The Civil War, or The War Between the States, or The War of Northern Aggression as the Southerners called it, ended 150 years ago on April 9, 1865. This seems like a good time to tell you about one of your ancestors who fought in that conflict.
In the late 1960s, Pat and I visited his father’s cousin, George Renschler, at Superior, Nebraska. I was gathering family history and Pat’s father, “Bud” Renschler knew very little about his father’s family. His parents, Harley and Clarice Clark Renschler, were divorced when Bud was about two years old. George Renschler told us about their grandfather’s service in the Civil War. He recounted that he had fought at the Battle of Gettysburg and that he had been a POW. George had in his possession many items which had originally belonged to his grandparents, George Frederick “Fritz” and Lottie Renschler. Among them was this photo of “Fritz” Renschler taken during the Civil War. The photo was in a Gutta-percha case common in the 1800s. Unfortunately the image did not photograph well.
The story George told us piqued my interest and over the years I filled in some of the details. How I wish someone had written down Fritz’s experiences before his death in June 1917.
This biography which I found in The History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri 1886 gave me more information, including his father’s name.
George Frederick “Fritz” Renschler enlisted in Company I, known as the “Towanda Rifles,” 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, 35th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on October 17, 1861 at Towanda, Bradford County, Pennsylvania. The enlistment was for a term of three years. He participated in the battles of Dranesville, Second Bull Run, White Oak, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. Below is information on the battles, and in italics an account of the actions of the 6th Pennsylvania.
The Battle of Dranesville was a small battle that took place between Confederate forces under General J.E.B. Stuart and Union forces under General E.O.C. Ord on December 20, 1861, in Fairfax County, Virginia. The two forces on similar winter-time patrols encountered and engaged one another in the crossroads village of Dranesville. The battle resulted in a Union victory. “The Sixth marched down the Leesburg road, near the town of Drainsville, where it halted just before the enemy’s battery opened fire. The shot and shell of the rebels flew around in all directions. Had their guns been managed by experienced artillerists, the slaughter in our ranks would have been terrific, as the position held by this division of the Sixth was immediately in front of the rebel battery.” The Indiana Democrat, January 1, 1862
The Battle of White Oak Swamp took place on June 30, 1862 in Henrico County, Virginia as part of the Peninsula Campaign.
The Second Battle of Bull Run or Second Manassas was fought August 28–30, 1862 in Prince William County, Virginia. It was the culmination of an offensive campaign waged by General Lee’s army against John Pope’s army, and a battle of much larger scale and numbers than the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) fought in 1861 on the same ground.
On the morning of the 30th, the sun rose cloudless, and everything was quiet and calm upon that field soon to be made the scene of carnage and death. Troops began to move early, preparatory to the day’s work. The Reserves marched to the left of the Warrenton pike, near Groveton, where the Sixth was ordered to the support of Cooper’s Rifled Battery, of the First Pennsylvania Artillery. A brisk artillery duel lasted for some time, when the enemy in well dressed lines started forward, evidently intent on securing the road which lay between the contending forces. Immediately the word “forward” was given, and the Reserves swept down the hill with headlong impetuosity, reaching the bank at the upper side of the road, as the enemy was approaching the fence on the lower, and sprang down the bank into the road before them. The rebels, dismayed at the rapidity and success of the movement, turned and fled in confusion, under a terrific fire from the charging column. Thus was the enemy repulsed, and an important position retained. In this charge, the flag of the Sixth was shot from the staff, while in the hands of Major Madill. It was instantly taken by the gallant Reynolds, who, holding it aloft, dashed along the line, the wind catching it as he turned and wrapping it about his noble form. The sight inspired the men to deeds of greater valor, and for an instant they paused in the midst of battle and gave a tremendous soul-stirring cheer for their commander. Returning again to the hill, after resting an hour, night coming on, the division marched towards Centreville, and bivouacked at Cub Run. T
he loss in this sanguinary battle, extending through three days, was six killed, thirty wounded and eight missing. On the 31st, it moved to Centreville, where, for the first time since the 24th, full and adequate rations were issued. The regiment was placed on picket near Cub Run, and remained through the following day. At five P. M. of September 1st, it was relieved and followed the division to Fairfax Court House.
The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac commanded by Major General Ambrose Burnside. The Union Army’s futile frontal attacks on December 13 against entrenched Confederate defenders on the heights behind the city was one of the most one-sided battles of the war, with Union casualties more than twice those of the Confederates. On December 15, Burnside withdrew his army, ending a failed Union campaign.
The movements preliminary to the battle of Fredericksburg began December 8th, when the Sixth marched from Brook’s Station and reached the hills on the north side of the Rappahannock, overlooking Fredericksburg, on the 11th. On the morning of the 12th it crossed the river on a pontoon bridge about three miles below the city. A line of battle was formed at right angles with the river. This position was held until daybreak of the 13th when the pickets became engaged, and the brigade, the Sixth in advance, crossing a small stream, under a dense fog, marched through a cornfield to the Bowling Green road, where the line was re-formed. The regiment advanced and drove the enemy from the crest of the hill and from his shelter behind fences and the railroad embankment. The battle now raged furiously. The enemy’s second line proved a formidable obstacle, but soon yielded to the impetuosity of the Reserves. Moving along up the hill, followed closely by the brigade, it reached a road running along the brow of the hill near which a third line was encountered and a terrific fight ensued, ending in the discomfiture of the rebels. The regiment had now lost more than one-third of its entire number, the brigade had suffered heavily, and Colonel Sinclair had been borne from the field wounded, when the enemy was detected moving through the woods to the right in large numbers. At the same time a terrific fire of musketry was opened on the left of the brigade. The line began to waver and no supporting troops being at hand it finally yielded, and the regiment, with the brigade, fell back over the same ground on which it had advanced. In this battle, of the three hundred men who went into action, ten were killed, ninety-two wounded and nineteen missing. Moving to the opposite side of the river on the 20th, the regiment went into camp near Belle Plain. After having participated in the celebrated “mud march,” it returned to its old camp, and remained there until the 7th of February, 1863, when it was ordered to Alexandria to join the Twenty-second Corps. It did guard and picket duty until the 27th of March, and then moved to Fairfax Station, where it remained until the 25th of June, when it moved to join the Army of the Potomac and participate in the memorable Gettysburg campaign.
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg , Pennsylvania. The Battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war’s turning point. The Union Army defeated attacks by Confederate General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee’s attempt to invade the North. The two armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties. Union casualties were 23,055, while Confederate casualties are more difficult to estimate. Many authors have referred to as many as 28,000 Confederate casualties.
Marching via Dranesville, Edwards’ Ferry and Frederick, the regiment joined the army on the 28th, and was again assigned to the Fifth Corps, which was commanded by General Sykes. Continuing the march through Uniontown and Hanover it reached Gettysburg at two o’clock P. M. of July 2d, and made a charge from Little Round Top with but small loss. Remaining in front during the night, on the morning of the 3d skirmishing commenced which continued through the entire day. Towards evening another charge was made, capturing a number of prisoners, re-capturing one gun and five caissons and relieving a large number of Union prisoners. In this encounter the Sixth remained on the skirmish line until two P. M. to the 4th, when it was relieved and bivouacked on Little Round Top. It sustained a loss of two men killed, and Lieutenant Rockwell and twenty-one men wounded.
Pursuing the retreating rebels to Falling Waters, constantly skirmishing on the way, it encamped on the 14th, after having captured some prisoners near Sharpsburg, when it was ascertained that the rebel army had escaped across the river. Marching and an occasional skirmish and reconnaissance occupied the time until August 18th, when the regiment arrived at Rappahannock Station, and remained until the 15th of September. Leaving Rappahannock Station on the 15th, it reached Culpepper Court House on the 16th, and went into camp two miles beyond the town, where it remained until October 10th. Returning, it re-crossed the river on the 12th, and encountered the enemy at Bristoe Station on the 14th, having three men wounded by his shells. On the 19th, it crossed Bull Run and bivouacked on the old battle-ground. The march was continued on the next day through New Baltimore to Auburn, and from thence, on the 7th of November, to Rappahannock Station, crossing the river on the 8th, and on the 10th taking possession of rebel barracks, where it remained until the 24th.
In later years Fritz told how the streams ran red with the blood of men and horses during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Fritz was reported at Kettle Run, Virginia in November and December 1863. He was discharged from the 6th Pa. Res. to reenlist on Christmas Day, December 25, 1863 at Nokesville, Virginia. This time he was in Company E, 191 Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment organized in the field from Veterans and Recruits of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps.
The Battle of Globe Tavern, also known as the Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad, fought August 18–21, 1864, south of Petersburg, Virginia was the Union’s second attempt to sever the Weldon Railroad during the Siege of Petersburg. The Union force destroyed miles of track and withstood strong attacks from Confederate troops. It was the first Union victory in the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, and forced the Confederates to carry their supplies 30 miles by wagon to bypass the new Union lines that were extended farther to the south and west.
On the 18th of August, 1864 the 191st moved upon the Weldon Railroad, capturing and destroying a portion. Colonel Hartshorne, who had just previously returned to duty, was in command of the brigade, which was early ordered upon the skirmish line. It continued to advance, over heavily timbered ground, driving back the enemy until it came in front of his breast-works, where a line was established and fortified. This advanced position was held, without supports, until four o’clock on the afternoon of the 19th, when it suddenly found itself completely surrounded, and was forced to surrender.
Frederick Renschler’s Civil War battles were over; he along with 27 others, was taken prisoner by the Confederates. They were sent first to Richmond and then to the Salisbury North Carolina prisoner of war camp on October 9th.
Salisbury Prison was a Confederate military prison in Rowan County, North Carolina. The prison was a field of about six acres surrounded by a seven-foot high stockade fence. A stream which ran through the area was the prisoners source of water. By October 1864 the prison held 5000, and soon increased to 10,000 prisoners. With the increase in men came overcrowding, decreased sanitation, shortages of food, and then disease, starvation, and death. Overwhelmed by a population four times larger than intended, the prison quartered prisoners in every available space. Those without shelter dug burrows in an attempt to stay warm and dry. Rations and potable water were scarce. A days ration per man was a half loaf of bread, and two to four ounces of meat in a pint of soup. Sometimes, for the bread a pint of flour or corn meal was substituted. Then the men added it to the soup to make a gruel. The meat ration was often missing, sometimes for several days at a time. Adding to the poor conditions was an unusually cold and wet winter. Disease and starvation began to claim lives, and all buildings within the stockade were converted to hospitals to care for the sick. Each morning, the dead were gathered from the grounds and placed in the “dead house.” During the month of November rations were so lacking that the men thought they were to be starved to death so they attempted an escape. As many as 75 prisoners were shot during the breakout attempt.
In February 1865 a prisoner exchange program was approved, and prisoners were moved to other locations. Those who could do so marched to Greensboro to be taken by train to Wilmington, North Carolina. 1420 who were unable to march were transferred to Richmond, Virginia. Of the 27 taken prisoner with Fritz Renschler at Weldon Railroad, seven died at Salisbury Prison. Of the buildings that constituted the prison, only one house still stands.
Over 5,000 unknown Union soldiers are buried in 18 trenches, each 240 feet long, dug in an abandoned corn field outside the Confederate Prison stockades. Salisbury National Cemetery encompasses this mass grave site, now a grassy expanse marked by a head and foot stone for each trench.
After his release from Salisbury prisoner of war camp, Frederick was sent to Camp Parole at Annapolis, Maryland.