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85th PA: Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War

Cover of Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Volume 2: 1864-1865Unit: 85th Pennsylvania

Unit Affiliation: (1), 1, X


Author: Dan Clendaniel

SOPO’s Take: This is one of the more unique book pages I’ve done here.  Author Dan Clendaniel has produced a really nice two volume look at the 85th Pennsylvania.  While the first volume contains no Petersburg material, I wanted to highlight both books as a set for those interested in this regiment.

I’ve always had a certain sympathy for those unfortunate Union regiments which found themselves in Silas Casey’s Division during the Peninsula Campaign.  George McClellan hung them out to dry at Seven Pines on the last day of May 1862, and then scapegoated them in the aftermath.  From that point forward, they were persona non grata, and McClellan kept them far away from any important fighting during the Seven Days.  Following this campaign, they were purged from the Army of the Potomac entirely.

The 85th Pennsylvania was one such regiment. It was formed in late 1861 in Uniontown, PA.  The men hailed from the southwestern corner of the state.  After building forts on the east side of Washington, D.C. for several months, they found themselves in the aforementioned Casey’s Division, headed for the Virginia, Peninsula.  The 85th PA was in the rear at Yorktown, and only just came up as the fighting was ending at Williamsburg.  They saw their first real combat at the Battle of Seven Pines and it was a devastating blow.  Author Dan Clendaniel offers up a compelling defense of the men and Casey’s larger organization.  They were also involved in the Seven Days and the retreat to Harrison’s landing.  Here their war took a hard left turn when compared to most of the regiments involved in the Peninsula Campaign.  As has been said, McClellan scapegoated Casey’s Division, and they were removed from the AotP and sent to North Carolina for the remainder of 1862, where they were involved in the Kingston Expedition.  They moved to the Charleston area and participated in the Siege of Charleston on Morris Island for most of 1863.  Here the Pennsylvanians were held in readiness to assault Fort Wagner not once but twice, though ultimately they were not sent in after the initial assaults failed. In December 1863, they were then moved to Hilton Head, SC and stayed there until April 1864.

Now we get to the portion of the story we enjoy most on this site: Bermuda Hundred and Petersburg. The 85th Pennsylvania was part of the 10th Corps, Army of the James during these campaigns until mustering out in November 1864. Although not a part of the Army of the Potomac, which they had left in August 1862, they fought alongside that famous unit in these final battles against the Army of Northern Virginia.  The 85th Pennsylvania was at Port Walthal Junction and in the Battle of Ware Bottom Church during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.  They saw major action at Second Deep Bottom, Chaffin’s Farm, and Darbytown Road during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. Members of the regiment whose time had not yet expired when the organization’s veterans mustered out went on to serve at Fort Gregg and in the Appomattox Campaign.

Dan Clendaniel has produced a really well done two volume set, independently published and chock full of first person accounts.  The author seems to know the Civil War well, unlike some other independently published authors I’ve encountered in the past.  And this unit features in some really interesting smaller campaigns of the war.  The maps are not new, being recycled from materials the author was able to find.  But he does sometimes indicate where the 85th Pennsylvania was located, and some of the maps he was able to obtain permission to use are really very good. Ware Bottom Church is an especially good example of the latter.

Book Summary/Review:

SOPO Siege of Petersburg Book Notes:

    Publisher: Monongahela Books

    Publisher Info:

    Vol. 1: The story of the 85th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War began with being shamed at Seven Pines to ultimately playing a key role in Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. In between, there was disease, adventure in North Carolina, bombardment around Charleston, and missed opportunities between Richmond and Petersburg. This work, filled with primary source quotations from the participants, chronicles the will and determination of a Union regiment that hailed from the area of southwestern Pennsylvania made famous two generations earlier by the Whiskey Rebellion, a challenge to federal authority seventy years before Fort Sumter.

    This, the first of three projected volumes, covers the years 1861 to 1863. Volume Two will cover 1864 to 1865, and Volume Three will contain biographies of both officers and soldiers.

    Extensively illustrated throughout with period photographs and drawings, as well as eighteen maps, timeline, and detailed footnotes.

    Vol. 2: Volume I of this history of the 85th Pennsylvania Infantry ended with the regiment recovering from their arduous duties in South Carolina on Morris Island during the siege of Charleston and Fort Sumter in 1863. The 85th PA had fought at Seven Pines, Virginia and during the Goldsboro Expedition in North Carolina in 1862. By the time Volume II begins in early 1864, 177 soldiers had died from battlefield wounds or diseases; another 337 men had been dismissed from the regiment, mostly for medical reasons. Colonel Joshua B. Howell is recovering from a severe concussion and Lt. Colonel Henry A. Purviance has been killed.

    ~~~ Volume II begins with the regiment enjoying a brief break from their strenuous duties. The regiment conducted a one-day operation to Whitemarsh Island near Savannah in early 1864. They are soon stationed in the Bermuda Hundred peninsula of Virginia where they fought two battles before being sent across the James River towards Richmond to fight the Battle of Second Deep Bottom. Most of the regiment went home in late 1864 but about 150 stayed for epic confrontations at Fort Gregg near Petersburg and then played a vital role in Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Volume II also explores the diary of Captain Richard Dawson, and follows several dozen men from the regiment who performed guard duty on a large-scale prisoner exchange. The final chapter recounts the decades after the war in which the regiment held over 50 annual reunions throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

    Publication Date: 2019 (Vol. 1) and 2021 (Vol. 2)

    ISBN-13: 978-1-73300-604-0 (Vol. 1) and 978-1-73300-604-0 (Vol. 2)

    Links to Read/Buy:

    1. Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Volume 1: 1861-1863 (Lulu.com)
    2. Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Volume 2: 1864-1865 (Lulu.com)
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