A Death on the Homefront

This article originally appeared in an issue of Military Images from November/December 2002.

A Death on the Homefront

by Ronn Palm

     On May 15, 1862, Cyrus Butler was enlisted and mustered into Co. K, 11th Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteers, a unit raised largely in Jefferson County of that state. The regiment was organized from its various companies at Pittsburgh on July 1, 1861.

     Butler was promoted from first sergeant to second lieutenant May 9, 1862. He was captured at Gaines Mill in a fierce fight in which most of the 11th were taken prisoner. As a Pennsylvania Reservist later described the battle, “The Eleventh regiment, Colonel Gallagher, that had gone into the woods so bravely to the relief of the Third [Pennsylvania Reserves] fought the enemy for hours, repulsing every charge, but becoming enveloped in smoke, their gallant officers did not observe the retrograde of the right and left, and therefore remained fighting for victory, until, surrounded on every side, ammunition exhausted and retreat cut off, both regiments were compelled to surrender, in order to save the lives of their men. Only two companies of the Eleventh, that had been detailed in the morning to helve axes, escaped capture.”

     Butler was exchanged in August 1862 for Second Lieutenant W. P. McKnight of the 17th Virginia. He was further promoted to first lieutenant on September 15, 1862. Returning to duty, Butler was wounded at Fredericksburg. After a long recuperation he was still unable to return to field duty and he resigned on account of wounds and disability on April 17, 1863.

     Butler enlisted again and served as lieutenant colonel of Colonel Porter”s regiment, the 57th Pennsylvania Militia, during the invasion of the state in 1863.

     The regiment was mustered in while the Battle of Gettysburg was raging, between July 3 and July 8, 1863, and was discharged on August 17, 1863.

     Butler was sent to Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, by orders of Provost Marshall Camp Bell to arrest deserters from the draft. A Lieutenant George Van Vliet went along with him.

     On October 30, 1864, Butler and Van Vliet went to a house owned by a Joseph Lounsberry, some two miles from Clearfield Town, to arrest Lounsberry. The occupant there deserted from both drafts.

     On seeing the officers approach the home, Lounsberry ran upstairs, Butler and Van Vliet hot on his heels. Suddenly Lounsberry turned, pulled a revolver and shot Butler. The young officer fell, mortally wounded.

     Van Vliet dashed by the fallen officer, reaching for Lounsberry, but the deserter, using his weapon as a club, struck the lieutenant to the ground and escaped.

     Butler was taken to Clearfield where he died the next day.

     Butler’s home was in Brookville, Pennsylvania, about 40 miles from Clearfield, where his wife and four children awaited his return.

     On learning of Butler’s death at Lounsberry’s hands, the local Board of Enrollment held a meeting and passed a resolution that condemned the cruel murder and another that pledged themselves to use effort to bring Lounsberry to justice. They also recommended that Butler’s widow be granted a pension by the government. This was done and she received small payments until her death. Her children were admitted to Pennsylvania’s soldiers’ orphan schools.

     The Board also raised $115 that it sent to Butler’s widow along with the resolution of condolence.

     There is no further mention of Lounsberry.

City Letter Carrier at USPS | augustmarchetti1980@gmail.com | Website | + posts

Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.