Five years ago, friends and members of the 148th PVI, Sgt. Tom Good Cpl. Mark Bohn and Private Don Husler formed a motorcycle group called “Civil War Riders.” Our purpose at that time was to visit as many of the battlefields, towns and river and creek fords that the men of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, part of the Army of the Potomac, walked through during their three year enlistment.
We originally formed the riders in the fall 2010. Our first three spring or fall rides were just the three original members. Then for the fourth ride four other members of the 148th joined us for an unusual late June ride: Tom’s wife Doreen, rides her own H-D, John Streno, Ed Glantz, and Captain Dave Felice joined in as we visited the Gettysburg Visitors Center and Cyclarama, Monocacy, Ball’s Bluff, Harper’s Ferry, Antietam. This was the shortest of all our rides.
The ride this year was to have been done last fall, before the end of the war events, to provide a little more clarity to those reenactments we were going to attend in the spring. That didn’t work out. Mark was injured on the job, and the ride was postponed until spring, when John had a heart attack. Again the trip was postponed until September, when John was released by the doctor. When that didn’t happen, we decided we had waited long enough. So the last weekend in October we mounted up at 3:00 AM Friday to meet at a preassigned location. At 4:00 AM we left in the cold darkness of the season for Petersburg, Virginia. This time again it was just the three ol’e timers, the original core group tough enough to weather the 36 degree temperature...
We traveled for about 2 ½ hours, before stopping for fuel and a bit of breakfast. Then it was back on the road again for another 3 hours. We would agree if you start to think, “you guys are crazy,” but we were sure having fun in our insanity. Riding staggered, and at a steady speed, we made very good time. At times we stopped for a side trip to check out sites we had not yet seen. Trevilian Station was the first stop, with barely a marker to indicate where it had once stood. Not much imagination was needed, as the tracks were still close by. This event occurred June 11, 1864. I will not tell you much about the battles, but instead encourage you to use your curiosity to research this yourself. Otherwise this narrative would become a book…
We finally arrived at Petersburg mid-afternoon, and stopped at the visitor’s center. The last time we were at Petersburg, my legs were worn out, and I didn’t get to see the “Dictator.” This time I did; still in place where it had fired over 200 rounds into Petersburg’s defenses. This massive mortar fired a 215 pound “round-ball-of-hell” into the city, where it did little personal injury to the citizens. We rode by Fort Steadman, stopping again at the “Crater.” This is where the 48th PVI Pennsylvania coal miners dug a 511 foot tunnel to place four-tons of black power beneath the Confederates and blow their fort open. It was not enough, unfortunately. The Federals charged through its opening to find the fort only partially exposed. The end result on July 30th 1864 was a disaster that resulted in the loss of 5,000 men. Burnside was relieved of duty, which I believe encouraged the troops.
Ream’s Station was the next stop. The Federal army had destroyed nearly sixty miles of track from Weldon Station to this site. The significance of Ream’s Station is that our unit’s very own Colonel James Adams Beaver had just returned from convalescing his third wound, only to be wound again, just prior to returning to his regiment. It was here that a fellow Juniata County resident and Chief Bugler Ferdinand Rohm won the Medal of Honor for bravery by saving Beaver’s life, evacuating him from the field.
Darkness finally overcame us, completing the first day. A room, hot meal, and rest would restore us for the next day’s adventure.
The first stop on Saturday was Poplar Grove National Cemetery, located only a few miles outside Petersburg. We were excited to find graves of four 148th soldiers: J.M Strickel, site #4961, J. Shoffstall, site #1112, Leander Myers, site #288, and Henry Coonfare, site #3119. After paying respects, we shared our hope with the others that hopefully someday others will also visit their graves.
At this point we prepared to revisit the final week of the Civil War: April 1st 1865, Five Forks, April 2nd 1865, Amelia Court House, and April 3rd 1865, Sutherland Station.
Footnote: At Sutherland Station we rolled upon a ceremony by the “Sons of Confederate Veterans.” They replaced their second national colors, and then sang Dixie. They treated us with respect, as we did them. We explained where we were from, what we were doing, and then bid them fare thee well…
Though not always in order, we also would visit earlier battles, like Hatcher’s Run, February 5-7 1865, and White Oak engagement, March 31st 1865.
Finally, near Farmville, Virginia we walked across High Bridge. This 2,400 foot-long bridge was also 60 - 125 feet high. Although General Lee had ordered the bridge burned on April 6th 1865, it was not, thus permitting the Federal Army to pursue the Confederates. Had the bridge been burnt, the war may have drug on a bit longer.
Another evening of dinner and rest, before continuing the journey Sunday morning. This day we would visit several battlefields: April 5th 1865 , Battle of Jetersville, April 6th 1865, Sailor’s Creek/ Hillsman Farm, April 7th 1865 Cumberland Church, and countless other placards along the way.
As we approached the community of Appomattox Court House, and the final battles of the four-year civil war, we encountered some sites of a lighter nature. About four miles before Appomattox we saw a placard giving credit to a black man named Joel Walker Sweeney. It read: “1810-1860, he was the musician who redesigned the African banjo instrument into the modern five-stringed banjo known today. He toured the minstrel circuit performing with his brothers, Sam and Dick, from 1831-1860. During the war brother Sam Sweeney served as Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s personal banjo-picker, until he died during the winter of 1863-64.”
Finally at Appomattox, and its visitor’s center, we again made an exciting discovery. Of the thousands present at the surrender, two were from the 148th: Sgt. Henry Clay Campbell, Company “D,” and Corp. James K.P. Ward, from Company “C”. We stayed at the surrender site until about 2:00 PM, when we began our route home.
We rode 460 west, until reaching 43 north, then onto 220 west, on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This was one of the most fun parts of the ride, as 220 snakes its way north through the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and finally Pennsylvania. For nearly 200 miles we road this switch-back road up and down, around hairpin turns, observing some of the most beautiful fall colors ever seen. I do not know if it was the altitude, but they were brilliant. Near Barber, Virginia we first passed, then turned back to see the 200 foot drop of the Falling Springs Falls where it crashed onto the rocks below. Mark observed a placard on the other side of the road, where we discovered another unexpected surprise. The placard read, “Near this spot stood the rude hut in which ‘Mad Ann Bailey’ spent the last years of her life as a scout and Indian Fighter. She rendered valuable service to the settlers of this section. D.A.R.”
In conclusion, the rest of the way home we only stopped for fuel and to rest our butts from the hours of time in the saddle. When we finally got near our starting point we wished each other farewell and road the last few miles home in the darkness. I personal rode 1092.8 miles during this adventure and arrived home safe and sound around 10:55PM. Parked and unloaded my lady and Thanked Gert and my God for giving us such a wonderful and safe ride. The “War of the Great Rebellion” “The War between the States” “The War of Northern Aggression” is over. The 150th Anniversary of all these historic events have come to an end.
A life time dream of being a part of the lives of the men who actually fought the war has been an experience of a life time and the highlight to treasure in my memories. I am profoundly happy that I got to share it with two men I’ve grown to love as my brothers. We have worked, fought, eaten and slept together on many battle fields that most can only imagine. In the twenty years that I’ve been a Living Historian, Reenactor, Educator, and lifelong learner of the time that nearly tore our country asunder; I’ve fulfilled that desire to honor the nearly 780,000 men who fought and died for a cause they mostly believed in. Who can blame them for their bravery, their fortitude, and the sacrifice of everything they had; and gave their last full measure of devotion…