Brigadier General James Nagle

(from the December 2007 SHAF Newsletter)

by Antietam BP Ranger John David Hoptak

Since the guns fell silent more than fourteen decades ago, tens of thousands of books have been written about America’s Civil War. Historical journals and popular magazines with a sole focus on the war have flourished, and Civil War battlefields and historic sites are visited by millions each year. Scores of television documentaries and big-screen Hollywood films concerning some facet of the conflict have been produced. The Civil War remains the most studied aspect of American history, and there seems to be no satiating the fascination of not only Americans, but of folks worldwide, with the fratricidal struggle.

Yet, for the all the books and magazines, and for all the films and documentaries, students of the American Civil War know that there remains a hidden history, filled with little-known engagements, forgotten episodes, and overlooked personalities. This article will explore the life and service of one such overlooked figure, who has seemingly dwelled in those vast halls of historical obscurity since the cessation of hostilities: Brigadier General James Nagle.

J. Nagle (JD Hoptak)

Born on April 5, 1822, in Reading, Pennsylvania, James Nagle received no formal military education, but from a young age he displayed an avid interest in martial endeavors. In 1840, after his family had settled in the Schuylkill County seat of Pottsville, eighteen-year-old James Nagle organized the Washington Artillerists, a militia company that he regularly drilled and actively maintained. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846, Nagle volunteered the service of his company, which was mustered in as Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers. As its captain, Nagle led the company from the siege of Vera Cruz to the capture of Mexico City, seeing much action along the way. Mustered out in 1848, Nagle and his men returned to Pottsville, where an appreciative citizenry presented the young captain with a beautifully inscribed sword of which he was very proud. In fact, Nagle carried this sword throughout the Civil War, and can be seen holding it in most of his wartime portraits.

In the years before the outbreak of civil war in 1861, Nagle continued his trades as housepainter and wallpaper hanger and in 1852 was elected sheriff of Schuylkill County. Following the capitulation of Fort Sumter, Governor Andrew Curtin commissioned Nagle colonel of the 6th Pennsylvania Infantry, a three-month organization that served under General Robert Patterson in the Shenandoah Valley. In August 1861, Curtin authorized Nagle to raise a three-year regiment, which one month later was mustered into service as the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, recruited almost exclusively out of Schuylkill County. Impressing his superiors with his military ability, Nagle was elevated to brigade command in April 1862, in the 9th Army Corps. He led his brigade at the battles of 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam, where his regiments were tabbed to assault the Burnside Bridge. His promotion to brigadier general eventuated in September 1862, being highly touted by both Generals Jesse Reno and Ambrose Burnside.

Personally courageous, Nagle was always in the thickest of the fray. He barely escaped capture at 2nd Bull Run, and at Fredericksburg, nearly lost his life to an artillery shell while leading his men toward the impregnable Confederate position at Marye’s Heights. He was respected by his superiors, and beloved by his troops. In October 1861, he was presented a fine glass from his former soldiers of the 6th Pennsylvania, accompanied by a letter that testifies to Nagle’s qualities as a military commander: “during the three months we served together, though inflexibly firm and persistently industrious in the performance and requirement of every camp and field duty, yet such was the kindness of your demeanor, and tender regard for the health, safety and comfort of your men, the we regarded you rather a friend and father, than a mere military commander.”

In the spring of 1863, Nagle began to suffer from the effects of heart disease. Following his doctor’s advice, he reluctantly tendered his resignation in May and returned to Pottsville. His immediate superior, Samuel Sturgis, forwarded Nagle’s resignation with much regret. In a heart-felt letter, Sturgis wrote that through his “intelligence, energy, zeal and courage, and unassuming deportment, withal, Gen. Nagle has endeared himself to this command, and will carry with him the love and respect not only of those gallant troops he has led so often to victory, but of all who have had the good fortune to know him.”

Nagle did not rest for long in Pottsville. With Robert E. Lee’s men making their way north to Pennsylvania in June, he raised the 39th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia, which he commanded until August, after Lee’s men were turned back at Gettysburg. The following year, Nagle recruited his fourth regiment of volunteer soldiers, the 194th Pennsylvania, a Hundred-Days unit, which was stationed in Baltimore during Jubal Early’s raid through Maryland. Mustered out for the final time in November 1864, Nagle continued to suffer from his affliction, and on August 22, 1866, he passed away. He was just forty-four years of age, and left behind a widow and seven children.

James Nagle was, and remains, Schuylkill County’s foremost citizen turned- soldier. As a tribute and in memory of their beloved leader, the veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania raised money to have a statue of Nagle placed upon the regimental monument at Antietam. At the dedication ceremony, on September 17, 1904, the former surgeon of the 48th Pennsylvania, William Blackwood, reminded those in attendance that it was here, at Antietam, where Nagle received his promotion to brigadier general, and, said the feeble veteran, “never did a soldier win the distinction through a harder road, for his whole time of service this more than brave gentleman and splendid soldier devoted his every energy to the cause for which he left his home and family, and supported by his gallant men, he won imperishable fame.”

With the passing of time, it seems that Nagle’s fame has proved contrariwise. His statue at Antietam still stands; his gaze still transfixed toward the north. But there is something missing from the monument. When it was first unveiled over a century ago, there at his side was sculpted a bronze replica of that Mexican-American War sword, which he so highly treasured. That sword is now gone. When, or how, it disappeared, no one seems to know. And few realize it was ever there. Perhaps by restoring that sword, and having it replaced, we can, in turn, help restore Nagle’s overlooked service, and help rescue him from those vast halls of historical obscurity.

Replanting Piper’s Orchard

The final block of the historic Piper Orchard is tentatively scheduled to be planted Saturday, 8 December 2007. In preparation for the planting, arrangements were made with Maryland Correctional Enterprises to erect the cages that protect the trees from deer. Six inmates and a team leader worked 182 hours over four days to install over 720 t-posts and their surrounding wire caging. The trees (176 apple trees) are to be planted with the help of a volunteer workforce – please join us if you can.

New Piper's Orchard Trees, 2007
Piper’s Orchard, 2007 (T. Clemens)

Varieties of apples to be planted include: Spigold, Gibson Yellow Delicious, Double Red Delicious, William’s Pride, Freedom, Liberty, Jonathan, and Yellow Transparent. The trees will be balled & burlapped and approximately five feet tall.

Unlike the historic varieties of trees that were chosen for the first two blocks of orchard, the new trees were chosen based on their ability to resist disease. The decision to not restrict the planting to just historic varieties was intended to make the orchard more productive and appealing for potential cooperators. Presently, all orchard management is done by NRM, but they hope to find a cooperator to take over in the near future.

If you are interested in helping plant the new trees please contact Michelle Carter at 301.432.2243, email michelle_carter (at) nps (dot) gov, or Tom Clemens by email antietam1862 (at) comcast (dot) net.

[post updated on 11/28/07 for scheduled planting date]

2nd Lt. Edward C. Pierce, Company B, 3rd Maine Infantry

(from the September 2007 SHAF Newsletter)
by Joseph Stahl

The photograph shown is identified as 2nd Lt. Edward C. Pierce based on what is written on the front of the images. As can be seen in the Photograph Edward wrote “Your friend E. C. Pierce 3rd Me.” The image is a full standing view of an officer holding his hat and wearing a sash and sword standing in front of a backdrop and next to a table.

EC Pierce
(collection of the author)

On the baseboard can be seen the word “BRADY”. The CDV is a Brady from Washington which can also be seen on the front of the image although the “B” has been trimmed off at some point. There in nothing printed or written on the reverse of the image. At the National Archives the service records of Lt. Pierce’s were copied and reviewed.

According to Edward Pierce’s records he mustered into Company B on August 8, 1861 as a 2nd Lieutenant. Lt. Pierce’s status is shown as “not stated” for the Sept/Oct 1861 bi-monthly return. On the Nov/Dec 61 return is the note “Detailed to act as Signal Officer in U.S. Signal Corps by Special Orders from HQ AP recd Dec 24, 1861. Since Edward was assigned to the Signal Corps in December, 1861 the image was probably taken in the fall of 1861 since he has identified himself with the 3rd Maine not the Signal Corps.

Edward remained assigned to the Signal Corps until his muster out on June 28, 1864. While he was assigned to the signal corps Edward would be present at some of the most important events in the history of Army of the Potomac. Edward was promoted to 1st Lt. On May 1, 1862. On September 17, 1862 he was on the field at Antietam as a signal man. In fact he is included in several of the most well know images taken by Alexander Gardner on the field.

Signal tower
(A. Gardner, 1862, Library of Congress)

In Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day by William A. Frassanito, the author talks about the photographs taken of the Signal Station on Elk Ridge. On page 75 is the following quote “Views 3a and 3b show the (signal) station from an identical camera position. The flagmen in both views are believed to be facing westward, into the afternoon sun and toward the battlefield. The man seated on top of the tower to the left in 3a is the leader of the detachment, 1st Lt. Edward C. Pierce, who was transferred to the Signal Corps from the Third Maine Infantry in December 1861.”

Shortly after this action he was assigned to 6th Corps Headquarters on Nov 13, 1862. He would remain with the 6th Corps for the rest of his service. Later in the spring of 1863 he was promoted again to Captain on February 25, 1863. After this Captain Pierce would find
himself at one of the most famous locations in the Civil War. He would be stationed on Little Round Top on July 3, 1863. He would serve with distinction and be offered a commission in the Signal Corps in the fall of 1863. Captain Pierce would decline the appointment on September 24, 1863. He stated that he wished to remain an “Acting Signal Officer” so that he could go home when his three year term of service was up in

1864. Also he requested that he be allowed to remain with the Signal Corps and not be returned to the 3rd Maine Infantry. This was allowed and Captain Pierce was ordered to Augusta, Maine on June 14, 1864 to allow his muster out with the regiment on June 28, 1864.