Mathias P. Shafer, Co. F, 4th Pennsylvania Reserves

Commemorative biographical record of northeastern Pennsylvania: including the counties of Susquehanna, Wayne, Pike and Monroe, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, and many of the early settled families, by J.H. Beers & Co, 1900, pgs 125-6.

Mathias Phillips Shafer was born at the old homestead in Stroud township, May 28, 1840, and his boyhood was spent on the old farm. On May 11, 1861, at the call of Governor Curtin, he enlisted in the State service, and on June 8, 1861, he enlisted in the service of the United States, for three years or during the war, and was assigned to Company F, 4th Regiment Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteers, otherwise known as the 33rd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. He was always in line, never in hospital, ever ready for duty, whether on guard, in camp, on picket or in the front line of battle, where he saw his comrades fall around him from minie balls, shot and shell, or bayonet thrust. He first saw smoke of battle December 20, 1861, at Dranesville1, six months after he enlisted. This shows how soon an American citizen can be taken from the plow and transformed into a soldier ready for battle. His next engagement was the battle at Mechanicsville or Beaver Dam Creek, June 26, 1862. Then followed the continuous seven-days’ fight in front of Richmond until McClellan’s army rested on the James river. At Charles City Cross Roads the 4th had the hardest fight, as is shown by Gen. McCall’s report of the battle, where at one place he says: “Its gallant commander did not doubt, I am satisfied, his ability to repel the attack, and his guns fairly opened lanes in the advancing host; but the enemy, unchecked, closed up his shattered ranks, and came on, with arms trailed, at a run to the very muzzles of the guns, where he pistoled and bayonetted the cannoneers and attacked their supports with such fury and in such overwhelming numbers that they were broken and thrown in great confusion. Remnants of the regiment, however, rallied and held their ground with the most determined obstinacy. It was here, however, it was my fortune to witness, between those of my men who stood their ground and Rebels who advanced, one of the fiercest bayonet fights that perhaps ever occurred on this continent. Bayonets were crossed and locked in the struggle ; bayonet wounds were freely given and received. I saw skulls crushed by the blow of the heavy butt of the musket, and, in short, the desperate thrusts and parries of a life and death encounter, proving indeed that Greek had met Greek when the Alabama boys fell upon the sons of Pennsylvania. The enemy was successfully held in check, and during the night the Reserves retired to Malvern Hill. Company F was one that held the Rebels in check, and in that seven days fight the 4th Regiment lost upward of two hundred men.” On August 29 and 30, 1862, Mathias was engaged in the Second Bull Run fight on the plains of Manassas. Following this, he was again in battle at South Mountain. From there they moved to Boonsboro, and on September 16 and 17, 1862, he fought in the battle of Antietam, while December 13, 1862, he was engaged in the battle of Fredericksburg. The regiment was now greatly reduced and on February 8, 1863, it was ordered to the defense of Washington, to rest and recruit. On January 6, 1864, with the 3rd Pennsylvania Regiment, it was ordered to West Virginia, and went by way of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, arriving at Martinsburg on the morning of the 7th. Until January 28 they performed picket duty; then after skirmishing in the mountains for a long time and doing picket duty again until March 27, 1864 they were moved back to Harper’s Ferry. There they performed picket duty until April 3, when orders were given for each man to take sixty rounds of cartridges, one extra pair of shoes and four days’ rations, for a trip across the Alleghenies to Grafton two hundred miles from Harper’s Ferry They stayed there until April 22, when they took cars for Parkersburg, on the Ohio river. There they took boats down the Ohio, and up the Great Kanawha to Brownstown, and on April 30 they started on foot up the valley to Great Falls. On May 2 they climbed the mountain and reached the extreme outpost at Fayette, and from there they marched across Flat Top Mountain, having a sharp skirmish with the enemy at Princeton on May 6. Here Mathias recaptured his knapsack (with his name still on it and some of his letters inside), which had been taken from him over two years before, at the battle of Cold Harbor2. On May 9, after heavy marching, they crossed East River Mountain through Rock Gap, and near Shannon’s Bridge they were again engaged in battle. Here Col. Woolworth and several others were killed, and Chaplain Pomeroy buried them under a locust tree.  On May 10, at night, they pushed on across New river, and on May 11 marched through the rain to Blackbury, and the next day they reached the summit of Salt Pond Mountain. On May 15 they reached Union, and on the evening of May 16 they arrived at Greenbriar river.  On May 19 they halted at Meadow Bluff, in Fayette county, after twenty days’ continuous marching through the rain, skirmishing half the time while every night a strong guard had to be posted. By this time the men were worn out from hunger and fatigue, and hundreds had no soles on their shoes On May 22 they were ordered to Millville, near Louisburg, and as their term of service was about to expire they soon received orders to return home. On May 30 they started for Philadelphia, and on June 4 they embarked on the “Jonas Powell” opposite Brownstown, on the Kanawha and started for Pittsburg. They arrived June 8, and June 17, 1864, were mustered out, Mathias receiving his discharge, which reads as follows :

Know Ye, That, Mathias P. Shafer a Private of Captain Jacob W. Shoemakers Company (F) Fourth Regiment of Pennsylvania Reserves Volunteers who was enrolled on the Eighth day of June one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one to serve three years, or during the war is hereby DISCHARGED from the service of the United States this 17th day of June, 1864, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by reason of expiration of time (No objection to his being re-enlisted is known to exist *).
Said Mathias P. Shafer was born in Monroe county in the State of Pennsylvania, is twenty-one years of age five feet six and three-quarters inches high, Dark Complexion, Grey eyes, black hair, and by occupation when enrolled a farmer.
Given at Philadelphia this 17th day of June 1864.
A. G. O. No. 99. [Signed] Wm. R. Brown,
Capt 15th U. S. Infantry Mustering off.
[Signed] Jacob W. Shoemaker,
Capt, 4th Regt. P. R. V. C. Commanding Co.
*This sentence will be erased should there be anything in the conduct or physical condition of the soldier rendering him unfit for the Army.

After his discharge Mathias P. Shafer turned the bayonet into a pruning hook, and went back to the old farm. On February 1, 1876, he married Jane Kiser, a daughter of Michael Kiser, of Hamilton township. They have one child, Agnes Catharine Shafer, born July 22, 1878. Mathias is the only one of the eight children of Philip Shafer still residing in the township of Stroud.

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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.

  1. This is a reference to Ord’s Brigade which was engaged at Dranesville; the 4th Pennsylvania Reserves were not in Ord’s brigade at this time, that said, Shafer was not at this particular battle.
  2. The battle of Gaines’ Mill in June 1862 was sometimes referred to as 1st Cold Harbor.