“The Old Eleventh”
A Short History of the 11th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
By: Jonathan A. Noyalas
When the first shots of civil war echoed in Charleston Harbor in April 1861 tens of thousands of Northerners flocked to the defense of the Union. Among the first to answer President Abraham Lincoln’s clariant call to arms was the 11th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The stout, brave-hearted men from Westmoreland, Clinton, Lycoming, Carbon, Allegheny, and Cumberland counties who filled the ranks of the 11th came to the ranks “as strangers,” remembered the 11th’s chaplain, “but drawn together by the same noble impulse of love of country, were now united, for life or for death, in strong and enduring bonds.”
Mustered into service in late April 1861 at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, the regiment moved to Camp Wayne near West Chester and began incessant drill and schooling in the life of the soldier. Under the leadership of Col. Phaon Jarrett, a West Point graduate, engineer, attorney, and businessman, men from all walks of life transformed into a fighting unit. Also at Camp Wayne the 11th received a unique gift, something that would become symbolic of the regiment, its mascot—a brindle bull terrier pup. Named Sallie Ann Jarret, in honor of a very much admired West Chester belle and Col. Jarrett, she followed the regiment faithfully in all of its campaigns until her death at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run in February 1865.
After three short weeks of training the regiment moved out to its first post, guarding the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore R.R. Here the 11th received its first casualty—Private Andrew Maguire—the victim of friendly fire. After several weeks of guarding the tracks the 11th was attached to Gen. Robert Patterson’s Army of Pennsylvania. The 11th performed well under Patterson, who held a special affection for the troops from the Keystone State. “With you, my brave Blue Jackets,” Patterson confidently told the 11th in July, “I can hold the place alone.”
On the morning of July 2, 1861, the regiment, part of Brig. Gen. John J. Abercrombie’s 3,000 man brigade, battled against the not yet so famous Col. Thomas Jonathan Jackson (soon to be Stonewall) at the Battle of Falling Waters. Abercrombie’s men forced the Confederates to retire. Here the 11th and Pennsylvania lost its first casualty to the Civil War—Amos Suppinger (who now rests in the Winchester National Cemetery in grave #1022).
Ten days after Falling Waters the 11th received a national flag from the loyal citizens of Martinsburg, Virginia. In an elaborate ceremony a group of fifteen young ladies presented the woolen flag to the regiment. “May God bless you, preserve your health and lead you honorably and triumphantly through this contest,” remarked one of the presenters. The regiment bore this flag proudly in all of its battles until it was captured by the 17th Virginia Infantry at the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August 1862.
On July 31, 1861, the regiment mustered out of its ninety day service, but not without receiving the thanks of its commanding general, Patterson. The aged commander heaped praise upon the 11th: “It gives the commanding general great satisfaction to say that the conduct of this regiment has merited its highest approbation. It had the fortune to be in the advance at Falling Waters, where the steadiness and gallantry of both the officers and men came under personal observation. They have well merited his thanks.” Before the men mustered out of service preparations were made for reenlistment for three years’ service. Throughout September and November the regiment reorganized under the leadership of a new and competent officer—Col. Richard Coulter.
The men spent the autumn of 1861 drilling at Camp Curtin and the winter performing guard duty at Annapolis, Maryland. New Year’s Day 1862 marked the beginning of incessant campaigning for the 11th. From that point forward the men found themselves in the thickest of the fight at Thoroughfare Gap, Second Bull Run, in the cornfield at Antietam, and on the offensive against the Confederate right at Fredericksburg. 1863 brought harder campaigning for the regiment as they maneuvered the narrow roads and farms of Virginia. By the summer of 1863 the regiment found itself on its native soil defending the Keystone State from Confederate invaders at Gettysburg.
The regiment, along with the rest of Brig. Gen. Henry Baxter’s brigade, inflicted severe casualties on their Confederate attackers on July 1 on Oak Ridge. On the afternoon of July 1, after much of the Union I Corps gave way the 11th supported Stewart’s Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery near the railroad cut, in what some historians regard as one of the greatest fights in history between artillery and infantry at close range. With ranks depleted considerably after the first days’ fighting the regiment lived up to its nom de guerre of “Bloody Eleventh” being involved on Cemetery Ridge and Cemetery Hill.
Suffering considerable casualties at Gettysburg the 11th continued to fight in skirmishes and against Col. John S. Mosby’s partisan rangers. By the close of 1863 the ranks needed desperately to be replenished. After 204 men of the regiment reenlisted as veteran volunteers during the first week of January 1864 the unit began to take in new recruits and train. By April the regiment was 500 strong and ready to continue it crusade to crush the Confederacy. Throughout May and June the 11th fought ably, but at high cost, during Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. The 11th, with the rest of the Army of the Potomac, marched south, crossed the James, and pinned Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg. There the regiment reorganized and command of the regiment turned over to Capt. John Overmeyer of Co. D. upon the promotion of Col. Coulter to brigadier general.
The regiment fought capably in the war’s last campaign in Virginia suffering losses at Weldon R.R., Hatcher’s Run, Gravelly Run, and Five Forks. Among the casualties of the war’s final campaign was Sallie, the regimental mascot. During the fighting at Hatcher’s Run on February 6, 1865, the faithful terrier, who had already received several red badges of courage, met her horrible fate on Virginia’s soil. A member of the regiment penned five days after the battle: “Poor Sallie fell in the front line in the fight…a bullet pierced her brain. She was buried where she fell, by some of the boys, even whilst under a murderous fire.” So important had Sallie become to the regiment that it included a bronze likeness of her on the regimental monument, dedicated on September 3, 1890, that stands silent watch on Gettysburg’s Oak Ridge.
After taking part in the surrender ceremonies at Appomattox the regiment mustered out of service on July 1, 1865, with 507 men in the ranks. Throughout the course of the Civil War 2,096 men served under the 11th’s war-torn and bloodied banners with 1,432 casualties. More than 400 of the casualties had been killed, mortally wounded, or died from disease.
Veterans of two dozen major battles and campaigns the 11th proved worthy of every bit of praise heaped upon it in the postwar years. Perhaps it was Samuel P. Bates, who wrote several years after the Civil War, who best captured the 11th’s fighting prowess: “Among the first regiments in the service in 1861, fighting its first battle at Falling Waters in the three months’ campaign, through all the varying fortunes of the Army of the Potomac, with which it was from the first incorporated, down to the last grand struggle, when the old antagonist was held in an unyielding grasp, it had never lost its identity and never failed to respond in the hour of battle.”
Remembrance Day Remarks, November 19, 2016
Jonathan A. Noyalas
Seventeen centuries before the Civil War’s opening salvo in Charleston Harbor, Sextus Julius Frontinus, one of Rome’s most distinguished senators of the 1st century observed that “remembrance will endure if the life [lived] shall have merited it.”
There is no doubt that the majority of the 2096 men who marched under the regimental standards of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry thought little of how future generations would remember them when they answered their nation’s call to arms to preserve the American Republic. What the men of the 11th Pennsylvania cared about once they enlisted was defeating their Confederate foe and reuniting a nation torn asunder.
The ebb and flow of the Civil War carried the 11th Pennsylvania from the battlefields of Falling Waters, to the killing fields of Cedar Mountain, Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Hatcher’s Run, and Appomattox.
At each place the regiment fought and sacrificed, the regiment transformed the soil of once peaceful farms and communities into sacred places and in so doing each of the men who fought gallantly under the 11th’s fluttering banners lived a life that indeed merited remembrance.
To many individuals who pass this monument, with its bronze soldier poised atop the pedestal, keeping eternal watch over Forney’s Field, this is just a monument—one among hundreds that dot Gettysburg’s landscape. But to us, this monument means a great deal more. It does not merely signify a moment fixed in time commemorating the deeds of the regiment on July 1, 1863, marking their heroic stand on Oak Ridge, nor does it merely commemorate the loyalty of its regimental mascot Sallie Ann Jarret, killed and buried on the field of honor at Hatcher’s Run; this monument stands as a tangible reminder to the sacrifices of the men from this regiment who unselfishly served their nation and their God without regard for their future or personal safety.
Enshrined in this monument are the souls of those 2,096 men who answered duty’s call—men such as Corporal Anthony W. Raudenbush, who enlisted in the regiment at the age of twenty-two and who was wounded Fredericksburg in December 1862—the severity of which forced his discharge three months after the battle. This monument also enshrines the spirits of those men who went unselfishly off to war and never returned home as they made the ultimate sacrifice on freedom’s altar—patriots such as Private Amos Suppinger, a nineteen year old private from Danville, who now sleeps eternal in grave number 1022 in the Winchester National Cemetery or 1st Lieutenant John P. Straw who was killed at Cold Harbor in June 1864.
To most, names such as Raudenbush, Suppinger, and Straw are mere names, but to us they are the names of great heroes, heroes who have lived worthy lives, made worthy contributions, and we must ever remember that duty calls upon us in the present to preserve their worthy legacy and remit that it to future generations.
So today as we carry out the charge issued in Gettysburg 153 years ago by President Abraham Lincoln—to make certain that the “world… can never forget what they did here” let us pay homage to the thirteen veterans of this regiment who sacrificed all on their native Pennsylvania soil, so that the “government of the people, by the people, for the people” would “not perish from the earth.”
1. Private Samuel Trauger
2. Corporal Charles J. Lewis
3. Private George S. Fellebaum
4. Private James Gillen
5. Sgt. Thomas W. Ebert
6. Private David Adams
7. Private Matthew Jenkins
8. Private Josiah Poh
9. Private Peter Walters
10. Private Jacob Strable
11. Corporal Charles M’Connell
12. Private James F. Rice
13. Private William H. West
Each of these men who sacrificed all at Gettysburg, and to their comrades who fought and fell on other fields, engraving their names on fames immortal scroll, deserves the loftiest recognition for they gave the greatest gift that anyone possesses—life. As we stand here in humble commemoration we should ever remember the poetical words of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, words that remind us that although these men have been returned to the God who created them, their spirits and legacies remain. Harper penned in part:
Oh! Not in vain those heroes fell,
Each dying heart poured out a balm
To heal the wounded nation’s life.
And from the soil drenched with their blood,
The fairest flowers of peace shall bloom;
And history cull rich laurels there,
To deck each martyr hero’s tomb.
And ages yet uncrossed with life,
As sacred urns, do hold each mound
Where sleep the loyal, true, and brave
In freedom’s consecrated ground.