Rumors: Mustering Out of the Pennsylvania Reserves

The date for muster out was finally settled for the Reserves. However, as the muster out date approached, rumors of their lack of reenlistment spread through the Army of the Potomac causing a suspicion in the ranks of their comrades. This misunderstanding and its effect is shown by three modern writers in their respective works.

Bruce Catton, discussing the Battle of the Wilderness, stated, “It seems that the Reserves were just a trifle lukewarm about things, anyway, this day. Most of them had refused to re-enlist, and the division was fully aware that it had only twenty-seven more days to serve before it would be sent home. Understandably, this tempered enthusiasm; who wanted to get shot, so near the end of his time as a soldier?”

Noah A. Trudeau, discussing the Battle of Bethesda Church, stated, “These veteran soldiers had an honorable history with the Army of the Potomac, though their fighting quality at this moment was very much open to question. The Pennsylvanians had only one day remaining in their term of enlistment. In fact, one regiment, the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, was already eligible for discharge. Federals in other regiments who had, unlike the Pennsylvanians, re-upped for the duration, harbored the suspicion that these once vaunted troops were no longer to be trusted in combat.”

From Gordon C. Rhea, “…Crawford’s command consisted of older regiments whose three-year terms were due to expire within the month. Units like the Bucktails were proven warriors, but with their military obligations soon ending, the prospect of a scrap with Little Powell’s veterans had nothing to recommend it. Crawford’s soldiers would not have refused battle if it had come their way, but they were simply in no rush to seek out trouble.”

Other units in the Union army kept their original unit designation when a large number of its members re-enlisted for the duration of the war; thus their unit continued to exist. The veteran volunteers of the Reserves were forced to form new units, the 190th and 191st Regiments. To their comrades and these three writers it would appear they were unpatriotic, did not re-enlist and went home instead of continuing the fight to “Save the Union.”

This not-so-famous modern writer is going to defend the Reserves who were about to go home; 105 years later almost to the day, I was not too enthusiastically flying my last combat mission in Vietnam, the day before I went home. It comes under the heading of survival instinct and I have to ask, “Can anyone honestly say he’s enthusiastic in this given situation?”

Years after the war was over, W. Frank Bailey (6th Reserves Co. H, 191st Pa, Co. E) unknowingly offered a defense to these charges by Catton, Trudeau and Rhea.

“…it may not be out of place to say that the Pennsylvania Reserves, to which division I belonged, claimed that their time had expired. The company with which I went out enlisted on the 22nd day of April, 1861, but the division was not sworn into the United States service until July 27, of the same year. We claimed the right to count our term of service from the date of our enlistment; the government claiming from the date on which we were sworn in, a difference of three months. This was compromised by promising our muster out on the 30th of May, 1864. I merely mention this to show the fidelity of old soldiers, inasmuch as the date of the capture of a large number of us occurred on the afternoon, within a few hours of the time agreed upon for our final discharge. And you will pardon my digression in saying that the grand old division, composed entirely of Pennsylvanians, serving more than a month over time, and that period spent in almost daily battle in the front ranks of the Army of the Potomac, was finally relieved at midnight, while still on the picket line, on the field where they had fought for several hours previous.” Mr. Bailey was wounded, captured, and sent to Andersonville Prison.

On May 31, 1864, the Reserves going home were pulled from the line to begin their journey..

From Pvt. William Holland (13th Reserves, Co. B) as he marched away, “We were now about to return to our homes and many were the admonitions given us by our brave comrades to still be true to our country and many were the loving epistles given us for loved ones, of our brave boys who had reenlisted…”

From a remaining Bucktail, “I tell you that they were a happy set of boys when they left us…”

Lt. Col. Thomas Chamberlin, 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers, described the scene.  “Without special orders or previous understanding, the other troops of the corps fell into line and presented arms as these veterans of many campaigns, full of scars and honors, marched past; and as the notes of Home Again,’ from the band of the Reserve, rang in their ears, the cheeks of hundreds of veterans who remained were moistened by tears of which they had no reason to be ashamed.”

Apparently, some of the misunderstandings about the Reserves not reenlisting were cleared up.

The last 26 days of the Reserves’ enlistment involved fighting in The Wilderness, at Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna River and Bethesda Church. The Official Reports casualty lists for the Reserves for the period May 5-31, 1864, shows 105 killed, 525 wounded and 486 missing.

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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.