Hidden Histories

The Honesty, Patriotism, and Self-Sacrifice of some Civil War Soldiers: Examples for Thanksgiving Day

Monday, 11/21/11

Since Thanksgiving Day is rapidly approaching, it is a credit to the citizens of our nation, to know that we have always had men and women who have willingly and valiantly served their country, though regrettably often resulting in battle-wounds leaving them physically maimed for life. As early as the Revolutionary War, Margaret Cochran Corbin (the first woman in the United States to receive a pension for military service), took her deceased husband's place in battle at his cannon, receiving wounds which caused her to be partially paralyzed until her death, though she continued to serve within the 'Invalid Regiment,' performing what duties she was able, during the remainder of the War.

The Wounded Warrior Project of today, reveals how thousands of American soldiers, having served within Iraq and Afghanistan, gave both mind and body to maintain the freedom of our country, and desired to extend that liberty to individuals in those countries where they were stationed, even at the expense of their own safety and well-being.

Since this is the 150th year of the Commemoration of the American Civil War, it is only fitting to recall a few examples of soldiers of that era, who literally gave both life 'and limb,' to the service of their country. It is interesting as well, in opposition to our age of the 'get-rich-quick-scheme' and 'cradle-to-the-grave-security' mentality, that such individuals also at times, refused assistance from the Federal Government, though it was legally allotted to them for their service to the nation.

In an article entitled, "A True Patriot," appearing in the Lebanon {PA} Courier, on January 20th, 1870, an account was given from the 'Commissioners of Pensions,' who had received a letter from a DANIEL K. WILD, former private in Co. 'K,' 84th Pennsylvania Volunteers, residing at Abbott Village, in Maine. The letter from Wild to the Federal government's pension office, stated how, "the writer had regained his health, and can get along without his pension. He therefore requests that his name be stricken from the pension rolls."

As one can imagine, such a denial of monies, drew the attention of the Pension Bureau, and prompted Commissioner Van Aernam to write Daniel Wild and let him know that his "request has been granted." The Commissioner continued:

"Living in an age when the honest impulses of the great mass of the people are blunted by an overweening desire for gain, this request with your services as a soldier in the field, shows that you are alike honorable and patriotic, and your name should go down to history as a worthy example for the coming generation. Permit me to thank you for your noble letter."

During the Civil War itself, an article appearing in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin, for May 12th, 1863, entitled, "An Honest Soldier," concerned that of Private JOHN MOHR, of Co. 'E,' Fifth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry (USA), who'd received $104.00 more than was due to him, though as far as 'Uncle Sam' was concerned, the amount was correct. However, Mohr insisted "that he had been overpaid, but failed to convince the paymaster, until he brought proof that a payment made two months previous had not been entered against him."

Mohr's case was investigated and it was found "that his statement was correct, and the Paymaster awarded him $5.00 for his honesty. He had every opportunity to pocket the money, and it never would have been discovered, but his heart was too large to be guilty of such a crime." The article goes on to state, that "John is highly deserving of promotion for his honesty. Aside from this virtue, he is said to be an excellent soldier and has seen hard service."

Such honor and devotion was also exemplified by certain Civil War soldiers, both during the war and afterwards as well. As early as September 28th, in 1861, the Lebanon {PA} Courier recalled within an article entitled, "Incidents of Battle," how one wounded soldier, "with both his legs nearly shot off, was found in the woods singing the 'Star Spangled Banner,' and "but for this circumstance, the surgeons say they would not have discovered him."

Private WILLIAM LAMBERT, of Co. 'D,' Thirteenth New Jersey Infantry Regiment, participated in the 'Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, fought on May 3, 1863. According to the Germantown, Philadelphia {PA} Telegraph for August 5th, he appeared "the next day...at the regimental hospital, without either cap, coat, vest, or shoes, and with one arm gone...merely observing that the 'Rebels had given him a devil of a rap.' He had been wounded and taken to a hospital near the battle field, had his arm amputated, and then, disdaining to be idle, walked five miles to his own hospital."

Lambert was offered a ride in an ambulance but declined, preferring he said to "see the country." As the above article states, "When such men grapple with the enemy there can be no doubt where the victory will lie."

During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, fought on December 13th, 1862, Color-Sergeant THOMAS PLUNKETT, of  Co. 'E,' Twenty-First Massachusetts Infantry, while "bearing the colors of his regiment," bravely bore it to the front lines and "held his ground, until both arms were shot away by a shell." In his official report of his regiment's participation within the battle, Col. William S. Clark of the Twenty-First, confirmed how,

"Color-Sergeant Collins, of Company A, was shot, and fell to the ground. Sergeant Plunkett, of Company E, instantly seized the colors, and carried them proudly forward to the farthest point reached by our troops during the battle...about 40 rods from the position of the rebel infantry...a shell was thrown with fatal accuracy, at the colors, which again brought them to the ground wet with the life-blood of the brave Plunkett, both of whose arms were carried away."

Interestingly, a number of the nation's newspapers in January of 1864 related how when Plunkett left for the War, he was engaged. Once he returned without his two arms, he offered "a release to his betrothed, which was readily accepted." However, her sister, a Miss Nellie Lorrimer, "was so indignant at this that she said she would marry the brave man herself if he was agreeable, and agreeable he was, and they married." The wedding took place in Worcester, Massachusetts, and afterwards the citizens of that state, "raised a purse of $50,000 and presented it to Plunkett." In 1870, during a parade of former Civil War soldiers, Plunkett was present, and "as he raised his cap with his artificial arm, was loudly cheered."

There are many such inspiring and uplifting stories as those mentioned above, waiting and available to the researcher, on this and many other topics, located within the varied collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.