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Eighty-Seventh Regimental History
87th PA Regiment History
On the 9th of August, 1861, George Hay, a citizen of York, and previously Captain of a volunteer rifle Company, received a commission as Colonel, and was authorized to recruit a regiment. Recruiting was immediately commenced. By the 12th of September five Companies had been mustered into service, and on the 16th, under command of John W. Schall, who had been selected as Lieutenant Colonel, were sent to relieve the 20th Indiana, then guarding the Northern Central Railroad, from the Pennsylvania line to Baltimore.
The regimental organization was Completed on the 25th of September by the election of Captain Charles H. Buehler, Major. Eight of the Companies were recruited in the county of York, and two, F and I, in Adams. The regiment entire was employed in guarding this line of road, and was scattered over a distance of more than thirty miles, some Companies covering a space of six miles, being divided into from six to twelve squads, under command of a non-commissioned officer. Notwithstanding the disadvantages to drill and discipline in being thus scattered, daily practice in the manual of arms, and in squad drill, were rigidly enforced, and the Companies were frequently brought together and exercised in field evolutions.
On the 26th of May, 1862, the whole force having been united a few days previous, marched to Baltimore and encamped. On the 23d of June it was ordered to proceed by rail to Martinsburg; but while on the way further orders were received to continue on to New Creek, West Virginia, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It was on duty here during the heat of Summer, and through the care of the surgeons, and the observance of the strict sanitary orders of the Colonel, the health of the regiment was well preserved, the mortality being much less than that of other regiments encamped about it.
In the latter part of August it was ordered to Rowlesburg, where General Kelly in command led it in person in pursuit of bands of the enemy under Imboden and Jenkins. After a fruitless chase across Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain, through Beverly to Elk Water, it turned back, on the 12th of September, moving through Philippa to Webster, and thence by rail to Clarksburg. While here a number of recruits were received.
On the 20th of October, with the command of General Milroy, it marched to Buckhannon, occupying the place, and remaining in camp until the 31st, when it moved on to Beverly. After a week's delay, it again set forward, crossed the Cheat and Allegheny Mountains, and on the 12th of November arrived at Franklin. From thence it proceeded through Beverly and Philippa to Webster, whence it returned by rail to New Creek. This march was very tiresome, leading over rugged mountains and swollen streams, and a portion of the time in face of snow and rain.
On the 6th of December, the Eighty-seventh, with Milroy's command, took up the line of march for Petersburg, and after three days' continuous marching through a deep snow, arrived and went into camp. A week later the command moved to Moorefield.
On the 18th of December, the Eighty-seventh, with a detachment of Milroy's troops, under command of General Cluseret, started with five days' rations on a scout in the direction of Wardensville, where Imboden's men were supposed to be lurking. Instead of returning at the end of five days, as was expected, the scout was continued through Wardensville, Capon Springs, and Strasburg, to Winchester, arriving on the 21th. Milroy's Division reached Winchester via Romney on the 2nd of January, 1863, bringing up the trains and baggage of the entire command, where it went into winter-quarters. The picket duty during the winter was very severe. The cavalry force was too small for the service required, and scouting parties of infantry had to be kept out constantly on nearly all the roads leading to the town, rendering the service, while in winter-quarters, equal in point of hardship to active campaigning.
In May, 1863, the regiment was sent to Webster, on the Parkersburg branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, to look after straggling bands of the enemy, who were committing depredations on friend and foe alike.
While here, Colonel Hay, who had been physically disabled for further field service, and had some time previous tendered his resignation, was notified of its acceptance. Lieutenant Colonel John W. Schall was elected to succeed him as Colonel, Captain James A. Stahle, (who had been elected Major to fill the vacancy occasioned by the promotion of Major Buehler to Colonel of the One Hundred and Sixty-Sixth,) Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain Noah G. Ruhl, Major.
On the 20th of May the regiment returned to Winchester, leaving Companies G and H on the way at Bunker Hill. On the 12th of June Colonel Schall, with four hundred men of the Eighty-seventh, two hundred of the Thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, and a section of Battery L, Fifth Uhited States. Artillery, was ordered on a reconnoissance in the direction of Strasburg. Milroy was still in command in the valley, and there was now beginning to be considerable activity on the part of the enemy, who was about starting from his winter camping grounds on the Rapidan, for his invasion of Pennsylvania.
After proceeding about ten miles, Schall's advance reported the enemy in its front. The command was immediately halted and drawn up for action. Five Companies of infantry were sent forward, two hundred yards, to the brow of the hill, and formed in the field to the right of, and facing the pike in a position screened from view of the rebel cavalry, as it would advance. The artillery was posted to command the brow of the hill, where it is crossed by the pike, with the remaining infantry in support. The cavalry, except the advance guard, was massed on the pike in rear of the artillery. The dispositions had scarcely been Completed, before the advance guard, which had been sent out as a decoy, made its appearance on the hill, coming in on the run, closely pursued by the rebel cavalry, charging with furious yells. When the enemy's column was well across the hill and in the very teeth of the Union force, the artillery opened a raking fire, and the infantry poured in deadly volleys, creating confusion, and at the opportune moment the cavalry charged, Completing his discomfiture, and driving him in rout towards Strasburg. He lost fifty killed and wounded, and thirty-seven prisoners, together with small arms and horses. After collecting the arms and caring for the wounded, Colonel Schall returned with his command to Winchester.
On the morning of the 13th, the battle in front of the town opened, and throughout the day the Eighty-seventh was engaged on the skirmish line between the Front Royal and Strasburg roads. Immediately after dark, it was posted in the streets, at the southern extremity of the town, where it remained until two o'clock in the morning. It was then moved back to the fortifications on the north-western side of the town. Soon after day-break on the 14th, it was discovered that the rebels had effected an entrance to the town on the eastern and southern sides. The Eighty-seventh and the Eighteenth Connecticut were ordered to drive them out and hold the town, which was successfully done.
Companies G and H, and two Companies of the One Hundred and Sixteenth Ohio, in all about two hundred men, stationed at Bunker Hill, were attacked by Jenkins' Cavalry, fifteen hundred strong, on Saturday the 13th, at five o'clock P. M. After a short resistance outside the town, they fell back, taking position in two old churches, near the Martinsburg and Winchester Pike. The fighting continued until nine o'clock, when the enemy fell back in the direction of Smithfield. About midnight, these Companies retired to Winchester and rejoined their regiments. The two Companies of the Eighty-seventh had one officer and one man killed, and three wounded.
At four o'clock in the afternoon of Sunday the 14th, the regiment was relieved by the Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania, and returned to the fortifications. At dusk it was posted in the rifle-pits around the outside of the main fort, and at eight o'clock assisted in repelling an attack made by the enemy on the fort. In the retreat, which commenced soon after midnight, it was the third in the order of march, the One Hundred and Tenth and One Hundred and Twentysecond Ohio regiments preceding it. When the head of the column was attacked from Carter's Woods, four miles out, with artillery and infantry, it immediately formed and charged, but was repulsed. Three times it moved upon the enemy's lines, but could not break them, and in the last charge Colonel Schall had his horse shot under him.1
Organized resistance being at an end, the regiment succeeded in eluding the enemy, and retreated by Smithfield and Charlestown to Harper's Ferry. Among the killed were Captain Wells A. Farrah, and Lieutenant Michael S. Slothower, both of Company H.
On the 16th, with the infantry stationed at Harper's Ferry, it crossed the Potomac and encamped on Maryland Heights.
On the night of the 1st of July the Heights were evacuated, and with other troops, the Eighty-seventh was detailed to guard the boats which carried the ordnance and quarter-mastcr's stores to Georgetown. It arrived on the 4th of July, and immediately marched out and encamped at Tenallytown, where intelligence of the victory at Gettysburg was received.
On the morning of the 6th it moved by rail to Frederick city, on the following day joined the army of the Potomac at Middletown. With the Third Brigade, Third Division of the Third Corps, to which it was here attached, it participated in the engagement at Manassas Gap, July 23d, at Bealton Station, October 26th, Kelly's Ford, November 7th, Brandy Station, November 8th, Locust Grove, November 27th, and at Mine Run, November 30th.
At the close of the campaign the regiment went, into winter-quarters near Brandy Station. While here one hundred and eighty of the men re-enlisted, and in the month of April, 1864, were given a veteran furlough. Upon the breaking up of the Third Corps the Eighty-seventh was assigned to the First Brigade, Third Division of the Sixth Corps, Composed of the One Hundred and Sixth, One Hundred and Fifty-first New York, Tenth Vermont, Fourteenth New Jersey, and Eighty-seventh Pennsylvania, and with it bore a part, upon the opening of the spring campaign, in the battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, but without serious loss.
In the battle of Cold Harbor, on the 1st of June, the Eighty-seventh and One Hundred and Fifty-first New York, formed the second line in the charging party, with orders to cross the rebel works, the first line having orders to give place to the second on reaching them. The order was gallantly executed, the works carried and held until the force was withdrawn just before daybreak. Though attaining a position in advance of the troops on the right and left, it sustained a smaller proportionate loss than other regiments of the brigade. The valor displayed by the division in this charge called forth a congratulatory order from General Meade.
In the advance on the 3d, Colonel Schall, while in command of the brigade, was wounded in the arm, and Captain Thaddeus S. Pfeiffer, in charge of the picket line, was shot through the body, and died a few hours after. In the actions of the 1st and 3d the regiment sustained a loss, in killed and wounded, of nearly a third of its strength.
With the corps it withdrew from the position at Cold Harbor, and crossing the Chickahominy, marched to the James. Taking boats at Wilcox's Landing it moved to Bermuda Hundred, where debarking it remained for three days with General Butler's command. It then crossed the Appamattox and took position in front of Petersburg, on the extreme left of the army. On the 23d of June, General Wright, with a portion of the Sixth Corps, of which the Eighty-seventh formed part, moved upon the Weldon Railroad, and tore up the track for a considerable distance. The enemy attacked, but was repulsed and driven back.
At four o'clock on the morning of the 6th of July, Ricketts' Division was ordered to City Point, where it took transports and moved to Baltimore, to the support of Wallace, in command of the Department, who, with his slender force had gone out to meet the enemy under Early. Ricketts moved immediately by rail to Frederick, where Wallace was already confronting a heavy rebel force. Retiring across the Monocacy, he prepared to offer stubborn resistance upon the line of that stream, Tyler having the right, covering the Baltimore Pike, and Ricketts with the only brigade of his division which had arrived, the left, covering the high road to Washington. Each had three small guns, while Early confronted them with sixteen heavy pieces, with a force of infantry of proportionate superiority. The battle soon opened and the fighting in front became very warm. Sending a heavy body of his troops to cross the river below, and out of range of our guns, he came in upon Ricketts' flank. Changing front to meet the threatened danger, Ricketts formed a single line without reserves, but was unable even then to present a front equal to the approaching foe. The enemy's first line charged, but was handsomely repulsed; his second line advanced, but was also beaten back with great slaughter.
Ricketts' other brigade was momentarily expected, and in hope of speedy arrival, the weakened line continued for an hour to hold its ground, when, no help coming, after having maintained a heroic struggle for over five hours, against vastly superior numbers, it was ordered to retire, and sullenly withdrew, leaving three hundred of the enemy's slain stretched on that gory field.
The loss in,the regiment was greater in this than in any other battle in its entire term of service. Among the killed were Adjutant Anthony M. Martin and Lieutenants Charles F. Haack and Daniel P. Dietrich, and Lieutenants John F. Spangler and Henry F. Waltmeyer, mortally wounded.
For two months, during the heat of summer, the regiment performed toilsome marches with the corps through Maryland and Virginia, to little apparent purpose. In September, while encamped near Perryville, one hundred and seventy recruits were received.
On the 19th of September it moved with the army under Sheridan against the enemy at the Opequan. Ricketts' Division was sent at ten in the morning, over rugged ground to attack the enemy's front. When the wooded heights had been cleared, and the summit attained, Early, seeing the danger which threatened him, hurled his shells with frightful effect, and charged with overwhelming force. Ricketts was swept back with considerable loss; but rallying, held his ground, and again advanced, regaining his lost ground, and hurling the enemy before him. The Eighty-seventh lost in this engagement sixty in killed and wounded. The advantage was followed up, and on the 22nd at Fisher's Hill, the enemy was again routed with a loss to the regiment of one killed and one wounded.
On the 23d of September, the original term of service having expired, the regiment, with the exception of veterans and recruits, was ordered to York, where on the 13th of October it was mustered out of service. The veterans and recruits were consolidated into a battalion of five Companies, which was commanded by Edgar M. Ruhl, senior Captain. He lead his battalion in the battle of Cedar Creek, October 19th, where he was instantly killed by a rifle ball.
In March, 1865, five new Companies were assigned to the battalion bringing it up to the full strength of a regiment. Captain James Tearney, subsequently commissioned Colonel, had assumed command on the previous December, and retained it until the final muster out. On the 2nd of April it participated in a charge upon the works before Petersburg, losing two officers and five men killed, and three officers and twenty-three men wounded. Lieutenants Samuel W. Keasey and Peter Nickle were among the killed. It was also engaged at Sailor's Creek, on the 6th, with a loss of one wounded. It was finally mustered out at Alexandria, on the 29th of June.
Source: Bates, Samuel P. (Samuel Penniman), 1827-1902.: History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5; prepared in compliance with acts of the legislature, by Samuel P. Bates.
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