Eyewitness 1864: Pittsburgh gives thanks to Knap's Battery crew

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The "irregularity of the trains" meant that members of Knap's Battery were a day late arriving on furlough in Pittsburgh in 1864.

Their hosts at a welcome-home banquet in Allegheny City, however, made sure they were not a dollar short in funding the delayed festivities for the combat veterans. "The table fairly groaned with the substantial and elegant dishes," The Daily Pittsburgh Gazette reported on Jan. 18, 1864.

Two months later the men from Battery E of the Pennsylvania Light Artillery were still talking about the warm reception they received during their leave. "Many incidents, which occurred in Allegheny and Pittsburgh, are rehearsed nightly to attentive listeners," a soldier-correspondent wrote in a letter to the editor published March 24.

"We are incapable of returning our thanks to the many friends at home in suitable language, but they may rest assured that we all feel grateful to them for the excessive kindness which was showered upon us from every quarter," the letter said. "[The] only manner in which we can repay them is to do our duty to our country, so that neither Allegheny nor Pittsburgh need ... be ashamed of the record of Knap's Pennsylvania Battery."

The letter was signed "R.A.H." The author might have been Cpl. Richard Henry, whose first and last initials match.

Knap's Battery was named for its first commander, New York native Joseph M. Knap. It had been formed in 1861 with soldiers mostly recruited in Allegheny County by local residents Charles A. Atwell and James D. McGill. The new unit elected its first officers in Washington Hall on Rebecca Street in Allegheny City, which is now the North Side of Pittsburgh. Washington Hall was also the site of the banquet given for the members of the battery after many of its veterans re-enlisted in 1864.

By that time its gun crews had seen action in multiple battles including Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. The unit's service at Gettysburg is honored with two battlefield monuments.

When Knap left the unit to become superintendent of Pittsburgh's Fort Pitt Foundry in 1863, Atwell was promoted to captain. He was in command when the battery fought in Alabama and Tennessee. The Jan. 18 Gazette story reported that he was one of seven members of the unit killed or mortally wounded during fighting at Wauhatchie, Tenn., in late October 1863. Atwell, 22, was buried in Allegheny Cemetery. McGill then became captain.

When soldiers from Knap's Battery returned to active duty, they were sent south, first by train and then by foot, to Bridgeport, Ala., on the Tennessee River. Their comrades were glad to see them. "As we gazed on the familiar faces of our old companions ... we felt that we were home again," the letter to the editor said. The "old companions" were more recent recruits to the battery who did not qualify for the home furlough granted the veterans who had joined in 1861.

R.A.H. wrote that the men had no complaints about the warm weather in Alabama, "which is quite in contrast to the weather at home." Camp entertainment included "some beautiful selections from the Ethiopian masters, by Jackson and his brother contraband, Henry, whose performances on the banjo and tambourine throw Ole Bull and his violin into the shade." Ole Bull was a Norwegian musician and a founder of a failed immigrant colony in Potter County.

Knap's Battery took part in the battle for Atlanta, and its soldiers marched with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman across Georgia to the sea. The artillery unit was disbanded on June 14, 1865.

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184. See more stories in this series by searching "Barcousky" and "Eyewitness" at post-gazette.com.


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