Markle descendants note ancestor's role in Civil War

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Bill Markle and his brothers grew up hearing stories about their famous Westmoreland County ancestor, Gen. Joseph Markle.

As a young man, Joseph Markle was elected captain of a cavalry troop that fought in the War of 1812. On his return home to Sewickley Township, he became major-general of the Pennsylvania militia for Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

He also was a successful businessman, operating a paper mill built along Sewickley Creek in South Huntingdon. According to local historian Edwin Hogan, Joseph Markle's newsprint plant had a famous slogan that described how quickly it turned wood pulp into paper: "A tree that waves its branches in the forest winds of Mill Grove at noon on Monday will be sold on Tuesday morning by the newsboys of Pittsburgh."

Fifty-one years after his initial military service, Joseph Markle briefly took to the field again, training volunteer soldiers in a field on his farm to defend southwestern Pennsylvania. His troops were among the many militia units that drilled and marched 150 years ago this summer in anticipation of a possible attack by Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. He was 86 years old at the time of the Confederate invasion.

"Of course, they never had to actually fight," Dr. Markle, of Jefferson Hills, said of his great-great-grandfather's unit. "But it is interesting that this elderly military man could organize and help train a militia."

Dr. Markle has a family medical practice in McKeesport.

Joseph Markle's biography is included in several histories of Westmoreland County. "The general was a great leader of men," historian John Newton Boucher wrote in his 1906 book about the county. "Prominent among his traits of character were his courage, honesty, hospitality and great benevolence."

Joseph Markle's support for the Union cause began long before Lee's invasion of the North. Shortly after the Civil War broke out in April 1861, he began to recruit soldiers for the fight.

His first effort was to form an artillery company, but Pennsylvania's need was for more infantry, according to Mr. Hogan. A dentist who practices in Smithton, Mr. Hogan is the author of "Waiting for Jacob." His book is based on the letters of Jacob Greenawalt, a Greensburg lawyer who became captain of the Sewickley Rifles, the infantry troop Joseph Markle helped to organize.

Attached to the 105th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, known as the Wildcat Regiment, the Sewickley Rifles saw action at Gettysburg and in the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. It was during the latter fight on May 5, 1864, that Greenawalt was fatally wounded.

"General Markle had recruited Jacob to be an officer," Mr. Hogan said. Greenawalt already had served briefly as a soldier, but Joseph Markle persuaded him to re-enlist. The general pointed out that a strong military record would be important to a future legal and political career.

When the local soldiers went off to serve with the Wildcat Regiment, "General Joe supposedly made sure that each man left with a Bible and a 'housewife,' " Mr. Hogan said. This didn't cause scandal since a "housewife" during the Civil War was a term for a sewing kit that would allow soldiers to repair their uniforms.

Two years later, Joseph Markle took up the task of training militia to defend his home territory. When those citizen-soldiers completed their very basic training, the troop was sent east to Bedford County, Mr. Hogan said. Their assignment was to protect an aqueduct from any rebel attack.

"You have to admire his spirit," Mr. Hogan said of the elderly general. "Even in his 80s, he wanted to be involved, and he probably chafed at the bit, because he couldn't go [to the battlefront]."

Joseph Markle died in 1867 at age 90. He is buried among other relatives in Mill Grove, or Markle, Cemetery in South Huntingdon.

The Joseph Markle farm where the Civil War soldiers trained remains in the family, Dr. Markle said. Two of his brothers, Frank and Howard, will be at Gettysburg this week as Civil War re-enactors. "They wanted me to join them, but I'm not into doing that as a hobby," he said.

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Len Barcousky: or 724-772-0184.


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