Gen. William T. Sherman is given credit for saying it first, but it has been often repeated, “War is hell!” The past three years for the Pennsylvania Reserves fell under this description. Since they formed in 1861, these men, at times, lived under conditions not thought fit for human beings, ate food that was not fit for human consumption, marched, fought and slept in heat, cold, rain, snow, dust and mud, without shoes and proper clothing, suffered from previously unheard diseases, were shot at, possibly wounded, and possibly captured, spending time in a southern prison.
Approximately 1,218 Reserves were scheduled to form the 190th Regiment and 1,021 Reserves were scheduled to form the 191 Regiment.
So why did so many of these men re-enlist?
A member of the 12th Reserves explained his reason in a letter to his hometown newspaper. “We are not as some would suppose, tired of war. We enlisted when the rebellion was in its infancy, have witnessed its growth until it had assumed huge dimensions. But now, when its former strength is growing weak, when it is tottering on the very verge of destruction, and with death and starvation staring them in the face; we are determined that our aid shall not be wanting when the final blow shall be given, and the Confederacy, its leaders and sympathizers sunk into the depths of oblivion, and the flag of the free’ shall float in every state of the thirty-four; then we will be willing to return to our homes, but not before.”
From a comrade in the 7 Reserves, “I will fight ten years longer before I will have that Rebel rag a floating over my head.”
Cpl. Wallace W. Brewer, one of the 13th Reserves who would be continuing with the 190th Regiment, noted, “Although our loss has been great as well as theirs and no doubt thousands of more will have to fall. If I live through this fight I never shall be sorry that I participated in it for the likes of it before was never known.”
Besides “preserving the Union” and “finishing what we started,” the other reasons were varied; to free the slaves, for the reenlistment bonus money to give their families security, for the extra leave to visit their loved ones, a private’s pay ($13 per month) was more than they could earn at home, they had nothing at home to return to, and possibly, to revenge loved ones lost earlier in the war. The reason may have only made sense to the individual involved.
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.