Any visitor to the Gettysburg battlefield will no doubt be almost overwhelmed with the numbers of monuments and memorials to various Union and Confederate units strewn about the field. Sculpted soldiers with sabers, rifles, even fists raised in defiance of the enemy, ever charging forward into the heat of battle are commonplace. In the case of most Union monuments, a culture of just victory and celebration of noble sacrifice emanates from gray stones and bronze figures. One monument, however, tucked along Sickles Avenue in the Rose Woods, portrays a different message. The monument of the 116th Pennsylvania, erected by regimental survivors in 1888, is the only monument at Gettysburg that depicts a dead soldier. While other monuments, such as the Freemason monument at the Soldier’s National Cemetery, the Louisiana state monument, and the Mississippi state monument depict wounded soldiers, these monuments are accompanied by themes of fraternity and noble sacrifice as the focal point rather than the fallen soldier himself.
Recruited from the Irish-American population of Philadelphia, the 116th was a part of the famed Irish Brigade. At the Battle of Chancellorsville, the 116th performed well by rescuing a Maine battery from capture. For this action, the 116th’s commander, Major St. Clair A. Mulholland, received the Medal of Honor. By the battle of Gettysburg, the 116th had been reduced to barely four companies. During the morning of the July 2, the 116th moved in to support the right flank of the III Corps and fought in various support capacities throughout the day. At the end of the battle, the 116th had lost two men killed, twelve wounded, and eight missing. Continue reading “Noble Sacrifice or Meaningless Death? Interpreting the 116th PA Monument”
After a less than respectable showing on the slopes of Marye’s Heights in December 1862, the 127th Pennsylvania Regiment found itself in desperate need of an opportunity to redeem itself on the field of battle. Could a mulligan assault on the same ridge be the key to restoring their honor? Assigned to Hall’s Brigade in Gibbon’s Division for the duration of the Chancellorsville Campaign, they now had a chance to find out.
By the spring of 1863, the Army of the Potomac was itching for another shot at the Confederates. The 127th Pennsylvania – colloquially known as the Dauphin County Regiment – now considered itself to be a hardened veteran regiment, mocking newer regiments that carelessly discarded their blankets and extra layers of clothing in anticipation of combat. As part of the detachment under General John Sedgwick designated to assault the Confederate line from Stafford Heights as Hooker led his main army around the foe, Gibbon’s division would again cross the Rappahannock River on pontoon boats, capture the town of Fredericksburg, and march on the Confederate position at Marye’s Heights.
On May 2, Lieutenant Colonel Hiram C. Alleman and Major Jeremiah Rohrer were called before General John Gibbon, who reminded them that their section of the line would be particularly weak during the battle based on the division’s formation, “and General Lee knows it; so both of you will be held responsible if you allow yourselves to be surprised.” To ensure his point had been made, Gibbon then added, “You will be held liable, and will certainly be shot.” Perhaps, as the regiment’s later conduct would suggest, these words should have been taken closer to heart.
A battlefield is a place of old wounds and, as such, is often found filled with post-war architectural scabs, attempts at healing and commemoration through stonework and friezes. Gettysburg is no exception. While many monuments on the field use martial imagery to tell a unit’s story of sacrifice and tenacity under fire—soldiers standing unbowed before the enemy, or obelisks and classical domes inscribed with the all the trappings of war from crossed swords to war drums—relatively few monuments make use of restorative imagery.
For such a young man, William Henry “Lebbie” Lebkicher (Company D, 122ndRegiment PA Volunteers) appears in his Civil War Era letters as a keen observer of society. Curiously, he rarely spoke of the larger war or even his friends from the regiment. The few people he alluded to are family members or family friends, mostly in discussion of their well-being. The letters are more a collection of observations on his experiences than a series of back-and-forth conversations with his father. His thoughts are insightful and fairly objective. On one occasion, he noted that the bounty payment was late and some soldiers were getting “a little tired of waiting” for it, though he did not explicitly express his own frustration even though he, too, was awaiting payment. Nor did Lebkicher allow himself to be overexcited by the military’s vibrant rumor mill, dismissing whispers of a march on Richmond in August 1862 on the grounds that there were “so many rumors here that you cannot believe any of them.” His healthy skepticism was a trait that he would later put to good use as a thrifty businessman while working with Milton Hershey in a number of roles, including as the first Vice President of the Hershey Trust Company (established in 1905).
4D990126.5 William H. Lebkicher, 1900 Courtesy of Hershey Community Archives, Hershey, PA
Even to many residents of Hershey, Pennsylvania, the name William Henry Lebkicher has lost its once great significance. Those who recall “Lebbie” remember him as a key investor, colleague, and mentor to confectionery industrialist Milton S. Hershey from the early 1880s until his death in 1929. But his life before meeting Hershey has faded into obscurity over the years, and Lebkicher’s service during the Civil War has been forgotten by all but a few local history enthusiasts. Thankfully, his experiences have been preserved through a series of letters he sent home between August 1862 and February 1865, part of a collection owned by the Lancaster County Historical Society. These letters exhibit the meditations of an individual whose legacy has been reduced to an aside in the annals of Chocolate Town. Lebkicher, like many other figures forgotten in time, has stories all his own.
War games and drilling, though essential to military training, are no substitute for the real thing. They have their place: soldiers must be able to react automatically in the most straightforward of circumstances so that they can focus their energies on the less-predictable aspects of battle when the stakes become real. As the Dauphin County Regiment dove into its first battle, fresh from guard duty, the men had no idea of what they would face on the slopes of Marye’s Heights. The regiment showed courage and valor, but ultimately lacked discipline in the face of fire.
After three months in Washington, the Dauphin County Regiment was at last headed south. Resentment in the ranks at the last-minute transfer had been replaced by enthusiasm for the coming battle. At last, the men were to see the fight they had enlisted to join.
As the regiment marched across the Rappahannock River, General Oliver Howard chided the men who ducked away from shells, which were “‘not half as dangerous as they seem[ed].’” Perhaps not, but they were certainly dangerous enough to make Captain William Fox – a disinclined Confederate draftee who had deserted in favor of the Union – the regiment’s first casualty of battle. A shell landed directly beneath Jennings’ horse, but fortuitously it was a dud. Minutes later, when Howard himself was caught flinching away from an incoming shell, an anonymous member of the regiment smugly reminded him of his own advice. Humbled, Howard admitted that “dodging appears to be natural.”
“Be careful what you wish for.” Had the volunteers of Dauphin County’s 127th Regiment heard this old adage before marching off to war in the summer of 1862? Undoubtedly. Even if they had, it was far from their minds as they drilled and waited and guarded the perimeter of Washington. These men had enlisted to fight, but now they found themselves consigned to guard duty for their first three months in the Army. Their fortunes would soon change, however, for better or for worse; unbeknownst to them, the Battle of Fredericksburg lurked in their future.
In autumn 1862, the members of the 127th Regiment at last found themselves departing dear Pennsylvania. But, if they believed that battle was in their immediate future, they were sorely mistaken. Samuel P. Conrad of Company C described the underwhelming experience in a set of letters to his friend Lewis Strickler back in Hummelstown. Although Conrad was enjoying the overall experience and had even gotten the opportunity to see the magnificence of the unfinished Capitol dome, he knew that he and his companions were not there on vacation. “I came down here to kill Rebels,” he grumbled, but the government “brought us down here to cut wood.” Washington had to be ready for siege if the Army of the Potomac failed, and someone had to be responsible for preparing for that contingency.
By war’s end, one would command the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia Regiment during the Battle of Gettysburg. Another would serve as military governor of the battlefield in the wake of the clash. Two brothers would become colonel and lieutenant colonel in another local regiment and be joined by others of their original outfit. Not all would survive the relatively brief duration of their service.
Those who did left a legacy beyond their contribution to the war effort: several had eminent careers in public service, while others found success as journalists, innkeepers, and physicians. One would even live to the ripe age of 98 years and was hailed as a local legend. But for nine months in late 1862 and early 1863, these men lived and fought together as the 127th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, “familiarly known as the Dauphin County Regiment.” Twice, the regiment would storm Marye’s Heights, and by the time it returned home, the patriotism and devotion of the men had only grown.
German immigrant Lorenzo Stocker enlisted in the 40th Pennsylvania Regiment of Volunteers in September 1861 in response to President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops. Private Stocker was one of the 800 Pennsylvania-Germans who enlisted in the regiment at Camp Worth in West Philadelphia. The regiment, which would be called the 75th Pennsylvania Regiment after the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, participated in the battles of Cross Keys, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, Missionary Ridge, and Knoxville.
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.