many of the New Englanders suffered from an unfamiliar climate and a disease they called “Yazoo Fever.” After returning to Virginia, the regiment fought in the bloody Overland Campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg in the spring of 1864. Amidst the continuous fighting at Spotsylvania Court House and along the North Anna River, Clark intimated the awful slaughter he witnessed, writing home on May 27, 1864, “I pray to God we will not have to go in another battle.”
Following the tragic bloodshed at Cold Harbor in early June, and suffering from a case of dysentery that was probably compounded by emotional and physical fatigue, Clark was admitted to an army hospital on June 15, 1864. In a letter to his mother four days later, he wrote, “I wish that this war was over so that I could come home for I have got about enough war for this time.” Clark’s last surviving letter to his family was written on the final day of June. The Seventh Rhode Island continued their service in the trenches outside Petersburg and participated in the Union’s breakthrough assault on April 2, 1865, which led to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender at Appomattox Court House seven days later. All this time, Clark endured a trying existence in a series of Union military hospitals suffering from chronic diarrhea. By war’s end, the Seventh Rhode Island had suffered a casualty rate of more than eighty percent, the highest of any Rhode Island unit during the conflict.
Although he was discharged from military service on May 4, 1865, in accordance with orders from the War Department, Clark was still recorded as absent at Mower General Hospital in Philadelphia when the surviving members of the original Seventh Rhode Island Regiment mustered out of service on June 9, 1865. The weary, invalided soldier finally reported for muster out from Lovell General Hospital in Portsmouth, Rhode Island on July 21, 1865, three days after his twenty-third birthday. After the war, Erasmus Clark returned home to Newport where he married and began a career as a cabinetmaker. Clark lived on until January 19, 1919, when he passed away at age seventy-six and was laid to rest at the Common Burial Ground in Newport, Rhode Island. The letters and images of Erasmus Clark offer poignant insights into the experiences of a common Union soldier during the American Civil War.
In the early afternoon of July 1, 1863, several hundred soldiers of the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry advanced through the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On that summer day, the German–American regiment would suffer heavier losses than on any other day during the American Civil War. Among its members were John Held, a private in Company D, and Joseph Seitz, a private in Company K, the author’s 4th great-uncles.
John Held was born in Prussia in 1839. He and his elder brother Joseph immigrated to the United States and settled in Racine, Wisconsin, by the 1850s. When the American Civil War began he was living in Racine and his occupation was listed as a cooper. On August 19, 1862, during the second year of the war, he enlisted in the Union army for three years’ service around the age of twenty-three. He was described at enlistment as having gray eyes, light hair, a light complexion, standing five feet, five inches in height, and having a slender build.
Joseph Seitz was born on March 2, 1836, in Heiligenzell, located in present-day Baden-Württemberg, Germany. He and several members of his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Wisconsin by the 1850s. Joseph’s younger sister Marianna Seitz met and married Joseph Held of Racine, Wisconsin, the brother of John Held. When the American Civil War began he was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and his occupation was listed as a painter. Milwaukee, along with Cincinnati, Ohio and St. Louis, Missouri, formed what came to be called the “German Triangle” of settlement in the midwestern United States in the mid-19th century. On August 21, 1862, Joseph enlisted in the Union Army for three years’ service at the age of twenty-six. He was described at enlistment as having brown eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, standing five feet, four and one-half inches in height, and having a medium build. Joseph and John were both mustered in on September 17, 1862, and each was paid a bounty of $25.
The 26th ‘Sigel Regiment,’ also known as the ‘Second German Regiment’ of Wisconsin, named in honor of German-born major general Franz Sigel, was composed almost entirely of men of German birth or German parentage. On the day their regiment was organized in Milwaukee, the bloodiest single-day battle of the war was fought along Antietam Creek in western Maryland. John Held and Joseph Seitz were both listed as being present with their regiment during the fall of 1862. After a brief period of training at Camp Sigel in Milwaukee, the 26th Wisconsin was transported by rail to Washington, D.C., in early October 1862 where it was assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, of General Sigel’s largely German 11th Corps, recently attached to the Army of the Potomac, then stationed around Fairfax, Virginia. The 11th Corps was held in reserve during the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg in December, and John and Joseph were both listed as present that winter as their regiment participated in the infamous Mud March in January. The near brothers-in-law were both listed as present throughout the spring of 1863 as the Army of the Potomac again prepared to fight the Army of Northern Virginia.
In early 1863, Sigel resigned as commander of the 11th Corps, and corps command was given to Major General Oliver O. Howard. The 11th Corps’ 3rd Division, to which the regiment belonged, was commanded by Major General Carl Schurz, a German revolutionary, and the 2nd Brigade was led by Polish-born Colonel Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski. In late April and early May 1863, John, Joseph, and the 26th Wisconsin participated in the Chancellorsville Campaign in Virginia. During the evening of May 2, 1863, as the regiment rested at the edge of a forest known as the Wilderness, Confederate soldiers led by General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson attacked. Jackson’s 28,000 men struck the exposed end of the 11th Corps, the right flank of the Union line. The 26th Wisconsin formed into line of battle and delivered several volleys into the advancing Confederates. After a twenty-minute struggle, the Badger state Germans were forced to retreat. In its first battle, out of 471 engaged, the 26th Wisconsin suffered 204 casualties in killed, wounded, and missing, including their colonel, the fifth-highest losses of any northern regiment on the field. After the Union withdrawal back across the Rappahannock River, John and Joseph were with their regiment as the Army of the Potomac pursued the Confederates northward into Pennsylvania.
On the morning of July 1, 1863, the 26th Wisconsin and the rest of the 11th Corps were encamped around Emmitsburg, Maryland when they received word that Confederate infantry were advancing in force near the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Wisconsin Germans set out on a forced march north towards Gettysburg. After a fatiguing thirteen-mile journey, the regiment arrived in the borough by early afternoon and rested in an apple orchard at the northern edge of town. Krzyżanowski’s brigade eventually received orders to advance across the plains of Gettysburg to reinforce Brigadier General Francis Barlow’s exposed 1st Division of the 11th Corps, positioned on a knoll owned by farmer John Blocher. As the 26th Wisconsin advanced on the right of the brigade, the regiment engaged Georgians of George Doles’ and John B. Gordon’s brigades. The regiment exchanged volleys with the Confederates but was eventually flanked and forced to retreat through the town of Gettysburg. In the savage fighting north of town, the regiment suffered severely, losing their state colors, both remaining field officers, and 210 casualties in killed, wounded, and missing out of 458 men present at Gettysburg. The regiment was positioned on Cemetery Hill during the second and third days of the battle and not engaged. For his actions in the battle, John Held was promoted to the rank of Corporal, dated July 1, 1863.
Following the Battle of Gettysburg, the Sigel Regiment and the remainder of the Army of the Potomac pursued the Army of Northern Virginia back into Virginia. In September 1863, two divisions of the 11th Corps, including the 26th Wisconsin—so reduced in number the regiment was now led by a company officer, Captain Frederick C. Winkler—were transferred by rail to northern Alabama to relieve the Army of the Cumberland then under siege in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Second German regiment was present at the Tennessee battles of Wauhatchie, during the night of October 28-29, 1863, and Missionary Ridge, on November 25, 1863. During a reorganization of the Union armies in the spring of 1864, four divisions of the 11th and 12th Corps were combined to form the new 20th Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. The Sigel Regiment, led by Major Winkler, was assigned to the 20th Corps’ 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division. As part of this command, the 26th Wisconsin participated in the Atlanta Campaign in north Georgia, fighting in many battles including Rocky Face Ridge, Buzzard’s Roost Gap, Resaca, Cassville, Burnt Hickory, Dallas, and New Hope Church in May 1864 and Pine Mountain, Golgotha Church, Lost Mountain, Muddy Creek, Noyes’ Creek, Kolb’s Farm, and Kennesaw Mountain in June. By mid-July, the Union army had advanced to within a few miles of Atlanta. On July 20, 1864, Confederate forces launched a massive frontal assault against Union lines positioned along the southern bank of Peachtree Creek. The Confederates were repulsed, though at a heavy cost. The 26th Wisconsin, led by Lieutenant Colonel Winkler, lost thirteen soldiers killed or mortally wounded in the action and captured the colors of the 33rd Mississippi Infantry. Numbered among the slain was Corporal John Held, who fell, according to his company commander, “in the line of his duty as a soldier by a Rifle Ball fired by the enemy of the U.S. in consequence of which he was killed instantly.” After a six-week siege, Atlanta fell to Union forces on September 2, 1864.
In the fall of 1864, Joseph Seitz was reassigned from the Sigel Regiment and served on detached service in Chattanooga, Tennessee until he rejoined the regiment at war’s end in the spring of 1865. Three of Joseph’s brothers, Fidel, Ferdinand, and Charles, also served in the Union Army. Fidel Seitz enlisted in 1861 and served in Company B, 1st Nebraska Infantry, fighting at the Battles of Fort Donelson, Tennessee on February 15, 1862, and Shiloh, Tennessee on April 7, 1862. He deserted on February 22, 1863, near Arcadia, Missouri. Ferdinand and Charles were drafted in 1864. Charles Seitz served in Company F, 39th Wisconsin Infantry, a unit of ‘Hundred Days Men’ assigned to garrison duty in Memphis, Tennessee, where his regiment defended the city from an attack by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry in the Second Battle of Memphis on August 21, 1864. Ferdinand Seitz was drafted into Company B, 18th Wisconsin Infantry, attached to the 93rd Illinois Infantry, and participated in the Savannah Campaign in November and December 1864 and the Carolinas Campaign in early 1865, fighting at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina on March 20-21, 1865. Joseph Seitz mustered out with the remainder of the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry near Washington, D.C., on June 13, 1865. John Held was initially buried on the Peachtree Creek battlefield, before being reinterred in the Marietta National Cemetery in Marietta, Cobb County, Georgia in the fall of 1866. Joseph Seitz returned to Wisconsin and died on April 14, 1913, in Racine, and he is buried in the Holy Family Catholic Cemetery in Caledonia, Racine County, Wisconsin.
During three years of service, the 26th Wisconsin Infantry lost 191 men, including Corporal John Held, killed and mortally wounded, the fourth-highest percentage of any Union regiment. Colonel James Wood, commanding the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 20th Corps, in his official report, said this of the conduct of the 26th Wisconsin in the Battle of Peachtree Creek: “Where all behaved well, it may be regarded as invidious to call attention to individuals, yet it seems to me I cannot discharge my duty in this report without pointing out for especial commendation the conduct of the Twenty-sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry and its brave and able commander. The position of this regiment in the line was such that the brunt of the enemy’s attack fell upon it. The brave, skillful and determined manner in which it met this attack, rolled back the onset, pressed forward in a counter charge and drove back the enemy, could not be excelled by the troops in this or any other army, and is worthy of the highest commendation and praise.”
Charles Christian “Carl” Krauss was born on April 5, 1832, near the town of Herrenberg in the Kingdom of Württemberg in present-day Baden-Württemberg, Germany. He was the second of four children born to Georg Heinrich Krauß, a glove maker by trade, and Friedricke Catharina Krauß, née Oerthle. His parents were married as Lutherans. In 1848, revolutions swept across Europe and in 1849, at age seventeen, Carl and his family, including one older and two younger brothers immigrated to the United States. His youngest sibling, Paul, only eight years of age, died at sea during the Atlantic voyage, and Charles’ surviving younger brother Gustavus was deaf and could not speak. Ten years after the family’s arrival in America, his mother died, leaving his father a widower at age sixty. Charles eventually settled in the small town of Lowell east of Grand Rapids in western Michigan where he kept a saddle shop. He was living there in 1862 as the American Civil War entered its second year. On August 1, 1862, at age thirty, Charles Krauss enlisted in the Union army, and on August 28 he was officially mustered in as saddler of Company A, 6th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. Eighteen men from Lowell, out of an 1860 population of 547, enlisted in the 6th Michigan Cavalry—including seven in company A, eight in company M, and one each in companies G, H, and the regimental staff. Carl likely formed bonds with some of these men who came from the same small community he called home.
Shortly before Carl’s enlistment, his father had fallen ill with chronic rheumatism and as a result was unable to continue his trade. Charles’ regiment was sent to Washington, D.C. in December 1862, and that month, he sent his father forty dollars from his army pay to help sustain him and his handicapped younger brother. During the winter of 1862-1863, the regiment served in the defenses of the capital city, participating in several scouting missions in northern Virginia until June 1863, when the Michigan cavalry brigade, consisting of the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th Michigan cavalry regiments, was designated as the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac. The entire 5th regiment and two companies of the 6th were armed with seven-shot Spencer repeating rifles, advanced weaponry at the time. On June 23, 1863, while Charles’ regiment was camped near Gainesville, in northern Virginia, he wrote home to his father in Michigan in his native German language:
[Translation of letter] “Gainesville, Va. June 23, 1863. Dear father, I write to inform you that our Regiment together with the whole division, 9 Regiments of Cavalry have started from Fairfax and are now in this neighborhood. I have at present very little opportunity to write, I have ways to work to prepare for march; have been very unwell since several days. I have sent you today my watch, together with forty dollars in greenbacks through our regiment’s saddler, who is going to visit his family in Lansing. He will leave the package in Detroit in the Express Office. Please write me whether you received the same. I must conclude having received notice to join my Co[mpany]. My respects for You & Gustav. Your faithful Son, Charles C. Krauß.”
The Wolverines rode north in pursuit of J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry and one week later fought their first battle on June 30, 1863, near Hanover, Pennsylvania. The 6th Michiganders, 611 strong, arrived near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 2, and were ordered to move northeast toward the small town of Hunterstown, Pennsylvania, about five miles from Gettysburg. A brigade of Confederate cavalry under General Wade Hampton were posted near the village to guard the left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia. Upon their arrival, the Union cavalry brigades of Brigadier Generals George A. Custer and Elon J. Farnsworth, both newly appointed to their commands, of H. Judson Kilpatrick’s division deployed to attack. Cavalrymen dismounted and formed into skirmish lines as Battery M, 2nd United States Artillery unlimbered and began firing toward the Confederates south of Hunterstown.
Around sundown, the brigade commander, Custer, led Company A of the 6th Michigan Cavalry down the Hunterstown road in a mounted charge against the Confederate position. Charles’ company was fired on and counterattacked by several companies of Cobb’s Georgia Legion. During the fighting, Saddler Krauss suffered a gunshot wound through the spine. The wound proved mortal, and he died soon thereafter, with some records listing his death as occurring that evening and others the next day. Custer himself was unhorsed and nearly killed by a southern cavalryman during the charge, but he was rescued by one of the Michigan men. Firing continued for a short time, but no further mounted attacks were made that evening. Private Krauss had lost his life in a skirmish where relatively few casualties were sustained on either side. The engagement in which he died has been referred to locally as North Cavalry Field.
On July 3, the 6th Michigan Cavalry moved off to the southeast and was positioned in support of Captain Alanson Randol’s U.S. Artillery Battery on the edge of what is now known as East Cavalry Field, while the remainder of the Michigan Brigade led by Custer fought Confederates under J.E.B. Stuart. During this engagement, the regiment suffered additional losses, and total casualties for the regiment during two days of fighting numbered one killed, twenty-six wounded and one missing. Saddler Charles C. Krauss was the only member of the 6th Michigan Cavalry at Gettysburg who would not live to see the battle’s end.
Following the Battle of Gettysburg, the 6th Michigan Cavalry, along with the rest of the Michigan Brigade, pursued the retreating Confederate army through the mountains into Maryland, skirmishing heavily along the way. The regiment later saw service through the Overland and Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1864 and was present at Appomattox Court House when Lee surrendered. At war’s end, the regiment was transferred to the western plains and fought in the Indian Wars in present-day Wyoming and Montana during the summer and fall of 1865 before finally being mustered out at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on November 24, 1865.
In the fall of 1863, the remains of Charles C. Krauss were interred in the Michigan plot, section I, site 9 of the newly created Gettysburg National Cemetery, the only soldier buried in the cemetery identified as a member of the 6th Michigan Cavalry. In 1866, his widowed father successfully applied for a disability pension from the government, stating that his son who was killed at Hunterstown was his only support. It is not known if he was ever able to visit his second son’s final resting place. On his grave marker, his name is incorrectly rendered as “Charles Crouse,” a sorrowful end for a soldier who served and fought and died for his adopted country.
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.