In September of 2014, we took a vacation that permitted us to walk in the past through the civil war footsteps in my family’s history. Jacob Harer enlisted as a Union Army private in the 107th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (PVI), Company C. Jacob fought in most major engagements from the Second Bull Run until the end of the war. He was captured in the first day’s fighting at The Battle of Gettysburg, by the Army of Northern Virginia, and paroled less than a month later. At the Battle of Cold Harbor he fought beside his cousin, Corporal Daniel Harer, of the 58th PVI, Co. G.
Cold Harbor was the first stop on our vacation. Viewing the battlefield and its topology provided a whole new perspective. The trenches are still there, a reminder where so many charged valiantly against fortified positions, making the ultimate sacrifice.
Next was Petersburg. There we saw locations with familiar names displayed on the 148th PVI monument at Gettysburg, along with other battles fought near Petersburg. One memorable location is where Fort Stedman stood. This Fort is mentioned several times in the 148th PVI regimental history.
The Petersburg crater was a very interesting sight, and the mine entrance is still open. From the mine entrance you can view to the crater, and gauge the distance dug by the Pennsylvania coal miners before exploding four tons of black powder beneath the confederate line.
Jacob Harer, as well as Daniel, fought in many of the battles around the Petersburg vicinity. Unfortunately Jacob was captured at Weldon Railroad on August 19th, 1864, along with several of his 107th PVI comrades. Finally, we were able to view what little was left of the Weldon Railroad line.
Jacob and his fellow prisoners of war were first taken to Belle Isle Confederate Prison near Richmond, VA, one of the better confederate prisons. Today, Belle Isle is a city park complete with bikes trails where my nephews road their bikes. Except what has been recorded into books, nothing remains of the prison.
From Belle Isle, Jacob and his fellow prisoners of war were taken in October to Salisbury Confederate Prison Camp, North Carolina. That month Salisbury Pen declined from fairly stable utterly deplorable conditions, as prisoner numbers grew 500 to over 10,000. Disease ran rampant, as water, sanitation, and food became scarce. For shelter, most prisoners used a 3-foot muddy, reminiscent of the dreaded Andersonville.
Salisbury National Cemetery is all that remains outside the prison camp location and the prisoners who died there, where the first men buried in this cemetery. There was a cornfield outside the prison and that is where the 3,500 dead prisoners are buried, stacked like firewood and buried in trenches, that makes up part of the cemetery. Some of Jacob’s comrades and some men from the 148th PVI are buried there. The cemetery is very well maintained and a beautiful place to visit. I was happy to see that such a beautiful place could come from such a horrible beginning.
In February, Jacob and 2,800 other prisoners were marched fifty-one miles to Greensboro, N.C., to board trains to Wilmington, N.C. Only 1,800 actually made it to Greensboro. By March, Jacob was returned to the 107th PVI, where he served until the end of the war. Jacob suffered chronic diarrhea for the rest of his life, passing away on February 9, 1912.
It was an honor to have walked in the footstep of Jacob Harer. Witnessing the travails of these brave men provides a new perspective on that which we would lament, making me feel instead rather blessed.