Featured in the Sun, June 3, 2007 Edition of Chester County Living.
As one of the state’s southern-most counties, the citizens of Chester County stood fraught with anxiety. In order to meet the Southern threat, Governor Andrew Curtin raised a call for volunteers from each county and every walk of life to stand ready to defend the Commonwealth.
One group of men to answer the call were the Brandywine Guards, a company assembled in West Chester under Henry McIntire. Just as Curtin had requested, these men did indeed stem from all levels of society. From lawyers and dentists to farmers, craftsmen and teachers, each came together for the cause. Some were from prominent families likes Darlington, Hoopes, Brinton, and Matlack, while others came from families of more modest origins.
In the end it did not matter for on June 3, 1861, they assembled side by side at Camp Wayne, now West Chester University, Friends, family and neighbors showed their loyalty and support on July 4, 1861, by holding a picnic in grand style in Everhart Grove, today Everhart Park. With lights in the trees and Curtin in attendance, the community gave the men a warm send off with plenty of food, music and dancing.
Washington soon became in need of their aid and on July 10, 1861, the Brandywine Guards were officially mustered into Federal service under Gen. George McCall, eventually becoming Company A, 30th Regiment (1st Pa. Reserves). The Peninsula Campaign, the second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and the Wilderness are just a few of the battles the Guards saw.
In spite of the strict regiment of army life, these young men could still rely on their humor and home ties to keep up their spirits. In his diary, Capt. Mott Hooton wrote that they still “laughed after suffering agony from bruised and feverish feet.” As the hardships of war increased, this levity occured even more. Sgt. William Hammond of New London was said to have routinely smoked Hooton out of his tent by plugging up his chimney.
When the fight arrived, however, their loyalty and devotion to each other was absolute. During the battle of Antietam, Pvt. Edward Blaine of Media was shot through the leg and Joseph James of West Chester, another private in the company picked up his wounded comrade and carried him back behind their linesA similar incident occurred at Fredericksburg in which Hammond saved the life of Pvt. Joseph Darlington of Thornbury. Events such as these forged life-long relationships and bonds that could never be broken.
In the three years the Guard was on active duty, the men and their families gave much more than just service. Parents gave children and wives gave husbands. Some were eager young men like Joseph Pratt, who ran away with friends to fight, while his parents remained fearful at home. First Sgt. Philip Price wrote to Pratt’s mother that “If he should fall, it could not be in a better cause and this reflection would do much toward calming the feelings in such a trail.” Unfortunately Mrs. Pratt’s worst fear was realized one year later when her son passed away on Christmas day 1862, of wounds received in the Battle of Fredericksburg two weeks prior.
Charlotte Sheaff was so terrified that something would happen to her husband, Charles, that he once wrote to her, “I do wish you were happy and enjoying yourself, than to be thinking all the time that you were crying and lamenting and pining away and perhaps ruining your health.” Charles Sheaff of Haverford fell in the summer of 1862.
Many who did not give their lives, gave some part of themselves. Enos Russell of Marshallton lost a leg. Albert Evans had three fingers shot off and Abner Hoopes returned from the war unable to carry on much work as he slowly became paralyzed from injuries received in action. Many more received major wounds, including Hooton and David Brinton of Thornbury, of whom Hooton wrote, “I never saw anyone bear pain as well as he does.”
Finally, some gave their freedom. In May of 1864, privates Eli Catren, Passmore Hoopes and Daniel Young were captured at the Battle of Bethesda Church. Catren died in Richmond, but Hoopes and Young endured the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Some of their number were lost along the way and others went on to lead full lives, though forever touched by the events of war.
In a letter written by one of the company’s sergeants, Philip Price, he referred to the Brandywine Guards as a “small company of faithful ones.”
But even after 150 years, Chester County will still remember its faithful ones.