They Stick like Death to their Guns: Soldiery, Citizenship, & the Civil War Era in Waverly, Pennsylvania

Today’s blog post was written by E.J. Murphy; E.J. is a history teacher at the Howard Gardner School in Scranton and has written this post highlighting the Civil War and its significance in the Northeastern Pennsylvania region. Enjoy!

“This city feels dark…the Cabinet seems tumbling to pieces. Our armies do nothing, & despair is seizing hold of a great many people. The battle at Fredericksburg was a great disaster and a terrible loss of life to no purpose. If God is not with us in this fight, we are in trouble.”

Writing from Washington D.C. on December 19, 1862, four days after the conclusion of the lopsided Union defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia and eleven days after his confirmation as Supreme Court Associate Justice, David Davis could not contain his own despondency. About two weeks later, again writing to his brother-in-law, Northeastern Pennsylvania iron and coal magnate and President of the Lackawanna County Iron and Coal Company, Joseph H. Scranton, Davis’ emotion poured through the pages. “If the Country was at peace and my home was not broken up I should feel like another man.” Unbeknownst to Davis was that the Northern effort was destined to suffer further calamity. Commanding the Union Army of the Potomac was the famously whiskered General Ambrose E. Burnside, and Burnside was not about to see the Union’s largest fighting force disgraced under his authority. Toward the end of January 1863, looking to redeem his reputation which was now inextricably linked to the embarrassment at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Burnside attempted to lead a rare and ill-fated winter offensive against Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia with the peripheral goal of boosting his troop’s sagging morale. While on the move in the wet and cold, the Army of the Potomac became bogged down attempting to re-cross the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, at which confident Confederate troops who had been eyeing the movement of the Union forces lie patiently in wait for the dispirited Yankees. Without so much as a skirmish, the offensive was aborted and with it President Abraham Lincoln’s faith in Burnside who would be replaced by the hard-drinking “Fighting” Joe Hooker on January 26.

Among soldiers, Joseph Hooker was a popular choice as Burnside’s replacement. “Under Hooker we began to live,” wrote one solider. “I have never,” conceded an officer previously skeptical of Hooker’s prowess, “known men to change from a condition of the lowest depression to that of a healthy fighting state in so short time.” Hooker, however, was a contentious man and was not afraid to speak out on his distaste for certain generals and his lack of confidence in the government (he had lambasted Burnside after the debacle at Fredericksburg and the Mud March). Regardless, Lincoln knew that he needed Hooker’s military acumen to succeed. “I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship,” wrote the President to his new commander. Lincoln hadn’t need to concern himself with the dictatorship as the success needed to yield such a dictator never came.

Hooker and Lee’s forces met from April 30- May 6, 1863 at the crossroads village of Chancellorsville. approximately ten miles west of Fredericksburg. Despite being outnumbered two to one, the Battle of Chancellorsville became Robert E. Lee’s masterpiece. In the face of superior forces Lee defied all accepted military convention by splitting up his army and sending Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on a twelve-mile flanking maneuver that would help crush Hooker and his Union troops. The victory would cost Lee his number one lieutenant in Jackson who would lose his left arm in a friendly-fire incident and later lose his life, but the victory at Chancellorsville would nevertheless boost the confidence of the now legendary general and lead him to plan an offensive of his own- one that would lead him and his army to a quiet, small town nestled in the hills of South Central Pennsylvania with the intention of finishing the war. Hooker on the other hand had begun to fall out of favor and as a result of this his time commanding Lincoln’s greatest army was slowly coming to an end.

Less than a month later both armies began to maneuver north. As the Army of Northern Virginia made its way into Maryland the Army of the Potomac stayed cautiously in between Lee and Washington. D.C. Hooker, still at odds with Lincoln over strategy, offered his resignation after a disagreement with General in Chief Henry W. Halleck regarding the use of troops stationed to defend the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia (which became a Union state on June 20, 1863). Lincoln happily accepted Hooker’s resignation and quickly found his replacement. On June 28 he made George Gordon Meade the fifth man to command of the principal Union army in the eastern theater. Marching with the Army of the Potomac was the 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry regiment. The citizen-soldiers of this regiment were recruited mostly from Luzerne County (of which present-day Lackawanna County was still a part) but also included troops from Lycoming, Susquehanna, and Wyoming counties. This horde of Northeastern Pennsylvanians had experienced combat against the Army of Northern Virginia during the defeat at Chancellorsville where the regiment arrived on the field of battle as Old Stonewall made his famous march. Part of the First Army Corps, Third Division, Second Brigade, the 143rd was one of the first regiments to arrive at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Second Brigade, which was comprised of the 143rd, 149th, and 150th Pennsylvania Infantry regiments, was a reformation of the famous “Bucktail Brigade.” While the 143rd was not considered a Bucktail regiment, the 149th and 150th were known to sport actual buck tails in their caps during battle. In any case of attire, these regiments would need to live up to the reputation that was born with the original Bucktails.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania was a joyful occasion for the boys from the Keystone State. Some men broke out into melody, gleefully singing “Home Sweet Home,” a saccharine song that both North and South tried to ban due to its evocation of home and family and its tendency to cause men to desert. “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,” they sang. “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home/ A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there/ Which seek thro’ the world, is ne’er met elsewhere.” But the mood was not universally jovial. One of the boys from the 143rd remarked that “he could smell a fight.” As the men bivouacked on the night of June 30, Private Avery Harris noted that the men were uneasy and “anxiety seemed to be settling down upon them.” In charge of the Second Brigade was Colonel Roy Stone and on the morning of July 1 Stone’s men woke not to the usual noise of bugles and drums, but of officers warning the men against any unnecessary noise. Their supplies were late, so instead of a decent breakfast to fill their stomachs the soldiers were left to the infamous hardtack and coffee that was so often the undesirable option for a meal. In the distance, the sound of artillery began to ring out and the brigade then moved quick-time toward the action which was taking place to the northwest of town. The especially hot and muggy weather led many troops to fall out and seek water at nearby farm wells. As the exploding artillery became louder and louder the brigade moved on the double-quick along Emmitsburg Road. While passing over Seminary Ridge the soldiers ditched their knapsacks and blankets and amid the cannon fire a shell ricocheted and ripped off the haversack of one of the members of the 143rd. Recognizing the tactical disadvantage he now found himself in, the soldier remarked to his comrades, “well boys they have cut off my supplies.” General Abner Doubleday of the Third Division tried to rally and inspire the men who were somewhat wavering due to the intensity of the battle. What’s more, the Union had also lost one of its most promising generals early in the fight. John Reynolds, commander of the Army First Corps, a native Pennsylvanian, and widely regarded as one of the premier leaders in the army, had taken a bullet through the neck and was dead before his body fell from his horse to the ground. It was an inauspicious time, and the battle was just beginning.

Stone’s brigade started to take an initial position to the right of the McPherson Woods and the Iron Brigade, the Union’s most famous and hard-fighting unit, but the emergence of Confederate General R. E. Rhodes’ troops on Oak Ridge forced Stone to shift his troops north. “This movement had scarcely been completed when the enemy advanced against our entire front in large numbers, and, when within easy range, were received with an effective fire from our whole line, which threw them into confusion, and a charge by the One hundred and forty-ninth forward to the railroad cut being made, they fell back to a sheltered position, where they were re-enforced and their broken ranks reformed,” wrote Wilkes-Barre native and commander of the 143rd, Colonel Edmund L. Dana, after the battle.

The 143rd covered the 149th as they met North Carolina troops at the unfinished railroad cut but despite the appearance of initial success, the fight was not theirs to be won that day.  The brigade suffered crippling loss of command with Col. Stone, as well as his replacement Col. Langhorne Wister, suffering wounds that removed them from the field. Not all troops came out of the first day of battle with little reason to keep their heads high. For his heroic and successful attempt to save a wounded comrade under heavy fire, Wilkes-Barre native James M. Rutter would later be awarded the Medal of Honor. In any event, command of the brigade fell to Col. Dana of the 143rd, but the loss of their officers and the pressure being put on the troops by the Confederates caused the Yankees to retreat back through town to hills just south of Gettysburg. Lieutenant Colonel John Musser recalled after the retreat that the troops “sat down to rest, but could not sit still. Officers and men shook hands in silence great tear drops standing in their undaunted eyes, as they thought of the dead and wounded left in the hands of the cursed Rebels. We were almost afraid to ask each other where the rest of our regt. were, we knew most of them were either killed or wounded.” The Second Brigade entered the first day of battle with 1,315 men and by the end of the conclusive third day had suffered 850 casualties (killed, wounded, and missing), a staggering 65 percent of their manpower. The 143rd regiment itself entered the battle with nearly 500 men, of which 27 would be killed, 150 wounded, and 60 or 70 missing in action. While the battle would eventually be won by the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia would be sent back into Virginia to stay, this was not yet reality on July 1. Of those among the dead scattered throughout the site of the largest battle ever fought in the western hemisphere, after likely being wounded on the first day and dying as the 143rd assisted in the repulse of Pickett’s Charge on the last, was Waverly’s own George O. Fell.

Waverly and the surrounding communities were not immune to the divisiveness that helped lead the men of the 143rd and the rest of the country into war. A northerner wrote in 1841 that “the truth is I am jaded to death in wars of Abolitionism and other isms connected with it. The spirit which has been diffused through the length & breadth of our work is fraught with the Elements of faction & caters for anarchy. You may think this language too strong and that my fears are groundless or regarding them as the declaration of existing facts and a fair deduction you might think one wanting in courage or fidelity to leave the field in the midst of an engagement.” Throughout the country Northern and Southern Democrats divided themselves over the issue of slavery to the point of crippling their party and allowing the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The Republican party was also split among ideological lines with a faction of “radicals” who favored immediate emancipation and full citizenship and voting rights for African-Americans contending with moderate and conservative Republicans whose motivations and values regarding race were dubious (by today’s standards) at best and at worst just as racially prejudiced (again, by today’s standards) as their Democratic counterparts or even Southerners. While echoing the national mood to an extent, events in the years leading up to the war helped elevate Waverly into a unique position as a safe haven for those escaping bondage.

Since the 1840’s slaves fleeing from their masters, plantations, and the cruelty of slavery had made their way to freedom by following the Underground Railroad – a system of cities, towns, safe houses, and individuals sympathetic to the plight of the enslaved and determined to undermine Southern efforts to not only continue but strengthen the hold that the peculiar institution had on the country. The freedom seekers who ended up passing through or settling in Northeastern Pennsylvania largely came from Maryland and would enter familiar places such as the Gettysburg area, Wilkes-Barre, Tunkhannock, Montrose, and Towanda en route to upstate New York, New England, or Canada. As early as the 1830’s, antislavery societies had been sprouting throughout the region. One of the first was the Susquehanna Colonization Society, established in Montrose in 1834. Two years later the Susquehanna County Anti-Slavery & Free Discussion Society was formed under the premise of immediate abolition. This group garnered the attention of local Democrats who condemned the group as an “unlawful assembly” and its members “disturbers of the peace.” The first meeting of the group attracted over 100 attendees and within a year the group’s following had reached 275. By 1839 there were four more antislavery societies in the county. In February a convention for abolitionists from Bradford, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Luzerne (including residents of Waverly) counties was held at Montrose’s First Presbyterian Church. Over 500 people showed up and the group raised $123 (over $2,000 today) for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. The meeting itself was a strong political statement, but convention attendees sought more. Moral action was going to be key in achieving the group’s ultimate goals. Public debates over slavery and press coverage of abolitionist sentiment were needed to spread the ideas that the group was based upon. This call for public attention worked at doing just that, but the circulation of that information did not just reach the likeminded and curious. Opposition waited just around the corner and it did not take long for the opposition to show their political teeth intended to chew through the moral fiber of the abolitionist movement.

Southern slaveholders were more than well aware of what was taking place up north. As abolitionists became more outspoken and hostile towards slavery, southerners in Congress looked for ways to stem the tide that was seemingly sweeping over them. It was not just the abstract objection to slavery that worried slave owners. In the wake of the Mexican War the United States had enlarged its territory by nearly a quarter while reducing Mexico’s by half. The questions could not help but present itself: would slavery be allowed in these newly acquired territories? In 1846 David Wilmot, a Pennsylvanian Congressman from Towanda who also spent time practicing law in Wilkes-Barre and did personally share some antislavery conviction, put forth a proposal that would ban slavery in all territories gained from Mexico. Later instrumental in forming the Pennsylvania Republican Party, Wilmot at the time was a member of the Free Soil Party whose platform advocated for the abolition of slavery and the denial of slave property in the new territory not based on a moral unfriendliness to slavery, but in the interest of  protecting the welfare and future opportunity for the advancement of white men and their families, specifically out west in this instance. Nevertheless, Wilmot’s Proviso enraged slave owners and regular southerners alike and is seen historically as one of the central events that flamed the fires of secession and war. A leading national magazine proclaimed that “…the Wilmot proviso has been discussed in Congress, in the newspapers, on the stump, at the street corners, all over the country, until David Wilmot’s name is now mentioned more frequently than those of the candidates for the Presidency – because it stands wedded to a great principle of legislation.” The subsequent years did not quell the sectional divide. As the debate over slavery extension heated up, moderates in Congress tried to cool things down. In 1850 a compromise written by Whig party member Henry Clay and backed by Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas was passed to the chagrin of radicals on both sides of the isle. Among the provisions of the act was a strengthening of the Fugitive Slave Clause which was a part of the original design of the Constitution and called on all states, no matter location, to return escaped slaves to their masters. To northerners this was unacceptable. In effect the Fugitive Slave Law forced northern states to enforce laws that they did not believe in and found to be repugnant. Among residents of Waverly, this aggression could not stand. Waverly had been home to runaway slaves for nearly twenty years at this point, even to the extent that one of the largest and most successful African-American communities in the area existed in the village. Slave catchers had met early resistance in the area already and, now with the tipping point approaching, that resistance was hardening.

Waverly businessman John Raymond penned a letter a week after the passage of the new Fugitive Slave Act to Judge William Jessup, a prominent area abolitionist in Montrose, pleading with the judge to call for an abolitionist convention. “There seems to be a desire amongst some of the people that there should be a rally made or a convention of the Sons of Freedom in Northern Pennsylvania so that the people may know that the spirit of freedom is not entirely gone amongst us,” he wrote. Raymond’s appeal eventually showed corporeal results. The convention met in October in Montrose and adopted a resolution of resistance to the national concessions to slavery. “Resolved, that we tender the unhappy fugitives from the house of bondage our warmest sympathies – we know not how to advise them amid their deep trials – above all we pity those helpless women and children. We repeat we know not how to advise. Society and law have made war on the colored man; they disown and outlaw him, and afford him no protection; and if in this war he throws himself upon the rights of manhood and defends himself and his family, when no one else will defend, who can blame him! – and if the pursuer falls in the conflict, whom has he to blame but himself!” This resolution was more telling than the authors had probably considered. Thirteen years later African-American men from all across the north would take up arms and throw themselves “upon the rights of manhood” by defending themselves and their families when few else would. The African-American men of Waverly were no exception.

In the wake of the Confederate bombardment of Union controlled Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor that inaugurated the Civil War, enlistments in both armies had reached a fever pitch. In the North so many men volunteered that newly formed regiments and fresh recruits were denied because the government simply did not have the resources to equip them. The 1860 census showed that there were approximately 555,000 men of military age in Pennsylvania. One in every four of these men volunteered during the first year of the war. From April 1861 until early March 1862 Pennsylvania troops consisted of one-third of the total enlistments in the army which numbered about 344,408. As the Confederate tide began to roll into success following Union General George B. McClellan’s failed Peninsula Campaign to capture Richmond, Virginia and the emergence of Robert E. Lee, enthusiasm for the war effort faltered. In response to this and the diminishing number of men in the ranks, debates raged in both North and South over the use of black troops in combat. In the South, this debate raged for years in the face of blatant racism and skepticism of how African-American troops would handle themselves in combat until the final stages of the war when a scant amount of these regiments were raised but never used. The North, however, settled this issue not without resistance but still in time for these men to see combat. One of the African-American regiments raised in the north was the 22nd United States Colored Troops and in the ranks of this unit were a few good men from Waverly.

When the 22nd USCT organized at Camp William Penn just outside of Philadelphia in January 1864 they made have had an idea that they were going to see action during the war, but it can hardly be believed that they were aware that the campaign they would join would be the one that, for all intents and purposes, ended that war. Assigned to the Third Brigade, First Division of the Eighteenth Corps, the regiment eventually found itself, after drilling and construction duty (some of the menial assignments black troops were often only trusted with), staring down the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia that the 143rd Pennsylvania had squared off against at Gettysburg less than a year earlier. Now they were a part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s attempt to capture the city of Petersburg, Virginia, a rail hub south of the Confederate capitol at Richmond that if taken would cut off Richmond from the rest of the Confederacy and put Lee’s army out in the wind. The 22nd was assigned the task of leading a charge to capture a line of Confederate artillery works outside of Petersburg. Upon hearing that USCT regiments were to lead the assault on Petersburg, a white soldier showed his appreciation “for we knew we were to see fighting before night & we wanted to see these pets go in ahead of us & see how well they could fight.” Approximately 400 troops of the 4th North Carolina Cavalry and a section of guns at Petersburg awaited them.

The 4th USCT, positioned to the south of the 22nd, met the enemy first and inaugurated the Battle of Baylor’s Farm. So anxious were these troops to engage in combat that they could not even wait for orders to advance from the tree line they found shelter in. The 22nd and 5th USCT covered the desperate and failing advance, making sure not to minimize their exposure by taking advantage of that tree line that they were content to stay covered by. Eventually Colonel Joseph B. Kiddoo, commander of the 22nd, ordered his troops forward to capture the Confederate rifle pits covering the artillery. Cannons converged on the 22nd after the 4th’s desperate charge had been cleared and as the men made their way to the enemy they began to shout “Remember Fort Pillow!” in reference to the battle in western Tennessee where Confederates under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest had murdered surrendering black troops. With that in mind the men moved forward “with a wild yell that must certainly have struck terror into the hearts of their foe.” The attack on the rifle pits was a success and after the Color Sergeant of the 22nd planted his flag in the enemy breastworks the regiment, for a moment, basked in their success of capturing a 12-pound Napoleon howitzer cannon while holding the field. Another troop from the same regiment praised the efforts of the USCT saying that they “will keep on their feet, and move on, with wounds that would utterly lay out white men, and they stick like death to their guns.”

Like with the 143rd at Gettysburg, the 22nd’s initial success could not be celebrated because there was more fighting to come. As the 22nd advanced through the battle it had been shifted to the command of Major John B. Cook. His assignment was to “push their skirmishers well to the front and to charge the works as soon as the charge should begin to their right.” Cooks troops then advanced on an artillery position labeled Battery 7. The position was taken, but with heavy loss. A drummer boy from Maine recalled that “I beheld one of the grandest and most awful sights I ever saw. Those colored troops started on a double quick, and as they descended the hill, the fort poured volley after volley into them. The men seemed to fall like blades of grass before a machine, but it did not stop them; they rallied and moved on; it was only the work of a few minutes.” Col. Kiddoo took the leftovers of the 22nd that did not join Cook during his advance to assist with the capture of Battery 7. Upon seeing the works held and after running into the Colonel Elias Wright and the 1st USCT who had just taken Battery 6 Kiddoo decided it was time to press the assault. “I proposed that we unite our commands and charge Battery No. 8. He (Wright) thought it not safe, but proposed to support me if I would do so.” Kiddoo’s troops advanced on Battery 8 by crossing a deep, swampy ravine and caused the Confederate troops firing artillery to abandon their cannon and take up small arms as infantrymen. “My men wavered at first under the hot fire of the enemy, but soon, on seeing their (1st USCT) colors on the opposite side of the ravine, pushed rapidly up and passed the rifle-pits and fort.” An officer of the 22nd described the scene as the troops made their way up the side of the ravine while “all the time subject to a hot fire of grape and canister until we got so far under the guns as to be sheltered.”

The convergence of the 1st and 22nd USCT caused the rebels to abandon the position. Another daring charge by men who many in the country did not believe could be relied on in the field helped carry the attack. Even on the battlefield, though, couldn’t racial tensions be left at the door. Another officer of the 22nd, referring to the refusal of southerners to allow themselves to be held in the hands of such an enemy, had a matter-of-fact thought on the idea. “The real fact is, the rebels will not stand against our colored soldiers when there is any chance of their being taken prisoners, for they are conscious of what they justly deserve. Our men went into those works after they were taken yelling ‘Fort Pillow!’ The enemy well knows what this means.” Despite the efforts of the USCT troops on June 15, the initial assaults on Petersburg eventually failed and the army was forced to hunker down for a siege. It would take almost ten more months for the southern supply center to fall, eventually leading to the surrender of Richmond itself as well as the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse just a few days later. The United States survived the armed rebellion and jumped (for the short time being and with questionable results) the political and cultural hurdles of the mid 1800s on the track to becoming one of the foremost world powers in the twentieth century.

The cessation of hostilities did not mean that the effects of war ended as well. Some of John Mason Gravesite at Hickory Grove CemeteryWaverly’s fighting men made their way back home. John Mason, a private in the 22nd USCT, was wounded in the hand during the celebrated June 15 assault at Petersburg. Returning to Waverly on a disability charge, Mason was incapacitated to the effect of never again having a fully functioning right hand. With one hand still functioning, however, Mason was granted only one-half disability status. His pension was $8 a month. Others did not make it home. George Fell had joined the army in 1862 at the age of nineteen, serving under his brother Lieutenant Asher Fell. A year later George’s father John G. Fell, a local Baptist and abolitionist leader, ventured to Gettysburg in search of his son’s remains where they would be found on the field where he fell, wounded in the hip which was all too often a killing blow for the Civil War soldier. A memorial stone still remains in the Hickory Grove Cemetery in Waverly but this was not Fell’s final resting place.

On November 19, 1863 Abraham Lincoln presided over the dedication of the country’s newest national cemetery. Just yards from where Fell was eventually interred in what is now Gettysburg National Cemetery, the president, who himself would not get to see the world that this mighty scourge of war had wrought, spoke of “a new birth of freedom.” What would this freedom look like? That was to be seen, debated, and fought over the next century. Lincoln also noted that the world “can never forget what they did here.” The coming decades would see a cavalcade of commemorations celebrating the actions of brave men and women and memorials that would dominate the nation’s landscape. The 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry has two monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield, one of which depicts the regiments color-bearer, Sergeant Benjamin H. Crippin of Scranton, defiantly shaking his fist at his Confederate foes as the Union troops retreated to Cemetery Hill after the brutal fight on July 1. Witnessing the retreat was Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle, a British observer who would later write a best-selling memoir about his time in the South. Fremantle noted that as the Federals made their way back to and through Gettysburg, “the colour-bearer retired last of all, turning round every now and then to shake his fist at the advancing rebels. General Hill said he felt quite sorry when he saw this gallant Yankee meet his doom.” It was actions such as this that Lincoln implored the nation to keep in its collective memory. Having been asked to give “a few appropriate remarks” at the cemetery dedication, Lincoln went on to give an oration that has trickled down through the ages as an outline for how the people of the war-torn nation would reconcile with the death and destruction that had plagued them. “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

Veterans groups emerged as some of the most influential and powerful congregations in the country that would lend it’s hand to the way that the war would be remembered as well as how veterans and their families would be taken care of. The largest of these groups, The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), even had the Sgt. George O. Fell G.A.R. Post 307 headquartered in Waverly that was among the racially integrated posts in the state. On July 29, 1927 the Waverly Community House held a reunion of G.A.R. members from five Pennsylvania counties as well as two from New York. In association with members of the Women’s Relief Corps and Daughters of Veterans, G.A.R. president William T. Simpson hoped “a large number will come and ‘Rally around the Flag’ once more.” Forty-five veterans did and “the entire day was given over to discussing plans for continuing the splendid patriotism work being done by the organization(s), and to hearing short talks on the war-time experiences of the veterans.” While the reunion was a success the principal speaker at the event, Reverend I.J. Beckwith of the Green Ridge Baptist Church, made an effort to note the “diminishing ranks of the G.A.R.” The organization dissolved in 1956 and found a successor in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, a group still functioning today that even runs a Civil War museum located in the basement of Scranton City Hall. Today The Comm, in the spirit of the aforementioned groups, continues to help bring to the forefront the amazing history of the town and the era that forged our nation.

Visitors to the village can take the “Self-Guided Walking Tour of Waverly” and seeFell School and Fell Family House antebellum and Civil War era sites such as the Fell family home, the Fell Schoolhouse which served as the first meeting place of the local chapter of the African Methodist Episcopal church, and the Hickory Grove Cemetery where some of Waverly’s six African-American Civil War veterans are laid to rest among the rest of the village’s fighters and abolitionists. Waverly is a living memorial to these individuals, but in the current climate of history and memory there is even more room for the community to become a destination for the historically minded to discover stories long neglected in the national eye. Who knows? Maybe one day Waverly will be home to northeastern Pennsylvania’s premier Civil War museum. Maybe in time the recreated homes on Carbondale Road comprising the community established by those escaping bondage will serve as an interpretive center describing the Civil War era experience of African-Americans. In the spirit of the North Carolina monument at Gettysburg, visitors to Waverly can potentially visit a tangible testament to the six men who fought for their country, freedom, and rights in the face of a population that told them they were not worthy. As the Civil War continues to be fought at county courthouses, public parks, and through civil discourse, Northeastern Pennsylvania has a story to tell to add to the narrative and a history that is still yet to be fully uncovered.

 

One thought on “They Stick like Death to their Guns: Soldiery, Citizenship, & the Civil War Era in Waverly, Pennsylvania

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