A friend of mine here in York County, Pennsylvania, and I were talking about the Civil War over dinner one evening. I gave him a copy of my new Gettysburg and Antietam human interest stories books, and we had a pleasant conversation on books, Civil War history, and a number of other interesting topics. Unlike me, who moved here from Ohio in 2001, Dick’s family has been here for several generations.
Sometime later, in looking through his old family Bible, he noticed a very old newspaper clipping, a Civil War poem written late in the 19th Century. It turned out that the poem was written by John Rice of the 208th Pennsylvania Infantry to commemorate the attack of the 200th Pennsylvania on Fort Steadman during the Petersburg siege, as well as their valor on other fields.
This led my friend and I to wonder what the connection was between his grandfather’s Bible and this old poem, and also led me to wonder why a man in the 208th PA would write a poem about another regiment. Today, with some time at lunch to do some digging, I found some answers. My friend’s great- grandfather, the Bible’s owner, was a soldier in the 200th PA – his name appears in the old muster rolls of this 1-year regiment that was raised in York, Cumberland, and Dauphin counties. I then found some more information on his grandfather in various archives, and will give him the information the next time we are together for dinner.
In Samuel Bates’ old book on the PA volunteers, I looked up the 200th PA. Lo and behold, the book includes a map (a rarity for this book!) of the fight at Fort Steadman which shows the relative position of the 200th and 208th. As the two regiments charged forward, John Rice and the men of the 208th had a clear view of the 200th as it advanced. Rice may have been an eyewitness to this attack, and he celebrated their bravery at this fight and others in his lengthy poem, which I will reproduce at some point in a future blog post.
I am a fan of old 19th Century Civil War poetry, and John Rice’s verses were new to me. I had never seen them before, or heard of a poem honoring the 200th, one of York County’s own regiments.
The moral – get out those old diaries, Bibles, letters, steamer trunks, etc. and have a look. You might find some connection to your ancestors’ Civil War heritage!