“The Boys of Company D” – Part One
by Phil Spaugy
This past January I was in Gettysburg and had the opportunity to have lunch with my friend Jeremy Brandt. During our meal the conversation turned to the actions of Company D, 149th Pennsylvania during the fighting on Seminary Ridge on the afternoon of July 1, 1863. Jeremy asked if I had ever seen the image of Co. D taken in November of 1864 near Petersburg,Virginia. When I told him that I couldn’t recall the image, he pulled out his cell phone showed me copy and then told me that the image is available in downloadable from the Library of Congress. When I returned home I downloaded the image, and after viewing the high-resolution .tif file I realized that it would make a great blog post.
Beyond being rich in the details of their uniforms and accoutrements of which I will discuss below, I find this to be a most powerful image. From Gettysburg through the Overland Campaign of 1864, the men and boys pictured here are veterans of some of the most intense combat of not only the the American Civil War, but of the history of this country. If you choose to download the image, spend some time looking at the faces and into the eyes of these men…eyes of the veteran combat infantrymen that had, in the parlance of the day, “Seen the Elephant.”
The image has also drawn me to learn more about Company D, and the crucial role they played during the fighting on the late afternoon of July 1st which I detail in part two of this post.
First the image. which is rich in detail, some of which I will discuss below:
Click on image for the direct link to the downloadable image.
The officer on the left is Major James Glenn, who raised Company D and served as its first captain. He is holding the sword presented to him by the company in August of 1862. It is interesting to note that Glenn had the sword with him during Company D’s 1897 reunion where it “was brought out and examined with affectionate interest by the members of the company, all of whom had been interested in the sword thirty-two years ago.”
The 1st sergeant next to Glenn is wearing what appears to be a commercial grade sack coat with some exterior pockets added. Also notable is that the only badge or insignia of rank he has on his sleeve is the lozenge or diamond of the first sergeant stripes. This was a common practice for both officers and non-coms during the later years of the war, as it made them less of a target for confederate sharpshooters. I believe that the First Sergeant is Frank Dorrington who was grievously wounded at Laurel Hill in May of 1864, left for dead in an ambulance wagon, and was almost buried before his “pard” William Johnston noticed he was still alive! Dorrington recovered and returned to the company in August of 1864. He served to the end.
In this cropped view noticed the variety of headgear, with 29 slouch hats of different styles and issue (M1858 Hardeee Hats and private purchase) visible. There are about 15 of the circular First Corps badges affixed, with several appearing to have some sort of pin fastening them to the hats. Remember that the “Old First Corps” had been combined with the Fifth Corp in March of 1864, but the men of the First were adamant about retaining their badges. The 149th would serve in both the second (white) and third (blue) divisions of the Fifth Corps which might account for the different color shades shown in the image. Also note the empty bayonet scabbards which are easily explained by the company’s rifle muskets (which appear to be M1861/63 Springfield rifle muskets) that are stacked in the rear of Company D. A few soldiers are sporting “bucktails” on their hats which was first the distinctive badge of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves and later used by both the 149th and 150th PVI. (It must be stated that the 13th were the “Original Bucktails” and they often referred to the 149th and 150th as “Bogus Bucktails!”) And finally while the majority of the men are wearing the M1851 Dress or Frock coat, there are a couple of four-button blouses to be found in the image.
Finally, as I mentioned above, spend some time looking at the faces, particularly the eyes, of the men in the image. These are the combat veterans of our great Civil War, and if you let it, this image almost transcends time giving one a new appreciation for the service and sacrifice of these “Defenders of the Old Flag!”
Look for part two of this post “Company D at Gettysburg” which will be published in the next couple of days.
General History of Company D, 149th Pennsylvania Volunteers and Personal Sketches of their Members – available online from the Penn State Library Digital Collections website.
Gettysburg Magazine; Issue Eight, January 1st, 1993. Published by Morningside House, Dayton, Ohio