FIRST DRUMMER BOY TO ENTER WASHINGTON.
Musician Albert F. Bowen from Pottsville a musician drummer boy from the Washington Artillerists was the first drummer for any volunteer organization from the north to enter the city of Washington, on April 18th, 1861.
He was presented with a drum that was appropriately inscribed dealing with the event. Bowen 20 years of age also reenlisted in the 48th Pennsylvania Band and served with the band until the band was mustered out on August 18th , 1862.
The Story of Robert L. Wright
Back in 1883 the Pottsville Chronicle ran a short story on a 34 year old man who was living in Pottsville and laid claim to being the youngest soldier in the Civil War to enlist. He enlisted at the age of 14 years and 8 months.
This fellow was unusually tall for his age and easily passed for a boy of 18, which, in his eagerness to join the rank of boys in blue, he gave his age. He carried a musket during the remainder of the war, and according to his comrades there was not a better soldier. He asked the paper not to give his name or claim him to be the youngest soldier but the Pottsville Chronicle wanted to back him in his claim.
Now this subject of who was the youngest soldier to enlist in the army during the war has many claims across the country. And not to be out done the Miners Journal from Pottsville offered the story about Pvt. Robert L. Wright.
Somebody wrote to the Pottsville Miners Journal that the proper person to be considered the youngest in the Civil War was a Robert L. Wright son of Jonathan Wright Esq. of Pottsville he was born on April 23, 1849 and enlisted under Captain John T. Boyle, September 16, 1861 in company D, 96th Pennsylvania Regiment. And was really only 12 years and 4 months old when he enlisted, younger by two years than the person spoken of in the Chronicle.
What is more, on the 17th day of May , 1864, when he (Wright ) was only 15 years old he was awarded the duty of “Mounted Orderly to General Emory Upton” for gallant and valuable service and served as an orderly in the 2nd Brigade Headquarters First Division, Sixth Corps.
Tragically on the 28th of February, 1865 Robert was standing on the Mine Hill Railroad, when he was tragically struck by an engine and thrown across the track, the engine and sixty coal cars of coal passing over him. He was not quite sixteen years old when he met his untimely death leaving behind him a record excelled by few. General Upton, in a recommendation to Secretary of War Stanton, paid him the high compliment of proposing him for a cadetship at the Military Academy at West Point. General Upton spoke particularly of high praise for Wright.
Roberts obituary stated:
"It becomes our painful duty to record the death of Robert Wright of this Borough which happened accidently on the morning of February 28th. The young lad was employed at his fathers operation near West Wood, a short distance from this place. On the morning in question having just returned from Schuylkill Haven, on a coal train, he stood on the tracks gazing up the road at the receding train, when unperceived by him another engine and train came gliding along behind him, and before he was conscious of its presence, knocked him down and passed over his body.
His uncle and others standing near, seeing the impending danger, gestulated and hallowed to him to take care, but owing to their voices being drowned in the rattle of the trains they were unheard, and in a moment, without warning, the brave spirit of the boy was ushered into eternity."
Robert was bright and intelligent lad with understanding far beyond his years, being not quite 16 at the time of his death.
General Upton spoke of Wright's bravery at the Battle of Winchester, of how he, “when he was entrusted with the most important orders and delivering them with promptness and understanding far beyond his years” The General remarked that he had seen him frequently under fire where he displayed the most extra ordinary courage. Major General Candy endorsed, the recommendation for the appointment to West Point adding that he looked upon him as a boy of extraordinary promise, and mentioned particularly his behavior at Spotsylvania and near Hanover. Major General Phil H. Sheridan also testified to the boy’s bravery and intelligence and urged his appointment. “He is a bright and very brave boy and should be helped, and his good deeds acknowledged by the government.” This appointment was daily expected, when the boy was suddenly removed by so an unfortunate accident. When General Upton learned of his death he sent a lengthily and affecting letter of condolence to the parents of the young soldier.
Another story attesting to the bravery of young Robert was written in the Miners Journal of March 28th , 1863 and reads as follows:
A DRUMMER BOY’S FEAT
Among the many incidents narrated of the daring and heroism displayed in our army, we have not heard of any which we think more deserving of note than that performed by a mere lad of thirteen years, from our own borough, connected with the 96th Regiment, Under Colonel Henry l. Cake, as we have learned it from those connected with the command. It appears that Robert Wright, son of Jonathan Wright Esq. a drummer boy, having possessed himself of a secesh horse after the Battle of Antietam, rode some distance from the camp, and espying a rebel soldier(a fine stalwart fellow) lying upon the ground, dismounted, stole quietly to his knapsack, and on opening it discovered two pistols, one of which he took, and then awakened his man, ordering him to surrender. The Rebel made a move towards his gun, which was a short distance off, when young Wright ordered him to halt or he would shoot him, and actually brought him in a prisoner into the camp of his regiment. The uproarious demonstrations of the soldiers when he was seen riding into camp with his prisoner before him, can better be imagined than described. We learn that for this act he has been deservedly promoted by his Colonel to the rank of orderly at his headquarters.
The letter from General Upton, with all the others named above , were still preserved by the parents of Robert in 1883 and his parents said they would never part with them for any amount of money. I wonder today were these letters are?
So according to the Pottsville Miners Journal Pottsville could and should lay claim to having the youngest soldier that enlisted in the war, in the person of Robert L. Wright.
CANINE AFFECTION ROBERT WRIGHT'S DOG
When Robert came home from the army, he brought with him from Virginia a terrier dog. Great affection existed between Robert and his dog. When the unfortunate accident happened which resulted in his death, and his body was taken home, it was with great difficulty that the dog could be prevented from springing on the body to lick it and exhibit other marks of affection. From that moment the dog commenced to pine, refused food, and on the Thursday following Robert’s death the dog died, unquestionably of grief for the loss of his master. It is a remarkable and touching instance of canine affection.
One can only wonder what deeds this boy could have accomplished if he had gone on to West Point and served his country as an officer.
HIS DRUM WAS NICELY VARNISHED AND LOOKS LIKE NEW
Private Andrew J. Snyder a 5ft-1-½ 16 year old from Pottsville and a member of Company H 48th Pennsylvania Regiment wrote home to his family on May 27th, 1863 while stationed with the regiment at Lexington, Ky.
“We have a nice place here and are well contented. The people like us very much and say that this is the best behaved regiment that had ever been here. A short time ago our regiment got marching orders and the 1st Tenn. (Union) was sent here to believe us of this duty, but when the people found out that we were going to be sent away, they got up petition signed by the Mayor, a Judge and hundreds of the best citizens and told General Wilcox and asked him to keep us here, because we kept ourselves so clean and behaved so well. General Wilcox telegraphed General Burnsides to know whether he could let us stay, and General B telegraphed back that he might. We had our knapsacks packed an everything ready to march, but when they told us that we should stay we cheered like everything. The ladies gave us lots milk and bouquets of flowers everyday. The girls give us drummer boys lots of pretty flowers. I never saw such a nice place as this. It’s just like a garden all about here.
We had a big fire last Friday, which destroyed one of our largest hospitals, but we got all the sick and wounded out safe. The ladies helped to carry them out of danger, and were very kind to them. We worked hard, but could not save the building.
"We have lots of rebel prisoners in our jail. They are hard looking set; dirty and lousy as can be seen. Our boys go out scouting and capture lots of Rebs and horses.
Major Wren resigned and went home the other day. We are very sorry, nearly all the men cried. He cried too. He was a good kind officer. He is a brave man too.
I have my drum nicely painted and varnished, and it looks like a new one. I keep as hearty as a buck, and I am growing fat.
Andrew J. Snyder
Source: "Schuylkill County Pennsylvania Military History" (blog), "DRUMMER BOYS FROM OLD SCHUYLKILL COUNTY", July 23, 2009.