Reverberations: Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery and the Overland Campaign

I must apologize for the somewhat “off the beaten path” and poor timing of posts over the last couple of weeks.  I like to keep things “150 years to the day” if at all possible.  Furthermore, I had intended to post with a little more focus on the opening Overland and Atlanta Campaigns.  I’ve posted some, but not to the extent I’d planned.  The reason was a rather important family event recently.  While I like to keep personal things well separated from the blog, allocating each the appropriate time, sometimes priorities must be set.  So less writing.  And what writing has been done has been on an easy topic – for me at least, that is Charleston.  But there are a million blog posts one might compose from topics related to the spring of 1864. Please understand if some of those appear later in the time line than intended.

While dealing with the family events, I had cause to visit the Union Cemetery in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.  And several graves in the cemetery gave me reason to ponder the Overland Campaign.  Governor Andrew Curtain, congressmen, and generals are buried in that cemetery.  But there’s also the grave of Private George W. Harris.

Pvt George W. Harris - 148th Pa. Inf.  - MoH
Private George W. Harris – 148th Pa. Inf. – Medal of Honor

Harris is the only Medal of Honor awardee interred in the cemetery.

Harris was a member of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers.  In May 1864, the 148th was in Colonel John R. Brooke’s 4th Brigade, of the 1st Division (Brigadier-General Francis Barlow), of Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  On the morning of May 12, the 148th advanced as part of the assault on the Mule Shoe, crossing roughly to the left of view in the photo below (taken just one day short of the 150th anniversary of the event):

Spotsylvania 150 062

Their assigned objective was on the northeast face of the Mule Shoe Salient, specifically just to the left of the East Angle.

Wilderness-Spotsylvania 168

The 148th, as did other Federal units, became disorganized when crossing through the Confederate abatis and into the trenches.  But they captured a large number of Confederates, including Brigadier-General George H. “Maryland” Steuart.

During the close fighting, Private Harris seized the flag of a Confederate regiment (which regiment was unrecorded in the confusion) from the color bearer.  Harris retained those colors, fending off an attack by a Confederate officer trying to regain them and rally his men.  Just one of thousands of stories from May 12.  And yet another piece of a vicious, bloody day in American history.

Harris was later badly wounded at the battle of Five Forks, but he survived the war.  He lived well into his 80s, in Runville, Pennsylvania just outside Bellefonte.

As I walked through Union Cemetery on Thursday morning this last week, I paused at so many graves with dates from the Overland Campaign, names of regiments that fought in the Overland Campaign, and other Civil War veterans.  For me, it was my own personal Reverberations moment. Another grave, also for a veteran of the 148th Pennsylvania, is that of Lieutenant James B. Cook.

Lieutenant James Cook
Lieutenant James Cook

Cook was mortally wounded on May 10, fighting along the Po River.  The regimental history, The Story of Our Regiment: A History of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers, includes an account of Cook’s death:

Lieutenant James B. Cook, “Cookie” we always called him, every man in the company loved, for his chivalrous courage and manly kindness.  He was the friend of the men he commanded and the hearts of all who knew him sorrowed for him when they heard he was dead, as well as those who stood by him in the line of battle when he fell….

A comrade writing of his death says, “We were busily engaged in the fight at Po River when Lieutenant Cook came up to me and said, ‘Dan, let me give them a shot.’  I loaded up, gave him my gun and stepped back, he stepped into my place and just as he fired, a mine ball from the rebels struck him in the right leg above the knee.  He fell back and I caught him in my arms and laid him down.”

Cook died from his wounds on June 1, 1864.  Just 24 years old.

I felt reverberations from 1864 as I walked that morning, my thoughts hung between my family’s loss and the losses which must have been felt in communities like Bellefonte 150 years ago.  And I offer that on this Memorial Day weekend, you too might go out and look for similar reverberations still echoing, 150 years later.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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