Almost nothing is known about John Buckwalter prior to his service in the Civil War. He was likely born between 1842 and 1844, but the place of his birth and specifics of his family are unclear. In 1860 he is listed as a single man, age 16, living on the farm of Thomas and Mary Davis, in Charlestown Township, Chester County. It is not known whether or not John was related to the Davis’ or merely helped to work their farm as a laborer and boarded with them.
When the war broke out John answered the call for volunteers, was enlisted by Capt. William Babe at Lionville, and was mustered into service as a private in Company K, 4th P.R.V.C. in Harrisburg on July 17, 1861. His enlistment papers list his age at enrollment as 18, and note that he stood 5 feet 6 ½ inches tall, with a fair complexion, dark hair, and brown eyes.
Buckwalter was at Camp of Instruction at Camp Washington with the Company at Easton, PA, but would never see combat in the war. While stationed at Camp Pierpont, VA, typhoid fever spread rapidly throughout the troops, and John succumbed to the illness on December 10, 1861. Lt. Nathan A. Pennypacker of Company K included a compassionate account of his illness and passing in a letter to his mother written that same day:
“While I write some of the boys are doing a bad duty, that of dressing the corpse of John Buckwalter who died this morning at the Division Hospital, of Typhoid Fever. He was not sick long, that is bad. He was in his quarters, complaining for some days, but was not thought so bad by the Physician, but we insisted upon his being removed to more comfortable quarters in the Hospital. But when he was moved it was to late as he was in a dying condition then. I assure you, my dear Mother, we have not the kind attention of home or the lighter hand of a kind and affectionate mother or Father to smoothe the heated brow or cool the parched tongue with cold water. But the boys were very kind to John and I went to see him twice to see if he had the proper attention and found him quite well attended to, but he did not know me. I saw him last evening and knew he could not live, but he was easy, and did not complain. But this morning about 6 O’clk he had a great deal of pain for a short time but it was soon over and he rested easy, till death came to his relief, and when it did, he passed off without a struggle. Our company has been out a little over 6 months and in that time we have lost three of our members, and to, men who were, apparently the most healthy. But we do not know what is in store for us, perhaps tomorrow we may die, and then we may pass through all this war without a scratch. God only knows and to him I pray for strength and let what may come, that I may be ready, have my ‘lamp turned and burning’, and watching for the appearance of the Bridegroom. I do not know what John’s sentiments upon this subject were, but I do know that a fervent prayer was offered up for him in prayer meeting by your unworthy son. And I wish it will be recorded in his favor in the great book of Life. The corpse lay in one of the tents, and a guard is stationed before it, lest something should befall it. We will direct the box containing the body to Mr. Buckwalter to Phila(delphia), and I trust he, or someone else, will meet it there so that no delay will be occasioned… I know his mother will take it hard but such is the ways of Providence… and you can assure her we did all we could to make him comfortable in his short illness.”
It appears that Buckwalter was buried somewhere in the Phoenixville area; however, the exact location of his grave is unknown at this time.
[Note: all spellings, punctuations, and emphases are those that appear in Penypacker’s letter]
1860 Federal Census
- Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
- 2012a Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865. Record Group 19, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA. ARIAS Digital State Archives website accessed October 2012. http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/bah/dam/rg/di/r19-65RegisterPaVolunteers/r19-65MainInterface.htm
- 2012b Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1929-1990. Archive Collection Number: Series 1- 10, Folder Number: 412. Accessed through Ancestry.com, October 2012.
- Pennypacker, Nathan A.
- 1861 Letter to mother, Dec. 10, 1861 (L.7374). Collection 176, Nathan A. Pennypacker Letters, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.