Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Guest Blog by Ray on The Elk County Rifles Company G of the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

Our good buddy Ray Beimel in Pennsylvania recently attended the dedication of a monument to "The Bucktails," a Civil War regiment formed by Thomas Leiper Kane (of Kinzua Viaduct fame.) Ray sends this. 
The Elk County Rifles
Company G of the
42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
13th Pennsylvania Reserves
1st Pennsylvania Rifles
The Bucktails
This regiment had many names but were best known at the Bucktails. Thomas L. Kane recruited the core of the regiment from the heavily wooded counties of north central Pennsylvania and they adopted the tail of a white tailed deer as their regimental sym-bol. Most of them were hardy woodsmen who could do their gro-cery shopping with a rifle. Three companies came from this area. They were a rough and ready crew who built their own rafts to float downriver from Driftwood on their way to Camp Curtin at Harrisburg. While training there, they were forbidden from enter-ing the city limits. We can only imagine what they did to earn that proscription from the city’s mayor.

The Bucktails became part of the famed Pennsylvania Reserve Division which was a part of the Army of the Potomac. They fought in nearly every engagement of that hard luck army from 1861 to June of 1864. Whenever the Confederates encountered the Bucktails, they knew they were in for a fight. This isn’t the place to give the whole history of the regiment. Rather this is the story of how Elk County honored the local men who served in this famous unit.

In April 2010 Judge Rich Masson and I gave a presentation about St. Marys and the Civil War. In talking afterward Rich thought that it was a shame that other counties had Bucktail monu-ments but Elk County didn’t. The Mount Zion Historical Society picked this up and ran with it, rais-ing many thousand dollars and designing the fine monument you will see pictured later. Jim Burke, the president of the MZHS has to be given much credit for driving this but he had much help from as dedicated a group of volunteers as I have ever encountered. My part is all this was very small, nearly insignificant. I was asked to be the Master of Ceremonies for the dedication and unveiling of the monument. The site for the event was the lovely little park built by the Mount Zion Historical Soci-ety. There were re-enactors, musicians, displays, demonstrations, and other booths for visitors to enjoy before the actual ceremony.

 Dennis Murray, blacksmith, re-enactor, and award winning story teller,
 demonstrates and entertains.

 Greg Hernandez, the fifer who added so much to the ceremony
shows a young fellow a Civil War sword.

 The St. Marys Area Middle School Civil War Club members in
 period dress doing needlework from the era.

 Charlie Cheatle on the guitar and Greg Hernandez on the fife entertained the crowd
with melodies from the Civil War before the ceremony started.

 This display showed Civil War medical instru-ments, drugs, and devices. They also had actually bullets that were extracted from the wounded. Ghoulish yes, but it’s important that we know how men suffered, that war was not glory.

Of course, in these parts, the guns were getting more interest than probes and scalpels. The Bucktails were one of the few Union infantry units that carried breechloaders. This meant they could reload while lying on the ground. The troops armed with muzzleloaders could only load easily while they were standing upright. Thus the Buck-tails could fight more like modern soldiers. They were often out in front as skirmishers because of their breech-loaders and their experience as woodsmen.

At the re-enactor campsite visitors could see how the Buck-tails lived while in camp. Of course, on the march, accommo-dations were not nearly so comfortable. Sometimes they went months between baths.

 The girls from the Civil War club danced to the tunes from the guitar picker and fifer before the dedi-cation ceremony started.

 Right at one o’clock I called the proceedings to order and asked everyone to find a comfortable seat. The colors were raised by the Weedville American Legion color guard under the direction of Jim McCluskey. Then they were lowered to half mast in honor of the passing of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

 Then the uniformed re-enactors marched in with the fifer playing marching tunes. They made a guard of honor around the veiled monument while the various speakers addressed the crowd.

 An invocation by Denny Shaffner followed. He is the president of the Clearfield Historical Society. Many of the area Historical Societies made contributions to the monument fund and thus were invited to participate. Reverend Luther Nelson Junior of the Weedville Wesleyan Church gave a fine a cappella rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Jim Burke made some welcoming remarks and then several speakers addressed the group on various things connected with the monument project and the Bucktails. These included Thomas Aaron of the Curwensville-Pike Township Historical Soci-ety and Sandra Baker of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. Eileen McKean of the McKean County Historical Society spoke about Colonel Kane’s wife. Robert Nay who wrote the book The Elk County Rifles spoke of three members of Company G, including his relative who is buried in the nearby Mount Zion Cemetery. Judge Masson spoke about the ori-gins of the project and how it was such a good experience to work with that committee.

 The keynote speaker was JD Petruzzi, author of the definitive guide to the Gettysburg battlefield. His talk ended a reference to the better angels of our nature that Lincoln spoke of. It was a very appropriate address and was well received. Once he finished it was time for the unveiling, done by the re-enactor group with the proper ceremony.
TAPS was played by a young Boy Scout named Sam Nicklas while the guard presented arms. The ending of the program was fifer Greg Hernandez playing a medley of appropriate hymns. Afterwards the re-enactor group posed in front of the monument along with their Boy Scout bugler.
On the left side of a the monument is a roster of every man who served in Company G. The heroic figure in the middle is Captain Thomas Winslow, the highest ranking man from Company G. And on the right side is a list of battles and en-gagements in which the Elk County Rifles took part. The reverse side of the monument has a short history of the Regi-ment. The whole thing is make from polished black granite. I think the committee did very well with the design.

So nearly 150 years after the Bucktails were fighting and dying in the Civil War, Company G, the Elk County Rifles, finally have a proper monument to their service in the cause of preserving the Union and making men free. I was very pleased and proud to have been a small part of this wonderful project. I cannot say enough good words about the Mount Zion Historical Society and all the work they did to make this happen.

1 comment:

  1. Nice writeup of the events (which was terrific) and fantastic pictures. Thank you!
    J.D. Petruzzi


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