Saturday, May 28, 2011

Faces of the Civil War: David D. Mahaffey

David Mahaffey, a farmer from the Pittsbugh area, died
 June 19, 1864, of wounds suffered near Petersburg, Va.
This is a 1/9-plate tintype from my collection.
On Memorial Day, I'll pause to remember a 24-year-old farmer named David D. Mahaffey, one of 33,183 soldiers from Pennsylvania who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country during the Civil War.

From Dorseyville, Pa., near Pittsburgh, Mahaffey was mustered into Co. E of the 63rd Pennsylvania Infantry on Sept. 9, 1861, about five months after the opening shots of the war were fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
It's hard to read, but David Mahaffey's name is etched into
the top of his tintype photo, probably by a photographer
during the Civil War.

Mahaffey began the war as a private, but he was promoted to corporal on Oct. 4, 1862, while the 63rd Pennsylvania was serving in the defenses of Washington and guarding fords in Maryland. (1) Flush with pride and wearing a uniform featuring his corporal's stripes, David may have had the image above taken at a photographic studio in the capital. Standing 5 feet 10 with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion, Mahaffey, his revolver tucked securely in his trousers, stared intently at the camera. In addition to tinting Mahaffey's cheeks red, the photographer etched the soldier's name at the top of the front of the tin plate and his unit on the reverse, a fairly common practice.

By May 1864, Mahaffey had been wounded at least twice, the first time at the Battle of Fair Oaks near Richmond on May 31, 1862. He returned to Co. E after recuperating. (2) The 63rd Pennsylvania suffered one dead and 29 wounded fighting near Emmitsburg Road on July 2, 1863, during the second day at Gettysburg, but Mahaffey survived that battle unscathed. At the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia on May 7, 1864, Mahaffey again was wounded, albeit slightly. (3)

On June 16, 1864, Corporal David Mahaffey's luck ran out. 
Mahaffey was discharged from the army by "reason of death."
As the Army of the Potomac began the siege of Petersburg, Va., Mahaffey suffered a severe leg wound. He was taken to the division hospital at Meade Station, where the leg was amputated. Three days later, the young Pennsylvania farmer, probably so full of hope when he enlisted nearly three years earlier, was dead. One can only imagine the reaction of David's family 375 miles away near Pittsburgh upon hearing the awful news.

On Mahaffey's fill-in-the-blanks casualty form (right) completed by 1st Lt. Issac Mills at a camp near Petersburg on July 4, 1864, the language is cold  and bureaucratic:

"Having served honestly and faithfully in the A of P to the present date, (David Mahaffey) is now entitled to a discharge by reason of death." 

Mahaffey had received from the United States clothing worth $39.18 since Sept. 1, 1863. That account apparently was settled. He was last paid by the army on Feb. 29, 1864.

Many Union soldiers killed at Petersburg were hastily buried, often in shallow or mass graves. From 1866-69, the U.S. Burial Corps recovered remains of 6,718 Federal soldiers from the Petersburg Campaign and reburied them in Poplar Grove Cemetery. Only 2,139 bodies were positively identified, with most of the rest buried under headstones marked "Unknown."

Unfortunately, David D. Mahaffey is probably among them.

David Mahaffey suffered the same fate as this Confederate soldier
who died in the defenses at Petersburg. (Library of Congress collection)

(1) David Mahaffey military records, National Archives
(2) Casualty sheet, National Archives
(3) Casualty sheet, National Archives

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:38 AM

    Hi - I am certainly glad to find this. Good job!