All the chatter about this year marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War sent me to my file cabinet for some research I did more than a dozen years ago.
A relative had shown me a portrait photo of my great-great-grandfather, Union Army veteran George D. Conn, in his later years wearing a medal. She wanted to know what the medal was.
That was enough to crank up my interest.
George was my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather. He lived in my native Chester County, Pa., and died in 1923 at age 85. Other than that, I didn’t know anything about him.
But I did know where to go for information — the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pa., which has a terrific library. http://www.carlisle.army.mil/AHEC/USAMHI/default.cfm I drove there in January 1998. A library volunteer helped me, tracking George to Pennsylvania’s 175th Regiment Infantry.
The volunteer then looked up reference materials on the 175th Regiment, which included Samuel P. Bates’ History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, originally published in 1870, and Civil War Connecticut volunteer Frederick H. Dyer’s A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 2.
Bates’ book has a brief history and roster of the regiment, which consisted of 10 companies of Pennsylvania volunteers. Eight of the companies were Chester County-based; two were from neighboring Montgomery County. The regiment’s commander was Col. Samuel A. Dyer.
In the roster, George is listed as a private in Company E who joined the service on Nov. 6, 1862, the day the regiment formed in Philadelphia. He was 25 years old at the time. The date he was mustered out isn’t on there, but the regiment disbanded at the end of its term of service Aug. 7, 1863.
The 175th had duty in Suffolk, Va., till Dec. 28, 1862, when it marched to New Bern, N.C.
“In March, 1863,” Bates wrote, “when the enemy was threatening Newbern, the One Hundred and Seventy-fifth threw up a strong line of earth-works, on the south side of the river Trent, and joined in repelling the attack which was sluggishly made on the town. It also made several expeditions in search of Colonel Woodford’s guerrillas, but never succeeded in inducing them to risk a fight.”
At Little Washington, N.C., where the regiment had garrison duty, nearly two dozen of the men died from malaria.
According to the worker who helped me, the library’s Photo Archive had images of individuals in the 175th. I checked but George wasn’t in there. We fixed that. They made a negative of the picture I carried (shown with this blog) so a print of George could be added to the collection, which at the time had photos of 85,000 Union troops.
Oh, and about the medal George is wearing. It’s a GAR Badge, the membership badge of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans who fought in the “War of the Rebellion.”
One more thing: A lot of the information I found at Carlisle is available online now, including Dyer’s Compendium and Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers. Just Google them.