With the 139th Pennsylvania at Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church

                                                               Five Days at Chancellorsville

 Lieutenant Samuel Schoyer of the 139th Pennsylvania took understandable pride in the achievements of his division during the Chancellorsville campaign, particularly its seizure of Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863. 

    "At 2 o’clock, our single division (General Newton’s) had taken possession of all the heights around Fredericksburg, the same that our army of 100,000 men failed to take last winter," he wrote to a relative. "Up to this time, our loss in the regiment was only one man killed and six wounded. Such yelling and cheering I never before heard. Hooker was cheered, Sedgwick, the commander of the 6th Corps and the immediate commander of the expedition, was cheered, and then Newton came in for three missing ones. The key to Richmond had been gained and every person felt in good spirits."

    But as Schoyer soon learned, the fortunes of war proved fickle, and within two nights he counted himself lucky to be back safely on the eastern bank of the Rappahannock, with Fredericksburg again firmly in Confederate hands. Lieutenant Schoyer's account of the Chancellorsville campaign, written shortly after he arrived back in camp, first saw publication in the May 13, 1863, edition of the Daily Pittsburgh Gazette, his hometown newspaper. 

Detail of a company picture of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry likely taken at Brandy Station, Virginia in the spring of 1864. Note the 6th Corps cross badge emblems upon their headgear; originally, the 6th Corps wore a St. Andrew's cross shaped corps badge which was changed to a Greek cross in 1864. Ordnance records show that the Pennsylvanians carried .69 caliber Model 1842 rifled muskets through the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns, not swapping over to .58 caliber Model 1861 Springfield rifle muskets until sometime in the second quarter of 1864. Most of the soldiers in this photo are carrying M1842s but the corporal at left is most likely carrying a M1861 Springfield. 

Camp near Banks’ Ford, Virginia

May 7, 1863

          My good fortune continued throughout and I am now as well as if I had never seen a “Reb.” My letter to B. gave an account of our movements on this side of the river which we all strategic. I will now tell what was done on the other side.

          At 8 o’clock Saturday night [May 2, 1863], we crossed the pontoons and moved back from the river about a mile. We rested at this point until midnight when we started on the expedition of capturing Fredericksburg first, and then the heights at the rear of the town. Colonel Alexander Shaler’s brigade took the advance and took the town with considerable loss, driving the Rebs into their strongholds.

The enemy had arranged for our reception, having dammed up the Rappahannock at a point near the town with machinery so arranged that in five minutes time the city could have been overflowed and the U.S. Army effectually washed out. This plan was discovered by a Negro Lieutenant Frank Goodin took while he was out skirmishing. General John Newton, as soon as Lieutenant Goodin told him, had the dammed river fixed so that it could not injure us.

Major General John Newton
Commanding Third Div., 6th A.C.

At 4 o’clock, we reached the rear of the town and were received with a terrible volley of musketry. At 5 a.m., we moved to the support of our batteries which were about 200 yards from the Rebel works. Here we laid until 11 o’clock between two of our batteries and in good range of the Rebel artillery. Such noises I never heard before! At one time, I had become almost completely deaf from the 20-pounders going over my head and so near to them that I could feel the concussion.

At 10 a.m., it was determined to storm the enemy’s works which were so many Sebastopals. The first and strongest work was a hill on the top of which were built earthworks in which were mounted six pieces of artillery. At the base of the hill was a stone wall 2-1/2 feet thick, about three feet in height, and long enough to put a thousand shooters in which you may bet was done by our Southern brethren. This hill was surrounded by others of the same description, excepting the stone wall.

At 10 o’clock, our batteries opened a terrible fire under cover of which the 82nd Pennsylvania and another regiment marched forward, subjected to the most galling fire. Our men never halted, and with half the number of men they started with, they took the stone wall and at half past 1 o’clock, our flag was planted on the hill. One height after another fell into our hands, but each holding out as long as possible and each making a terrible resistance. At 2 o’clock, our single division (General Newton’s) had taken possession of all the heights around Fredericksburg, the same that our army of 100,000 men failed to take last winter.

Up to this time, our loss in the regiment was only one man killed and six wounded. Such yelling and cheering I never before heard. Hooker was cheered, Sedgwick, the commander of the 6th Corps and the immediate commander of the expedition, was cheered, and then Newton came in for three missing ones. The key to Richmond had been gained and every person felt in good spirits.

The 139th Pennsylvania was part of Brigadier General Frank Wheaton's Third Brigade of Major General John Newton's Third Division of the 6th Army Corps. The regiment's officers could have worn  chasseur-style kepis like this fine example above from the Horse Soldier complete with a blue corps badge indicating this kepi belonged to an officer in the Third Division, 6th Corps. 

We rested a few minutes then started forward, leaving General Albion Howe with the Second Division in possession of the heights along Richmond Pike leading to Chancellorsville where we expected to form a junction with Hooker. Having gone about three or four miles on this road, when a slight obstacle to our further progress arose in the shape of a hill and a dense wood, well filled with Rebels. It was here we fought from 3 p.m. till dark and the heaviest infantry fight that had occurred during the war.

It was here that the 139th Pennsylvania distinguished itself. We were led in by Colonel Frederick Collier, under the most discouraging circumstances. Two old regiments broke and were being pursued by the enemy. The confusion was terrible. The flying regiments rushed through our boys, breaking our ranks, and I said to myself, “It’s all up with us.” But not so. The boys rushed into the Rebs and drove them back into the woods faster than they came out. I never saw men stick up as they did. The old regiments cheered us vociferously and we double quicked over to the woods. The Rebs did not make their appearance again that night.

Colonel Frederick Hill Collier, 139th Pennsylvania and his wife Catherine. 

We saved our batteries and won the day. A prouder man than Colonel Collier I never saw, and he had reason to be proud. Generals Sedgwick and Newton complimented us. Our loss was light, but we just slaughtered the enemy. From the prisoners we took we learned that they would have captured our batteries “had it not been for that regiment of sharpshooters,” meaning the 139th. Lieutenant James Harbison of Co. D was killed, received two balls in the brain. He was in front of his company, waving his sword, and encouraging his men. There were 10 men killed and 42 wounded. The reason for our slight loss was the steady fire we poured in, scarcely giving the enemy a chance to stand up and fire. Sergeant Thompson was wounded slightly in the thigh and was the only one wounded in my company.

I’d like to give you an idea of the villainous sounds that musket balls make, but don’t know anything that comes near it. I tell you, I never felt so well in my life as I did last Sunday evening when we marched victoriously off the battlefield. The regiment had established its reputation.

Another portion of the company portrait of the 139th Pennsylvania showing the two drummers and one of the company officers standing at right. The 139th entered service in September 1862 and would see action from Antietam to Appomattox, spending most of its service as part of the 6th Army Corps. Captain Schoyer was wounded at least three times during his service, the last wound at Cold Harbor shattering his ankle. He kept his foot but suffered intense pain for the rest of his life. 

On Monday morning [May 4, 1863] it was evident to us all that the enemy had received large reinforcements and we also felt that Sedgwick had gone too far. Every person felt anxious and the Generals on the field looked terribly so. The morning was spent disposing of our small force, having only one corps to hold the heights and the road for five miles to the southwest.

Our regiment was still kept in the front and detached from the brigade. At 3 p.m., the fight again commenced on our left and raged for an hour or more, at the end of which time the loud cheering of the Rebels proclaimed to use on the right that they had flanked us and regained the heights. Our position was critical in the extreme, having but one road by way of Banks’ Ford to escape as every other outlet was cut off.

At dark, we commenced our retreat, drawing in our pickets. We had got but ten minutes start on the enemy when they were after us, cheering and yelling like so many devils. Then began the race. Our men had the disadvantage of having heavy knapsacks but we made it and got to the river in safety. There we were drawn up into line and waited to receive the Rebels, but they didn’t come, contenting themselves with shelling us.

A cavalry column moves away from a pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock River. The 6th Corps fell back across a similar pontoon bridge at Banks' Ford overnight from May 4-5, 1863, taking up the bridge in the wee hours of the morning of the 5th. With this action, the Chancellorsville campaign came to a close, another Union defeat. 

We reached this side of the river in safety at 4 a.m. and hauled up the pontoons. The larger portion of the 102nd Pennsylvania was captured, along with Lieutenant Colonel John W. Patterson, Captain Orlando Loomis, Lieutenant Andrew Moreland, and one or two other officers whom I forget. The regiment lost their colors, too. [Colonel Joseph M. Kinkead of the 102nd reported that “Our regimental colors were missing when we arrived at the lines, and the only corporal of the color-guard who escaped with us reported that they had been delivered to a sergeant of Company I, 8th

Pennsylvania Cavalry. They have not yet been found, but I feel confident did not fall into the hands of the enemy.”]

If any inquiries are made by the friends of the boys of my company, tell them they are well and fought like devils. Every fellow took deliberate aim and brought a Rebel down. They went at it as if they were shooting squirrels and it was really interesting to see the poor Rebs jump four or five feet into the air then fall.

Lieutenant Goodin is a splendid fellow. We presented him with a sword costing $47, the most elegant one in the division. We gave it to him just before we reached Fredericksburg. [Second Lieutenant Samuel] Harper is a good fellow, too.

Yours affectionately,

Samuel C. Schoyer, Co. G, 139th Penn. Vols. 

To learn more about the 6th Corps at Fredericksburg, please check out these posts:

A Tornado of Shot and Shell: Storming Marye's Heights at Second Fredericksburg

To Die or Conquer: The 6th Vermont at Second Fredericksburg

Gulping Down the Disaster: The 119th Pennsylvania at Salem Church

Late-war issued national colors that belonged to the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers. 

Lieutenant Schoyer would survive the war, rising to the rank of captain, but suffering several wounds and eventually being discharged for disability on May 6, 1865. “He was severely wounded in a skirmish just before Gettysburg and was on that account detailed for the recruiting service in Pittsburgh, but reclined to leave his command when in the presence of the enemy and in spite of his wounds performed all his duties during the famous three-day fight,” his obituary stated. “In the Wilderness he was knocked senseless by a bullet that struck him in the side but fortunately hit his revolver. At Cold Harbor, he was seriously wounded by a rifle ball passing through his instep and shattering the ankle bone. He declined to have the limb amputated and for years suffered terribly from the effects of the wound. A general remark of his comrades when informed of his death was that no braver man was in the Army of the Potomac than Captain Samuel Schoyer.”

          Schoyer returned to Pittsburgh and to his law practice, eventually serving as a solicitor for several of Pittsburgh’s largest banks and earning a reputation as an able attorney. He married Lizzie Preston in 1873 and had three children, two boys and a girl. “Captain Schoyer’s home life was particularly happy, for he was a tender, loving husband, and a kind, indulgent father.” He was also remembered by his colleagues for his sunny disposition despite the constant and debilitating pain he suffered from his war wounds. Captain Schoyer died of spinal sclerosis in his home in Pittsburgh on February 11, 1890, at the age of 49 and is buried at Allegheny Cemetery. In 1986, one of his descendants, William T. Schoyer, published The Road to Cold Harbor, a 118-page book featuring Captain Schoyer’s 1864 field diary.

Sources:

Letter from First Lieutenant Samuel Chadwick Schoyer, Co. G, 139th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Daily Pittsburgh Gazette (Pennsylvania), May 13, 1863, pg. 3

“Samuel Chadwick Schoyer: Life Sketch of the Soldier and Barrister,” Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pennsylvania), February 13, 1890, pg. 3


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