Pennsylvania 149th Infantry Civil War Flag
My 2nd Great Grandfather: Silas Potter (abt 1837 – 1864)
I may have written about Silas before, but as many genealogists know, Genealogy is an ongoing thing, and you can never find out too much information. Such is the case with my 2nd Great Grandfather.
Silas in the Civil War
Silas enlisted on the side of the North, 17 Aug 1863, with the Pennsylvania 149th Infantry, during the Civil War. I’m sure with a lot of searching I could find exactly which battles he fought in between his enlistment and his death, but in my mind, nothing compares with his last battle. I have a difficult time not crying when I think about it. It’s going to be interesting to see how much I will be able to control the “not crying” while I finish writing this blog’
His Last Battle-The Battle of The Wilderness, Virginia
About a month ago, someone brought to my attention a blog about that battle. (Reference below). It brought this battle into a totally different perspective. I had originally thought that he’d been shot, and died the next day from his bullet wounds, and that those wounds were inoperable but the field surgeons.
There is something that happened during the Battle of the Wilderness that isn’t mentioned in very many places. That area of Virginia was heavily forested. May typically sees temperatures in Virginia rising. Likely there wasn’t a lot of rainfall, so it was ripe to be a tinderbox. When the battle began with the firing of the muskets, sparks from the flash of gun powder caught the nearby trees on fire. So not only are the 149th and the other units that were there to fight this battle dealing with enemy fire, they were also dealing with real fire.
Death By Fire
Consequently, men that were felled by enemy shots were stuck, lying where they landed, well into the next day. They were unreachable. There were soldiers, not yet dead, that were trapped in that fire, and were burned while still alive, though severely wounded. These men are recorded in the Military Records as “Missing In Action”. Not dead, not deserted, just missing. This made it difficult for their widows to get their widows pension. It took me combing through 64 pages of Silas’s wife’s application to figure this out. She was denied a couple of times, until a former 2nd Lieutenant gave his written, sworn statement that he had seen Silas shot on May 4th, and then she was finally approved and received the pension she was due.
Why Did The Military Fail To Mention Men Killed in The Fire
I really can’t speak for the Military, especially not all the way back then, but I think it was to spare the widows (and probably the nation at large), the horrific reality. I know how I felt when I learned the truth. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone either. Some might think that they omitted the details to cover it up, to keep from being berated about not rescuing the fallen, stuck soldiers. The fact of the matter is, war is hell on soldiers, and trying to rescue a fallen soldier, while under enemy fire, and fire burning all around you, all at the same time, I suspect, had they attempted it, (which we don’t know that they didn’t attempt it), more would have been lost than the way too many that were lost in that battle as well as the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, which happened the next day.
I got through it without crying too much.