The 153rd PA Volunteers at Gettysburg

The Connection to the Past

While working through my family tree, I may have stumbled upon a really cool (and, at the same time, unfortunate) detail about a particular family member.  While many of my readers may know that I have an ancestor who fought in the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Absalom Schall is not my direct ancestor.  He’s the brother of my direct ancestor,  Up until now, I had no knowledge of an ancestor that fought in the Civil War in a major battle or in a campaign.  At least, not until this past week.

When I started going backwards from the maternal line of my great-great grandmother, Sarah Simon, I discovered that her father was Alfred Simon, the son (so it seems–only verified through census records at the moment) of John Simon.

John Simon

Census record from 1860 shows a John Simon, wife Harriett, as the parents of Alfred Simon. There is only one Alfred Simon that I know who was born in 1850 in Petersville, and that is my 3rd Great Grandfather, which suggests to me that John Simon is indeed my 4th Great Grandfather!

John Simon not only fought at Gettysburg, but like Absalom, was wounded during the battle.  This would mean that two of my ancestors–one my 4th great grandfather–fought in the same regiment, in the same battle, and were both wounded during the same fight.  Here is the (short, media-filled) story of the 153rd PA at Gettysburg.

July 1, 1863

At the time of the battle, the 153rd Pennsylvania had been attached to the 11th Corp, under the command of General Barlow.  The Corps itself was reeling off the embarrassment of their defeat and subsequent retreat at Chancellorsville, when they were attacked by surprise and outflanked by Stonewall Jackson’s brigade.  The battle at Chancellorsville had caused the whole Corps, including the 153rd, to gain a reputation as cowards.  The slight was hard for many of the men and all of them seemed to feel as though they had a lot to prove.

Gettysburg would test their mettle to a degree none of them imagined.

The men of the 153rd Pennsylvania arrived at Gettysburg around 1PM on the first day of the battle and were marched at the double-quick (a fast rate of march, about twice the distance is covered in the same amount of time) through the town to the fields to the north.  They had marched a long way already, having come from dozens of miles away.  The regiment, numbering a little over 500 men, had all been under the impression that on June 22, their enlistment terms were up and that shortly they would be returning home.  As they crossed into Pennsylvania and heard of Confederate raiding parties and troop movements on their native soil, the men of Northampton County had a choice to make.  When they arrived at the Almshouse north of town, their brigade commander, Colonel Von Gilsa, asked for anyone who did not wish to fight to step forward; according to sources, no one did.  They kept their ground and decided, heroically, that regardless of their papers, they would fight in the defense of their home state.

No sooner had this occurred than did they come under artillery fire from a confederate battery.  General Barlow, moving with his men, ordered that the 153rd, along with the rest of Von Gilsa’s bridage, move forward of their assigned position to a knoll a few yards ahead.  It was unoccupied and looked to be good ground and so Von Gilsa complied.  He commanded that several companies of the 153rd and two New York regiments move ahead of the main body as skirmishers towards the knoll and the woods beyond.   Initially, the men of Von Gilsa’s brigade proved successful and the Confederates in the woods east of the Knoll withdrew.

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Barlow’s Knoll and troop positions on the first day. Click to embiggen.

But more Confederate infantry began to move forward and feint around; soon they outflanked Barlow’s men after some ferocious fighting ensued.  It wasn’t long before the 153rd found they were surrounded and being attacked from the front and side.

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Click to embiggen.

The rebels fighting the 153rd were their old rivals from Chancellorsville; Stonewall Jackson’s division, now led by Jubal Early (under Ewell’s Corps).  Despite the tenacity of the regiment, the 153rd had to withdraw or face complete destruction at the hands of the enemy.  They made their way back through the town in what amounted to a full fighting retreat.  Men were being shot in the back as they tried to find some semblance of safety.  Some made their way to field hospitals in town while other men dodged rounds and moved towards Cemetery Hill where Winfield Scott Hancock and his 2nd Corps had moved in to secure the ground and a rally point for the 11th Corps.

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Path of the 153rd as they retreated through town towards Cemetery Hill.

Initially, barely a company made it back to the rally point.  Many found themselves lost in the fierce street fighting happening in the town, not sure which direction to go.  Some were wounded or killed outright, while others were captured.  It was grueling few hours of fighting that cost the 153rd a great deal.  By the middle of the night, the 153rd had nearly regained half strength and found security behind a low stone wall.  But it would not last.

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Don Troiani’s painting depicting Hancock at Cemetery Hill rallying the splintered regiments and directing his Corps to hold the line.

July 2, 1863

The newly reformed 11th Corps situated itself along Cemetery Hill as part of the extreme right flank of the Union Army.  They were told they were the ‘keystone’ of the army and if they retreated, the army would be attacked from behind and likely routed or destroyed.  They had to hold the ground.  This is a task the 153rd took seriously.  Between the night of July 1st into the late hours of July 2nd, the 153rd found themselves under constant assault, once more by the men of Ewell’s Corps, specifically the Louisiana Tigers (one of the hardest fighting brigades in the Confederate army at the time).

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The battle line of the 11th Corps along Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. Click to embiggen. The 153rd’s position is marked with a ‘PA’.

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Detail. These locations are approximate based upon locations of the monuments.

Artillery bombardments and night assaults, hand to hand combat, sharpshooters; the Confederate’s threw everything they had at them.

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When the battle was over, the 153rd had lost 211 men (killed, wounded, or captured/missing).  Here are some photos of the area the 153rd was positioned on July 2nd:

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Steven’s Knoll breastworks left by Union troops after the battle.

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Additional breastworks on Steven’s Knoll. The 153rd was positioned near this knoll–on Wainwright Ave (you can see it in the middle-background with the stone wall)–on the second day.  This photo has been mistakenly labeled as Barlow’s Knoll by the source, but you can clearly see the Cemetery arch in the background at the top of the hill (middle-top).

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Cemetery Hill following the battle; canon entrenchments are clearly visible in this photo as is Culp’s Hill in the background.

The Battle of Gettysburg: Then and Now

Cemetery Hill arch; notice the entrenchments again and all the wagons. Following the battle, local militia were stationed here to help with burial details and keeping the peace, as well as aiding field hospitals.

Further Details

Both Absalom Schall and John Simon were wounded on the first day, though no indication is given as to where.  They could have been wounded in the first part of the afternoon fighting on Barlow’s Knoll (Blocher’s Knoll originally).  But they could have also been wounded in town or at their new position on Cemetery Hill.  With all the fighting and confusion, I’m not sure what took place and no records exist as to the details of their wounding.  At least with Absalom, we know it was a wound inflicted by an exploding canon shell.  John Simon, however,  is a mystery.  What happened to him is unknown, but he managed to muster out with the company upon their arrival back home.  He only lived a little over a decade after the war, supposedly dying due to the wounds inflicted at Gettysburg (which is not unheard of).  His and Absalom’s name appear in the Easton newspapers shortly after Gettysburg:

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Click to embiggen. You’ll want to read the casualty list.

Absalom lived to a good age.  Both he and Simon are recognized on the 153rd PA bronze engraving on the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg. The following listings are taken from the index in Jeffrey Stocker’s new book We Fought Desperate (which you can acquire at the link). It’s massive and a very useful resource.

Listing for John Simon. He died a little over a decade after the battle.

Listing for John Simon. He died a little over a decade after the battle.

Listing for Absalom Schall. He really took a beating at Gettysburg.

Listing for Absalom Schall. He really took a beating at Gettysburg.

Another book I recommend, besides Mr. Stocker’s, is In Lieu of a Draft: A History of the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment (Authorhouse, 2012) by Lochard H. Lovenstein.  It is a good volume (not as complete as Mr. Stocker’s) that utilizes primary sources and diaries to bring to life the 153rd in a personal manner that is refreshing and interesting.

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One response to “The 153rd PA Volunteers at Gettysburg

  1. Pingback: Another Wonderful Gettysburg Weekend | American History and Ancestry·

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