After the Reserves: Into the Trenches

From After the Reserves: Unofficial History of the 190th & 191st Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers by William C. Weidner


Except for a few pages in Samuel Bates’ History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, there is no published regimental history for these two units.’ As a follower of the Pennsylvania Reserves, I felt this omission in their continuing history should be corrected.  Because of their origin, and since the two regiments fought side by side throughout their existence, I include both units in only one history. In fact, after the fighting at the Weldon Railroad in August 1864, the remaining members of the two regiments fought as one unit.

Using Bates’ short history as a guide, my unofficial history is simply a compilation of bits and pieces of information about the two units taken from other regimental histories, books written about the battles in which they were involved, letters, diaries, newspaper articles, etc. Unfortunately, at times, I had to rely heavily on only one or two sources to describe an event.

Generals get all the fame and glory but its the privates carrying the rifle who do the work. I’ve included the names of the lower ranks and their circumstances as much as possible but this information also has to be termed unofficial as it was gathered from the same sources as the history information. I can only hope I have made no errors in either case.

Major-General Samuel W. Crawford and Staff; Library of Congress
Major-General Samuel W. Crawford and Staff; Library of Congress

Chapter 1 – Into the Trenches (June 1, 1864 to August 17, 1864)

June 1 to 6, 1864 – The goodbyes were said yesterday to the Reserves who were going home at the end of their 3-year enlistment to muster out. The remnants of the 11 regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserves had to reorganize themselves into the 190th and 191st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiments, originally going to be designated the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania Veteran Reserve Regiments. The main problem of this reorganization was the administrative details of getting the officers properly mustered to assume command and responsibility. Once formed, the two new regiments comprised the 3rd Division of the V Corps still commanded by Gen. Samuel W. Crawford.

Meanwhile, the V Corps manned a four mile long defensive position near Bethesda Church while much of the remainder of the Army of the Potomac engaged the Confederates in heavy fighting at Cold Harbor. During this time, these veterans of the Reserves were only involved in some minor skirmishing, but they suffered several casualties: Pvts. James Grace (1st Pa. Rifles, Co. H, later 190th Pa.), John W. Miller (1st Pa. Rifles, Co. G, later 190th Pa., Co. G) and Thomas M. Hite (5th Pa. Res., Co. G, later 191st Pa., Co. C) died of their wounds. The unit designations were new but the war and the Confederate bullets were still the same.

June 7 to 11 – The V Corps reformed and moved to the left flank of the Union line near Dispatch Station on the York River Railroad. To the veterans of the Peninsula Campaign, this was familiar country. Pvt. David Jarman (1st Pa. Rifles, Co. F, later 190th Pa., Co. F) was wounded in some of the skirmishing, losing his right leg to amputation.

June 12 – The V Corps received orders to quietly march away from the area. About 6 p.m., the bands played to cover the noise of the two regiments striking their tents and forming for the march. This night march proved to be long and hard with only brief pauses to rest.

June 13 – About 1 a.m., Crawford’s men reached the Chickahominy River at Long Bridge. The 3rd Division crossed the river on a pontoon bridge built by the 50th New York Engineers and then halted for a rest and breakfast, although there wasn’t much to eat.

After the stop, the 1st and 2nd Divisions of the V corps maintained a defensive position at the bridge while Crawford’s Division moved to the right on the New Market Road towards Riddell’s Shop and White Oak Swamp (scene of the fighting on June 30, 1862). The Pennsylvanian’s of the 190th and 191st Regiments were following and serving as reinforcements for a cavalry brigade commanded by Col. George H. Chapman. Hoping to fool General Lee, Chapman’s and Crawford’s units, along with Barnes’ and Hart’s batteries of the 1st New York Light Artillery, were creating a diversion by making a feint on the direct route to Richmond.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Army of the Potomac, making another flanking movement, turned left after crossing Long Bridge or Jones’ Bridge which is about three miles further east on the Chickahominy River.

Shortly after noon, Chapman’s cavalry met the advance units from Confederate Gen. A. P. Hill’s corps. “Drove [the enemy] across White Oak Swamp bridge; engaged him there until relieved by a brigade of General Crawford’s division…”

Hearing the rifle fire of the cavalry, the Union infantry and artillery moved up to support them on a ridge overlooking the bridge. The 190 Infantry formed a defensive position in a slight depression with the 191st Regiment to their left and the artillery in the middle. Part of the 190th advanced to the cavalry position.

For those on the ridge, the warm sun and the fatigued body soon had many of these troops asleep. Pvt. Robert E. McBride (11th Pa. Res., Co. D, later 190th Pa., Co. C) noted in his diary, “You are no more exposed than when awake, and you don’t have to do the thinking.”

General Lee believed this diversion was the main attack on Richmond, so by late afternoon, he dispatched enough troops to the New Market Road and White Oak Swamp area to force the Union troops to retreat.

The 191st Regiment and part of the artillery fell back about two miles along the Chickahominy River where they formed another defensive position. The 190th Regiment and the remaining artillery were the delaying force during this retreat along the river. Col. Joseph B. Pattee’s (10th Pa. Res., Co. B, later 190th Pa., Field & Staff) horse was shot from under him and several men were wounded, cut off and captured before the Confederates ceased their attack.

Colonel Joseph Pattee, 10th Pennsylvania Reserves and later 190th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers.
Colonel Joseph Pattee, 10th Pennsylvania Reserves and later 190th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers.

One of the captured was Lt. Frank D. Stevens (12th Pa. Res., Co. I, later 190th Pa., Co. D). “I cannot describe my horror at being a prisoner a second time (previously at Gaines’ Mill on June 27, 1862). I was robbed of hat, money and watch. Being the only commissioned officer among the prisoners, I was taken before Confederate General Wright, who tried every possible way to obtain information from me concerning the movements of our army. Failing in this, he became enraged, and addressed the guard in these words: ‘take him away, and if he don’t behave himself run your bayonet through him.”

Lieutenant Stevens survived his nine months in various Confederate prisons.  Unfortunately, Cpl. William Copenhaver (12th Pa. Res., Co. I, later 190th Pa., Co. D) and Pvt. John Hamblin (1st Pa. Rifles., Co. D, later 190th Pa.) weren’t so lucky; Copenhaver died in Andersonville Prison while Hamblin died of his wounds in Libby Prison.

The 3rd Division was able to hold this position until about 10 p.m. when they marched to the southeast to catch the V Corps and the rest of the Army of the Potomac.

Meanwhile, marching orders came down from V Corps Headquarters for all the divisions of the corps giving instructions for the route and order of march. These orders also included the following caution: “Each division commander will take every precaution to drive up stragglers, and troops must be given to understand that all left behind will undoubtedly fall into the hands of the enemy.”

June 14 and 15 – The marching continued for about 20 miles via St. Mary’s Church, Ladd’s Store, Georgetown and Charles City Court House.

No rations were issued so Private McBride noted in his diary, “We are not certain from the remarks occasionally dropped by the boys that this long fast made them any more religious.”

Lt. Franklin Dyson Stevens
Lt. Franklin Dyson Stevens, Co. I, 12th Pa Reserves and Co. D, 190th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers.
History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania by J. Simpson Africa Philadelphia, PA: Louis H. Everts, 1883, pp. 353-361.

The hungry troops used their imagination to try to satisfy their empty stomachs. At each rest stop some troops amused themselves by laying out an imaginary and elaborate bill of fare. Others began telling tales of remembered meals back home.

Private McBride continued in his diary, “It seems as if I was all stomach, and each several cubic inches clamoring incessantly for grub.”

June 16 – The 3rd Division finally reached Wilcox’s Landing on the James River where they were issued rations before being loaded on transports to sail across the river.  After landing on the south shore at Wind Mill Point, the troops had time to bathe in the river and wash their clothes.

In the afternoon, the somewhat refreshed troops joined the other divisions of their corps and were on the march again, heading for Petersburg, a major Confederate rail center and supply line for General Lee. It was a hot, dry, dusty march without much drinking water found along the way. The V Corps finally arrived near Petersburg about 2:30 a.m. on the Seventeenth.

Meanwhile, lead elements of the Army of the Potomac under the command of Gen. William F. “Baldy” Smith attacked the defenses of Petersburg which were under the command of Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard. Initially, he had some limited success against the vastly outnumbered Confederates but the Union troops did not press the fight when Smith became overcautious. General Hancock’s II Corps was supposed to attack with Smith but for some reason, he never received orders specifying he was to be part of the attacking force; his orders only stated he was to join Smith near Petersburg. As a result, General Lee had time to send reinforcements to Beauregard and another Union opportunity for victory was lost.

General Meade advised General Grant, “Our men are tired and the attacks have not been made with the vigor and force which characterized our fighting in the Wilderness; if they had been I think we should have been more successful. I will continue to press.”

However, in a later letter sent home, General Meade complained, “We find the enemy, as usual, in a very strong position, defended by earth works, and it looks very much as if we will have to go through a siege of Petersburg before entering on the siege of Richmond…”

It took 9½ months of siege to crack the defenses of Petersburg.

Major-General Gouverneur Kemble Warren; Library of Congress
Major-General Gouverneur Kemble Warren; Library of Congress

June 17 – In the late morning, the V Corps moved into position on the left flank of the Union line, the IX Corps being to their right. The 190th Regiment’s position, joining the left flank of the IX Corps, was on a sandy ridge overlooking the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad where it entered a wooded area and the previously built Confederate line of entrenchments and artillery positions known as the Dimmock Line. This approximate location would be in front of Batteries #16 and #17 on the Dimmock Line.

General Warren was unsure of his orders and as a result, the V Corps was not heavily involved in this day’s fighting by the IX Corps. The 190th Regiment, however, skirmished with the enemy.

From Sgt. George W. Darby (8th Pa. Res., Co. G, later 191st Pa., Co. G) , “While they (Confederates) had a strong position here, it had a fatal defect as will appear from the following description. They had a finely manned battery planted near a well of water in the corner of a pine woods, which had formerly been used by the people of Petersburg as a picnic ground. Several hundred yards in front of the battery and of the woods, was a well constructed rifle pit which was defended by South Carolina troops. About three hundred yards in front of the rifle pit was a well defined ravine which ran parallel with their line of battle. The sides of the ravine were clothed with a small growth of timber and bushes, while the space between the woods and the ravine was clear. So the ravine proved their Jonah, as we entered lower down, out of their range, and marching up until opposite their pits, we were protected from their fire, which passed harmlessly over our heads. Creeping up the bank until we were on a level with the field, we used our bayonets and tin cups in scooping out holes in the light sandy soil, which made excellent protection, and from these”gopher-holes’ we were able to pour a continuously hot

fire upon their battery and rifle pits.”

Around sunset, Crawford’s Third Division was sent forward to support the First Division of the IX Corps. “Shortly after darkness had settled over the scene, without a general order, and as if by intuition our line got to their feet and without firing a shot, charged simultaneously the rebel works, and rushing over their pits, were among the Johnnies before they knew we were coming. We secured as prisoners the whole batch of them, not a man escaping so far as we knew.”

It was a costly day for some of the officers as Lt. Robert G. Christnot (1st Pa. Rifles, Co. E, later 190th Pa., Co. E) was killed outright, 2nd Lts. Daniel Blett (1st Pa. Rifles, Co. F, later 190th Pa., Co. F) and Edward Greenfield (1st Pa. Rifles, Co. H, later 190th Pa., Co. B) were mortally wounded, dying within days of this action. The first two weeks at Petersburg cost the former Reserves 21 killed and 94 wounded.

2nd Lt. Daniel Blett, 1st Pa. Rifles, Co. F, and 190th Pa. Vet. Vols, Co. F.
2nd Lt. Daniel Blett, 1st Pa. Rifles, Co. F, and 190th Pa. Vet. Vols, Co. F. Blett was mortally wounded June 17, 1864.

June 18 – Advance parties of the V Corps, including Crawford’s division, moved out at dawn, slowly advancing towards the Confederate lines.

“General Crawford has pushed out vedettes about half a mile, until they reached the enemy’s works and found nothing. He is advancing his line, but thinks there is nothing but a skirmish line moving out on his right (from IX Corps positions). The enemy are reported about half a mile in his front.”

From Sergeant Darby, “..I went over to where their battery had stood on the opening of the battle, and Oh, what a sight was here! It seemed as if the entire human and animal life which had composed its working force had been swept at one fell swoop into the vortex of death. Two of the caissons had been blown up, and among the wreckage dead men and horses, torn and dismembered, were lying thick. I thence proceeded to the well from whence had erstwhile flowed the life-giving water; it is now choked by the stream of death. In it are the bodies of from eight to ten dead men.”

Even years later, Pvt. Silas Crocker (6th Pa. Res., Co. I, later 191st Pa., Co. E) remembered “the horrible sight of their dead in the breastworks next morning. It seemed that the dead rebs there would make nearly a full line of battle, and the blood was still standing in large puddles.”

Further communications from V Corps Headquarters to Meade’s Headquarters:  “General Crawford has also advanced well out with his skirmishers and line of battle. He also reports that the enemy are believed to be not far off.”

In another memo several minutes later: “Prisoner from Crawford says their line (enemy) fell back half an hour before daylight…”

Confederate General Beauregard had solidified his damaged lines until more help arrived from General Lee. The new enemy line ran along Taylor’s Branch from Redan #24 on the Dimmock Line north to the Appomattox River.

As a result, General Meade “immediately ordered an advance of the whole line, which in a short time found the enemy in force in an interior line about one mile from Petersburg.”

Major-General Samuel Wiley Crawford; Library of Congress
Major-General Samuel Wiley Crawford; Library of Congress

The Union army advanced to positions opposite this new Confederate line.

Crawford was still making progress, advancing along Sussex Road (also referred to as Baxter Road towards the Jerusalem Plank Road.

“My skirmishers have advanced until the enemy’s works are plainly visible. I am pushing my lines as close as possible to the enemy’s works. The sharpshooters that fired into these woods have been driven off.”

Warren’s staff to Meade’s staff: 

“General Crawford is leading on; the advance has gone through the woods to an open place. Enemy’s skirmish line strong on a crest on his front.”

Several hours later in another communication from Warren to Meade: “I have not received any written report from General Crawford, but a staff officer from him says that he captured about 60 prisoners and a battle flag from Pickett’s division; that as far as he is able to learn, we do not hold any part of the enemy’s works, and that it is impossible for him to entrench any part of his line, as it is under fire, and that he does not think it possible to make any advance from his position until the batteries on his left are silenced. This we have been unable to do all day…”

Around noon, General Meade ordered his lines to attack but Warren and Burnside were both slow to comply due to preparations and troop positioning they both felt needed to be done.

General Meade was astonished and furious. “What additional orders to attack you require I cannot imagine. My orders have been explicit and are now repeated, that you each immediately assault the enemy with all your force, and if there is any further delay the responsibility and the consequences will rest with you.”

Warren’s attack came about two hours later, and as such, it had no real success, only heavy casualties. The lead elements of the V Corps had reached Taylor’s Branch where it flowed through a narrow ravine.

Meanwhile, Crawford withdrew his men until he found a defendable position where his right flank joined the IX Corps and left flank joined General Griffin’s First Division.

Even though the total attack did not go as well as he hoped, General Meade advised General Grant, “These assaults were well made, and I feel satisfied that all that men could do under the circumstances was done.”

General Grant then advised General Meade, “I am perfectly satisfied that all has been done that could be done, and that the assaults to-day were called for by all the appearances and information that could be obtained. Now we will rest the men and use the spade for their protection until a new vein can be struck.”

Defensive positions were ordered to be dug and the deeper the better. The lines of the two armies were close enough that any exposed body part drew immediate, deadly Confederate fire.

Because of this, Pvt. Joseph P. Miller (11th Pa. Res, Co. K, later 190th Pa., Co. I) commented, “….with us we cannot tell one day where we will be the next, whether in camp occupied by us now, in Richmond or Eternity.” He goes on to add, For the last ten days our ears have been saluted and kept in constant music with the firing of the pickets and front line battle. It is an incessant bang, bang with as occasional zip, zip, of some of the minnie balls of the enemy as they hurry past on their mission of death.”

Pvt. William Rutter (11th Pa. Res, Co. G, later 190th Pa., Co. C) apparently forgot and stood up to get another piece of corn cake. He was instantly hit in the shoulder which proved fatal on July 15.

June 20 – Crawford received orders to spread out his division to also cover the terrain of Griffin’s division to Crawford’s left. Griffin’s men were pulled back to move to the left flank of the V Corps line.

June 24 – The 190th Regiment was relieved from their position on the right flank of the V Corps line by units from the IX Corps and sent to the left flank of the V Corps line near the Jerusalem Plank Road. Here they relieved Gibbon’s division and manned the fortifications previously built by the II Corps.

Col. James Carle (6th Pa. Res, Co. H, later 191st Pa., Field & Staff), temporary commander of the regiment, moved the troops across an open field to reach the position and, as a result, they came under enemy artillery fire. The men became irate, getting shot at and suffering casualties for no reason, and nearly rioted when they learned this move was to be made under the cover of darkness and Colonel Carle was supposedly under the influence of alcohol.

June 25 – Crawford was not happy with his new position and advised General Warren.

“I regard this point as the weakest one on our line. I obstructed the road last night. The enemy has several batteries about the Gregory house, which control the plank road.”

General Warren responded, “I wish you to use every precaution you can against being flanked, and do your best.”

June 26 – General Warren advised General Meade of the precarious situation.

“The position we hold on the plank road is a most embarrassing one to remain in long on the defensive. General Griffin (V Corps, 1st Division, on Crawford’s right flank) took the advance ridge you directed, but it is constantly under fire, so that mere cover is all the men can put up. They cannot put in sufficient obstacles. General Gibbon’s line did not come near up with General Griffin’s but General Crawford advanced it so as to cover Griffin’s left quite well. His left (Crawford’s), however, is quite uncovered, the II Corps being much retired in his rear.”

Meade’s staff then advised Warren, ” you are at liberty to make such changes as you may deem best within the limits designated in the preceding directions..”

Even under conditions such as this, informal truces are arranged. “All is well this morning. The Rebs and our boys have got to talking instead of shooting. The have been changing papers all morning.”

June 27 through August 17 – For the most part, the 190th and 191st Regiments held or dug defensive positions, including Fort Warren, and lived under siege conditions which were not too pleasant at Petersburg. The sun was very hot, burning the men and turning all the now treeless and dug up, exposed earth to a fine red dust. Water was hard to get but the flies were plentiful.

From one miserable member in the trenches, “We have not had any rain for over a month, and the roads are covered with from eight to ten inches of dust.”

From one of his comrades, “It is dreadful hot here and we have to lay in these sandy pits without shade. Some of the men almost die with the heat…”

Cpl. W. W. Brewer (42-I, 190-1) complained in another letter about the quantity and quality of the available water, “…it is almost impossible to get any water to drink. We have to make coffee of it or put lemon in it to take the nasty taste out of it before we can drink it.”

Fire from sharpshooters and a new siege weapon, the mortar, also kept the troops nervous and tense. Siege life and this type of fighting or being placed in a regular line of battle did not agree with the fighting tactics and the philosophy that the Reserves, especially the Bucktails, utilized for the past three years. They liked being skirmishers and the duty of a skirmisher was “to go ahead, stir up everything in front, develop the enemy’s position and drive in his skirmishers.”

Unofficial truces continued to be arranged between the picket lines and for these short periods of time, life was a little easier. “Last night our boys and the rebels (14th North Carolina), by mutual consent, agreed to an armistice independent of the sanction of the officers on either side…”

Sharpshooters quit shooting so the troops of both sides could move about more freely. “Two Yankees and two Johnnies sat down under a tree and played a game of euchre to see whether the Yankee or the Confederate army should be victorious. They were surrounded by about a dozen bystanders of both sides, the Yankees won the game.”

To relieve their boredom, the Bucktails developed a new game, shooting surplus ramrods laying on the battlefield at their Confederate counterparts. For the most part, the ramrods just made a lot of noise as they went through the air but with a little practice, a careless Confederate was sometimes hit.

During those weeks on the siege line, the following story took place which showed the complacency about death which develops in most veteran soldiers. Two members of the 190th Regiment cooked a meal beside a large bush. Part way through the cooking process, one of the men realized that the dead branch hanging a few inches above their cooking pot was actually a partially decomposed hand and arm.  They simply moved the pot a few inches, finished cooking and then ate their meal.

After eating, they checked the body in the bush and learned from a piece of paper pinned to the uniform the identity of the enemy soldier and his unit. A call to the Confederate line secured a truce and a meeting between the lines where the situation was explained. The Union troops helped the Confederates give their comrade, as well as several other bodies just located in the area, a proper funeral.

Incidents such as this and probably thousands of other small truces, meetings, coffee and tobacco exchanges, etc. are why the American Civil War has to be unique in the annals of war.

General Meade had his own ideas on these truces. “I believe these two armies would fraternize and make peace in an hour, if the matter rested with them; not on terms to suit politicians on either side, but such as the world at large would acknowledge as honorable…”

The trench lines of the 190th and 191st Regiments and the Confederates were so close that it became a favorite spot for desertions. “A number of Rebels come to us here, but soon a strict watch was instituted by both sides to prevent desertions. I never know but one of our men to attempt it, and it resulted disastrously to him, as he was shot and killed just as he reached the enemy’s rifle pits. The shooting was done by one of the Bucktails.”

Contact to request the end notes.

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Bill is the Chief Regimental Historian of the 54th (Co. L), 190th and 191st Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and an avid researcher who focuses on the history of the Pennsylvania Reserves in the American Civil War.