A History of the Regiment The Valley Campaign continued

Though the Battle of Opequan was a Union victory, the losses sustained by both sides were severe. Among the dead was General Russell, killed by a shell fragment while directing a brigade into position. General Upton immediately assumed command of the division, leaving Col. Joseph Hamblin of the Sixty-fifth New York in command of the Second Brigade.

Col. Joseph Hamblin (Library of Congress)

Col. Joseph Hamblin
(Library of Congress)

The Second Brigade was again engaged in desperate fighting two days later at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, September 21, 1864. Early that morning, the brigade left camp and formed a battle line 1 1/2 mile west of Strasburg opposite the left of the Confederate positions. The Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania was in the advance as skirmishers until the brigade reached a wooded crest where the brigade halted and formed in two lines, the One hundred twenty-first New York and Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery in the front with the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania and Sixty-fifth New York in the second line. The brigade moved to a new position at 11 PM one mile to the right, threw up breastworks, and remained in this position through the next day. At about 3 PM on the 22nd, the brigade advanced with the division and drove the Confederate skirmish line off, taking a crest overlooking the railroad. The brigade advanced again around 4 PM and into the enemy works, driving back whatever was left of the hill’s defenders and then pursued the retreating Southerners through the next day to Edenburg, Virginia. The brigade loss was slight in this battle with a total of 32 killed and wounded, the Ninety-fifth losing two enlisted men wounded. The Ninety-fifth skirmished with enemy pickets near Woodstock on the 24th until late afternoon when they were relieved by the Fourth New Jersey. Total loss for the combined regiments was 1 killed, 1 officer and 4 men wounded. (OR Part I, Volume 43, Part I)

Sheridan in the valley, 1864 General Sheridan and his army in the valley, drawn from life by reporter and artist James E. Taylor. (The James E. Taylor Sketchbook)

Sheridan in the valley, 1864
General Sheridan and his army in the valley, drawn from life by reporter and artist James E. Taylor.
(The James E. Taylor Sketchbook)

With Early’s Confederate force apparently soundly defeated, the Army of the Shenandoah settled into a complacent camp along the banks of Cedar Creek near Middletown. Before dawn on October 19, Early’s army reappeared and struck hard and fast, surprising and driving most of the Eighth Corps and Nineteenth Corps from their camps before moving onto the Sixth Corps camps. The sound of battle rapidly approaching, Colonel Joseph Hamblin ordered the Second Brigade to out of their camps. The Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania rallied with the other regiments of the Second Brigade 400 yards outside of the brigade’s camp just after daylight, aligned with the Second Connecticut on the right, the One Hundred Twenty-first New York and Sixty Fifth New York in the center, with the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania and Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania Battalion on the brigade left flank. Sweeping through the camps, the Confederate attack stalled against the solid Sixth Corps line, the opponents exchanging musketry fire for over thirty minutes. Colonel Hamblin was wounded at this point and Colonel Mackenzie, commanding the Second Connecticut, took command. With no support and a Confederate column threatening the left flank, Mackenzie ordered the brigade to slowly fall back “by the right of battalions”, resisting the southern onslaught while slowly giving ground. Lt. Colonel John Harper, seeing a Union battery about to be overrun, ordered the Ninety-fifth to halt and rallied the men around the colors to defend the threatened battery. It was hopeless; Confederates swarmed up the knoll, firing into the ranks of the zouaves as they returned fire with as much spirit as they could muster. Harper, seeing that they were about to be overrun, ordered the regiment to withdraw, several of the Pennsylvanians assisting artillerymen in dragging one of the guns off. The Ninety-fifth rejoined the Second Brigade near Newtown west of the Valley Pike and after retreating for over a mile, retraced their route southward to a line of woods where they threw up a line of breastworks. Here the brigade formed in two lines, the Sixty-fifth Pennsylvania and Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania forming the first line. Here the brigade remained until late afternoon when Union troops rallied by Sheridan’s famous ride from Winchester, counterattacked.

Gen. Sheridan's ride. (Taylor Sketchbook)

Gen. Sheridan’s ride.
(Taylor Sketchbook)

While the battle raged around Middletown, dispirited Union troops wandered aimlessly northward toward Winchester. Hearing the sound of guns from his headquarters at Winchester, General Sheridan raced southward down the Valley Pike, waving his hat at stragglers and disorganized groups, shouting encouragement. The effect was electric. Downcast men walking by the pike or through adjacent fields suddenly turned back at the sight of the feisty general and rejoined their commands or fell in with others headed back to the battlefield. Finally receiving orders to go forward at 4 PM, the First Division of the Sixth Corps went forward. Colonel Mackenzie directed the Second Brigade southward, pushing ahead to the base of a strongly defended ridge where Confederate infantry and artillery let loose a perfect shower of lead and shells. The brigade wavered as the regiments returned fire. Colonel Mackenzie encouraged the men forward and the brigade, its two lines combined into one, broke into a charge up the ridge, driving off or killing its defenders. Mackenzie was wounded during the charge leaving the brigade to Lt. Colonel Egbert Olcott, One Hundred Twenty-first New York. Olcott ordered the regiments to pursue the retreating foe and enraged, the Second Brigade impulsively rushed forward in advance of the other units around it, driving the Confederates back over the ground lost that morning. The Ninety-fifth regained their ransacked camp that evening, but the losses were substantial- 8 killed, 27 wounded, and 4 missing out of 305 officers and men engaged that day.(OR , I, Vol. 43, Part 1)

The defeat of Early’s force at the Battle of Cedar Creek ended the main Confederate threat in the Shenandoah Valley. Three days after the close of the battle of Cedar Creek, the Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania left the army to be mustered out and once again the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania was on its own, technically still a battalion. The Ninety-fifth spent the next few uneventful weeks on picket duty during which time a number of men who had been wounded during the spring campaign returned to the regiment.

A significant equipment change occurred some time that fall when the regiment received new accoutrements designed by Colonel Mann, former commander of the Seventh Michigan Cavalry. Mann’s design of combat equipment placed the cartridge box in the front of the soldier with a suspender arrangement to help secure the box in place. The box held the regular 40 rounds of ammunition but the inside tin liner had an ingenious way to pull up the cartridges from the lower portion of the box when the top twenty had been expended. Opinions of the new accoutrements varied, but they placed the soldier’s ammunition at a convenient place in front and more evenly distributed the weight. A handful of other regiments had previously received Colonel Mann’s improved accoutrements in the spring of 1864, among them the Fourth and Fifteenth New Jersey Infantry regiments and Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

The Sixth Corps returned to the Petersburg siege lines on December 1, 1864. The Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania took their turn manning front line trenches until February 5, 1865, when the corps operated against Confederate forces near Dabney’s Mill and along Hatcher’s Run. The regiment suffered only several minor casualties in this operation, and then returned to the trench lines near Fort Davis.

The fall of Five Forks on April 1, 1865 left Lee with little option but to abandon both Petersburg and Richmond to the Federal armies. Quickly following up on this success, General Grant ordered an all-out assault against the Petersburg lines scheduled for April 2, though the maneuvering for the assault had begun the day before. The Second Brigade, again commanded by the recovered Colonel Hamblin, left camp on April 1st and formed in two lines on the right of the Sixth Corps, opposite Fort Fisher, with the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania and One hundred twenty-first New York placed in the second line behind the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery and Sixty-fifth New York. At 4 AM on April 2nd, Colonel Hamblin, “advanced in echelon of twenty paces to the rear and right of the First Brigade (Penrose’s New Jersey brigade). Owing to the early hour and mist of morning, and the nature of the ground, the troops were in some confusion arriving at the rebel lines.” Part of the Second Connecticut advanced toward the South Side Railroad while the Sixty-fifth New York and Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania turned to the right and advanced down the line of works, taking guns and prisoners for nearly a mile. During the charge, Color Sgt. Albert Bannon, Co. C, and Sgt. John B. Cooke, Co. D, captured one gun while Cpl. Francis Wilson and Pvt. Hosea B. Taylor, Co. B, captured another. Wilson later received the medal of honor. Private William A. Fox, Co. A, and Pvt. John McLaughlin, Co. G, also captured one gun on the 2nd, and Cpls. Albert Scott and Robert Wilson, Co. C, Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania were the first of a number of men to enter the fourth fort on the right to capture three guns that were later disabled.

The Ninety-fifth, One hundred twenty-first New York and Second Connecticut occupied an enemy fort until noon when they were compelled to retire and reformed about 1/4 mile from the fort, though holding the works initially taken that morning. The Ninety-fifth was deployed as skirmishers before the brigade moved to the captured Fort Mahone that night where orders arrived for the corps to move at first light toward Petersburg. Hamblin assembled his men in the suburbs of the city and “marched in order through the city between 4:30 and 5 a.m., being the first organized force in the place.” The Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania is credited with being one of the first Union regiments into the city of Petersburg on April 3, 1865, Colonel Harper having marched his small band of zouaves into the city of silent homes and quiet buildings where they deployed to search for stragglers and Confederate equipment. At 10 o’clock, the Second Brigade marched back to retrieve knapsacks and rejoin the division. The haul taken by the brigade was substantial: Five guns, 3 flags, and about 250 prisoners were taken on April 2nd and one “84-pounder” gun and 200 prisoners taken in Petersburg on April 3rd. “Officers and men were so enthusiastic in the pursuit,” Hamblin reported, “that little attention was paid to guarding or getting receipts for captured prisoners or property.”

Sometime after noon, the Sixth Corps took up the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia. The corps moved westward out of Petersburg through Amelia and then toward Farmville. The Second and Sixth Corps were in the advance of the Union pursuit on April 6 and pressed the rear of the main Confederate column throughout the day. Late in the afternoon the Confederate column split. While the Second Corps followed Gordon’s column, the Sixth followed the forces under Richard Ewell, George Pickett, and R.H. Anderson. Union cavalry blocked the southern retreat beyond Sailor’s (Saylor’s) Creek, and Ewell’s men hastily threw up a shallow line of defenses. Union batteries were quickly brought up to shell the Confederate position while the infantry formed up. General Wheaton formed the First Division adjacent to the Hillsman House with Gettys’ Second Division on the north side of the road, where the order was given to move forward. Hamblin’s and Edward’s brigades moved down the slope and through dense brush along the swollen creek under a shower of skirmish fire. Lt. Colonel Harper recalled, “We arrived at the creek, where some delay took place, it being difficult to cross in some parts. After crossing… the line was reformed, and advanced to the foot of the hill upon which the enemy were posted; here we halted, by order, for a short time, during which the line was put in good shape for the charge. Very soon the order to advance was given.”

Hamblin’s brigade moved up the slope, the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania in the center of the brigade line flanked by the One hundred twenty-first New York on the right and the Sixty-fifth New York on the left. Some of the men waved white handkerchiefs aloft, shouting for the southerners to give up. Why was bloodshed at this point so necessary? About half-way up the hillside, the soldiers could plainly see the Confederates, this section commanded by General Joseph Kershaw, who answered the appeal with a volley into the Union ranks at a distance of less than 50 yards. “We were met by a terrific fire of musketry,” Harper continued, “which, momentarily, staggered the line.”

Sailor's Creek April 6, 1865

Sailor’s Creek April 6, 1865

The Second Rhode Island, one of the left regiments in Edward’s brigade, suddenly broke. The men retreated, exposing the right flank of the Thirty-seventh Massachusetts and adjacent One hundred twenty-first New York. Exultant Confederates under Major Stiles followed, shooting at the fleeing Yankees as Edward’s other regiments fell back a slight distance and reformed. A huge volume of fire thrown out by the Spencer Rifles in the hands of the Thirty-seventh Massachusetts stopped the Confederate thrust cold while the One hundred twenty-first New York and adjacent Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania returned fire into Kershaw’s works. Stiles’ men beat a hasty retreat back to their shallow works closely followed by determined Union troops willing to end this battle with the bayonet. “With a cheer, however, the men pressed forward,” Harper recalled. The Ninety-fifth rolled into the Confederates slashing and shooting, only offering quarter to those who threw down their arms right away. “The battle degenerated into a butchery,” recalled Major Robert Stiles, his own unit in shambles, “of brutal personal conflicts. Men kill(ed) each other with bayonets and the butts of muskets, and even bite each other’s throats and ears and noses, rolling on the ground like wild beasts.”

The Ninety-fifth’s zouaves beat down the last resistance in their quarter as the few Confederates who could fled into the woods. Colonel Harper continued: “Gaining the woods in which the enemy had been posted I found that a number of them had made a stand upon our left flank, and were becoming very annoying. I advanced upon them with my colors and fifteen or twenty men of my regiment and some of the One hundred twenty-first New York, and after some trouble drove them into a ravine, where they raised a white flag and surrendered. We continued our onward course, exchanging shots with the flying enemy until we crossed a line of breast-works, where more of them surrendered. We advanced still farther into the open field half a mile beyond the works, where we connected with the cavalry.” (OR, Series I, Vol. 46, Part I)

The regiment returned to the scene of the charge to tend to the wounded and count the dead, Captain James Carroll of Company A among the latter. Some of the prisoners rounded up that afternoon were scores of Confederate naval personnel, seamen without a ship who had retreated with Lee’s forces from Richmond. Also taken were generals Ewell, Kershaw, and Custis Lee who surrendered his sword to Lt. W.C. Morrill, Thirty-seventh Massachusetts Infantry. Morrill wore Lee’s sword through the remainder of the campaign.

Sgt. John Cook, Co. D Gettysburg NMP

Sgt. John Cook, Co. D
Gettysburg NMP

The Ninety-fifth’s wounded were transferred by ambulance to Burkeville Junction. Among the injured was Sgt. John Cook of Company D, shot through the leg, his fourth time injured in battle. Cook was laid on his blanket at Burkeville Junction beside a captain named Smith from a Mississippi regiment, who was terribly wounded in one arm. The two lay side by side on this platform for three days, sharing the precious water from Cook’s canteen. When news arrived of the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox, Captain Smith threw his bloody arm around Cook’s shoulder and Cook threw his arm around Smith. With no tears or shouts of rejoicing, the two former enemies embraced, thankful that the end had finally come. Sgt. Cook’s canteen, which bears a label with this remarkable story, is on display in the museum at Gettysburg National Military Park.

The following morning, the Sixth Corps marched toward Farmville shortly after 7 AM. The corps went through Rice’s Station where General Wright came up behind the Twenty Fourth Corps of the Army of the James. The Sixth reached the Appomattox River that afternoon, crossed over on a footbridge, and camped on the west side of the river after dark. On April 8, the corps marched after 8 AM and caught up behind the Second Corps before moving on adjacent roads towards New Store, where they camped for the night. The corps started at 5 AM on the morning of April 9, overtook the Second Corps and halted near Appomattox Court House that afternoon. Tired and muddy, the regiments waited on the roadside for what was to come. “Soon after halting official intelligence of the surrender of General Lee’s forces was announced to the army,” General Wright reported, “and was received with great enthusiasm by the soldiers…”. The end of the military conflict had begun.

After the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia was announced, General Wright was ordered to move the Sixth Corps toward Danville to occupy the railroads and prevent movement northward of Southern forces still under arms in North Carolina. With the surrender of General Johnston’s forces at Durham Station, the corps was relieved of its duty and marched to Richmond, thence to Washington where the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers participated in the Corps Review down Pennsylvania Avenue on June 8, the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac having already been held. The regiment camped outside of Washington until July 17, 1865 when it was mustered out of service and transported to Philadelphia by steamer.

On July 24, 1865, the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania formed their ranks one last time in the streets of their native city, where the men were paid and discharged from service.

Colonel William Fox lists the 95th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry among his 300 Fighting Regiments of the War. The 95th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry lost six field officers killed in action: two colonels, two lieutenant-colonels, a major and an adjutant. Only one other Union regiment lost as many mounted field officers during the war. The total loss while in service was 11 officers and 171 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, and 1 officer and 72 enlisted men lost to disease.

Three soldiers of the 95th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry earned the Medal of Honor:

Private William R. Fox, Company A, 95th Pennsylvania Infantry. At Petersburg, Virginia on 2 April 1865. Private Fox bravely assisted in the capture of one of the enemy’s guns and was with the first troops to enter the city. Fox captured the flag of the Confederate “Customhouse” in Petersburg. Hometown: Philadelphia. Citation awarded on 28 March 1879.

Private George N. Galloway, Private, Company G, 95th Pennsylvania Infantry. At the Battle of Alsops Farm, Virginia on 8 May 1864, Galloway voluntarily held an important position under heavy fire. Hometown: Philadelphia. Citation awarded on 24 October 1895.

Corporal Francis A. Wilson, Company B, 95th Pennsylvania Infantry. At Petersburg, Virginia on 2 April 1865, Wilson was among the first to penetrate the enemy’s lines and personally captured one gun from one of the two Confederate batteries captured by this regiment. Hometown: Philadelphia. Citation awarded on 25 June 1880.

Text by John Heiser, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, March 1994


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