The Story of Lt. Hardman P. Petrikin as told by Capt. William M. Robbins, 4th Alabama Infantry

Bellefonte PA 1895
The Democratic Watchman, Bellefonte, Pa., June 7, 1895

Born in 1832, Hardman Philip Petrikin1 was the eldest of two children born to James Madison and Elizabeth (Wallace) Petrikin, in Bellefonte, Centre County, Pennsylvania.  His younger sister Marion, was born in 1834.  Hardman’s father James was a prominent attorney and an influential social figure in Bellefonte, well-known for his wit and artistic abilities.  As a young man at the age of 22, James had been elected to the legislature.  The family resided in a house on Allegheny Street, in Bellefonte, until James’ death on  April 6, 1838 when Hardman was about 6.  After the death of James, the family moved to a house on High Street.

The Democratic Watchman, Bellefonte, Pa., June 7, 1895

Hardman was a member of the old militia company known as the Centre Guards, which had long been inactive, but revived and reorganized in Bellefonte, Centre County on May 14, 1861 in response to Lincoln’s call for volunteers to quell the rebellion.  With this organization Hardman was a member of the officers’ corps in which he was elected First Lieutenant.  The Guards were chiefly composed “…of sound, hardy and loyal men such as are found at our Iron Works and among our mountains…”, from Bellefonte, Philipsburg, Snowshoe, Washington Furnace and Hecla Furnace.

In this capacity he continued to serve as the executive officer of the company throughout his tenure with this organization.  In December of 1861, when Capt. James H. Larrimer had been ill and confined to his quarters, Lt. Petriken was in command of the company until the Captain was well enough to take command once more.  In June 1862 during the Seven Days, also known as the Peninsula Campaign, he served with distinction. In his report Brigadier General Truman Seymour wrote, “H. P. Petrikin deserves honorable notice2…He was in all three battles, in which he acted with distinguished bravery. And that of June 30 after his Regt. was compelled temporarily to retire, he ran to the colors, put forth every effort to rally the men & when at last the regiment was withdrawn from the fight he joined in with the 9th [Pennsylvania Reserves] & assisted in several severe struggles for the maintenance of the field.”3

He fought with his company at 2nd Bull Run and again at South Mountain; ultimately giving his life at the Battle of Antietam with little more than a casual mention of his sacrifice made by his regimental commander, Colonel Joseph W. Fisher, in his after-action report.

The Troops Take Place

The Battle of Antietam
An Artists Rendering of the Battle of Antietam which occurred the day after Lt. Petrikin’s fatal wounding.

During the day preceding the battle of Antietam, moderate fighting had taken place in the area of the Upper Bridge and East Woods between Meade’s Division of Pennsylvania Reserves and the Confederate Division under John B. Hood.  As the day wore on and darkness fell, more troops from other commands continued to reach the field.  As a result, both armies shifted their lines, fumbling around in the darkness as they attempted to find their way into appropriate positions.  Occasionally here and there when the lines would get too close, firing would occur, but nothing significant enough to bring on a general engagement.  It was in one of these minor encounters that Petrikin fell victim.

In its position in the East Woods, Col. Joseph W. Fisher’s 5th Pennsylvania Reserves was separated by mere yards, from the 4th Alabama Infantry which was taking cover to the south of the woods behind a rail fence bordering the Smoketown Road.

The Fifth Pennsylvania Reserves Takes Position in the East Woods

On the evening of the 16th of September, Col. Fisher was instructed by General Seymour to move his regiment to the left of the brigade line, in which position the regiment formed in the East Woods proper.  After executing this order, Fisher then ordered one of his junior officers, 1st Lt. Hardman P. Petrikin “…to post the pickets about 150 yards out in the field to the left of the woods…”  The Lieutenant then “…took 12 men out of each company…” and advanced southward to post his pickets in obedience to orders.  One of these men who was selected for this duty was Private Milton Laird of Company I, who recalled that after reaching the designated point at 150 yards, “…[we] kept on until [we] were within 30 feet of the fence, on the bank of the Bloody Lane or Smoketown road…It was so dark that a man could not be seen 10 feet away, but the [rebels] could be seen in front of their campfires in the woods in the rear of the church.  When Petrikin gave the command to halt there was instantly a sheet of rifle fire flame along the fence.  The flash of the guns was almost in the faces of the Union soldiers, who turned and ran back about 150 yards, when Col. Fisher brought the regiment up and fired to the left oblique…”

Sgt. John T. Baynes of Company K, 5th Reserves remembered that “…Charlie Hollands & myself was just eating our supper of hard crackers when the first thing we knew the rebels fired into our pickets & also in the rest of the regt[.]  Some few of the men ran away but most of us jumped up and returned their fire[,] driving them back from where they came from” 

It was here that Private Laird, who was among those of the picket party and wounded in his hand, remembered being caught between the brief fire of both regiments.  The firing ended as quickly as it had begun, and all fell quiet again.  As Laird and the others fell back to the regiment, the bodies of the Union men lay where they had fallen, one killed and two gravely wounded.

The Fourth Alabama along the Smoketown Road

Some thirty years after the war, a letter drafted to the National Tribune by Confederate Major William McKendree Robbins, then Captain in the 4th Alabama Infantry, recalled this very incident.  The affair as he described it was related to  “…the death of a few men and a gallant officer on the Federal side” which had occurred the night preceding the battle of Antietam.

Map of Sept 16
Map Depicting the situation on the night of September 15, 1862 showing the APPROXIMATE position of the 5th PA Reserves and 4th Alabama Infantry

Robbins in his account of this engagement recalled the scene from memory.  In regaling to old comrades who were avid readers of the National Tribune, stated that “…those who were in the battle of Antietam remember that some lively skirmishing Tuesday evening, September 16, between the Federal Right and Confederate left as the lines were being arranged for the great conflict of the next day…”  but as “…darkness came on it ceased and general quiet reigned in all parts of the field during the night.” 

Before the sun began to set, and hostilities began to slacken, Col. Evander Law’s Brigade, of whom the 4th Alabama belonged, “…was ordered by General Hood, commanding the division, to move forward and occupy the edge of the [East] wood in which the skirmishing was going on.  This was quickly accomplished, and the enemy was driven, at dark, to the farther side of the wood, toward the Antietam.”4

Major Robbins remembered that his regiment was thrown “…into an advanced position about 400 yards northeasterly from the little Dunker Church, in the open field, not very far from Mune’s house and straw stacks…”  By this point it had become extremely dark, and in his estimation they seemed to be pretty far out, as “…there were no pickets out in advance of us.”

Satisfied that his regiment was in a secure position, exhaustion had overtaken him after the days strenuous activities, and Robbins as he recalled,  “…was lying down on the ground just behind the left flank of the regiment and had nearly fallen into a doze when about 10 o’clock I was suddenly aroused and startled by a volley fired by the two or three left companies of our regiment without orders.”  

Jolted to his senses by the sudden rattle of musketry, he sprang to his feet and made his way to the scene. “…[on]  inquiring the reason [for] this, I was informed that they had heard a party of what must be the enemy, who were just in front of us, and had thereupon fired.”  Robbins peaked his head up from behind the rails which had concealed the Alabamians and cautiously examined the field in front.  He waited for his eyes to adjust for a moment, but all was pitch black and he could see nothing.  Then voices started to break the silence over the field in front of him, “…I heard out in the darkness before us a soldier calling to us for help and saying he was desperately wounded; and by his addressing us first as ‘rebel boys’ and then as ‘Southern boys’ it was clear that he was a Federal soldier.”

Robbins responded his pleas, “I at once answered him in an elevated voice that we would send help if he pledged that our…squad should not be fired on by his friends, which pledge he gave and they respected it, if any were near enough to fire.”

“Our party went out and found two or three slain, as I remember it, and brought in two wounded men, one a private  and the other Lieut. Hardman P. Petriken of (I think) the 5th Pa. Reserves.”5

Captain William M. Robbins, 4th Alabama Infantry.
Alabama Department of Archives and History

After being secured on the rebel side of the fence rails, Robbins began to make preparations to have him taken further back to the rear where he could get medical attention.  Here “…he spoke to me and said that he felt his wound was mortal; told me his name as I have given it, and then pulling out his watch (quite a fine one) – he handed it to me, saying ‘I make the request of you that if you possibly can you will have my watch sent to my mother, who lives at…’, (or perhaps he said near) ‘Chambersburg Pa.’”  The gravely wounded Petrikin asked Robbins to “…tell my comrades of the Union army for me that I died like a soldier should, doing my duty.”  On asking what he was doing when he was wounded, “…he explained that he had been in charge of a reconnoitering party and had expected to come upon our picket line, but not upon a full battle-line as he had.”

Just then, stretcher bearers showed up and Lt. Petrikin was placed upon the support, Robbins remembered “As he was borne away to the hospital I bade him good-bye in the darkness, and promised to obey his requests if I lived to ever [have] the opportunity…He died, as I afterward learned about sunrise the next morning, just as the great battle was beginning.”

Over the following twenty-four hours, one of America’s most bloody battles of the Civil War had taken place.  The day after, “On the 18th of September, the day after the battle, the two armies, bleeding and battered and each hesitating to renew the conflict, lay quiet, and with their lines almost near enough together in some places for the men to look into each other’s eyes.”  At some point that afternoon, a truce was established which lasted several hours.  Robbins, who survived the battle, took advantage of this truce and alone, walked up the Smoketown Road towards the Union lines where “…[I] met a Federal officer of courteous bearing and manners, to whom I delivered Lieut. Petriken’s message to his comrades and the watch, with the injunction that it be sent to his mother, at or near Chambersburg, Pa…[t]he name of that officer I cannot recall…he was of medium stature, not over 27 years old, I should say; was either an Adjutant or Adjutant General in rank, and belonged, I think, to Gen. Sumner’s command.”

When the Confederates withdrew from the battlefield, the Union Army was left in possession of the field.  It was discovered that the Dunker Church around which severe fighting had taken place, was being used as a field hospital by the Confederates.  It was in the church where Lt. Petrikin’s body was found.  On September 20, a letter was published in a Bellefonte newspaper which was from Petrikin’s commanding officer,  Captain James H. Larrimer.  He wrote, “It is with sincere sorrow that I have to record the death of Lieut. Petriken.  He was killed…last Tuesday night, while posting a line of pickets by getting too near the enemy, who fired on him.  He was a gallant soldier as ever faced the foe!  I have sent his body home.” 

1862 View of the Dunker Church.  Library of Congress
1862 View of the Dunker Church. It was in this very building where Lt. Petrikin was brought for medical attention, and eventually died at sunrise. His body was found inside once Union Troops took possession of the field. Library of Congress

Maj. Robbins, in closing his letter to the Tribune wrote, “Now, although I have made considerable inquiry, I have never been able to learn whether the watch reached Petriken’s mother, nor a word of information on the subject.  Possibly some one among your readers may know, and if so, I hope this communication may elicit a satisfactory response. – Wm. M. Robbins, Major, 4th Ala.,, Statesville, N.C.”

The letter written by William Robbins was published in the National Tribune, and subsequently republished in the Democratic Watchman, Bellefonte, PA on July 24, 1891.  The editor of this Watchman would note, “The writer…”, Mr. Robbins, “…makes the mistake of locating the home of Lieutenant [Petrikin] at Chambersburg instead of Bellefonte…[and]…we understand that the watch was safely returned to Lieut. Petriken’s relatives in this place.-Ed.”

Despite what he had already done, Robbins did not yet believe he had fulfilled his obligation to Lt. Petrikin.  In 1898, Robbins wrote to Governor Hastings of Pennsylvania, stating that  “…for many years had been trying to locate the sword taken from Lieutenant Petriken on the night he was killed, and which he had forgotten in the excitement to secure.  His efforts had at last been successful, and he had received word from an old comrade now living in Texas that the sword was in his possession, [and] he was ready to deliver it up whenever called upon.”  In the letter to the Governor, Robbins asked to ascertain whether or not any of Lieutenant Petrikin’s relatives were living so that he might be able to deliver the sword to their family.  It was found that the closest surviving family member was Hardman’s sister, Marian Wallace Petrikin, of Bellefonte.

Through Governor Hastings’ office the information related to the discovery of Lt. Petrikin’s sword had quickly reached Centre County.  It was learned that a former Confederate Officer intended to personally deliver the sword to the Lieutenant’s sister once he could determine her address.  The people of Centre County at once decided to make this a celebrated event.  “When this intention became known here the people at once decided to make it the occasion of a public demonstration.  They were hearty in the opinion that such a spirit of friendliness should not go unrequited.”  The members of the Grand Army of the Potomac Gregg Post, No. 95, went all out to make this event surrounding the return of the sword a ceremonious occasion.

On Monday, March 28, 1898, Maj. Robbins, who had by this time been living in Washington, D.C. and working as a member of the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, arrived in Bellefonte, the very place where Hardman Petrikin called home.  Maj. Robbins “…was the center of attraction everywhere and his courteous, genial manner made him more popular than he had become even before his arrival.”

Lt. Hardman P. Petrikin Signature
The Handwritten Signature of Hardman P. Petrikin, 1st Lieutenant. This signature was captured from a quartermaster requisition form, graciously shared by Bob Sullivan, of Sullivan Press.

Two days later on Wednesday evening, March 30th, “the return of the sword was made the occasion of a pleasing ceremony among the many veterans in this place…the halls of the Gregg Post, No. 95, G.A.R., were crowded with interested spectators to witness the final graceful act of Maj. William M. Robbins, of the 4th Alabama Infantry, when the foe of war times showed himself the friend of peace.”

General James A. Beaver, the former Colonel of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers, presided over the ceremony and gave the opening remarks which included a “hearty address of welcome to the distinguished visitor.”  After the introduction, Maj. Robbins stood, cradling the sword in his arm, and “…made his address of presentation, telling all that he knew of Lieut. Petriken’s death…”

The time had finally come for the sword to exchange hands.  A gentleman soon approached Maj. Robbins, who had been slated to accept the sword on behalf of Marian Petrikin.  It was revealed that this gentleman was Major William C. Patterson6 of State College, who, thirty-six years earlier, was a mere Corporal who went out on the picket line with Lt. Petrikin.  “Maj. Patterson was probably the last man to speak to young Petriken before he fell, as he was with him only a few yards distant when that fatal volley was fired on our unsuspecting skirmishers.”

Concluding the ceremony, “Col. D. F. Fortney followed with a speech, then former Judge A. O. Furst moved that the Grand Army of Centre county tender a vote of gratitude to Maj. Robbins, Capt. Sterret, Lieut. Vaughn and others who assisted him in the recovery of the sword.  It was a standing vote and before the question had been fairly put all were on their feet, so anxious were they to attest their good fellowship for their comrades in grey.  The meeting closed with a talk by Col. John A. Daley, of Curtin township.”

Petrikin Hall, Bellefonte, PA
Petrikin Hall, Bellefonte, PA. Fred D. Smith Collection, Bellefonte Historical  and Cultural Association BHCA

Hardman’s sister, Marian, died quite unexpectedly at her home nearly a year and a half later.  She had been suffering from “…acute Bright’s disease” and succumbed on November 23, 1899.  On High street not far from her former residence (and the childhood home of our subject, Hardman) a large building was erected and named after Marion, it was called “Petriken Memorial Hall” for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an organization of whom Marion was greatly involved.  The building today is located at 134 West High Street in Bellefonte, and is presently divided up into apartments.

City Letter Carrier at USPS | augustmarchetti1980@gmail.com | Website | + posts

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. The surname, of Scotch origin, appears to alternate between the spellings of “Petriken” and “Petrikin”; for this article I will refer to the latter spelling, but the former is occasionally quoted.
  2. U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, vol. 11, part 2, p. 405.
  3. Division Records, RG 393 at National Archives in Washington, D.C.
  4.  Official Report of Colonel Evander Law, who commanded the Brigade in General Hood’s Division at the Battle of Antietam.  Report dated October 2, 1862.
  5. Most likely Pvt. Robert M. Askey, of Petrikin’s company, who is the only member of the 5th regiment who is reported to have been killed on the 16th of September; the enlisted soldier reportedly taken with Petrikin died shortly after being taken prisoner.
  6. Corporal William C. Patterson, Company I, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves