The Four Firsts in Berks – 1861: Ringgold Light Artillery – Ringgold Band
Ladies First Aid Society – First Civil War Flag Compiled By ARTHUR D. GRAFF
Martian rumbles disturbed the uneasy peace of the American Christmas of 1860, when, on December 20th of that year, the news of the secession of South Carolina portended a lapse in the ideal of “goodwill toward men.” During the early months of 1861 there were repeated rolls of muffled thunder as six additional states of the American Union joined South Carolina in separation and formed a Confederacy. James Buchanan, presiding over the fate of the Union, was either powerless to prevent or fearful of trying to halt the headlong dash toward open rebellion.
Horace Greeley’s advice to “let the erring sisters go” seemed to many to be the only way to avoid war. Abraham Lincoln, elected in November of 1860, could only stand and wait during that awfull interim between election to office and inauguration on March 4, 1861. When he took the oath of office he pleaded with his southern brethren that they “had no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Union I have taken a most solemn one to protect and defend it.”
Even as the new president spoke he was aware that the states of the Confederacy had already seized five United States Arsenals and eleven forts in the area which they controlled. A United States army in Texas had surrendered and much of the gold had been transferred from northern vaults to southern depositories by out-going officials in sympathy with the South. In order to avoid precipitate action the new president was forced to observe the dictates of caution. Because he was a minority president his mandate from the people was hardly any stronger than that which Buchanan had held in the waning months of his administration.
Any military gesture beyond the normal activities of the federal government might serve to drive additional states into secession. Washington, the capital, was deep in Dixie territory and the two states from which the District of Columbia had been formed were listed as slave states. Virginia and Maryland had not seceded before Lincoln took the oath of office but any show of force might plunge one or both of them into the Confederacy resulting in surrounding the capital with hostile forces. Any unusual deployment of regular troops to defend the heart of the government would certainly be interpreted as an act of mistrust of Maryland and other border states. The capitol building, itself, was bare of defences and any collection of troops to defend it in March or early April of 1861 would have lighted the fuse of war.
It was a normal matter, however, for the federal government to send provisions to its establishments such as Fort Sumter, guarding the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina. Failure to do this would be a tacit admission that the United States had abdicated its sovereignty and conceded its installations to the newly formed confederacy, virtually a hostile foreign power. Early in January South Carolina shore batteries had fired upon “The Star of the West”, a federal ship which was sent to reinforce the garrison at Fort Sumter. Lincoln’s resolution to provision the fort in April led to a demand for its surrender. When the loyal commander, Major Robert Anderson, refused to comply with this demand the commander of Confederate States forces, General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, began bombarding the fort. The battle which followed lasted from April 11th to the 13th when the Stars and Stripes were lowered in surrender.
All compromise efforts came to a sudden end; the time had arrived for stern resolution. The ominous rumblings of preceding months had burst into a thunder clap!
On April 15, 1861 Abraham Lincoln issued his first call for troops. He asked for 75,000 volunteers, explaining, in part:
“I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of the popular Government, and to redress the wrongs already long enough endured.”
Gone were all legalistic interpositions. Existing compromises were invalidated and efforts to create new ones, futile. Issues of squatter sovereignty, provisos, Supreme Court decisions regarding fugitive slave laws and even the questions relating to slavery itself were submerged as the tidal wave of war swept all other considerations before it. Southern officers in the United States regular army resigned their commissions. Southern students in northern universities returned to their homes singing “Dixie.” Virginia and three other states joined the Confederacy within a few days after Lincoln laid down the gauntlet and efforts were made to swing Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri into secession.
Nor was there absolute unity within the states that remained loyal to the Union. Southern sympathizers, called Copperheads, slithered their way through governmental councils and public gatherings were often disrupted by individuals who displayed South Carolina’s Palmetto Flag. In the midst of turmoil, surrounded by hostile states, stood Abraham Lincoln, brooding and furtively watching over the destinies of a nation in a capital city which was almost defenseless.
Yet, during these trying hours the loyal sons of the Union were flexing their muscles for the impending conflict. On thousands of drilling fields, from Maine to Minnesota, volunteer companies were being organized in response to the President’s call.
Three miles south of Reading, Pennsylvania, at the Three Mile House, in present-day Shillington, a well organized unit known as the Ringgold Light Artillery was at drill on April 15, 1861 when Lincoln’s telegraphic message was received. The men marched to headquarters in the city, ready to carry out any command. “We are coming, Father Abraham.”
At the same time that Reading’s men were examining their field pieces the women of the city were getting out their needles, checking their cupboards and forming a Ladies Aid Society, the first such organization in the nation.
“Firsts” in history are of relative importance, only. They can range from trivial matters to events, tremendous, and the possible number of them is incalculable. But when a justifiable claim to precedence is hinged to the fate of a nation; when the service calls for bravery, precision and every patriotic virtue it is with commendable pride that heirs to glory inherent in such deeds should record and venerate the story and symbols of that heritage.
Twice, in the critical moments of American history, military units of Reading and Berks were “first” to respond to appeals from leaders. In 1775 the first official act of the newly installed General George Washington, was to issue a call for companies of Pennsylvania Riflemen. The first company equipped with rifled guns to reach the general’s side at Cambridge was a Berks-Reading company led by Captain George Nagle. In 1861 the Ringgold Artillery of Berks-Reading formed a portion of a unit which won from the United States Congress both the thanks of a nation and the title of First Defenders.
The Ringgold Light Artillery
Major Samuel Ringgold was the first United States soldier to be killed during the Mexican War. This occurred at the battle of Palo Alto in 1846. The Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading, Pa., was organized May 21, 1850 and named for the hero as was the Ringgold Band, an auxiliary of the military unit. At the time of its organization the new company was constituted as a part of the First Regiment of the Fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
The constitution of the Corps of the Ringgold Light Artillery was published in 1852 and a copy is on file in the archives of the Historical Society of Berks County, together with the minutes of meetings, muster rolls and records of attendance at meetings and drills. These rolls, when compared with the extant muster rolls of Company A of Reading volunteers in the Mexican War show that veterans of that struggle formed the nucleus of the organization. Lieutenant William Graeff, elected to that position by the Ringgolds had received his original commission on November 1, 1847. He was third in command of the Ringgolds when they became First Defenders in 1861.
The rules and regulations of the company were designed to make and keep it an elite corps. Every recruit was investigated as to character and fitness before he was elected to membership. Fines, suspension or expulsion faced any who failed to carry out the obligations assumed at the time of election. For parade dress the full accoutrements of the regular United States Artillery were required. George W. Silvis, a member of the company described these uniforms in his memoirs (1910), saying “the jacket and trousers were blue with red trimmings and a red cord down the sides. We wore dark blue fatigue caps with crossed cannon in front.”
Alerting the Ringgolds
Early in 1861 discerning persons realized that the trend of events portended war. By the 19th of January, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Alabama had seceded. The “Star of the West” had been fired on in Charleston harbor and rumors were afloat that “the rebels” intended to seize Washington “on February 22, and not, as supposed, on March 4” the day of Lincoln’s scheduled inauguration.
William H. Keim was then Surveyor-General of the state of Pennsylvania and Major General of the Fifth Division, Pennsylvania Militia, of which the Ringgold Light Artillery was a part. “On or about the twenty-first day of January” McKnight relates that General Keim came to see him upon a matter which required the utmost secrecy. He had been directed by Governor Andrew G. Curtin to “select from the best volunteer organizations of the state, such companies as could be relied upon if the emergency should arise, and who would be ready to move upon twenty four hours’ notice”.
McKnight, then a captain, assured Major General Keim that the Reading company would be ready for any call. Thereupon Keim directed the captain to consider himself “under orders.”
On the same day the company was divided into squads “for the purpose of more efficient drilling which was continued uninterruptedly (save on Saturdays and Sundays) until the day before they left for Harrisburg, April 16, 1861. The drills were not confined to the service of the guns and duties incident to drivers . . . the men were also well instructed in the use of the sabre — the only legitimate arm of defense of an artilleryman when dismounted and away from his guns.”
McKnight confided with some of the leading citizens of Reading enlisting their aid in securing overcoats to permit drilling during the winter months. In a statement signed by John McManus, G. A. Nicolls, David McKnight, Edward Wallace, Horatio Trexler, H. H. lVluhlenberg, William M. Hiester, James Mulholland and C. H. Hunter we find that a fund was raised by these men to purchase overcoats in order that the Ringgold Light Artillery might be ready to “move to Washington.”
On February 22, 1861, the date which rumors had fixed for a projected enemy attack upon the city of Washington the Ringgold Light Artillery staged a general parade during which the new overcoats were worn. During February and early March fears of war were allayed somewhat by a Peace Convention, held near the nation’s capitol in an effort at further compromise and Congress submitted an amendment to the Constitution which would have permitted slavery to exist where it was already intrenched. Of course no such amendment was ever ratified.
As a portion of his inaugural address of March 4, 1861 President Lincoln denied the right of secession and made one last plea for union. On March 17th the seven seceded states (Texas and Louisiana added) ratified the constitution of the Confederacy with Jefferson Davis as president and the capital in Birmingham, Alabama. On April 12 Fort Sumter was fired upon and the war began.
On to Harrisburg
On April 15th, the day of Lincoln’s call, the Ringgold Light Artillery was drilling on its accustomed drill grounds. In his memoirs George W. Silvis, a twenty-three year old medical student who was among them, describes the arrival of a messenger carrying a yellow piece of paper. It was a telegram announcing the call to arms. The ninety men were promptly marched to the center of Penn Square in Reading where they staged an exhibition drill. They were then taken to the Armory which stood near 8th and Penn Streets, adjoining the Union House. From that point they were sent home to straighten out their private affairs and await further orders.
On the same day, H. A. Lantz, editor of the Daily Times, wrote from Reading to Governor Andrew G. Curtin stating: “The Ringgold Artillery are parading this morning with their guns for practice, have ninety men on parade, every one expecting to be ordered to duty for the U.S. service before they leave their guns.” This dispatch was acknowledged by S. B. Thomas, Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth, also on April 15th: “Dispatch received. Will answer as soon as possible.” Later that day a dispatch was sent to Captain McKnight by Eli Slifer, Secretary of the Commonwealth: “Bring your command to Harrisburg by first train. If any men need equipments they will be provided here by the General Government. Lose no time.” This order was received by Captain McKnight at 11:20 A.M. on April 16th.
We have the statement of G. A. Nicolls, then Superintendent of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in a “To Whom it May Concern” notice in the Philadelphia Press, July 6, 1866, that on the morning of April 16th, 1861, Captain McKnight asked for transportation for the Ringgold Artillery. The troops boarded the train at the 7th and Chestnut Station, carrying carpet bags and a flag presented to the unit by the ladies of Reading. They arrived at Harrisburg between 8 :00 P.M. and 8 :30 the same day.
A second written order by Eli Slifer dated April 16 and addressed to Captain McKnight at Harrisburg indicates that the Ringgold unit was already in Harrisburg when the letter was penned. If further proof is needed there is a statement in the Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, Harrisburg, April 17, reporting that:
“Last night about eight o’clock the Ringgold Artillery, Captain James McKnight, numbering 100 men arrived. They took up quarters at Herr’s Hotel . . . Our citizens welcome them with cheers.” Actually 101 men entrained at the Reading station and four others joined them at stops in Sinking Spring and Lebanon, making a total of 105 persons entitled to be called First Defenders.
On the 16th the Secretary of Pennsylvania informed the Secretary of War in Washington that the Ringgold Artillery had reported and he wired back, “Push forward the company (not companies) by the first train.” This order was countermanded the same day and the entrainment of troops was delayed until the 18th but it is absolute proof that the Reading company was the first to receive direct orders from the War Department. If the orders to proceed to Washington had not been countermanded the Ringgold Light Artillery would have arrived in Washington a full day before any other companies reached the capital and before the secession of Virginia which occurred on April 17th. It might have been spared the gruelling experiences of the march through the angry mobs of Baltimore.
Between the time of arrival of the Ringgolds at Harrisburg and their departure for Washington four other volunteer companies reached Harrisburg. These were the Logan Guards from Lewistown, Muffin County, The Washington Artillery from Pottsville, the National Light Infantry from the same city, and the Allen Rifles, from Allentown. The five companies of Pennsylvania volunteers entrained from Harrisburg at the same time on April 18th and all arrived at the nation’s capital at the same time. All of these, 486 men altogether, came to be known as the First Defenders. Travelling on the same train southward from Harrisburg, on April 18th, was a small detachment of fifty regular army soldiers enroute from Minnesota, under the command of Lt. John Pemberton. This group was assigned to protect Fort McHenry, near Baltimore.
Enroute to Baltimore
At dawn, on the morning of the 18th of April, 1861, the five companies of Pennsylvania Volunteers were marched to the railroad station at Harrisburg where they were mustered into federal service by Captain Seneca G. Simmons, later Colonel, of the Seventh Infantry of the United States. The men were then huddled in box cars of the Northern Central Railroad and the train began to move toward Baltimore where a junction was to be made with the Washington branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. All artillery units were ordered to leave their weapons at “home.” Some of the Logan Guards and some of the Allen rifles carried muskets but they were not loaded. The fifty regular army men from Minnesota travelled on the same train.
Incidents along the line of rail travel to Baltimore were described in a letter which Private G. W. Knabb wrote to one “Dear J” from Washington on the evening of April 19th. In part the letter reads: “All along the line we were greeted with cheers and the waving of flags. The sentiments were all for the Union. Immediately after crossing the line of Pennsylvania into Maryland our captain desired us not to eat or drink anything until we arrived in Washington and not to cheer or make any unnecessary noise on the route which we obeyed until within fifteen miles of Baltimore, when in passing a Seminary the young ladies hailed us with cheers and the waving of flags and handkerchiefs. Our gallant captain, who could restrain himself no longer, cried out ‘Three Cheers for the Ladies’ and, notwithstanding the cars being in motion, we made the welkin ring.”
Another letter, written by Edmund Leaf Smith to his brother in Reading, on April 20, l86l, from the hall of the House of Representatives, states that the soldiers were cheered at all railway stations along the route, even “to the suburbs of Baltimore.”
The train arrived at Baltimore at noon. The standard work on the subject of the Pennsylvania Volunteers (five volumes) during the Civil War was compiled by Samuel H. Bates. We quote from his first volume: “On leaving the cars a battalion was formed in the following order: Pemberton with his Regulars on the right; [Captain John] Selheimer with his Logan Guards, Lewistown next, and [Captain Thomas] Yeager, Allen Rifles of Allentown [Captain James] Wren, Washington Artillery, Pottsville, [Captain Edmund] MacDonald, National Light Infantry of Pottsville, following, [Captain James] McKnight with the Ringgold Light Artillery bringing up the rear.”
During the 1961 Centennial observance the various units decided that for parade purposes and the reenactment of the marches the five companies would be arranged alphabetically. This was a decision made by the officers and members of the First Defenders Association, 1861-1961.
Through a Hostile Mob at Baltimore
In order to board a train for Washington the Pennsylvania Volunteers were forced to march through the main street of the city of Baltimore to the Camden Street Station of the Pennsylvania railroad. In order to avoid hostile attacks from southern sympathizers every man was instructed to refrain from any form of speech or gesture that might inflame the mob which had gathered along the sidewalks. The Logan Guards carried their muskets half cocked and with percussion caps showing. To the best of their ability the volunteers followed the example of the regulars in walking with faces immobile and staring straight forward, oblivious to the taunts and insults of the crowd.
As long as the Regulars served as escort there were no incidents of physical violence. The insolent mob confined itself to shouting vulgar epithets and emitting “groans for the Union.”
Edmund L. Smith, after stating that the mob outnumbered the troops by 100 to 1 indulges in bit sarcasm by declaring that the “rowdies proved themselves to be the most accomplished of their class. The vilest Bilingsgate does not give the faintest idea of Baltimore vocabulary which is altogether, sui genere, abounding in taunts and gesticulations superior to any I have seen in the whole range of the theatre.”
A large force of Baltimore police had met the troops at the Bolton station and they did their best to protect them from the anger of the mob, but Smith noted that the smiles on their faces indicated that some of them enjoyed the discomfiture of the volunteers. In his letter Smith records some of the insults hurled at the Pennsylvania troops but most of them would be unprintable, here.
When the marching column reached the center of the city of Baltimore, Pemberton and his Regulars detached themselves in order to march to the protection of Fort McHenry and the five companies of Pennsylvanians were forced to continue for the remainder of their march without escort. The departure of the Regulars seemed to give additional license to the fury of the mob. “Fists were brandished close to our noses” writes Smith, “I would rather fight twenty pitched battles; rather lead a desperate forlorn hope than undergo another such trial.”
Historians, interested only in the national scene, have overlooked the casualties which were inflicted upon some of the First Defenders during the final stage of their march through the hostile city. Bruce Catton, acknowledged chronicler of the Civil War does not mention the incidents; Carl Sandburg notes the turmoil and anger of the crowd and Margaret Reed in her Reveille over Washington makes light of the stone-throwing which injured Nicholas Biddle, negro aide to Captain Wren of the Washington Light Artillery causing blood to flow “profusely.” Bindle was not a member of the military but that should not disqualify him from history’s sympathy.
Four members of the Allentown Rifles were wounded during the brushes with the irate citizens of Baltimore. Edwin Hittle and Ignatz Gresser were seriously lamed by cobblestone-throwing. David Jacobs was hit on the mouth by a hurled brick which broke out some of his teeth, forcing him to fall, thus fracturing his wrist in the impact. Wilson H. Derr was struck on the ear with a brick and remained deaf to the end of his days. Derr gained some revenge by striking his assailant with the butt of his gun tearing off the ear of his offender.
The fury of the mob reached a climax when the Pennsylvania companies reached the Camden Street Station and were about to board the “Cattle Cans” as the box-cars were then called. Efforts were made to dislodge the engine and overpower the crew of the train. Valiant service by the police and the railroad employees brought these efforts to naught and the train pulled out amid the angry cries of the onlookers.
Lest the words we have written create the impression that all citizens of Baltimore were hostile to the United States we return again to some of the observations made by Edmund L. Smith, First Defender: “Many (persons) looked as if they longed to applaud but thought it wise to refrain.” He describes a little Irishman who daringly shouted: “Your friends here outnumber your enemies” and the doughty fellow offered to take on the multitude in personal combat.
On the following day, April 19, several companies of the Sixth Regiment Massachusetts Infantry marched along the same route and this group did encounter actual warfare as the mobs attacked with bricks, guns and pistols. The soldiers returned the fire and killed a number of the rioters. Three men of the Massachusetts Sixth were killed and thirty-four injured. Baltimore authorities ordered all of the bridges between Baltimore and the North to be burned so that no more troops could be sent to Washington by that route. The following week, on April 27, President Lincoln ordered the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus between Philadelphia and Washington. This act was bitterly condemned as extra legal by Justice Roger B. Taney, of the Supreme Court. This was the same Taney who presided over the court at the time of the Dred Scott Decision. He was a Marylander, a slave holder and in sympathy with the South. Actually Lincoln did overstep his constitutional powers in using executive power to usurp the stated powers of Congress. In less turbulent times he could have been impeached for such summary action. The times were critical and stern measures were needed.
The First Defenders
The five Pennsylvania companies arrived safely in Washington on the evening of April 18th. They were met at the train by Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, Colonel John W. Forney, Clerk of the House of Representatives. Both of these men were Pennsylvanians. With them was a Mr. Entwissel, chief engineer of the Capitol Building. A Major McDowell took command and marched the volunteers directly to the Capitol. There they were halted in the corridors and a deployment of quarters was made. Some of the companies were assigned to sleep in the halls, others were sent to the Senate chamber but the Ringgold Artillery was given the honor of being quartered jn the spacious House of Representatives. Captain McKnight chose the Speaker’s chair and Private George W. Silvis reposed on the Speaker’s desk. One of the capital aides protested this, this space was being reserved for a New York company whose arrival was anticipated but Col. Forney, a popular personage in Reading, insisted that the honor should go to the men from Berks.
“That night I slept on marble—I dreamt I slept in marble halls. I do not believe that there is a single dissatisfied man among us.” Thus wrote Edmund Smith. He explained, further, that all members of the five companies had strict orders not to write letters home on the first night of arrival lest the publicity resulting from descriptions of the troubles in Baltimore might frighten units that were to arrive later. This order was rescinded on the night of April 19th after the Masaschusetts companies had suffered the mob’s attack and the Baltimore route was closed by the burning of the bridges to the North. In commenting upon the April 18th march through Baltimore Smith says: “We were intended as a feeler of public sentiment. They would have sacrificed (us) as if upon the altar of public policy, which might be alright for everyone except the victims.
On the morning of April 19th President Lincoln visited the Capitol to welcome the first military units that had responded to his call. With him were William H. Seward, Secretary of State and Simon Cameron, Secretary of War.
Observing protocol Lincoln and his party visited the Ringgold Company first. Secretary Cameron made a point of this in his greeting to the soldiers. After shaking hands with all of the Reading volunteers the President asked for a guide to be shown the quarters of the other companies and an officer of the Ringgolds was detached to escort the presidential party.
During the course of the visit the President learned of the injuries to the Allentown men, and to Nicholas Biddle. He urged the wounded to go to a hospital but all of them refused, preferring to remain with their companies. Washington physicians and a Miss Bache, waited upon the men and furnished medical supplies. Lincoln and his aides visited the First Defenders a second time on April 21st, observing the distribution of ordnance.
During their stay in the Capitol the First Defenders were assigned tasks directly concerned with the protection of the building itself. The hostile troops of the Confederacy could be seen drilling across the Potomac. The volunteer soldiers were engaged in pouring barrels of cement along the walls which fronted the river in order to reinforce that area. The building was barricaded against cannon fire. At some points large sheets of “boiler iron were set in place, protecting windows, doors and other outlets. Barrels filled with flour were used to supplement other barricades.
On Tuesday, April 23 the Ringgolds were ordered to report to Captain Dahlgren at the Washington Navy Yard, three 12-lb. Howitzers had arrived. Most of the company was needed to man the guns. Twelve of the Ringgolds and other First Defenders were sent to guard the Short Bridge near Washington. On the 25th a sergeant and six men from the Ringgolds were detailed as a guard for the steamer Powhattan which was sent to make a reconnaissance down the Potomac to determine whether southern forces were erecting any forts along the river. On the same day the company, as such, was ordered to the defense of the capital, that is the city of Washington, itself. Their headquarters then became the Washington Arsenal and they were placed under the direction of General G. I. Ramsey. Sleeping quarters were in a building which had been used as a penitentiary. For the Ringgolds this must have seemed like a demotion, being moved from the halls of Congress where they had bivouacked for the first few nights to the drab interior of a penal institution.
May 16th was a happy day for the Ringgolds because their guns arrived from home. When they entrained from Harrisburg they were told not to take them. Obviously this order was designed to avoid any hostile encounters enroute. Many of the men were fond of their weapons and had given their pieces pet names.
They remained at the Arsenal, as guards, until the expiration of their service. This meant that their three months term was ended on July 18, 1861 or three days before the First Battle of Bull Run and four days before Lincoln’s call for additional volunteers. Officially the muster-out was completed on July 20, 1861 at Harrisburg. But as will be noted later in this account, almost all of the men reenlisted and remained in service throughout the war. Some of the older members of the company returned to their homes.
The Ringgold Band
The predecessor of the present Ringgold Band was known as the American Independent Brass Band of Reading, organized June 28, 1852. The minutes of that organization record that this band played for the Ringgold Light Artillery on Saturday, November 13, 1852. In 1856 the name was changed to The Ringgold Artillery Cornet Band. The name was suggested by James McKnight, captain of the military unit. A close alliance developed between the two organizations during the years that followed.
When the Ringgold Artillery entrained for Harrisburg on the evening of April 16th, 1861 three members of the Ringgold Cornet Band accompanied them. These men were John A. Hook, the leader of the band and William C. Eben and Isaac S. Leeds. One month later, May 16th, the full band arrived at the nation’s capital and were constituted as the Regimental Band for the 25th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, the same regiment to which all First Defenders were assigned. The three musicians were transferred from the military to the band unit by orders of Colonel Henry L. Cake.
The records of the Band, which then had its band-hall where the Crystal Restaurant now stands, were badly disorganized during the hectic months of the summer of 1861. We know, however, that plans to join with the Ringgold Artillery were formulated weeks before the reunion with their soldier-associates was effected. On May 4,1861 the Berks and Schuylkill Journal reported that the Ringgold Cornet Band had been tendered and had accepted a call as a regimental band. “The Ringgold is one of the finest military bands in the country and we congratulate the Government in having procured its services.
Early in June, 1960 the present officers of the Ringgold petitioned the Congress of the United States to have a commemorative stamp issued in honor of the first band to respond to the president’s call in 1861. In this they were supported by a resolution adopted by the Pennsylvania State Senate June 7, 1960.
Ringgold Recruits, May 1861
Early in May 1861 Col. Henry L. Cake, commanding the First Defender companies in Washington asked for additional volunteers to bring the strength of the Ringgold Light Artillery to full complement. The quota was quickly filled. The Berks and Schuylkill Journal, May 21, 1861 listed the following as departing to join the Ringgolds: Charles Rich, Daniel Leeds, Daniel Frey, Solomon Seyfert, Howard F. Boyer, Joseph T. Becker, George Shuey, Michael Moss, John Lyons, Henry Strunk (later sent home as disabled), Harrison W. Sanders, Samuel Witner, Jacob P. Becker, Andrew Watkins, William Siegfried, John Paul, Evans S. Yeager, Lawrence Martin and Thomas C. Roy.
These names appear (with others) at the end of the minute book of the Ringgold organization. The minutes were usually kept by William C. E. Ermentrout but this appended list is in a different handwriting and almost illegible, as if scribbled there as an afterthought.
When these recruits arrived in Washington a new company was formed known as Company C commanded by Captain Henry Nagle formerly of the Ringgolds. Most of the recruits, together with some of the older Ringgolds and new recruits to other Federal units were placed on the roster of this company. This company was mustered out at Harrisburg, July 23, 1861.
Victory Parade of 1866
On Independence Day, 1866, a huge celebration was held in Philadelphia designated as a Victory Parade. The veterans of the Ringgold Light Artillery and the four other companies which had served as First Defenders were invited to share in the parade and the ceremonies. Approximately one half of the original Ringgolds travelled to Philadelphia in civilian dress, taking with them a musical unit called the Ringgold Brass Band. Their high hopes for additional glory were dashed when they learned that the Ringgolds were assigned to bring up the rear of the line. Because they had been the first of the first to respond to the President’s call these heroes had expected to be given the honored place at the head of the parade.
Their disappointment turned to “Dutch” stubbornness when they discovered the arrangements and they refused to participate in the parade. Instead they marched to the offices of the Philadelphia Press and serenaded their friend, the editor Col. John W. Forney. The effect of the serenade was to bring Forney from his office to address the assembled group. He spoke glowingly of the glory due the Ringgolds and reminded them that it was he, as then (1861) Clerk of the House of Representatives who arranged to quarter the Reading company in the chamber of the House on the night of their arrival. The disgruntled veterans were mollified and went home nursing their wounds.
Back home in Reading an investigation was set afoot to determine how circumstances combined to deny the Ringgolds their rightful honors. A caption in the Berks and Schuylkill Journal, July 7,1866 declared “They Did Right.” The Reading Adler” published two letters in German which reveal the results of the investigation. “By some chicanery” declared the Reading Adler on July 10, 1866, “the honored place in the right of the line was assigned to the Logan Guards.” The same newspaper prints a letter written by Sydenham Ancona, the Berks Congressman who served in the House of Representatives through the Civil War. He wrote to General W. S. Hancock on June 26, 1866, reminding the hero of Gettysburg and Spottsylvania, that the Ringgold Artillery of Reading was the first company to report to Harrisburg in response to the president’s call for troops. He stated that this fact entitled the Reading unit to take the first place in the line of march that was being planned.
Hancock replied on June 28th, from Philadelphia, that the right of the line was assigned to the Logan Guards of Lewistown and that the Reading unit was to have the honor of being the rear guard, which said the general “is a position of honor.”
On June 18th the Philadelphia Press had printed some statements made by Captain James Wren in which it appeared that the Washington Artillery from Pottsville and not the Ringgolds were the first of the First Defenders. These statements were not corrected by the Press until its issue of July 4th, the day of the celebration, and therefore, too late to avoid the slight to the men from Reading. The effect of the first notice in the Press was to stir General J. W. Hoffman, who was in charge of Philadelphia planning, to write to Adjutant A. L. Russell at Harrisburg, asking him to state which of the five volunteer companies was entitled to the prized position in the parade.
Russell’s reply, dated Harrisburg, June 25, erroneously stated that the Logan Guards deserved the recognition, not only because they were first to reach Harrisburg, (which they were not) but also because the Logans “occupied the right of the line in their march through Baltimore.” This is open to question as we have indicated.
The Thanks of a Nation
Resolved, that the thanks of this House are due and are hereby tendered, to the five hundred and thirty soldiers from Pennsylvania, who passed through the mob at Baltimore and reached Washington on the 18th of April last for the defense of the National Capitol.
Passed, July 22, 1861, by the House of Representatives.
—From the Congressional Globe, predecessor to the Congressional Record.
Military Record of First Defenders
The following data has been compiled from various sources: chiefly an account prepared by Frederick M. Yeager, a surviving veteran in 1910. Also from muster-in rolls, muster out rolls as published in Thompson’s The First Defenders, pp. 26-32 and pp. 84-94; Bates’ History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers; List Supplied by William M. Hiester in op. cit; various German and English newspapers of the period (1910-1913) and the list of names inscribed on the First Defenders Monument, City Park, Reading. Some data supplied by descendants in response to inquiry.
No two lists agree in every detail. There are some evidences of omissions or additions in each account and the spelling of names is confusing. A check against the minutes of the Ringgold company (Historical Society of Berks County) adds to this problem because of the poor handwriting of the recorder. Numerals following names indicate age at time of muster.
The original term of service was for three months. After each volunteer’s name we shall supply additional data, showing the form of service rendered after the original enlistment expired and other pertinent facts.
Captain James McKnight (40)—Major Fifth United States Infantry. After the Battle of Cedar Creek (October 19, 1864) in which Union losses were heavy General Horatio Wright is reported to have remarked to Major McKnight: “Your Pennsylvania Dutchmen don’t seem to know when they are whipped.”
“By God, General,” exclaimed McKnight, “most of them don’t know when they are killed.”
First Lieutenant Henry Nagle (45)—Captain Company C, 25th Reg. P.V.
Second Lieutenant William Graeff (38)—Mexican War veteran
Sergeant George W. Durell (44)—Durell’s Battery (Captain)
Sergeant Daniel Kreisher (38)—Ermentrout’s Battery (1st Lt.)
Sergeant Henry Rush (21)—1st Lt. Company B, 50th Reg. P.V. He was still living in Reading in 1913.
Sergeant Jeremiah Seiders (31)—Ermentrout’s Battery. In some muster lists he is listed as a private.
Corporal Levi J. Homan (35)—Ermentrout’s Battery (2nd Lt.)
Corporal F. W. Folkman (32)—Sgt. 5th U.S. Artillery
Corporal Jacob Womert (44)—Ermentrout’s Battery (Sgt.)
Corporal Horatio Leader (28)—ist Lt. Co. J, 179th Reg. P.V.
Bugler John A. Hook (26)—Band 23rd. Reg. P.V. (formerly 25th)
Musician Geor.ge B. Eckert (20)—Capt. 3rd U.S. Infantry
Drivers: Addison Gehry (23)—still living in Reading, 1913 Fred Peck (24)—Co. E, 128th Reg. P.V.
Solomon D. Ash (31)—A Mexican War veteran
James M. Anthony (22)—2nd Lt. Co. K, 128th Reg. P.V.
Anthony Ammon (44)
Charles B. Ansart (22)—Co. C, 42nd Reg. P.V.
Augustus Berger (33)—Co. K, 151st Reg. P.V.
George S. Bickley (34)
Reuben R. Burkhart (31)—Sgt. Co. E, 128th, also Sgt. Co. E, 46th Reg. P.V.
Harrison G. Bause (26)—Durell’s Battery (Sgt.)
William W. Bowers (24)—Ermentrout’s Battery (Sgt.)
David Bechtel (28)—Sgt. Co. 1,166th Reg. P.V.
Aaron Bechtel (19)—Co. A, 88th Reg. P.V.
Charles A. Bitting (19)—Co. H, 104th Reg. P.V.
Henry Coleman (21)
William F. Christ (29)—ist Lt. Co. F, 173rd P.V.
Amos Drenkel (32)—Capt. Co. 1, 179th Reg. P.V.
Daniel M. Dickinson (22)—Co. H. 128th Reg. P.V.—living in Soldiers’ Home, Hampton, Va. in 1913.
Edward G. Ebling (22)—Co. B, 88th Reg. P.V.
Benjamin F. Ermentrout (28)
Harry E. Eisenbise (45)—d. 1904
William C. Eben (21)—Sgt. Co. E, 128th Reg. P.V.
Samuel Evans (32)—Capt. Co. E, 46th Reg. P.V.
Robert Eltz (20)
Henry Fleck (27)—Co. 1, 28th Reg. P.V.
Adam Frees (20)
John Fries, Jr. (23)—Battery M, 5th U.S. Artillery—still living in Reading, 1913
Harrison Fox (20)—Co. A, 88th Reg. P.V.
James A. Fox (38)
William W. Fix (28)
Adam Faust (24)—Capt. Co. D, 198th Reg. P.V.
Christian C. Frantz (28)
Charles W. Gehhart (31) —Ermentrouts Battery (Sgt.)
Henry Geiger (24)—Corp. Co. E, 50th Reg. P.V.
Lemuel Cries (25)—Durells Battery (1st Lt.)
James H. Gentzler (24)—Adj. 128th Reg. P.V.
George W. Green (?)—Capt. 17th U.S. Infantry
Samuel Hamilton (37)—Co. I, 20th Reg. P.V.
Amos Huyett (23)
Nathaniel B. Hill (23)—Co. C, Third Penna. Cavalry
Andrew S. Helms (22)—Sgt. Co. B, 167th Reg. P.V.—still living in Philadelphia in 1913.
William Haberacker (36)—Co. A, 88th Reg. P.V.
Jacob Hessler (33)—ist Lt. Co. K, 151st Reg. P.V.
Franklin Housel (21)
John L. Kennedy (29)—Co. A, 88th Reg. P.V.
George W. Knabb (27)—Capt. Co. A, 88th Reg. P.V.
John D. Koch (24)—Sgt. Co. C, 6th Penna. Cavalry
Jacob Leeds (25)
Isaac Leeds (21)—Co. E, 128th Reg. P.V.
Harrison Lutz (21)—Still living in Reading in 1913
Peter A. Lantz (34)—2nd Lt. Co. H, 128th Reg. P.V.
Daniel J. Levan (22)—Co. E, 46th Reg. P.V.
Aaron H. Levan (24)—Lt. Co. A, 82nd Reg. P.V.
George D. Leaf (31)—ist Lt. Co. M, 44th Reg. Penna. Cavalry
Christopher Loeser (20)—Durell’s Battery (2nd Lt.)
George S. Lauman (22)—Capt. 10th U.S. Infantry
Daniel Maltzberger (31)
Charles Philip Muhlenberg (23)—Major 4th U.S. Artillery
Joseph H. McKnight (19)—ist Lt. Co. A, 128th Reg. P.V.
William M. Miller (20)—Co. K, 2nd Reg. P.V. Still living at Soldiers’ Home in Tenn. in 1913.
William P. Mack (21)—Co. E, 50th Reg. P.V.
James L. Mast (19)—Durell’s Battery (2nd Lt.). Still living at Erie, Pa., in 1913.
Howard Mcllvain (21)—Durells Battery (1st Lt.)
John H. McLenegan (20)—Anderson’s Ind. Cavalry
Henry Neihart (24)
Edward P. Pearson, Jr. (24)—Brig. General. Living in Caranola Beach, Calif., in 1913.
James Pfleger (31)—died in Philadelphia April 11, 1898.
Frederick H. Phillippi (27)—Ermentrout’s Battery (Sgt.)
Ferdinand S. Ritter (35)
William Rapp, Jr. (24)—Ermentrouts Battery (Sgt.)
Henry Rush (33)—Still living in Reading in 1913.
Francis Rambo (28)—Capt. Co. C, 52th Reg. J.V.
Isaiah Rambo (29)
George B. Rhoads (21)—Capt. Co. F, 88th Reg. P.V.
Jackson Sherman (32)
Franklin Schaeffer (29)—Ermentrouts Battery (Sgt.)
Edmund L. Smith (29)—Capt. 19th U.S. Infantry. Later a judge in Colorado.
Franklin Smeck (23)—Co. I, 23rd Reg. P.V.
George W. Silvis (23)—Durell’s Battery (2nd Lt., later a captain). Still living in Rosemont, Pa., in 1913. Two daughters still living in 1961, in Downingtown.
Edward Scull (21)—Sgt. Co. C, 42nd Reg. P.V.
Charles Spangler (20)—Sgt. Co. H, 104th Reg. P.V.
Jonathan Shearer (22)—Co. B, 42nd Reg. P.V.
William H. Smith (20)—Co. B, 88th Reg. P.V.
Albert H. Shiery (39)—Co. A, 99th Reg. P.V.
William Sauerbier (40)—Sgt. 26th Reg. P.V.
Albert H. Seyfert (23)—2nd Lt. Co. A, 88th Reg. P.V.
Daniel Witman (41—Engineer, U.S. Army
Henry Whiteside (26)—Capt. Co. A, 88th Reg. P.V.
Daniel S. Yohn (19)—Co. B, 128th Reg. P.V. Still living at Soldiers’ Home in Hampton, Va., in 1913.
John L. Yohn (20)
Frederick M. Yeager (20)—Capt. Co. C, 128th Reg. P.V. Still living in Reading in 1913. Supplied most of the above information to Heber S. Thompson, president of the First Defenders Association, 1910.
Ladies Volunteer Aid Society
When the Ringgold Light Artillery boarded the train at the Reading Station for Harrisburg, April 16, 1861 a large concourse of people gathered to cheer them on. The Reading Gazette and Democrat records that “a Flag was presented by the women at the train.” This flag seemed to be symbolic of many other services which the women of Reading and Berks would be called upon to render during the war years which followed.
Just as Reading may lay claim to having sent the first company of First Defenders it can be said with equal justification that the women of Reading formed the first Ladies Aid Society set up for the purpose of providing the soldiers with necessities during their terms of military service. Similar organizations were formed in many communities as the war progressed. These were designated by various names, the commonest of which was the Ladies Volunteer Aid Society, but the Reading women were active in many forms of home-front service when these later organizations came into being.
It appears that on the same day that the Ringgolds left for Harrisburg a group of ladies met in the parlor of the home of Mrs. Diller Luther, 530 Penn Street at which preliminary steps were taken to organize a ladies’ group which, at first, was called The Ladies Aid Society. On the evening of the following day, April 17th another meeting was held at the Luther home at which officers were appointed as follows: iVirs. (Rosa) G. A. Nicolls, President, Mrs. (Maria) John Brooke, Secretary, and Mrs. (Annie) H. A. Muhlenberg, The following ladies were appointed as committees to solicit subscriptions “to provide clothing and other necessities for the members of those companies who have left or may leave the city to defend their country.” Mrs. Hahn, Miss Gries, Miss Pearson, Miss McKnight, Miss Eckert, Miss Loeser, Mrs. H. A. Muhlenberg, Mrs. John Brooke and Miss Lauman. It will be observed that most of these surnames are the same as the names of those who had marched off with the Ringgold Light Artillery.
The newly appointed president Mrs. Rosa (nee Muhlenberg) Nicolls was directed to write to the captains of the various companies informing them of the plans of the new organization. We present the major portion of one of the letters addressed to Captain George W. Alexander of the Reading Artillerists and presented to him just as the company was departing for service.
April 18, 1861
At a meeting of the ladies of this city—friends and relatives of members of the several companies who have been called hence to defend their flag and Country—was held here last evening for the purpose of furnishing clothing and other necessities to those in need of same . I am requested by the President to advise you of the above and to ask you to make it known to the members of your command. On receiving from you a statement of such articles of clothing etc., as most wanted by some of your men, the ladies of the above Society will use every exertion to supply them as soon as possible.
Very respectfully yours,
G. A. Nicolls
Mrs. Nicolls issued a call for another meeting of the Society to be held on Saturday the 20th at the home of Mrs. Henry M. Muhlenberg.
Officers of the military units acknowledged Mr. Nicoll’s letters of April 18th. From these we select one which is quite revealing.
Camp Curtin Harrisburg, Pa. April 21, 1861
G. A. Nicolls Esq:
Your favor received this morning and in reply would state that the citizens of Reading have alrealy furnished my company with all (and more) than needed. We are certainly under great obligation to the Ladys of Reading and are very thankful for what has been done—and the thoughts of the Ladys of Reading appreciate our motive in going to the Battlefield will cheer us on to victory.
Frank M. Corley
Capt. Union Light Artillery’9
On April 24 Captain D. Albert Griffith of the Union Light Guard of Reading informed Mr. Nicolls “we have already received 50 woolen Shirts from the fair donors and need 25 more of the same kind as we will have to use them instead of coats. If your lady friends can have them ready by tomorrow morning they will place us under lasting obligations. I would state that this is the last Company that will be mustered into service under the present requisition—we have orders to march tomorrow.”
After the meeting which Mrs. Nicolls called for Saturday, April 20th the name appears to have been changed to Ladies Volunteer Association. In extracts of the minutes from that meeting the names of the following persons were added to the list of solicitors for articles of clothing “immediately from the citizens in order that no time shall be lost” Mrs. Catherine Hause, Mrs. McKnight, Miss Cooper, Miss J. Cooper, Miss Eckert, Miss Maltzberger, Miss Benson, Miss Shearer, Miss Wallace and Miss J. Gordon.
Mr. John E. Pearson had generously offered the Association the use of his large room in his building lately occupied by Dr. John Ansart. The ladies determined to establish headquarters there, officially opening the “Hall” on April 23, the following Tuesday.
A second group of Reading Ladies organized known as the Lady Franklin Council, Number 45, of the United Daughters of America, met on Saturday evening April 20 and unanimously resolved: “That we inform the Governor of this Commonwealth and the citizens of this city that we are ready to aid the volunteers at Harrisburg with provisions at the Council’s expense, and further, Resolved that we will also make necessary clothing for the volunteers.” The Committee in charge was designated as: M. A. Phillippi, R. Reinhart and M. A. Eadelman. Donors were asked to make their contributions to ony one of the three.
The work of the Reading Ladies took on a more serious aspect when, on May 3, 1861 President Lincoln issued his call for 42,000 additional volunteers, this time for a three-year period of service and again on July 22, when, after the disaster at the First Battle of Manassas Junction (Bull Run), the Congress called for one-half million men. The work of collecting and dispatching clothing and other needed items became too large for any single unit to meet the needs. The first call, for a period of three months had put 11 companies of 738 men under arms but during the summer of 1861 this number increased to 45 companies with a total of 4395, an increase of more than 600%. As the war wore on the total number of men in uniform, from Berks, rose to over 10,000.
In order to meet the expanding needs Ladies Volunteer Associations were formed in other parts of Berks. We have records of active groups in Amityville, Stouchsburg, Robesonia and Morgantown. It is quite likely that there were others. Similar organizations were formed throughout the state. In Lancaster the ladies organized a short time after the Reading group was established and before the war had reached a critical stage there were womens’ “relief organizations” in most of the population centers of the state.
Governor Andrew G. Curtin, under the date of June 1, 1861 addressed a letter to the officers of the Ladies Volunteer Association of Reading.
Harrisburg, Pa. June 1,1861
I rec’d your letter of the 27th May and, but for my many engagements would have answered at an earlier moment.
You may have noticed that I have had the condition of our volunteers examined at Washington and that cloathing has been made and forwarded to them. I must of necessity entrust to others the details of our volunteers and am as deeply mystified as you can be if impurities have been practiced—a searching investigation will be made and if frauds and impurities have been practiced the guilty will be punished. I cannot too highly commend the particular zeal of the ladies of our State and the pleasure it affords me to believe that you are animated by that spirit in your letter before me.
Your obt. Set. (obedient servant)
A. G. Curtin
The governor was as good as his word and appointed an inspector to investigate charges of fraud in ordnance supply. The charges were made that clothing contractors were supplying shoddy materials, off color and inferior in quality. The investigation revealed that the worst conditions were found in the 4th and 5th Regiments. There the inspector found “cloth like Kentucky jeans and blankets like ice—not fit for a horse.” The report stated that the 25th, of which the Ringgolds were a part, were “not badly off.”
Because we lack a copy of the letter which the Ladies had sent to the governor we cannot be certain that this investigation was set afoot by the complaints of Reading women, but the governor s pointed mention of the charge in the letter would indicate that he was impressed by whatever statement the Ladies made to him. A firm of army clothing manufacturers located in Pittsburgh was indicted on charges of producing shoddy supplies.
Letters from captains of Berks regiments in the fields serve two purposes. They reveal that some checking was done by the Ladies to determine whether their wants were being met and at the same time we can assess the type of work which the women of Reading were performing during the early weeks of the war. We submit excerpts from a series of letters which may be found in original form in the manuscript files of the Historical Society of Berks County under the codes of 1861-23 and 1861-24.
From Washington Richards, Captain of the Washington Guards, May 9, 1861: “Permit me to return thanks on behalf of the Company for your kind offer for which we ever feel grateful. I will ascertain at the earliest moment the wants of my men and probable time of march of which I will duly notify you.”
The Ringgold Artillery, stationed at Washington appointed a committee of three to correspond with the Ladies Volunteer Aid Association. These men were Charles B. Ansart, Amos Drenkel and E. P. Pearson Jr. On May 10 they write to Mrs. Maria Brooke, Sec.,
Headquarters of the
Ringgold Light Artillery.
Washington, D. C.
In our last letter we stated that all necessary articles would be supplied by the Government. But as there are so many Troops here and as those who are most in need will be provided for first. We have taken the liberty to call upon you for a few articles absolutely necessary for some of our men. The articles are as follows:nTwenty two flannel shirts, twelve pr. drawers, three pr. shoes; two #7 and one #6.
On May 16, Captain A. F. Rightmeier, of Co. G, 7th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, wrote from Chambersburg:
G. A. Nicolls Esq.
Dear Sir: Your kind favor was received this evening and in reply I would state that your dispatch has not been received. We feel very grateful to you for your kind offers but the Government has already supplied us and we stand in need of nothing at this time.
From the General Hospital of the U.S. Army, at Philadelphia James Tyson, wrote to Mrs. Brooke on May 17 acknowledging a donation of “$4.50 for the use of Pennsylvanians” and explaining that such donations could not be allocated to Pennsylvania troops only because his post was in a federal hospital.
A series of resolutions passed by the Ringgold Light Artillery at a meeting held at the U.S. Arsenal in Washington, unanimously adopted, was sent to the Ladies on May 18, 1861. The signatories were Charles P. Muhlenberg, E. P. Pearson and Daniel Kreisher, 1st Lt. The phrasing of some of these resolutions bears recording here. Among others is the expression “we would be less than men if we should ever forget . . . . such deeds and acts as woman’s heart alone could prompt . . . . They have surrounded us by such a multitude of kindly acts that we cannot fail to feel that we are embarked in a true and holy cause.
On May 23rd 1861, Washington Richards, Captain of the Washington Guards sent the following appeal to Mrs. Brooke: “The men in my company are mostly poor and will therefore be compelled to ask aid of your Society. I suppose they will each require a shirt, say seventy five and many other articles will be thankfully received”. On May 30th Capt. Jacob Lenhart of the 2nd Reading Artillerists asked for shirts “for the whole number of Privates, say 75 and about 40 pr. Drawers and stockings, 3 pr. pants and shoes.” A few days later Capt. W. F. Briner, of the Mechanics Infantry, Reading, asked for 50 flannel shirts and then adds, “For the 25 previously I will hold myself responsible to the Society and see that they are paid for.”
A series of resolutions passed by the Reading Rifles, forming Company G of the 7th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers which was forwarded to the Volunteer Aid Society June 20, 1861 from Camp Potomac. Because of the unusual nature of the statements contained we will reproduce them in entirety.
1st Res. That we tender our warm and heartful thanks to the Ladies Volunteer Aid Society of Reading for so kindly Remembering us since we left our homes and more especially for the present favor received on the 19th inst. namely a full supply of havelocks.
2nd Res. That we furthermore Return our Gratitude (to) the Association for there (sic) kind offer in assisting us in our wants but most Respectfully decline Receiving them. Remarks: Besides us in ranks are those who need much to even make them look Respectable. They have left their Home’s and Friend’s as did we to serve their country, if our country cannot make their men comfortable the city of Reading shall not at least for Co. G. 7th Regiment, though the kindness of our friends and fellow citizens shall ever be held in Sacred Remembrance, it shall be with us while in camp or in the field.
When we crossed the Maryland Line we gave 3 loud cheers for Old Berks, and thus it shall ever be. Again except (sic) our humble thanks for your past kindness. But all we ask on the future are your best wishes and earnest prayers. Committee: Sarg’t William H. Runyeon, Privt. John C. Anthony, Lt. Jacob H. Worth, Chairman, Privt. William Sands, Secertary (sic).
Another cheerful note is struck in the first issue of the army newspaper named “The Fifth” published by the members of the 5th Regiment stationed at Camp Alexandria in Virginia. On July 22 it reported that the camp was visited by Hon J. Pringle
Jones and his lady and G. A. Nicolls and his lady, of Reading, and gave flannel shirts and havelocks to the men.” The same issue reports that the Ringgolds, stationed at the Washington Arsenal “are enjoying fishing and swimming but they are still in the infantry and have no horses.”
As the summer of 1861 advanced there were other letters of acknowledgment and thanks. Some noted the receipt of wines and jellies; others raised questions of franking and transport charges. One letter from Captain J. C. A. Hoffeditz, in camp near Baltimore, is chatty in describing camp life and stating “We are all getting fat.” A letter from Washington, dated February 10, 1862 rejoices over “A Box of Pretzels, which was something new to us, and very good, too, they are.”
Through all of these activities the names of many Reading women are mentioned but credit for leadership must be shared by Mrs. Rosa Muhlenberg Nicolls and Mrs. Maria W. Brooke, president and secretary, respectively of the Ladies Volunteer Aid Society. Both of them published stirring appeals in the city’s newspapers calling women to patriotic service and they were always meticulous in arranging to send materials to the camps, to acknowledge gifts and letters and to keep in touch with the men in service. It is evident that Mrs. Nicolls employed the services of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad of which her husband was the General Superintendent; of Howard’s Express and the post offices. Sometimes she delivered clothing in person as shown by the account in the “Fifth”, to which we have referred.
After the early months of the war had passed the regular government agencies of procurement and ordnance supply were able to cope with most of the problems of equipping the men in the field. The Ladies then turned to the tasks of supplying accessory clothing and sending boxes of food and delicacies to the soldiers. The knitting of stockings brought many needles into play. An interesting letter from a member of the Ringgolds, from Durell’s Battery, and stationed at Camp Dupont, Virginia merits reproduction here.
“If the Ladies had heard the cheering when the men received them (the stockings) they would, I think, be satisfied. Some of the men were nearly run out of stockings as those we received from the government were very poor. Some of the socks had slips of paper in the toes, with the young lady’s names on them and the men were wearing them as breastpins. There was quite a premium on all the slips with Miss on them. I heard of one fellow offering a married man his supper, coffee and all for the slip with Miss Bette somebody’s name on it.
The diligence of the Ladies in knitting socks for soldiers is evident from the fact that, early in January, 1862, Mrs. Nicolls was in a position to offer more than 200 pairs of stockings for sale to the Quartermaster-General’s Headquarters at Harrisburg. General R. C. Hale sent the Ladies a check for $55.62, “being the amt. due you for 206 prs. of army socks at 27 cents per pair, furnished by the Soldiers Aid (sic) Society of Reading.
On March 17 of the same year the Ladies sent 132 pairs of stockings to the U.S. Smallpox Hospital in Washington, D.C., as a “prompt reply” to an urgent appeal from Miss (E. S.) Gay writing on behalf of C. M. Melville who was in charge of the hospital. The plea acknowledges former gifts, mentioning the “comforter lined with the blanket of the War of 1812.” Miss Gay explained that it was necessary to burn so many items because of the “necessity of cases” in a smallpox hospital.
Mrs. Maria W. Brooke, wife of Dr. John B. Brooke must have been a very busy person throughout the war. Her husband, together with Dr. Martin Luther was one of two official physicians at the military hospital established in Reading in 1862 and operating through the spring of 1863.
Another clothing accessory which was in great demand during the winter months of the first years of the war was mittens.
The list of donors is too lengthy to be included in this account and it would not be complete because not all gifts were reported to sources now extant. However, we should note that nearly all communities in Berks were represented in the donations. The Ladies Volunteer Aid Society took an active interest in the welfare of the sick and wounded soldiers in the hospital and “performed admirable service during the continuance” of the institution.
The trend of the war can be followed by studying the types of activities on which the Ladies concentrated. By the summer of 1862 the sick and wounded became their chief concern. Instead of seeking clothing, most of which by this time was being supplied to the armed forces through military ordnance, they collected bandages and other hospital supplies. The types of food solicited were chiefly those which were designed to augment the diet of soldiers with ingredients which we would today recognize as vitamins and calories. Lemons and other acid-fruits were in demand; jellies of all kinds and most vegetables in season. Many articles of baked goods such as rusks were supplied.
It is interesting to note some of the items which were collected. Considerable amounts of “lint” were secured. This was a fluffy linen which could serve as bandages. “Currant shrub” might puzzle modern readers. It is a beverage, slightly intoxicating, made from fruit juices of various type. “Sago” is a kind of starch used in making puddings. Pillow cases made by Belle and Annie Lutton, children aged 6 and 5 years respectively were donated for use in the hospital.
In a letter published in The Reading Daily Times, August 23, 1862 after condemning the “pusillanimity” of Philadelphia the writer sets out to “present a more pleasant scene. The Fair Grounds Hospital in your city is a paragon of excellence. It is conducted, as you are aware, under the auspices of the Ladies Aid Society, that Society embracing as it does among its members, the wealthiest and most refined ladies of Reading who are actuated by the most benevolent and patriotic motives. They bestow their charities with the most liberal and unstinted hands.” The writer goes on to pay tribute to the generosity of “the country people” in supplying the hospital with vegetables and fruit. “May every seed planted by them the next coming year bring forth and produce one hundred fold.” The letter was addressed to Drs. Martin Luther and John B. Brooke, surgeons in charge of the hospital.
Nor were the good ladies wanting in their support of hospitals in other cities in which Berks soldiers were hospitalized. On July 20, 1862 they published an appeal for “delicacies” for the “absent volunteers” and the officers of the Society were kept busy coordinating the work of the various Ladies’ relief societies established throughout the county.
During the spring months of 1862 the Fair Grounds Hospital was discontinued. The threatened invasion by Lee’s army in Pennsylvania which culminated in the battle of Gettysburg presented new problems and, new alarms for Reading and vicinity. Berks soldiers were no longer serving in solid units of the armed forces but were scattered through the entire war theatre. More and more the work of ‘the Ladies Aid Society was merged with the efforts of the United States Sanitary Commission. But the members of the Ladies Volunteer Aid continued in their work. Their participation in the great Sanitary Fair, held in Philadelphia in June 1864 is noted in an article in the Historical Review of Berks County.
When the war was all ended, July 9, 1866, Mrs. Annie H. Muhlenberg as treasurer of the Ladies Volunteer Aid, published a complete statement of accounts. A quick glance at the statistics will serve to show how the monies were collected and distributed.
Computations such as shown above, while necessary, are cold and mundane matters when compared with matters of the spirit, devotion, sacrifice and patriotism. The Ladies of Reading were not only the first to organize but there is no record of any flinching on their part or unfavorable criticism of the work which they performed. They completed the work they began, with the original officers incumbent after four long years of war.
From the many glowing letters of appreciation of the services rendered by the Ladies Aid Volunteer Society we quote, in part, from one written to Mrs. Maria Brooke:
“Your many and often repeated assurances of interest in our Co. have made us deeply grateful; nerved us to the more faithful discharge of our duties, whether in Camp or Field & will prompt us to deeds of noble daring in the cause of our country’s Flag. Such acts of kindness as these are the bright Oases in this Desert hour of our Country’s existance (sic) ; they are the flowers strewn by the wayside which we gather to the better remembrance of those we leave behind: and when on the march, whether beneath the scorching Southern Sun or drenching rain your gifts will be as Beacon lights remembering as ever of our Sisters, Mothers, homes and Heaven.”
This material was contained in a booklet of the same name published to commemorate the Centennial of the Civil War 1961-65