On this, the week approaching the 153rd anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg and the 107th anniversary of the dedication of the monument to all the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantrymen who fought at Fredericksburg, it seems fitting that we pause to remember our ancestors, the native sons of Antrim and Greencastle, who fought, died, and survived that great Civil War battle.
At the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, well over a thousand young men lost their lives. The lives of hundreds more, who survived, were henceforth bound into a brotherhood, only understood by those who had trampled over their dead and wounded comrades, as they charged up the hill to Marye’s (Marie’s) Heights. Franklin County’s native sons, who were members of the 126th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, were members of this unique brotherhood.
The 126th was part of the First Brigade in Brigadier General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys’ Division. The other Pennsylvania regiments in the First Brigade, led by Brig. Gen. E. B. Tyler, were the 134th, 129th, and 91st. Col. P. H. Allabach led the Second Brigade comprised of the 131st, 133rd, 123rd, and 155th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantries.
Two and one-half years after the great Battle of Fredericksburg, in July 1865, the Federal government established a National Cemetery in Fredericksburg for the fallen Union soldiers. It took another four decades, though, before Pennsylvania made plans, through the Fredericksburg Battlefield Memorial Commission, to erect a monument to all the Pennsylvania Union soldiers who fought at Fredericksburg under Gen. Humphreys.
The Commission was made up of six Civil War veterans from around the Commonwealth – D. Watson Rowe (126th), president, Chambersburg; James M. Clark (134th), secretary and treasurer, New Castle; William Witherow (123rd), Pittsburg; Clay W. Evans (129th), St. Clair; J. Hunter Miles (131st), Milton; and George F. Baer (133rd), Reading Terminal, Philadelphia. In August 1908, Rowe was president of the group and he was attempting the difficult task of locating all the Pennsylvania soldiers who were in the eight regiments that fought in the battle – an enormous task, considering how much time had passed. On August 10, he wrote William Snyder a letter asking for his help in locating all the men of the 126th, “get them all,” he wrote.
Henry Strickler, William Snyder, and D. Watson Rowe were the subjects of previous Soldier’s Story. Each one was from Greencastle and all three were members of Co. K in the 126th – comrades for life, no matter where their life’s journey took them. Henry and William were best friends. William named his second son Henry Strickler Snyder. After Henry lost his left arm in the Battle of Fredericksburg, I believe it was William who went to the pile of amputated limbs, and searched until he found the ring Henry had been wearing on his left hand. Between 1887 and 1908, William had left Greencastle for Birmingham, Alabama, opened a prosperous business, and returned in June 1903. I can only imagine the reunion of the two old friends, upon William’s return to Greencastle. Rowe, who stayed in Franklin County, knew both men and asked his “comrade,” William Snyder, for his aid in locating all of the men who served in the 126th.
This one event, 46 years after the Battle of Fredericksburg, brought both former Union and Confederate soldiers together, one last time on the battlefield, now a National Cemetery. Henry was 28 in 1862, now 74; William and Watson were 26, now 72 years of age. The Pennsylvania monument was dedicated on November 11, 1908. There was an address from the representative of the Virginia Governor and one for the Confederates. George Baer, then president of the PA Commission, gave an address and conducted the transfer of the monument to the Governor of Pennsylvania, Edwin Stuart. Baer said, “The names of the brave men who were in command of the brigades and regiments are inscribed upon it. The “muster roll” of the regiments is inscribed in the Regimental Numbers. They include the comrades who were killed in action and are buried here in graves marked “unknown;” the men who fell on other battlefields; the many to whom it was permitted to die in beloved homes where the hand of affection closed their eyes; the survivors to-day from whom the bloom of youth has fled, and are “only waiting until the shadows a little longer grow” to join the army that has marched before.”
“It is capped by a heroic statue of general Humphreys, the daring commander of the Division who led the charge. His fame will be more enduring than this bronze statue. He was one of the great soldiers the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave to the nation. Behold it!” At this point, Miss Letitia Humphreys, daughter of the late Major General Humphreys, unveiled the monument. The inscription on the monument reads: Erected by Pennsylvania to Commemorate the Charge of General Humphreys’ Division, Fifth Corps on Marye’s Heights Fredericksburg, Virginia December 13, 1862. All of the Pennsylvania regiments are then listed.
Gov. Stuart accepted the monument and transferred it to the care of the U. S. Government. Stuart’s last comments were, “Here may it stand through the coming years, not only as Pennsylvania’s tribute to her sons, but a silent yet eloquent messenger, telling to posterity the story of the fateful days, from whose trials and carnage the Republic emerged stronger by sacrifice, and moved forward and upward to the proud position we occupy to-day among the powers of the earth.” The Assistant Secretary of War, Robert Oliver, accepted it on behalf of the United States.
The final address was made by Col. Alexander K. McClure, of Chambersburg. McClure spoke these words, “It was not the soldiers of either side on the front of the firing line who hindered the restoration of our common brotherhood. Politicians played upon the prejudices and passions to serve political ends, but the veterans of both sides were the faithful advocates of generous and lasting peace. The veterans of the Gray will not shudder at the monument we are here to unveil. There are like monuments on every important battlefield of the Civil War, many erected to the heroic soldiers of Lee, and many erected to the heroic soldiers of Grant. They no longer stand as monuments of triumph for either the Blue or the Gray, but are accepted by every veteran of the North and South as monuments to the heroism of our American soldiery.”
Every Union veteran who attended the dedication ceremony on November 11, 1908, received a commemorative ribbon. The top part is terracotta, as is the cross at the bottom. The top includes a keystone, the symbol for Pennsylvania, and rifles with bayonets, representing the infantrymen who fought at Fredericksburg. The cross has PVI (PA Volunteer Infantry) Humphreys’ Division, NOV 11, 1908. The faded blue, grosgrain ribbon says “Dedication Monument Fredericksburg VA.” Best friends, Henry Strickler and William Snyder, kept their ribbons and cherished them, by passing them on to future generations. Henry’s is part of his collection, which is on long-term loan to the museum by his descendants; and William’s is part of his collection of annual encampment ribbons, which are on loan from the Lillian S. Besore Memorial Library, and are also exhibited at the museum.
The following is the transcription of D. Watson Rowe’s letter to William Snyder.
Aug 10, 1908
Mr. Wm Snyder
I shall be very much obliged indeed, if you will make me a correct list and see that Mr. Patton gets one and sends out the literature.
If you use a typewriter, I would like to have also a carbon copy, which will save me the trouble of making one for the Secretary (of the Commission).
By putting all the names in “A,” in one list “A”, and so with “B” etc, you will easily eliminate the duplications, which I fear will be many.
I send herewith all the lists I have and will send the others as they come in, that you may begin to send out the literature. The list for me can wait till all are in and your own added. I send you a letter similar to those I sent to others, sometimes to two for one company, if they lived in different sections. I want to reach the last person of 126th, get them all.
I can get the best lard bread, if we need and want it, by paying fare, but I will see you shortly about it.
I am glad you will take hold of the Lists.
D. Watson Rowe
Article written December 2015
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