Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Tale of Two Eagles


A Tale of Two Eagles
by Michael Pikunas
Youngstown, Ohio

It was the morning of November 12, 1861, and at first glance the youthful federal soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were not overjoyed by the unfamiliar sights and smells around them. They had landed at Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina which, compared to the lush green forests and farms of Eastern Pennsylvania, presented to them an endless and desolate expanse of bleached white sand. This was their first journey away from their homes in Schuylkill County, a region comprised of small coal mining towns near the Schuylkill River. One of those small towns, Palo Alto, lay on the south shore of the Schuylkill which flows eastward toward Philadelphia, less than one hundred miles away.


And just fifty miles to the east was Bethlehem, settled in 1741 by a Christian sect of German Methodists called Moravians.  The Germans “brought with them a high regard for education and a love for music."1 Just like those from Palo Alto, the young men from Bethlehem responded to the call for volunteers to put down the rebellion and don the federal blue. 
But unlike their comrades from Palo Alto, the Bethlehemians had not only relatives but also brethren in Bethania, North Carolina.  Settled in 1759, also by Moravians, Bethania was a farm town not too far from Salem, North Carolina, the Southern home of the Moravians.  Like their northern brethren, the Bethanians enlisted to serve, not to put down the rebellion, but to don the confederate gray and support it.

These blue clad and gray clad Moravians had more than their patriotism in common; they shared a talent for music and their Christian heritage, complete with its signs and symbols.  "In their boarding schools they learned to draw their great Moravian symbol, the Star of Bethlehem.  In this fashion, by drawing the shapes of a pyramid and gluing the shapes together they created a multi-pointed star."2  As the clouds of war darkened, many of the Moravians, both men and boys, would join their respective ranks, not as soldiers, but as musicians.
Following the first cannon blasts at Fort Sumter, Moravian musicians from Salem, also known as the Wachovia Region, or Piedmont, formed three bands, initially named as militia units.  "The Forsyth Grays" became Company E of the Eleventh Regiment, North Carolina Volunteers. This Company changed later to the Twenty-first Regiment, North Carolina Troops.   Forming soon after was the Bethania Brass Band, also known as the "Confederate Stars" which became Company F and later Company I of the Thirty-third Regiment, North Carolina Troops.  Finally, there was the Salem Brass Band, which would famously become known as the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band."3  They would all wear the gray. 
At Hatteras Inlet the young soldiers in blue eventually began to frolic in the surf, gathering what they called "secesh" shells.  They’'d ship the secesh shells home to their relatives in wooden crates onboard ocean-borne "steamers."4  For now they had every reason to enjoy themselves because the sobering slaughter at Shiloh and Antietam was still on the horizon, and General Ambrose Burnside's star was on the rise. 
They didn't know what lay ahead, that three years hence their skills and ingenuity would be called upon to attempt a bold and decisive end to the war, a nightmarish, seemingly endless war. They would tunnel underneath the rebel lines at the last citadel of the Confederacy, Petersburg, and plant a ton of explosives creating what would be known ever after as "The Crater" and the demise of General Ambrose Burnside's career.
But outside of making history, during the course of their war, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania would capture two eagles - two American Bald Eagles - making them souvenirs and shipping them back home to Schuylkill County. "A live eagle was captured after putting up a fight on the 48th's picket line at Hatteras Inlet."5  The other eagle, a defiant eagle, hand painted by an unknown artist on the face of a rebel snare drum was captured on a battlefield late in the war.

About the Moravian Star

Drum Head clearly marked "LANE BAND"
thereby attributing the drum to the Confederacy,
notwithstanding the eagle motif which pre-dated
the Civil War and North Carolina's secession from the Union

Hand-drawn Moravian 6-pointed Star of Bethlehem
(a 2-dimensional representation of intersecting 3-dimensional 4-sided pyramids)
and the hand-written words "LANE BAND"in the same hand,
thereby possibly further linking the band and the southern Moravians

Pre-Civil War Eagle Motif

Pen and Ink inscription reading
"Stellwagon, Palo Alto, Penna" thereby linking
the drum with the 48th Pennsylvania

Detail of hand-drawn Star of Bethlehem

The bottom drum head of the rebel eagle drum bears a number of six pointed stars, one of them large, "shaped in the same fashion as drawn by Moravian boarding school students in the mid-19th Century at Old Salem North Carolina.”6  Printed below the larger star by the same hand are two words "LANE BAND." Appearing to the side of those markings in bold period ink is the name and home town of the soldier of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry who "captured" the drum to send home to Schuylkill County - (George W.) "Stellwagon, Palo Alto, Penna".
The snare drum’s dimensions are 12-1/2" tall and 14-1/2" in diameter.  The shell is uncut.  Next to the spread-winged eagle motif is a symmetrical tack pattern that consists of a circle around the vent hole encompassed by a large square. The hoops, heads, leather tugs and rope tensioners are original. The free-hand painted motif consists of a spread-winged bald eagle on a gold sun-rayed blue field. The bald eagle is grasping a broken flagstaff of a furled federal flag in its beak. The eagle, with the broken flagstaff in its beak is portrayed on the ground with pointed green ivy leaves and red berries. In its talons is a clutch of arrows.
The drum shows a substantial amount of use and field wear.  It bears no federal markings, such as "E Pluribus Unum," "U.S.," etc.  Images of actual federal-issue drums carried by drummers of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry can be seen on the 48th Pennsylvania website.7
 
George Stellwagon, an infantryman of the 48th Pennsylvania, as far as we know, was with his regiment at the battles of Roanoke Island, New Berne, Second Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain and Antietam, where he sustained a serious head wound while waiting in line to cross Burnside's Bridge.  Stellwagon recovered to re-join the 48th in 1864 for the Battle of the Wilderness onward.
What is the meaning of the words "LANE BAND"?  The words printed by the hand of the Johnny Reb musician himself represent the Confederate regiment and brigade to which the ‘rebel eagle drum belonged: the Thirty-third Regiment, North Carolina Troops of General James Henry Lane's Brigade. General Lane received his brigadier star in November 1862 following the death of General Lawrence O. Branch at Antietam\Sharpsburg.
And how do we know this?  The Reminiscences of Oliver J. Lehman reveal the story.8  Known as O. J., Lehman was a Moravian musician from Bethania, North Carolina who enlisted in Lane's Brigade and became band master to the Thirty-third North Carolina Regimental Band.  Lehman chose to serve with his fellow musicians who were formerly members of the Bethania Brass Band the "Confederate Stars."  "The Thirty-third Regimental Band, although assigned to regimental status, was actually the brigade band for General Lane's Brigade, which included the Seventh, Eighteenth, Twenty-eighth, Thirty-third, and Thirty-seventh North Carolina regiments."9  The Brigade was attached to Pender's Division, Third Army Corps, Army of Northern Virginia.
While the live bald eagle at Hatteras Inlet put up a ferocious fight before succumbing to capture by a lieutenant and two privates of the 48th Pennsylvania armed with a fusillade of sea shells, the eagle on the rebel drum of General Lane's Band witnessed a much more prolonged and bloody struggle.
We can only speculate that the ‘rebel drum eagle heard the screams of wounded soldiers about to be consumed by flames in the woods at the Battle of Chancellorsville and witnessed the aftermath of the accidental death of General Stonewall Jackson caused by friendly fire from a sister regiment in General Lane's Brigade.  We can only speculate how close it got to the brave faces of General Lane's infantryman as they formed the battle line on Seminary Ridge before marching toward those horrible cannon on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg.  Did it inspire those brave soldiers by playing their favorite tunes Bonnie Blue Flag and Dixie?
We do know, according to Oliver Lehman: "During all battles until the final surrender, General Lane's Band was in the opening of each, caring for the wounded and taking them to the field hospital just behind the line of battle. So our duties were not only as musicians but also as ambulance corps. We were often under severe shelling and small arms fire but we escaped almost miraculously".10
We can feel confident that the rebel drum was there when fate brought together the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment. We can surmise the day of the eagle’s capture in the bloody muck at Spotsylvania or near the last desperate ditches of the federal Sixth Corps' breakthrough at Petersburg.
But the eagle emblazoned on the ‘rebel drum, although forced to surrender, has never surrendered its indomitable mystique.  For when all is quiet, with an imaginative ear pressed against the vent hole, one can hear off in the distance, feint but unmistakable, spine tingling, the echo of the Rebel Yell.

Acknowledgements

I would like to recognize two persons in particular who helped me with their knowledge, expertise and literary resources on the topic of Moravian Civil War history in Salem, North Carolina, namely, Historian Philip Dunigan and Office Manager Sarah Durham.
And to express my appreciation and gratitude for the invaluable forensic and technical skills of my friend, Ed Carlini.
And to my sister Anne Marie "Bunchy" Schwelm, for her moral and literary support and assistance, and for the many years of sharing the joy of Our Great American History.

Footnotes 
1 Hall, Harry H. 2006. A Johnny Reb Band from Salem: The Pride of Tarheelia. Raleigh N.C.: Office of Archives and History, N.C. Dept. of Cultural Resources. 
2 Moravian Historical Society. About the Moravian Star, http://moravianhistoricalsociety.org. (accessed June 10, 2018) 
3 Hall, 2006. 
4 Hoptack, John David.  2017. The Civil War letters of Private Daniel Reedy, Company F, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, http://48thpennsylvania.blogspot.com/p/letters-diaries-civil-war-letters-of.html
5 Hoptack, 2017
6 Moravian Historical Society 
7 Hoptack, John David. 2017. The 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, http://48thpennsylvania.blogspot.com/
8 Lehman, O. J. Reminiscences of the War Between the States, unpublished manuscript.  Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina State Archives. 
9 Ferguson, Benny Pryor. 1987. The Bands of the Confederacy: An Examination of the Musical and Military Contributions of the Bands and Musicians of the Confederate States of America. North Texas State University.
10 Lehman, O. J. Reminiscences of the War Between the States, unpublished manuscript. Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina State Archives.











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A Tale of Two Eagles

A Tale of Two Eagles by Michael Pikunas Youngstown, Ohio It was the morning of November 12, 1861, and at first glance the youthful ...