Jeremiah Minard was born in about 1841 in Preston County, VA (later WV), the son of Burket and Susan (Hartzell) Minerd.
He is one of just two cousins in the extended family to serve in the Confederate army during the Civil War, serving under Stonewall Jackson and a witness to the creation of the "Rebel Yell." After crushing battles, desertion, arrest and imprisonment, he eventually took an oath of allegiance to the Union and switched sides. Now fighting as a New York regiment, he was wounded three times in even more bloody battles and later drew a federal pension for his service.
At age nine, Jeremiah was listed with his parents and siblings in the 1850 federal census of Preston County, WV (then part of Virginia). By 1860, the family had split apart, with his parents residing in separate households, and his siblings scattered in other homes.
Jeremiah's own whereabouts in 1860 have not yet been found, but are being researched.
He is known in young manhood to have stood 5 feet, 7½ inches tall, with grey eyes and brown hair.
~ The Civil War, 33rd Virginia Infantry and the Stonewall Brigade ~
As he grew into adulthood, Jeremiah was acutely aware of the growing tension and divided loyalties in his home state of Virginia over the looming specter of civil war. When the War Between the States finally broke out, in April 1861, he was 20 years old and an able-bodied man capable of serving in the military.
Jeremiah enlisted in the Confederate army as part of a Preston County regiment. From there, on May 23, 1861, he was assigned to the 33rd Virginia Infantry at Moorefield, Hardy County, about 77 miles to the southeast of Preston County. He was assigned as a private in Company F and agreed to served a term of one year. Company F was known as the "Independent Greys" or the "Hardy County Greys."
Another of his cousins from Preston County, Presley Martin, also joined the Confederate military -- the only two known "rebels" in an extended Pennsylvania-German family of more than more than 180 Civil War soldiers.
Jeremiah's brother-in-law, James K. Martin, enlisted in the Union Army in March 1862 as the first anniversary of the war neared. He was made a member of the 3rd Regiment, Potomac Home Brigade, Company H, as was Jeremiah's cousin, Frederick Pringey, son of Joseph and Margaret (Younkin) Pringey.
In Jeremiah's military service papers, on microfilm today at the National Archives in Washington, DC, his first name is spelled "Gery," "Jerimiah" and "Jeremiah."
~ The 1st Battle of Manassas/Bull Run and the "Rebel Yell" ~
The 33rd Virginia became part of the "Stonewall Brigade" under the command of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson which arched to great fame early in the war. Just a month earlier, in April 1861, Stonewall had been a professor of artillery at the Virginia Military Academy, and, upon the outbreak of armed conflict, had been ordered to lead his cadets into the Confederate Army. The other units in the Stonewall Brigade were the 2nd Virginia, 4th Virginia, 5th Virginia and 27th Virginia Infantry regiments.
On July 21, 1861, less than two months after enlisting, Jeremiah and the 33rd Virginia played a critical role in battle along Bull Run Creek, near the Manassas Junction railroad facility, about 25 miles from Washington, DC. Local citizens knew a fight was brewing, and hundreds traveled out in buggies and carriages, carrying picnic lunches and binoculars, to watch what they hoped would be a real battle.
The First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas is said to have been the first time that the Brigade saw Jackson as a fierce warrior rathan than an eccentric academic. That morning, when Jackson saw that the Union Army was beginning its assault toward his troops, in the vicinity of Henry Hill, he simply said "Good, good." Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, was at the scene that day.
Commanded by Col. Arthur C. Cummings, the 33rd Virginia was on the far left of Jackson's battle line. He knew his men were "undrilled" as well as "raw and undisciplined." They spent the morning forming unnoticed in the woods. Then in the early afternoon, after being pushed down a hill toward Sulley Road, Union troops then counter-attacked. Two Union regiments, among them the 11th New York, directly faced the 33rd and began to march forward, suppored by two large howitzer cannons, about 600 feet from the Virginians.
Cummings ordered the 33rd to wait until the enemy got got close of their line, and then to charge, although he feared that his green troops were not quite disciplined enough to hold back.
Facing the Union advance, at about 3 p.m., the 33rd Virginia began firing and launched their charge. But in doing so, they did not shoot their guns directly at the enemy, but rather upward at a 45-degree angle. An eyewitness with the 2nd Virginia was deeply disappointed with the volley, knowing it would not do any harm. But the 33rd pushed ahead directly and across the open field, helping to seize the howitzers. Wrote author S.C. Gwynne in his New York Times bestseller Rebel Yell, "It was the first Confederate victory of the day. Cheers went up as the members of the 33rd, many of them merely boys just a month or two from the plow handle and mechanic's shop, exulted."
But the 33rd Virginia's elation was short-lived, as the 14th Brooklyn/New York Infantry began a counter move with heavy fire of its own. Casler noted that the 33rd was cut to pieces. Jeremiah and his mates fell back from the prize of their captured cannon, crumbling, collapsing, with about one third of the men going down.
But Stonewall Jackson was not yet done with his Brigade. He ordered two regiments to the 33rd's immediate right, the 4th and 27th Virginia Infantry, to press forward and make a "scream of the furies" at the top of their voices. Now widely known as the "Rebel Yell," this scream was blood-curdling to the enemy's ears, a high-pitched shout and a yelp described as inhuman, unearthly, wild animal-like. With this ungodly sound now unleashed, the rebels advanced on the Union batteries on Henry Hill and penetrated the center of the enemy's line. The Union forces were ordered to retreat, and did so, sealing their fate for the day.
Upon hearing the news, wrote biographer Carl Sandburg, President Abraham Lincoln "listened in silence, without the slightest change in feature or expression."
While Jackson's army thus won the first major battle of the Civil War, it came at a steep cost. The 33rd Virginia lost 183 men killed and wounded, perhaps one-third of its men, a staggering number.
Private John O. Casler, of the 33rd Virginia's Company A, later recalled the debris on the battlefield, along the line of the Union's retreat, as he saw it a few days later -- "The whole country was strewn with broken guns, cartridge boxes, canteens, cannon, caissons, broken wagons and the general baggage of the army," he wrote in Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, widely considered one of the very best memoirs authored by a private soldier in the war.
The 33rd Virginia and Stonewall Brigade had a established reputation for aggressive fighting was forming. Wrote Geoffrey C. Ward in his book The Civil War, An Illustrated History, the rebel yell "first heard that afternoon ... would eventually echo from a thousand battlefields."
~ A Cruel January in Western Virginia ~
Jeremiah and his comrades saw no further action that year, but moved into a winter camp along the Pughtown Road near the Virginia town of Winchester.
Then on New Year's Day 1862, without telling anyone about his plans (which was his habit), Stonewall Jackson ordered the Brigade on a long march to capture the town of Romney, Hampshire County, VA (later WV). The men were not issued tents, blankets or overcoats as protection from the mountain cold. Jackson pushed his miseried soldiers without relief, and punished one officer for stopping so his men could eat their rations. Horses, wagons and reinforcements stalled. Blistered by the ice, snow and chill wind, men died of frostbite or were injured for life. Author Gwynne calls it "the most horrific noncombat experience of the war."
The Stonewall Brigade took two weeks to march through Berkeley Springs, VA and Hancock, MD and arrive at Romney, only to find that 7,000 Union troops had abandoned the town. Jackson wanted to push further into western Virginia and Maryland to make additional conquests, but his regiments were spent. Bitter soldiers derided Jackson's judgment and cursed his name. They began to realize that they were individually expendable, not so vital to the wartime cause as they had thought.
In early February, the Brigade returned to Winchester, having marched a total of 100 very hard miles. One regiment was left behind in Romney, but it, too, eventually left. The town would change hands 56 times during the war.
Once back in Winchester, Jackson's men continued to express their anger at being so used. Desertions began to increase.
Jeremiah survived the Romney campaign but no doubt was the worse for the experience. He received a furlough on Feb. 15, 1862 -- but whether he returned home to family is unknown. That same month, likely upon his return to the regiment, his enlistment period was extended for the duration of the war. Wrote James M. McPherson in For Cause and Comrades, "there was no such thing as a Confederate short-timer. The Richmond Congress required men whose enlistments expired to reenlist or be drafted."
~ Heavy Action in Jackson's Valley Campaign~
On March 23, 1862, Jeremiah and the 33rd Virginia saw their first action of the new year. They fought at Kernstown, near Winchester. Led by Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett, they were placed behind a stone fence, sandwiched between Cedar Creek Road and Middle Road. Both sides exchanged murderous fire. Many of the 53 men of the regiment who were killed, wounded or captured suffered "horrible" head wounds caused by the Union Army's minie ball bullets. Wrote Gwynne, "Many soldiers later commented on the enormous sound of war: it was more of a giant, rolling roar than a succession of shots."
The outcome was mixed for the Kernstown battle. Some have said it was a victory for both sides, tactically for the Union and strategic for the Confederacy.
After Kernstown, Jackson drove his foot soldiers hard for the next two-and-a-half months. His plan was to use speed, misdirection and surprise to prevent Union forces from occupying the Shenandoah Valley, even though the South had fewer men. Today this is called the "Valley Campaign," and Jackson's seeming magic was to outrace the enemy to key sites and achieve smashing surprise attacks. In 39 days of actual marching, the men covered 555 miles, averaging 14 per day.
Jackson's armies saw significant action at McDowell on May 8, Front Royal on May 23 and Cross Keys on June 8. The 33rd Virginia, however, was positioned away from the front and did not participate. By June, Jeremiah was one of only 200 arms-bearing men available to fight for the regiment.
The 33rd Virginia fought at Gaines' Mill on June 27, said to have been Robert E. Lee's most sizable attack of the entire war. It pitted 32,000 Confederate soldiers against the Union's 34,000 in the quest to occupy swamps and bluffs. The evening's back and forth of shooting was so deadly that some compared it to butchery or carnage. The rebel yell was in full voice, which sounded to one observer as "40,000 wildcats." When a Confederate charge broke through and captured heavy guns, the Union retreated. Total casualties that day were 9,000 Confederate and 6,000 Union.
Then again, at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, the 33rd was involved in the action. There, remarked one general, he saw the "most terrific fire" he had ever witnessed. The Union deployed a pounding bombardment from batteries of 268 cannons and siege guns. Confederate General James Longstreet tried to dislodge the heavy guns with his own counter-fire, with small effect. The Confederate infantry was not ordered to attack the enemy's overwhelming stronghold until late in the day. And they were cut down in masses. Rebel losses were 6,650 and Union 3,007. One Union officer later wrote that there were so many grey-clad wounded on the ground, writhing and shifting, that it gave "the field a singular crawling effect." Confederate commander D.H. Hill -- Stonewall Jackson's brother-in-law -- bitterly called the battle not "war" but "murder."
At Malvern Hill, the headcount of fighting men in the 33rd dropped to 129, Jeremiah included. The troops then established a camp at Gordonsville and spent three weeks there resting.
While at Cedar Mountain on Aug. 8-9, 1862, the 33rd Virginia again saw battle action, hoping to stop Union General Pope's expected advance on Richmond. Aligned parallel over a two-mile stretch of pasture and field, 15,000 rebel troops well outnumbered the Union's 9,000 under the command of Nathaniel Banks. During the first day, Jeremiah and the Stonewall Brigade were on the far left but not yet called to the front."The day was hot," said Casler of the 33rd Virginia, "and several men dropped dead in ranks from sunstroke." The next day, both sides faced an exchange of heavy shell and cannon fire for the first several hours. The 33rd formed a line in the woods. Casler said that "We had not been there long before the artillery opened out on both sides and shells rattled through the woods over our heads very lively." As Banks' Union troops commenced an attack, the Stonewall Brigade was ordered forward in opposition. Banks found an opening in the rebel line and pushed through. Seemingly on the edge of defeat, Jackson mounted a counter-attack and was at the very center of combat, the air filled with the hideous yelping and screeching of the rebel yell. Cavalry under Gen. A.P. Hill joined the charge and forced the Union men to retreat. "We had severe fighting for a short time, when the enemy broke," Casler said. "We pursued the enemy two miles, until dark, and lay in line all night. At one time we received a shower of shells from the enemy, but we did not reply."
In just 90 minutes of very difficult fighting at Cedar Mountain, the Southern casualties were 1,338 and the Union's 2,353. The 33rd's surviving soldiers were thoroughly used up, exhausted beyond anything the men ever had known.
~ Harsh Camp Discipline ~
Stonewall Jackson was a harsh disciplinarian, as were Generals William Taliaferro and Charles S. Winder, commanders in the Stonewall Brigade. They tolerated no misbehavior from their regiments, most especially for absences without official leave and desertion. Jackson convened a court martial after the Battle of Cedar Mountain and sentenced three deserters to death by execution. He only held off in doing so for fear of a public backlash. Three men were shot by Taliaferro's firing squad in mid-August. Winder's form of discipline was different, focusing on humiliation..
When 30 men defected in July 1862, Winder had them hunted down and captured. He then humiliated them by marching them "into the woods, their hands bound at their wrists, their arms slipped over their knees and a stick placed beneath the knees and above the arms," wrote Lowell Reidenbaugh in his book 33rd Virginia Infantry. When learning of the form of punishment, Stonewall Jackson had it stopped. But the soldiers' deep anger remained.
Winder's men outright hated him, and some dark rumors within camp hinted that he might be the target of friendly fire in their next battle. In a twist of fate, Winder was killed by an enemy shell at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on Aug. 9, 1862. One can only imagine what toll all of this must have taken within Jeremiah's psychology and emotions.
~ Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run ~
In August, the 33rd Virginia returned to the Manassas railroad junction, scene of their earlier fight in May, still very wearied by their long marched and sleep deprivation. To their joy, the men discovered abandoned Union storehouses and helped themselves to the spoils, including quantities of molasses, brandy and whiskey. They raided Union railroad cars for tents, blankets, clothes and medical supplies.
Toward the end of August, the regiment went back into bloody fighting at Second Manassas, near the Brawner Farm, in intense summer's heat. Jeremiah could not have known, although he could well have imagined, that a handful of his cousins on his father's side were among the enemy forces. Among them were Levi Miner of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry, John Freeman Rockwell of the 40th Pennsylvania Infantry and fellow Preston Countians James Eyster Murdock, 7th West Virginia Infantry and Sylvester "Monroe" Martin, 17th West Virginia Infantry.
They directly faced the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, and were the target of a killing bombardment of firing, protected by an old fence. Casler recalled later that the men would "lie down, load and fire, and it seemed that every one who would raise up was shot. We lost severely" on the first day. Famed Confederate General Richard Ewell lost a leg. Day two was quieter, with skirmishing back and forth.
On the third day of battle, on Aug. 30, the men of the 33rd took a position in an unfinished railroad line. Wrote Casler, "My brigade was in a small cut, with a field in frotn sloping down about four hundred yards to a piece of wood. The enemy would form in the woods and come up the slope in three lines as regular as if on drill, and we would pour volley after volley into them as they came; but they would still advance until within a few yards of us, when they would break and fall back to the woods, where they would rally and come again." When ammunition ran low, the 33rd's soldiers used the butts of muskets, bayonets and even rocks in hand-to-hand combat. After the third Union assault, wrote Casler:
... as they broke, we were ordered to charge, and as Longstreet's corps had turned their left, our whole line charged, and the rout became general. But the stone bridge over Bull Run became blocked up with artillery and caissons, and we could not cross with our artery; and as it was getting dark, this put an end to the conflict.... It was a terrible battle, and both sides lost severely. The slope in front of us was covered with dead, dying and wounded; but my brigade lost but few, as we were protected by the railroad.
Jeremiah survived the battle without injury. But 105 of his colleagues in the 33rd Virginia were killed or wounded, among them 24 dead and 91 wounded. Only 200 men remained out of the original 1,000. Second Manassas had cost some Southern regiments seven out of every 10 fighting men. Overall Union killed and wounded were 14,462 and for the Confederate army 11,739. It was, by far, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War up to that time, and exceeded casualties from First Manassas/Bull Run by a factor of more than five.
Casler, of the 33rd's Company A, wrote that after "the battles of Manassas I found myself completely used up. I had slept but little for six days and nights, and was suffering with sore feet and hemorrhoids."
Two winters later, Jeremiah's cousin David Harbaugh and his mates with the 5th Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery labored at the Bull Run/Manassas battlefield, burying the rotted skeletons of thousands of dead soldiers which had lain exposed and unattended.
~ Desertion from the Army and Arrest ~
After Second Manassas, Robert E. Lee and Jackson decided that the best next tactical step would be to push into Union territory rather than fall back defensively to Richmond. Many of the Stonewall Brigade soldiers, who had been willing to lay down their lives to protect their home soil of Virginia, did not feel the same way. Barefoot, hungry, stinking and raggedly dressed, they hated the idea of making an offensive into Maryland and the north.
Thousands abandoned their camps and went home. Jeremiah himself had had enough and joined them in the desertion. On Sept. 2, 1862, he was reported absent without official leave (AWOL) and later officially was declared AWOL.
Jeremiah made his way to Hardy County, WV, in the eastern panhandle near Maryland. Wearing another man's clothes, he was captured a month following his desertion. His arrest made news in the Wheeling Intelligencer. Under the headline of "A Spy and a Deserter," on Oct. 18, 1862, the Intelligencer reported that:
On Thursday evening two men named Jeremiah Minard and Leander D. Lowry, were brought in from New Creek and committed to the Atheneum. The evidence against Minard goes to show that he is a spy. He was first arrested by Adam Since, a citizen. At the time he had upon his person clothing which Since recognized as belonging to his son and which were lost when the rebel burners destroyed Mr. Sine's house by fire. He represented that he was an Ordinance Sergeant in the rebel army. After the battle of Manassas he deserted, and making his way to Gordonsville took the cars for Stanton and made his way over the hills to Moorefield. He said he was on his way to New Creek when arrested. Minard was taken to New Creek. On Monday last he escaped from the guard house but on Tuesday he was arrested by Jeremiah Roberts, a Union scout. Roberts made Minard believe that he was one of Imboden's men when Minard freely confessed that he was a spy and had been to New Creek. He described the condition of things there and said if he had had an opportunity he would have blown up the magazine of the fort.
~ Brutality of POW Life at Johnson Island ~
Research shows that Confederate prisoners were only held a few days in Wheeling's Atheneum (also spelled "Athenaeum" and nicknamed the "Lincoln Bastille"), a converted warehouse and theater. From Wheeling, Jeremiah was transported to Camp Chase, a POW camp near Columbus, Ohio. More than 2,260 POWs died at Camp Chase, many suffering and dying from lack of nutrition as well as pneumonia, smallpox and typhoid fever.
Within a few days, on Oct. 21, 1862, Jeremiah was moved again within Ohio to Johnson's Island, a POW camp three miles north of Sandusky along Lake Erie. He was present and accounted for in the prison records as of Nov. 25, 1862. One of these rolls gave his first name as "J.W."
Jeremiah remained incarcerated at Johnson's Island for more than a year. While he would have been familiar with severe winter weather from his growing-up years in the mountains of West Virginia and Maryland, many of his fellow POWs from the Deep South had never seen snowy gales and were un-equipped for temperatures at times reaching 25 degrees below zero.
In his article "Plain Living at Johnson's Island," published in The Century in March 1891, former prisoner H. Carpenter wrote tongue in cheek that the "sleeping arrangements consisted of bunks in tiers of three, each furnished with the usual army bedtick stuffed with straw, and far superior to the earth and ditch which had been our beds for months previous to our capture. The crowded condition of the prison necessitated that two men should occupy each bunk, which had the redeeming feature in winter that the occupants were sheltered by two blankets instead of one."
The daily ration of food, Carpenter wrote, "consisted of a loaf of bread and a small piece of fresh meat... insufficient to satisfy the cravings of hunger, and left us each day with a little less life and strength with which to fight the battle of the day to follow." He added that:
The prolonged confinement had told severely on us, and the men could not but yield to its depressing influence. There was little to vary the dreary monotony that made each day the repetition of the day before and the type of the day to follow. This alone would have been sufficient, but when scant food and cold were thrown into the scale it is little wonder that both mind and body should yield under the constant strain.... It was generally known among us that some mitigation of our condition would be afforded such as took the oath of allegiance, and as this meant increased food and better clothing some few availed themselves of the offer.
After more than a year as a prisoner at Johnson's Island, and at the instigation of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Jeremiah was offered the opportunity to escape the harsh treatment. The condition? That he swear an oath of allegiance to the United States.
Author Robert C. Doyle, writing in The Enemy in Our Hands, has stated that switching sides during the war was "not common" but "occurred regularly on a small scale" for prisoners who feared for the future of the Confederacy. He cites one example occurring at Johnson's Island, where a POW took an oath of allegiance, although he was beaten and shunned by other POWs. Union General Benjamin Butler called such soldiers "repentant rebels" - "whitewashed" - and "galvanized."
Jeremiah accepted the offer, and on Oct. 28, 1863, records show that he indeed took the oath. He was released and set free. Research strongly suggests that he was the same "Jeremiah Minard" who, just two days after the oath of allegiance was sworn, joined a New York regiment in the Union Army. (more below)
Information about Jeremiah's imprisonment at and discharge from Johnson's Island is maintained at the Center for Historic and Military Archaeology at Heidelberg University. Today the university hosts a website for friends and descendants of the POWs.
In 1987, Jeremiah was named in the book 33rd Virginia Infantry, authored by Lowell Reidenbaugh and published by H..E. Howard, Inc. The volume confirms the date that Jeremiah deserted, but provides nothing more about his service.
~ Oath of Allegiance to the U.S.A. and Service in the Union Army ~
A man named "Jeremiah Minard," of the same age and birthplace as our Jeremiah, enlisted in the 48th New York Infantry, Company D at Albany, NY on Oct. 30, 1863 -- just two days after our Jeremiah was released from Johnson's Island. A coincidence? Or not?
A mountain of evidence shows that the two men are the same, and that our Jeremiah quickly migrated from Ohio to New York to join the Union regiment. New York's Jeremiah claimed to have been born in 1841, the same year as ours'. Two sources show he was a native of West Virginia, and another source says he was born in Maryland, which is intriguing as our Jeremiah grew up in a town only three miles from the Maryland state line, as the crow flies. Everything fits.
~ Wounded in Florida's Largest Civil War Battle ~
Jeremiah's term with the 48th New York originally was to be three years. At the time of his enlistment, the 48th New York was in camp at Beaufort, South Carolina, following the disastrous loss at Fort Wagner. Thus he quickly would have been transported from Albany to Beaufort, a distance of almost 1,000 miles. "There tents were pitched in a wood about three miles from the landing, and the regiment was once more in camp," said Abraham John Palmer's 1885 book, The History of the Forty-Eighth Regiment New York State Volunteers. (See full-text via Google Books.) "Many of the wounded officers and men from Fort Wagner who had recovered now returned to the regiment, and one hundred and fifty recruits from the North were added. The addition of these two full companies, the recruits, and the return of the wounded men, greatly increased the strength of the regiment."
Jeremiah thus joined a body of men which "was but the shattered remnant of its former self," Palmer wrote. The regiment was ordered to Fort Pulaski for a time and then moved to Hilton Head. At Christmas, the 48th New York hosted the 47th New York for the holiday, and on New Year's Day, the favor was returned. The month of January 1864 was quiet for the regiment, but then on Feb. 4 sailed to Florida on the steamer Delaware, arriving in Jacksonville. Their first battle of the year was on Feb. 20, when the 48th advanced inland toward Confederate troops led by Gen. Finnigan. Wrote Palmer, the rebels were posted:
... in ambush, under cover of a swamp and a heavy pine forest, one flank resting on the woods and the other on Ocean Pond. [General Truman] Seymour marched his wearied men straight into that ambush, and they were at close quarters with the enemy as soon as they became aware of his presence. It was a critical situation, and a precipitous, sharp, sanguinary, and diastrous battle immediately ensued.... The enemy had the best of us from the very start that day.... To say that the whole brigade did its duty nobly is but faint paise. Under a most terrible fire it stood its ground with an unsurpassed courage. The Forty-eighth was subjected that day to an ordeal -- than which hardly anything is more trying to soldiers -- that of holding their line under a terrible fire from the enemy after the exhaustion of their own ammunition. For two hours and a half they fought with a valor which was never surpassed in their history, suffering a loss of two hundred and twenty-seven men, killed, wounded, and prisoners.
During the ordeal at Olustee, Jeremiah was wounded by a gunshot in the left ankle. The wound apparently was not serious, and he remained with the regiment. He and the 48th New York retreated to Jacksonville and then in March traveled by steamer Maple Leaf to Palatka, FL. About that time, an administrative decision was made to merge the regiment from the Department of the South into the Army of the James. Recalled Palmer, "It was about to leave the little army with which it had hitherto operated amid the swamps and the sea islands upon the Southern coast, and to be merged in the great armies of the James and the Potomac, and participate in battles in Virginia and North Carolina of world-wide renown." The men left Palatka in mid-April, leaving behind the graves of their dead "in the sands on Morris Island and the forests of Florida, not to speak of others scattered here and there along the coast," he wrote.
~ Shift Northward into the Bermuda Hundred Campaign ~
The 48th New York traveled to Hilton Head on the steamer Ben-de-Ford and from there to Fortress Monroe, VA, with an unknown future ahead that would include important battlefield victories. At the time of the relocation, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and the Union high command were planning an invasion of Richmond from the east.
The troops were ordered to a position on May 6 at Bermuda Hundred, a spit of land sandwiched between the James River and the mouth of the Appomattox River. En route, as they marched, many of the New Yorkers gave back heavy equipment and baggage they had been carrying, only keeping the lighter bare essentials such as tents, blankets and clothing. Said Palmer, "fifty pounds on one's back soon gets heavy after a few miles of marching, and whenever we halted for a rest the men would examine their knapsacks and throw away whatever they could spare. Knapsacks that had been packed full at the start soon were well-nigh empty."
While at nearby Chester Heights, VA on May 7, also known as Chester Station, the 33rd New York was ordered to help destroy the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad line. It was all a part of a push toward capturing Petersburg. Confederates were waiting, however, under the command of famed General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, and a skirmish began. Palmer recalled that it was "a square stand-up fight." The 48th was the lone regiment to reach the rail line and tear apart long sections of it. In hand-to-hand combat, Jeremiah was wounded again, receiving a sabre cut of his right shoulder.
The Battle of Drewry's Bluff on May 16 began at 3:30 a.m. in a heavy fog which caused great confusion. As the Confederates cut through Union lines, the lack of visibility prevented them from doing any more than turning the Union's right. "You did not know friend from foe," one observer noted. Back and forth volleys continued throughout the day. During 13 desperate hours, the 48th New York was in the center of the fight and performed admirably amid an otherwise Union loss.
And so the war dragged on, with no side gaining an advantage, and no end in sight for the weary Jeremiah and his mates.
With Grant continuing to swing around the enemy, to gain more of a foothold in the press toward Richmond, more than a week of heavy action took place at Cold Harbor, from May 31 to June 12. The battle claimed a total of 19,000 casualties. Jeremiah and the 38th were instrumental in capturing rebel rifle pits in a wooded area and securing 600 prisoners. In the action, the regiment lost its battle flag, a very serious embarassment worthy of official reproach. The next days were filled with bloody back and forth charges. Wrote Palmer, for five days the 38th "was constantly in the rifle-pits, under a fire that never ceased by night or day -- first on the right, then on the left, then at the front; and everywhere it sustained its reputation for valor and efficiency. The ground between the lines of the contending armies was strewn with dead and dying soldiers of either side, but so incessant and so hot was the firing that it was certain death attempt to reach them." Grant ordered one final assault which failed, which he always regretted. Then on June 11, the 48th New York was ordered to stay put as the bulk of Union forces marched away. Many in the regiment felt they might be sacrificed for the greater good of the army. But they survived the ordeal and finally were evacuated two days later. Wrote Palmer, "Nothing in the history of the war was finer than the holding of the lines at Cold Harbor during the change of base by Grant's army. It only could have been accomplished by veteran soldiers in the highest stages of discipline."
High praise indeed for Jeremiah and his New Yorkers. He somehow again was not harmed in this series of terrible, horrible battles, considered the "fiercest" of those during Grant's Overland Campaign against Lee.
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, in her bestseller This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, called Cold Harbor and the earlier Malvern Hill "profligate squandering of lives." Ironically, Jeremiah had fought in both battles, on both sides.
From there, Grant's plan was to capture the town of Petersburg. From June 30 to July 30, 1864, Jeremiah's regiment was part of an extended siege of Petersburg, with trenches dug by Union forces ringing east and south of town. While at Petersburg on Aug. 11, Jeremiah suffered a serious wound to his right hand when his musket exploded, resulting in the amputation of his thumb and damage to the forefinger. (This battle also has been referred to in Palmer's History as "Strawberry Plains.") After his third wound, he was sent to the U.S. Army General Hospital at Fortress Monroe, VA. He then was transferred to the U.S. Army General Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, remaining there until September 1864.
While convalescing in Newark, on Aug. 30, 1864, the 23-year-old Jeremiah did something that may have been spur-of-the-monent, given the transient nature of his existence. He married 26-year-old Susan Hunt (1837-1882), daughter of Joseph Hunt. Susan was four years older than her husband and a native Pennsylvanian. How they met during such a short stay is lost to history. On their New Jersey marriage license, he gave his middle initial as "W."
From Newark, Jeremiah was sent to Fort Wood in New York, and rejoined his regiment in October 1864. He was transferred to North Carolina, and there received an honorable discharge at New Bern on June 6, 1865 following the end of the war.
His journey had covered more than four years as an eyewitness to the harshest military experience -- 13 battles, three wounds, grisly losses of uncountable friends on both sides, hundreds of miles of hard marches, arrest and imprisonment, and extended separation from loved ones.
~ Rapid Decline in Postwar Years ~
Jeremiah returned to his wife and established his postwar life Newark. How he would have dealt with any post-traumatic stress or memories of carnage can never be known.
He took up a career as a machinist.
In about 1869, suffering from his wartime wounds, Jeremiah was awarded a pension from the federal government as compensation, totaling $4 per month. He drew these payments for the rest of his life. Interestingly, an authority no less than the New York Times noted that many former Confederates who had switched sides were receiving money from the federal government. In 1894, the Times reported that "It is a fact not generally known that a large number of ex-Confederate soldiers and sailors who deserted, or who, while prisoners of war, took the oath of allegiance to the United States, enlisted in the Union Army, and, receiving disabilities while in the line of duty as Federal soldiers, are now drawing pensions.... Several regiments were also enlisted from among the Confederate prisoners at Sandusky, Columbus, Camp Chase, Johnson's Island, Fort Delaware, and other military prisons."
When the federal census was taken in 1870, "Jeremiah Minerd" -- the only man in America by that name -- made his home in Newark, NJ. At the time, he was age 29 and Susan 33. His birthplace was recorded as Maryland and his occupation as working in a saw mill.
Jeremiah's mental health declined precipitously, and he was diagnosed with epilepsy. On May 20, 1872, at the age of 32, he was admitted to the New Jersey Home for Disabled Soldiers. One surgeon working for the Home wrote that Jeremiah "Has lost nearly the whole of the right hand since the war." He apparently was in and out of the Home during the 1870s, often treated as an outpatient. But he was taken to the County Insane Asylum on May 19, 1879.
The 1880 census lists Jeremiah twice. The first shows him, Susan and their adopted two-year-old daughter Nettie (1878- ? ) residing in a home on the north side of East Kinney Street in Newark. Tragically, it states that the 39-year-old Jeremiah was an "engineer" who had "lost his right hand, became insane" and was "in Essex County insane retreat, is like a child." The record again states that Jeremiah was born in Maryland and that his adopted daughter was a native of Pennsylvania. The other 1880 census record lists him as a resident of the Essex County Asylum for the Insane on Camden Street. In this record, he was marked as a "carpenter," born in West Virginia, with his father a native of Pennsylvania and his mother of Virginia -- facts that closely match our Jeremiah's.
Tragically, but blessedly, perhaps, Jeremiah's miseries ended with his passing, at age 37, on July 16, 1881. The cause of death was ascribed to apoplexy following epilepsy. His tired remains were placed at eternal rest in Newark's Fairmount Cemetery, in the Civil War soldiers section. Research by cousin Eugene Podraza shows that the death was not recorded in Essex County, nor is there an estate file or last will and testament. The only notice of his passing was a one-line mention in the Newark Morning Register, on July 18, 1881.
[In 2014, an effort was made to examine Jeremiah's old hometown newspaper, the Preston County Journal, in the event it might have carried a notice of his death. The microfilm was found in the West Virginia Regional History Collection at West Virginia University, but it was mounted backward, and could not be fixed during the visit.]
Susan only outlived her husband by a year-and-a-half. She made her home at 45 Hermon, a short street of only six blocks, stretching between Chestnut and Thomas Streets, and intersecting with South Street, to the southeast of Lincoln Park.
At age 45, afflicted with peritonitis, Susan died on Dec. 5, 1882, after suffering for two weeks. She too was laid to rest in Fairmount Cemetery. (Her New Jersey death certificate provides her age as 47.)