John W. Snyder, Co. K, 4th Pennsylvania Reserves

Researched and Compiled by Douglas Mooney

John Wesley Snyder, or Wesley, as he called himself, was the second of six children by Joseph and Elizabeth (Jacobs) Snyder, and was born in Charlestown Township on May 17, 1839.  As a boy he received his basic education working his father’s farm and in the local schools.  Later he also attended Oakdale Seminary, in Pughtown, South Coventry Township, and at the West Chester Normal School (now West Chester University).

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Wesley was 22 years of age, and listed as standing 5 feet 6 ¾ inches tall, with a tan complexion, brown hair, and gray eyes, when he enlisted in Company K.  During his first year of service he took part in a number of key battles with the 4th P.R.V.C., including Gaines’ Mill, Charles City Crossroads, 2nd Bull Run, and South Mountain, and was fortunate enough to escape all without so much as a scratch.  At Antietam, however, he was not so lucky.  Standing with his company in the infamous cornfield, Wesley was shot in one of his arms below the elbow, leaving a considerable wound and fracturing his radius.  After the battle, he was went home to recuperate, but by the end of 1862 appears to have been well enough to rejoin his unit.  In April 1864, Wesley took part in General George Crook’s raid against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad in southwest Virginia, and saw brutal fighting in the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain before being mustered out in June of that year.

Over the course of his service with Company K, Wesley developed a close friendship with Lieutenant (later Captain) Nathan A. Pennypacker, and by August of 1863, Pennypacker identified Snyder as one of his closest and most trusted confidants.  In one letter home Pennypacker praised him, writing “Snyder…is a good man.  I never knew him before. He has a good heart and good principle.”  This friendship likely played a role in Wesley’s promotion to Sergeant, on January 1, 1863; however, it also got him unwittingly embroiled in personal squabbling within the company and the regiment.  

In April 1863 the company was searching for someone to fill a vacant 2nd Lieutenant position.  Captain Enos Christman backed Sgt. Charles Nice for the job, but Pennypacker, supported by Lt. Lewis Evans, worked behind the scenes to get Snyder promoted.  Ultimately Pennypacker’s efforts were successful and Wesley was promoted to 2nd Lt.  Although he served for several months as acting 2nd Lt., he was never officially mustered into service at that rank because his commission was blocked by Lt. Col. Thomas F.B. Tapper – a man who was in near constant conflict with Nathan Pennypacker throughout his time with the 4th Regiment.  As a consequence of this feud between Pennypacker and Tapper, Wesley was reduced in rank, back to Sgt., sometime in late October 1863.

After the war, Wesley returned to the family farm in Charlestown, learned the trade of telegraph operator, and for six years worked as the train dispatcher at the Reading Railroad’s Belmont Station.  In 1875 he was appointed Superintendent of the Boy’s Department of the Chester Springs Soldiers Orphans School, and faithfully discharged his duties in that capacity for the next 13 years.  In dealing with the boys at that institution he appears to have been a popular superintendent, but one that was not to be trifled with.  As the Daily Local News reported in 1893, “When [the boys] were on their best behavior it was not difficult to get along peaceably with him, but if an urchin grew rebellious he knew that trouble was sure to follow.”  While at the school Wesley met his future wife, Angelica Kendall, who was an instructor in the Girl’s Department.  The couple was married on August 23, 1876 and would eventually go one to raise three fine children.  Though he resigned his position at the Orphans School on December 31, 1888, Wesley continued to keep an unofficial eye on some of his former charges in subsequent years.

After leaving the school, Snyder purchased a farm in Charlestown Township and became one of the best known and most respected farmers in that area.  He also became active in local civic affairs and in his Grand Army of the Republic chapter.  For seven years he served as township supervisor, and for six years was a member of the Charlestown Township school board.  In his old age he continued to suffer discomfort from the wounds he received at Antietam and was also afflicted with Bright’s Disease [chronic inflammation of the kidneys].  Ultimately, the latter illness finally took his life, on September 25, 1912.  Wesley was laid to rest with many of his former brothers-in-arms attending the services, on September 30, at St. Peter’s Reformed Church Cemetery in West Pikeland Township.

References:

Bates, Samuel P.

  • 1868-1871 History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865.  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Cope, Gilbert and Henry Graham Ashmead

  • 1904 Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Chester and Delaware Counties, Pennsylvania, Vol. I.  New York; The Lewis Publishing Company, p. 321.

Ancestry.com

  • 2012 Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985.  Website accessed January 2013.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA), November 28, 1888.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA), December 17, 1888.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA), February 28, 1893.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA), January 26, 1912.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA), January 27, 1912.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA), February 1, 1912.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

  • 2012b Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865.  Record Group 19, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA. ARIAS Digital State Archives website accessed October 2012.

Pennypacker, Nathan A.

  • 1862 Letter to wife, Sept. 27, 1862.  Collection 176, Nathan A. Pennypacker Letters, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.
  • 1862 Letter to wife, Nov. 28, 1862.  Collection 176, Nathan A. Pennypacker Letters, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.
  • 1863 Letter to wife, April 6, 1863.  Collection 176, Nathan A. Pennypacker Letters, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.
  • 1863 Letter to wife, May 24, 1863.  Collection 176, Nathan A. Pennypacker Letters, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.
  • 1863 Letter to wife, Aug. 28, 1863.  Collection 176, Nathan A. Pennypacker Letters, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.
  • 1863 Letter to wife, Nov. 1, 1863.  Collection 176, Nathan A. Pennypacker Letters, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.
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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.