Saturday, June 18, 2016

Legacy in lead: What a 114th Pennsylvania Zouave left behind

114th Pennsylvania Private William Garner carved his initials and regiment into this bullet, 
relic hunter Richard Clem believes. Below: An image of the carved bullet next to a
 whole .58-caliber bullet. (Photos courtesy of  Clem unless noted)

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If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I am a big fan of relic hunter Richard Clem, whose amazing tales have been posted here, here, here and here. For nearly 50 years, Clem and his brother have hunted for Civil War relics in Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Here's another story from my friend Richard Clem about a relic hunting find:

By Richard E. Clem

Richard Clem
A murderous encounter the previous week at Gettysburg had thinned the ranks of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers. While glowing campfires slowly died, the boys from Philadelphia tried to erase from their minds and souls that bloody ordeal in the “Peach Orchard.” Today, not a sign remains to indicate these battle-weary warriors bivouacked on the ground in Maryland. However, one member of the 114th Pennsylvania left evidence underground that the camp did indeed exist. (1)

On a beautiful Indian summer afternoon in 1986, the author and his brother, Don, searched for Civil War relics with metal detectors. The farm we searched was camped on by units of the Union III Corps of the Army of the Potomac during their pursuit of the  Rebels after Gettysburg. In earlier years, the nearby intersection in this area of southern Washington County, Md., was called Jones’ Crossroads by locals. (2)

Warm, sunny hours had proven favorable as our relic pouches bulged with bullets, buttons and various Civil War artifacts. With shadows lengthening, we decided to call it a day and take one final sweep across the old campsite. As we were about to finish, Don headed in my direction with an outstretched hand and a smile on his face. This could mean only one thing: He had dug a “keeper!” (3)

"At first, I thought it was just another bullet," Don explained. "But after a closer look, I could see something carved on it." Darkness was setting in too fast to figure out the tiny letters, so we headed for the pickup truck. That evening we soaked the bullet in water, and after a light cleaning with a soft toothbrush, letters and numbers surfaced: "H / W. L. G. / 114 P.V." (4)

Using imagination and common sense, we came to the conclusion what these small letters represented. First, the “H” at the top of the carving stood for “Company H.” Next, the letters “W.L.G.” were the initials of some soldier’s first, middle and last name. And finally, “114 P.V.” stood for the “114th Pennsylvania Volunteers.” Apparently, more than a century before a Civil War soldier had taken a pocket knife or some other sharp object and cut the nose and bottom ring off a standard .58-caliber bullet. He then continued to carve his company’s letter, his own initials and abbreviation of his regiment on the flattened remaining nose of the bullet. This was no easy task considering the surface being carved was the size of an aspirin. This veteran must have had better than 20-20 vision. (5)

An extreme close-up of the bullet shows the carved 
words "Zouaves D'Afrique."
In January 2011, after resting in my brother’s collection for 25 years, an amazing discovery was made while photographing the ID'd bullet. Under a strong, close-up magnification lens, the words “Zouaves D’Afrique” appeared on the base of the bullet. Perhaps this was why the bottom joint or ring was cut off, leaving a larger surface to inscribe. (6)

The month following the Battle of First Bull Run, a company known as Zouaves D’Afrique was organized in Philadelphia by an attorney, Charles Henry Tuckey Collis. The name “Zouave” comes from the French Army Zouaves of North Africa. Zouaves of the French army were originally recruited from native Algerian soldiers in North Africa after the French occupation of Algiers in 1830. Later, the African troops were replaced with Frenchmen. These soldiers earned respect for their fierceness in battle and were considered one of the best fighting forces in the world. (7)

Collis’ new unit served in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, who vainly tried to outfox the soon-to-become legendary Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. In August 1862, Collis returned to Pennsylvania to recruit men for an entire Zouave regiment. The Zouave D’Afrique company, now under the direction of Captain Severin A. Bartholot, engaged in battles of Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Chantilly and Antietam. Commissioned colonel, Collis organized nine companies in Philadelphia that became the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry -- his old Zouaves D’Afrique becoming Company A under Captain Bartholot. It seems the men of Company A were so admired and so proud of the name “Zouave D’Afrique” that it was used by the whole newly formed regiment. (8)

During the War Between the States, a small percentage of a soldier’s time was spent in battle or combat. What has escaped the writer’s pen for the most part is the miles of strenuous marching and daily routine of boring camp life. Many played checkers and cards to pass away the long hours. Some would write letters to sweethearts and folks back home. Another favorite pastime was the art of bullet carving. Because of its softness, a lead bullet could be easily carved or whittled into any shape that came to mind. Thousands of these small “messengers of death” have been dug using modern-day metal detectors. To the author’s knowledge, my brother’s ID’d bullet stands alone as one-of-a-kind. (9)

A war-time image of Charles Collis (left), who organized the 114th Pennsylvania.
(Library of Congress)
A recruiting poster for the 114th Pennsylvania, a Zouave regiment known for its colorful uniforms.
So let’s return to Nov. 22, 1986, when my brother and I stood scratching our heads and wondering about the soldier who carved the bullet. With two great clues to start our research -- the letter of the soldier’s company and name of his regiment --a trip to Gettysburg was planned. The library at the Gettysburg National Military Park produced a copy of  the History of Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-5. The large volume contains in order every regiment from the Keystone State that served in the Civil War. Each regiment is broken down into companies listed in alphabetical order. Pages became blurred as we nervously, anxiously fumbled through the heavy book until a finger landed on the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers. In a matter of seconds, the only name listed in Company H that matched those carved on the bullet leaped from the page – “William L. Garner.” We had found our bullet carver from the past. (10)

William L. Garner was born in 1833, in Augusta County, Va. Augusta County archives give little information about Garner’s early years. In the early 1850s, he relocated for an unknown reason to Philadelphia, where he became a barber. In the City of Brotherly Love, William married on Jan. 15, 1854, and fathered a child, Ida, who was born March 6, 1859. (11)

In August 1862, war clouds drifted slowly northward, mainly in the form of the Army of Northern Virginia under the leadership of General Robert E. Lee. On Aug. 22,  29-year-old William L. Garner enlisted in Philadelphia in Company H, 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Signing up for three years, Private Garner was listed as 5-9, with a dark complexion and eyes and black hair. The 114th Pennsylvania Zouaves wore dark blue jackets with red trim and baggy red trousers, polished brass buttons and turbans or fezzes. The new recruits’ uniforms were made from material purchased from the French Government;  the U.S. government supplied new Springfield muskets.

Lt. Colonel Frederick Cavada commanded
the 114th Pennsylvania at Gettysburg.

He was captured  on the Sherfy farm.
(Library of Congress)
Nine days after enlistment, Garner and Collis’ Zouaves left for the seat of war. Entering the defenses around Washington, the regiment was attached to 1st Brigade, 1st Division, III Corps, Army of the Potomac. Why would a man volunteer for military service, leaving his wife and 3-year-old daughter? One incentive might have been the $40 bounty offered by the City of Philadelphia -- that was far more tempting than a barber’s charge of "two bits." Maybe it was just a matter of duty to preserve the Union. Also, word was spreading of the possibility of a Rebel invasion of Pennsylvania, so able-bodied men were called upon to defend their native state. (12)

Clad in its unique, flamboyant garb, Collis’ regiment experienced its baptism of fire at Fredericksburg, Va., on Dec. 13, 1862. At the town along the Rappahannock River, the 114th and 63rd Pennsylvania rushed to save several Union batteries from falling into hands of the enemy. And then on Jan. 20, 1863, during “Burnside’s Mud March” campaign, the Zouaves were called upon to construct a pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock in the face of Confederate fire from the opposite bank. (13)

Private Garner was on sick leave from January-April 1863, but recovered and was present at the Battle of Chancellorsville that May. Near the Chancellor house, the 114th and 105th Pennsylvania charged a fortified Rebel position but were driven back to the entrenchments with the loss of 173 killed and wounded. In the same engagement, Colonel Charles Collis was reported wounded, although some records claim he contracted typhoid fever. Whatever the case, Collis was recuperating and missed the Gettysburg Campaign. (14)

After General Lee’s brilliant success at Chancellorsville in spring 1863, the Confederacy decided once more to invade Union territory -- a campaign that reached its climax at a sleepy, crossroads village in Pennsylvania. Enduring heat and humidity on the trek north, the 114th Pennsylvania was under command of Lt. Colonel Frederick F. Cavada. Now the soldiers from Philadelphia would be defending their own home turf. (15)

Late on July 1, Major General Daniel E. Sickles’ III Corps reached Gettysburg; the aftermath of the first day’s fighting left a landscape northwest of town covered with bloated forms of blue and gray dead. The stage was set for the blood-letting to continue. On the morning July 2, the armies faced each other on rolling farm land near town. Newly appointed Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac was established on high ground. In the shape of a “fish hook,” Meade’s line extended from Culp’s Hill west to Cemetery Hill and bent south along Cemetery Ridge to the Round Tops – approximately two miles long. No action took place in the morning while both sides waited for remaining units to arrive on the field. (16)

Meade had placed Sickles’ Corps, which included the 114th Pennsylvania, to the left of the line on Cemetery Ridge, just north of the Round Tops. Early in the afternoon, acting on his own, Sickles advanced his III Corps to a slightly higher ground. The daring move, breaking the Union’s defensive line, placed the bulk of Brigadier General Charles K. Graham’s Brigade (63rd, 105th, 57th and 114th Pennsylvania) partially in a peach orchard along the east side of Emmitsburg Road. The 141st Pennsylvania of Graham’s Brigade formed at a right angle to the brigade facing south, with the 68th Pennsylvania in support. At the time of the battle, this orchard was owned by Joseph Sherfy, who operated a 50-acre farm bordering both sides of Emmitsburg Road. To strengthen Graham’s position at the Peach Orchard, four Federal batteries were deployed on the opposite side (west) of the road facing gathering enemy forces. (17)

Lee’s plan of attack on July 2 was to strike the Round Tops with Lt. General James “Old Pete” Longstreet’s 1st Corps and gradually sweep in echelon up Emmitsburg Road, rolling up the Union left flank on Cemetery Ridge. As a diversionary strategy, at the same time of Longstreet’s assault, Major General Richard S. Ewell’s II Corps was to attack the Union’s right flank on Culp’s Hill. Around 4:30 p.m,. Major General John Bell Hood’s Division (Longstreet’s Corps) attacked Little Round Top. While Hood’s Texas troops had more than they could handle advancing up the rocky hill, the Confederate advance unfolded in the direction of the Peach Orchard; a deafening Rebel yell split the battle smoke-filled atmosphere. (18)

As the Southern assault launched in a northeast direction, facing the 114th and 57th Pennsylvania stood the Mississippi Brigade (21st, 17th, 13th and 18th Mississippi) of Brigadier General William Barksdale. An attorney and former U.S. Congressman, Barksdale had what one of his men called "a thirst for battle glory.” We must wonder what went through Garner’s mind as he gazed toward Pitzer’s Woods, where “Stars & Bars” led Barksdale’s massive force. (19)

Before Barksdale’s attack, Confederate artillery unmercifully shelled Sherfy’s orchards, forcing Cavada to order the Pennsylvania Zouaves to hug the ground. Longstreet’s artillery chief, Col. E. Porter Alexander, wrote later, “About 4 p.m., I placed about five batteries in action against a heavy artillery & infantry force of the enemy about 500 yards distance in a peach orchard on the Emmitsburg Pike.” As cannon smoke cleared at about 6:30 p.m., the Mississippi Brigade of 1,600 emerged from Pitzer’s Woods and rushed straight toward the Peach Orchard 600 yards ahead in what a Federal officer described as "the greatest charge that was ever made by mortal man.” (20)

As the gray columns approached, orders were given to the 114th and 57th Pennsylvania regiments to move across the Emmitsburg Road to rescue two of the advanced Union batteries. In a matter of five minutes after leaving cover of the timber, Barksdale drove his veterans into Graham’s vastly outnumbered brigade, slowed only by rail fences lining both sides of the Emmitsburg Road. (21)

The Mississippians tore through the Philadelphia Zouaves positioned between Sherfy’s house and barn, sending the entire Union brigade streaming to the rear. Suffering from complete exhaustion and unable to run, Cavada was captured with General Graham, who was wounded. The fragmented 114th, now under Captain Edward R. Bowen, was pushed back almost to its original location. The retreating elements of III Corps left a tremendous gap in Meade’s position on Cemetery Ridge. (22)

At Gettysburg, the 114th Pennsylvania showed 296 men available on its roster. The clash in the Peach Orchard resulted in 19 killed, 76 wounded and an unknown number missing. With the exception of supporting Cowan’s Battery during “Picket’s Charge,” the 114th saw little action on July 3, the last day of the battle. (23)

A post-war image of the Joseph Sherfy Farm, where the 114th Pennsylvania was routed.
Joseph Sherfy farmhouse on Emmittsburg Road at Gettysburg.
Bullet marks in the brickwork of the Sherfy farmhouse.
On July 6, a member of the 20th Maine Infantry wrote to a brother about what he witnessed at the Sherfy Farm: “There is where the hottest of the fight took place and the Barn was filled of dead and wounded, which had been set on fire and burned, and there was the skeletons of men, some all burned up others half burned some with only their clothes burned off. On the same ground that our Regt. camped was the 114th Penn. Zouave, red Breeches as we called them ... There was as many as 30 or 40 lay dead there of that Regt. They had laid there 3 days in hot July weather. And I wish I never could see another such sight.” (24)

On July 20, 1863, The Gettysburg Compiler reported, “In the Joseph Sherfy barn and around the hay stack were about twenty wounded Philadelphia Zouaves (the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry) who perished in the conflagration.” Another Federal soldier noticed in Sherfy’s smoldering barn the uniforms of  “... blue and gray and scattered among them were the bright red hats and trousers of the fallen Zouaves.” Private William L. Garner was not one who “perished in the conflagration” nor were his “red trousers” found in the ashes of Sherfy’s barn. By the grace of the Ruler of All Battles, he would be one of the fortunate blessed to walk from the blood-stained fields of Gettysburg.

114th Pennsylvania monument at Gettysburg.
A civilian visitor to the Gettysburg battlefield just days after the conflict took note of the Sherfy property: "The Rebels had searched the home thoroughly turning everything in drawers etc. out and clothes, bonnets, towels, linen etc were found trampled in indistinguishable piles from the house out to the barnyard. Four feather beds never used were soaked with blood and bloody clothes and filth of every description was strewn over the house.” (25)

To escape the battle on the morning of July 2, Joseph and Mary Sherfy and their six children fled the farm, driving their livestock southeast of the Round Tops to a little community along the Baltimore Pike called Two Taverns. Joseph and his son returned on July 6 to find the barn burned and their home ransacked. The orchards and fences were destroyed, and the fields were covered with dead soldiers and horses. Joe Sherfy replanted his orchards, rebuilt the barn and continued the sale of fruit for many years. The original Sherfy farmhouse built in 1840s stands today along the Emmitsburg Road, still displaying numerous bullet holes from the 1863 battle in its brickwork. (26)

Under a torrential downpour on the evening of Independence Day, July 4, 1863, General Lee led his embattled Army of Northern Virginia from the killing ground of Gettysburg -- a vast sea of suffering humanity spattered with mud and blood. When the Rebel army reached the Potomac River at Williamsport , Md., some 40 miles south of Gettysburg, panic broke out. Because of record-setting rain, the Potomac was too swollen to cross. With a swollen river to his back and Meade’s army approaching in front, Lee quickly established entrenchment lines. A mutual stand-off developed as the two forces, still suffering battle fatique, nervously and impatiently waited for the raging river to recede. It was at this time (July 10-13, 1863) William Garner carved his miniature lead masterpiece. On the night of July 13 and the next morning, the Confederate army made good its escape across the still-receding Potomac to Southern soil, thus ending the Gettysburg Campaign. (27)

The 114th Pennsylvania regiment passed through its worst trials in spring and summer 1863 at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. In 1864, with Collis back commanding the battle-tested brigade, the Zouaves continued reducing their numbers in action at Wapping Heights, Kelley’s Ford, Auburn, Mine Run, Guiney’s Station and Rappahannock Station. Private Garner survived those engagements, but luck ran out for the red-legged veteran from Philadelphia. (28)

On a clear, warm Sunday in the final month of hostilities, Garner made his last charge during General Ulysses Grant’s assault against the enemy’s strong works at Petersburg, Va. A surgeon’s report listed his condition as, “ . . . disabled resulting from a gun shot wound in the right foot received in action at Petersburg, Virginia, April 2, 1865.” Just seven days after Garner fell in battle, Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, officially ending the war. With the Confederates' surrender, the 114th Pennsylvania marched to Arlington Heights, opposite Washington, where it was mustered out of service May 29, 1865. The War Between the States was over, but for William Garner the battle for life was just beginning. (29)

Private William Garner's name on a plaque on the massive Pennsylvania monument at Gettysburg.
On April 10, 1865, the day after Lee’s surrender, Garner was admitted to U.S. General Hospital in Philadelphia. Later that month, he was transferred to McClellan U.S. Hospital in the same city. His health continued to deteriorate after being shuttled from one hospital to another. To make matters worse, in 1868, while still in the hospital, his wife died. Four years later, on Aug.  7, 1872, William L. Garner died in Belleme Hospital in New York. He was 39.  The cause of death was  “… disease of lungs and wounds contracted in the service.” Without mother or father, what would happen to Ida, the Garner’s 12-year-old daughter? (30)

Exactly 24 years to the day -- April 2, 1889 -- that Garner was wounded at Petersburg, Ida Garner Klinck applied for a military pension as the daughter of  William L. Garner. The 30-year-old woman who appeared before the deputy clerk of the Supreme Court of New York gave her address as Brooklyn, Kings County, N.Y. Seventeen years later, she applied again for a pension, writing the following:

Torrington, July 22, 1906
Mr. Warner

          i thought I would Write to you to tell you That my mother died Before
          my father. My mother died when I was 9 years old. My father died
          because of a Wound in the foot and I know that my father never
          Married But one time. I feel that I Should have sum thing come to me.
          i am a lone in This World. I was 12 years old When my father died. My
          father was William L. Garner.

Mrs. Ida G. Klinck  (31)

The letter carried the return address: “283 Oak Ave., Torrington, Litchfield County, Connecticut.” Records show Ida Garner Klinck was rejected for a pension the second time. Ida Garner had married William Klinck in 1882. A 1900 Census revealed the couple, who lived in Torrington, were parents of four daughters and two sons. (32)

William Garner never accomplished anything the world would consider great, but he fought to preserve the Union for three years. Reward for his faithful service was a foot wound and a form of tuberculosis that caused his early death. As of this writing, no image or photograph, not even a gravestone, are known to exist for Private Garner. Still, days following the Battle of Gettysburg, near a small country crossroads, this Zouave soldier carved letters on a piece of lead smaller than a sewing thimble -- a simple act that made it possible for his name to be printed on pages of Civil War history. (33)

Click here for notes and sources for this story.


  1. Great post! Here is the story of another member of the 114th Pa., Robert Kenderdine. Cheers, John Rees

    “’Think of me kindly for my spirit may want help ere this terrible work is done.’: Commemorating Solebury’s Soldiers,” Solebury Chronicle (Newsletter of the Solebury Township Historical Society), vol. 12, no. 2 (Spring 2010)

  2. Great article on the 114th. My great great grandfather Daniel Knable served 3yrs with them,being captured at the Sherfy house and then exchanged 5mos later and returned to 114th.

  3. John Fitzgerald5:04 PM

    Good article, I have an 2x great uncle that was with the 114th and was killed at the Peach Orchard. His name was John W. Fitzgerald and can be seen in the photo in the article. A second 2x great uncle was killed in Petersburg and was in a artillery division. I was able to see original letters when I visited the National Archives and have copies of them.