Civil War Soldier

Pvt. William J. Knight

Co. G, 126th PVI
Co. L, 21st Pa. Cav.
Co. L, 182nd PVI

A speech presented in November of 1995 at a meeting of Gen. George H. Thomas Camp #19, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, in Lancaster, PA by Glenn B. Knight.

William J. Knight, my paternal great-grandfather was a member of Company G, 126th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry as well as Company L, 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry and Company L, 182nd PVI. Like many in my family, it seems like he couldn't hold a job.

When I first got started in genealogy my paternal grandfather, William's middle son, John Baptist Knight had died and none of his children knew much about theirWilliam J. Knight grandparents. My father, Glenn F. Knight was born in Blue Ridge Summit, PA and Adams County appeared to be the family center.

I knew that my great-grandfather's name was William and family tradition held that he served in the Union Army because his name was on the Pennsylvania monument at Gettysburg. Through the Adams County Historical Society I learned that none of the three William Knights on the monument could have been my great-grandfather. An earlier search of records at the National Archives turned up no less than 15 William Knights who served with Pennsylvania units in the Civil War--one was a captain, two were sergeants major, one sergeant and the rest all privates.

Last year my father encouraged me to speak with three sisters, daughters of my grandfather's brother Jacob. They were, and still are, living together in Chambersburg. At that meeting I extracted a wealth of information including some references to pension data and the phrase "falling spring".

The pension data led me back to the National Archives and the falling spring reference led me to Falling Spring German Baptist Church in Guilford Twp., Franklin County. The culmination was my visit to the graveyard of the Falling Spring German Baptist Church and the location of William's grave--complete with G.A.R. marker. Thankfully my father was with me at the time and we had the rare opportunity to share a deeply emotional moment together.

William J. Knight was born in Baltimore, MD about 1844 (a century before I was born), one of three known children of John and Mary Rosenberger Knight. The Rosenbergers were originally from Prussia and members of the Reformed faith. They moved through Lancaster and York Counties into Franklin County, where they appear to have been associated with the Cloister at Snow Hill (an off-shoot of the Ephrata Cloister).

Later, they became German Baptists (a branch which also yielded the more recognized Church of the Brethren), and would have therefore been pacifists. But on Aug. 11, 1862 (One hundred years and three days before I enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps), William--then 18 years old--enlisted as a private in Company G, 126th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

The company was formed in Franklin County and immediately moved to join the regiment, under Col. James G. Elder, at Camp Curtin, near Harrisburg. On Aug. 15 they marched to Washington and camped at Fort Albany for a week until moving to the neighborhood of Cloud's Mills where they became part of the First Brigade commanded by Gen. Erastus B. Tyler. They were then in the V Corps.

They were ordered to Bull Run on Aug 31 but before they could move, the nature of the disaster had become apparent and the order was countermanded. They didn't move again until Sept 12 when the Division crossed to Meridian Hill and on toward Antietam, arriving there on the 16th.

But, before we get too far out of Washington allow me to relate a story from Sketches of the Regiment, by Judge Rowe that I thought you might find interesting:

"William Fitzpatrick of Western Virginia, loved or was loved by Frances Day. Fitzpatrick enlisted in Company F, from Juniata County, and went to war with the One hundred and Twenty-sixth Regiment. In a short time he fell ill and on the 24th of August, 1862, whilst the regiment lay at Cloud's Mills, he died in the hospital at Alexandria. On the day he died, Frank Mayne, a sergeant of company F, unaccountably deserted.

"When he enlisted he was a stranger to all the men of that company, but in a few days he had so ingratiated himself with his comrades and officers, as to be promoted to Sergeant, He was not heard of any more while the regiment remained in service.

"But long after, in the far West, a soldier, wounded badly in a great battle, could not conceal her sex, and Frances Day then told how she had followed Fitzpatrick into the army, and became herself a soldier and a Sergeant in the One Hundred and Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers; of her desertion upon her lover's death, and the abandon and despair which led her again to seek the ranks of the army.

"It seems that the question of sexual orientation in the military is not a new issue.

Returning now to the regiment at Antietam they were camped on the Monacacy with Tyler's Brigade until the afternoon of Sept. 17. While waiting, a large body of paroled Union prisoners, who had surrendered at Harper's Ferry, passed by. The march for the battlefield began at 3 p.m. and upon arrival the following morning they were issued 20 additional rounds of ammunition and took a position in reserve of Porter's Corps. The enemy was pushed back and they advanced to the river bank and then on to camp near Sharpsburg.

At this time they were close to Chambersburg and delegations of family and friends made camp life a lot easier and certainly more interesting. The 126th represented the largest single contribution of manpower from Franklin County during the entire war. The citizens were rightfully proud of this unit. The eight companies of infantry amounted to about 800 men with an average age of 23. Many had served previously in the 2nd Pennsylvania and many were professional men--although most were laborers or farmers. Fourteen nine-month regiments were raised from the call of August 1862. Most of them served on garrison duty and, in fact, only three suffered any battle casualties--the 126th was one of those three. One of the companies was presented a banner by the ladies of the company while in camp and the regiment was formally presented the state colors. Of special note was the review of the division by President Lincoln.

Their near three-month respite ended on Dec. 11 when the division moved with the army to Warrenton and then continued on to Falmouth from where it would attack Fredericksburg. Anxious for battle they were held in suspense for two days as Gen. Ambrose Burnside's cannon softened the objective and military bands filled the silences with martial music to encourage the patriotic fervor of the warriors. In fact the time was needed to bring in the pontoon bridges which had been delayed by bureaucratic inefficiency. Most scholars agree that had the bridges arrived in time and had the attack taken place earlier, as planned, the outcome would have been significantly different.

The now emotionally charged troops crossed the Rappahannock by the upper pontoon bridge on Dec. 13 and into the town by Telegraph Road. Entering a low meadow to the right they were bombarded by heavy artillery fire. "A chicken could not have lived on that field when we opened upon it," boasted one Confederate cannoneer. Moving, under cover, to the left of the road they encountered both artillery and infantry fire. Harry C. Fortescue, Company G's second lieutenant, was killed instantly. At about the same time Private William J. Knight was wounded in the right leg.

At the base of Marye's Heights the regiment learned that three earlier attacks had been repelled with heavy casualties and General Andrew A. Humphreys' division was ordered to make a final attempt as Burnside had declared, "That crest must be carried tonight".

Tyler formed his brigade in two lines with the 126th to the right of the second line and ordered them not to fire but rely solely upon their bayonet. They charged forward uttering heroic cheers, up the hill in well ordered lines, past the brick house and among the bodies from the previous charges, ending at the stone wall where the enemy was waiting. Suddenly the wall became a sheet of flame and black powder smoke as balls struck down soldiers by the score. To make things worse, soldiers to their rear disobeyed orders and opened fire. Bewildered and stunned they opened fire and gave up the momentum of the charge. They retreated down the hill and re-formed at its foot. During the height of the battle Col. Elder was severely wounded and according to Bates' History of Pennsylvania Volunteers he was absent when the unit was mustered out.

The loss that day was 27 killed, 50 wounded and 3 missing. Gen. Robert E. Lee, while watching the assault on Marye's Heights made his now famous statement, "It is well that war is so terrible; men would love it too much."

"It will be impossible for me," wrote Gen. Tyler in his official report, "to mention the many acts of heroism on that bloody field; but it is due to the officers and men to state that they performed their duties well and they need no higher encomium than to know that their conduct on the field was highly complemented by their Division and Grand Division commanders." Gen. Joe Hooker was even more complementary as he left the field after the failure of the assault he was recorded to have said, "No prettier sight was ever seen than the charge of that division."

Private Knight was taken to hospital in Washington and later transferred to Harrisburg. If he was returned to duty before the regiment was mustered out following their nine months of service, I do not know. I feel certain that he missed Burnside's mud march in January of 1863, but I have no record of Chancellorsville. The regiment participated but it is most likely that Pvt. Knight was still in hospital. A week after that battle the regiment returned to Harrisburg to be mustered out on May 26, 1863.

William, nearly a year older, probably a lot wiser and now a wounded veteran apparently returned home. I must assume that he was at home near Chambersburg when the war came to his door stoop--at Gettysburg. How that effected him is hard to guess but less than three months after being mustered out, on Aug. 4, 1863, when Company L of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry was being formed under the command of Capt. George L. Miles, he enlisted again as a private. From his enlistment papers I learned that he had blue eyes (like mine), dark hair (like mine once was), a light complexion (much unlike my own) and that he stood only 5' 4½" tall (which is a Knight trait, my height comes from my Baker side, while my girth I must blame on the Koehlers). He was then 19 years old and indicates that he was born in Baltimore, MD. Single, he remained so until 1872 when he married my great-grandmother Liddie Melinda Baker.

At the same time, Company M had enlisted one John D. Knight who, for some time, I thought might have been my great-great-grandfather but records at the National Archives prove that this John Knight was from New York and that he was killed in service. I have Census data that shows my great-great-grandfather John Knight still living after the war.

Assistant Surgeon L. M. Murphy certified William to be "free from all bodily defects and mental infirmity". I guess that having been shot in the leg was not a disqualifying factor in 1863. Lt. John B. Harmony signed his name saying that he had minutely inspected the applicant and found him "entirely sober when enlisted" and duly qualified. His enlistment was credited to Green Twp. (adjacent to Guilford Twp.), sub District 45, 16th congressional district. William signed with an "X" as he did for all of his life. Even pension records long after the war and up to a year prior to his death contained only his familiar "X".

The newly recruited troops were equipped and mounted at Camp Couch, near Harrisburg, and then to a camp of instruction near Chambersburg. Col. William H. Boyd was selected to command the regiment. Boyd had commanded a company in the Lincoln Cavalry which was highly respected for its skirmishes in the Cumberland Valley during the Gettysburg Campaign.

On Aug. 23 the regiment was ordered to Harrisburg. Company L, along with C, E, K and H were sent to Scranton and Pottsville for provost duty. Companies D and I had been dispatched to Harpers Ferry and assigned to the Department of the Shenandoah. In Jan. 1864 authority was given to re-organize the regiment for three years service rather than the six months for which they had enlisted. Gathering at a camp near Chambersburg, those who wished were mustered out, the rest were re-formed and new recruits filled out the ranks. Bates reports that he was transferred to Company L of the 182nd PVI on Feb. 4, 1864 but the history of the regiment suggests a slightly different scenario.

Just a note here that William's muster record shows him sick in hospital on April 17. There is no further reference to this incident anywhere.

About the middle of May the regiment was ordered to Washington where, to everyone's dismay, they were dis-mounted and re-fitted as infantry--at that time they became the 182nd PVI. I have a quartermaster's note to stop the saddle compensation to Pvt. Knight in May-June 1864.

The 182nd was attached to the Army of the Potomac on June 1 and were assigned to the Second Brigade, First Division of the Fifth Corps where they were associated with the 62nd Pennsylvania and the 22nd and 23rd Massachusetts. The army was then facing Cold Harbor.

Bloody fighting at Cold Harbor cost the regiment 11 killed and 79 wounded, including Col. Boyd, who was subsequently discharged and Lieutenant Colonel Mason.

J. D. H. in his pamphlet "Travels and Doings" recounted that on the 18th the 21st was ordered to charge a rebel fort [at the Petersburg and Suffolk Railroad]. "We fixed bayonets, and went up the hill in a yell, while the rebels opened upon us a perfect hailstorm of iron and lead from their muskets, and from sixteen pieces of artillery. If Cold Harbor was hard, the fight of the 18th of June was harder. We charged the brow of the second hill, and the rebel fort lay directly in front of us . . . about 150 yards. Here we found we could go no further. He, who went beyond this, went to his grave." The regiment's colors were shot down three times and the loss was 11 killed, 79 wounded and one missing. Major Oliver B. Knowles was now in command. Their next engagement, on the 22nd, resulted in 2 killed and 3 wounded.

Remaining in trench warfare around Petersburg the regiment did take part in an attack on the Weldon Railroad on Aug. 18 at a cost of 1 killed and 27 wounded.

In mid-September the regiment was transferred to the First Brigade, Gen. Sickel commanding. Along with the 198th they over-ran the works at Poplar Spring Church with a loss of 16 either killed or wounded. For its gallantry in this action the regiment received a complementary order from Gen. Charles Griffin, in command of the division.

On Oct. 5 the 21st was sent to City Point where it was equipped and re-mounted. Assigned to the Second Division of Gen. David McM. Gregg it was part of the First Brigade, composed of the First Maine, 6th and 13th Ohio, 2nd New York and the 21st Pennsylvania, now commanded by Col. C. H. Smith. Gen. Gregg was a first cousin of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin. At the Battle of Boydton Plank Road the Union forces were obliged to retire with the cavalry covering the retreat and then carving their way out after nightfall. The 21st lost 3 killed, 33 wounded and 18 missing.

The regiment destroyed Stony Creek Station on Dec. 1st and on the 6th they were out on the Bellefield raid followed by an engagement on the 11th--the total loss was 2 killed, 5 wounded and one taken prisoner. During this period Major Knowles was promoted to colonel.

On Feb. 5, 1865, as part of a heavy force, they moved across Hatcher's Run toward the South Side Railroad. Gregg's cavalry continued on to Dinwiddie Court House to mild resistance. Col. Knowles had command of the brigade in this expedition.

During the winter the 21st was recruited to full strength and on March 1 was assigned to the Second Brigade of the Second Division which was composed of the 2nd, 4th, 8th, 16th and 21st Pennsylvania Regiments commanded by Brevet Gen. John Irvin Gregg. Nearly half the regiment was again dismounted, including Trooper Knight, and ordered to City Point for the final assault on the defenses of Petersburg. The 8th Pennsylvania was to have made the first contact in the battle but they got lost (a fact which does not show up in their regimental history) and the honor of first contact went to the 21st. That first resistance was at Dinwiddie Court House but the fight on the 31st which proved disastrous to Union forces did not include the 21st as they had been detailed to hold a bridge at Stony Creek on that day.

April 5 the division struck a wagon train capturing a battery, destroying 200 wagons and capturing 900 mules. In less than half an hour the regiment lost 98 killed, wounded or missing. The very next day it was Sailor's Creek and at Farmville on the 7th Gen. Gregg was captured.

At daylight on the 9th of April the brigade was thrown across the main road at Lynchburg to cut off the Rebel retreat. On returning from that battle they were informed of Lee's surrender--news that had arrived only moments after they left camp that morning.

Following a stop at Appomattox Court House the brigade marched back to Burkesville and shortly to Petersburg. A brief expedition with Gen. Sherman into North Carolina was halted at the Dan River when it was learned that General Johnston had surrendered--the brigade then retired to Petersburg. In early May the brigade was sent to Lynchburg from where detached units were sent to surrounding counties for provost duties. In the middle of June the 21st was recalled to Lynchburg to be mustered out of service.

On the 8th of July at Lynchburg, VA, William J. Knight was again mustered out of service along with his unit. In just over 10 months the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry had three field officers severely wounded, one staff officer slightly wounded, one died of disease and one was discharged to accept promotion in another unit. Of the line officers, 4 were killed, 10 were wounded, 4 were wounded prior to promotion and 4 were captured. 147 enlisted men were killed or died of disease and 253 were wounded.

He served in Co. D, 42nd U. S. Infantry Volunteer Corps from Feb. 21, 1867 until his final discharge on Mar. 29, 1869. I have been unable to find any service records for this period and I am not certain what purpose the unit served.

My great-grandfather returned home to New Franklin in Guilford Twp., Franklin County where he worked as a laborer, where he was married and where he raised 8 children including my grandfather, John Baptist KnightJohn Baptist Knight who, among other things, joined Gen. George H. Thomas Camp 19, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War on March 8, 1926. True to his wandering heritage my grandfather moved frequently through Franklin and Adams Counties and into Lancaster. His son, my father, Glenn F. Knight, Glenn F. Knightalso joined Camp 19 in the 1930s and I am now a third generation member of this camp. My son, Christopher, marks the fourth generation of my family to be a member of Camp 19.

Great-grandfather William Knight applied for an invalid pension on Nov. 5, 1900. When he died, at 6 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1902 his pension claim was still being considered. He had been a widower for nine years and on his death he left three minor children - all girls - who were under the guardianship of the Chambersburg Trust Company. Two years after his death the children's trustee was paid $8 per month for the period from Nov. 1900 through Jan. 1902 -- $112. There was also a dependent's pension but I ran out of time to research it.

My great-grandfather died poor, widowed and in ill health at New Franklin at the age of 68. His wife is buried in an un-marked grave "at the head of Falling Springs". William rests in the graveyard of the Falling Spring German Baptist Church among relatives and brothers of the Grand Army of the Republic. His monument is a quartermaster's headstone giving name, unit, rank and date of death. The only flourish is an acid-worn flag holder bearing the emblem of the G.A.R.

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2/15/98 GBK