Coinciding with the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War, a new book has been published chronicling the wartime diaries and saga of Ephraim Miner, a Western Pennsylvania farmer boy. With his eardrums shattered and feet frostbitten at the Battle of Fredericksburg, in action with the 142nd Pennsylvania Infantry, Ephraim then spent more than two-and-a-half years in Army hospitals and later on light duty with the 22nd Veterans Reserve Corps.
Well At This Time features never-before published scans from Ephraim's diaries, as well as more than 100 rare Civil War engravings and family photographs. Researched, written and edited by the soldier's great-great grand nephew, Minerd.com founder Mark Miner, and designed by award-winning Semonik Creative, the book is available in three attractive formats. You will want a copy for your family library and to give as legacy gifts to relatives and friends.
~ Overview of the Book ~
Born and raised in Somerset County, PA, Ephraim and his fellow soldiers in the 142nd Pennsylvania were ill-equipped for the deadly hostility they would face. At Fredericksburg, the 142nd Pennsylvania was one of a handful of Union regiments to break through enemy lines commanded by Stonewall Jackson and A.P. Hill, only to be savagely repulsed during a day that otherwise was a Confederate rout. In the immediate aftermath of battle, Ephraim may well have spoken with or been treated by Clara Barton (future founder of the Red Cross), Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) and Walt Whitman (author of Leaves of Grass), who were nurses treating the Union wounded at Fredericksburg. Later, while in hospitals in Washington, D.C., sitting on Capitol Hill, he wrote in his diary and may well have laid eyes upon President Lincoln. His path may again have crossed with Whitman, who spent much of the rest of the war as an aide in the Union hospitals in the city. It is entirely possible that Ephraim's diary may have been a gift from Whitman himself.
No longer fit for active duty, Ephraim was sent to army hospitals in Belle Plain near Fredericksburg, and thence to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Fortress Monroe, City Point, VA and back to Alexandria, VA. In 1864, he was transferred to the 22nd Veterans Reserve Corps, and sent to a wide variety of military facilities to provide guard duty and hospital orderly services -- in the former Confederate capital city of Richmond; the Albany Arsenal at Watervliet, N.Y.; the Camp Morton POW facility near Indianapolis, Ind.; Camp Tod in Columbus, Ohio; and finally at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati.
He writes about the Battle of Fort Stevens, near where Walter Reed Army Hospital is today; his joy at receiving letters from home and occasional visits from relatives; his reaction to the assassination of President Lincoln; and much, much more.
In the process, Ephraim's soul was seared with the suffering of many new friends he'd met, from New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. The back pages of his diary contain their signatures and hometowns, as well as lists of family and friends who sent him letters.
The book not only includes a transcript of all of Ephraim's 1864 and 1865 diary entries exactly as he wrote them, but also cross-references where the 142nd Pennsylvania was in action, what else was happening during the war, and deaths, wounds and captures faced by scores of his extended Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor cousins.
In short, it is a comprehensive look at a part of the Civil War experience not often told -- the lengthy medical recovery of a soldier who found other ways to serve his country, and in the process discovered the people, highways and byways of the country he was serving.
~ Introduction - by Mark A. Miner ~
In the summer of 1975, when I was a young teenager, and filled with curiosity, my parents took me to a Miner family reunion in Washington, Pennsylvania. I spent a lot of time looking at an old family photo album and asking questions. At dusk, as we prepared to leave, my great-aunt Jessie (Miner) Schultz walked to our car and handed me the album to keep. “You’re the only one who asks me about these people,” she said. “You’re the eldest son of the eldest son of my eldest brother. And you carry on the Miner name. Now, go find out about these people someday.”
Among many antique images in the album, one showed my great-great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Miner, and his brother Ephraim and their wives. The photo is mounted to a cardboard backing, and surrounded by bric-a-brac designs, portraying the couples in a studio setting. As Andrew died in 1921, I estimated the picture to be at least 50 years old; probably much more. He was bald and had a floppy, walrus-like mustache, while his brother Ephraim had a head of white hair in addition to a white mustache and beard. The look on their faces was stern. I knew that Andrew had lived in Washington, the town where our reunion was held, but the rest was a mystery.
Many were the afternoons when I came home from school and studied that picture -- faces, posture, clothing -- wishing I could have known them and asked about their lives. I daydreamed about their voices and what they would have been talking about as the shutter was being snapped. I asked several great-aunts and uncles about the people in the photo, but they all had been very young when Andrew and his wife died, and didn’t remember very much. The craving to learn about these relatives grew, but it wasn’t until reading Alex Haley’s Roots that I discovered how to start in such places as libraries with old census records, books and newspapers and in courthouses with deeds and other legal records.
After the death of my grandmother Monalea (Ullom) Miner, in 1977, I found some old family papers in an oak box while cleaning out her root cellar. I learned that my ancestor Andrew was born in the farming village of Kingwood in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. My mother took me to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where we found old census records showing that Ephraim lived in the Kingwood area as an old man.
The following summer, in August 1978, when I was 17, I took advantage of an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity. My brothers were at a summer camp in Ligonier, not far from Kingwood. On a Sunday drive to pick them up, I persuaded my parents to take us on to Kingwood, to see what the countryside looked like, and perhaps to find some old graves of long-lost Miners.
My father agreed to my request, and after carefully checking a map, drove us to the very small town. Dad stopped the car at an old stone house to ask for advice on where to find cemeteries. An elderly gentleman, Forrest Hall, came to the door and offered his help. I mentioned Uncle Ephraim’s name, and Mr. Hall proceeded to smile, saying to my astonishment that he had known Ephraim, and that there were Miner relatives living nearby. He said that as a boy he had to shout loudly at Ephraim when talking because the old man’s eardrums had been deafened by the roar of Civil War cannons.
Mr. Hall told us that Ephraim’s daughter was still living, at age 86, in her father’s farmhouse in a nearby hollow. He offered to ride with us to her place so that we might meet her. I could scarcely believe that an actual flesh and blood relative -- and a Civil War veteran’s daughter at that -- was still living in 1978, and my imagination raced with excitement. We accepted the offer.
The route turned off the pavement down the steep, narrow dirt “Hexie Road,” and led to a clearing with a barn on one side of the road and a two-story, green weather-boarded house on the other. After we parked, Mr. Hall led us to a side porch, and after calling into her through an open screen door, introduced us to a very tiny, delicate elderly lady named Minnie Gary. She was nearly blind and had been cooking jelly on her wood stove, despite the stifling hot August day. With typical forethought, my father had his camera in hand and began taking photographs.
I shook Minnie’s hand and told her that my great-great-grandfather was Andrew J. Miner. “Uncle Andy!” she exclaimed. Without hesitation, she invited us inside, and we spent the next half-hour sitting in her kitchen, hearing stories about her father and his Civil War experiences, and of his brothers and sisters, all of them long dead. Although she could not see, her mind was alive with sights and sounds of people she had known, including her beloved father, who was born 150 years earlier.
I told Minnie about my old photograph, and she smiled knowingly. She told us a story about one day when she was a young woman and was working outside in the garden, next to a small hillside. All of a sudden, pebbles and small rocks began to bounce down the hill in her direction. Puzzled, she glanced around but saw nothing, and went back to work. Soon after, pebbles and rocks again came tumbling down the hillside, and she took a second, more thorough look. She then heard some chuckles, and saw her “Uncle Andy” – my great, great grandfather – peeking over the crest of the hill. He and his wife Mary Louise had come for a visit, arriving unannounced, and stayed for several days. At one point they had a photograph taken together, and the two couples laughed and joked all the way to and from the studio. The picture that resulted, Minnie said, was the very one I had, with a nearly identical version hanging in her bedroom. It then dawned on me. The faces weren’t stern, but instead holding back smiles, with one of the wives probably having just said, “Now c’mon guys, cut that out!”
It was at that precise moment that I first heard the voices of family history come alive, and my search for Uncle Ephraim began in earnest.
While I never saw Minnie again, I devoted much of my spare time over the ensuing decades to researching the life of her father, his siblings and parents. I met many of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in their homes and at family reunions, recording as many of their recollections as I could scribble on paper.
I learned that Ephraim obtained a government pension for his military service, that the National Archives houses original copies of all the pertinent paperwork he filled out to secure this, and that these files are open to the public. But I was dismayed to find that in a very rare occurrence, the Archives had transferred the files to the Veterans Administration in St. Louis, and were no longer accessible. In 1989, at my request, Pennsylvania Congressman Doug Walgren wrote to the Department of the Army’s Reserve Personnel Center in St. Louis, asking for information. In a telephone conversation with a V.A. official in 1992, I was told that the files are “lost.”
At some point in the mid-1990s, there were so many offshoot branches of the family that I decided to “shoot the moon” and find as many of them as I could, everywhere. The paradigm changed from tracing backward in time to exploring forward, from back in the long ago to today. As of this writing I know of the existence of nearly 2,000 of Ephraim’s siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, all born by the year 1900, descending in the genealogical tree from Ephraim’s great-grandparents, Jacob and Maria (Nein) Minerd Sr., pioneer settlers of Southwestern Pennsylvania in 1791. To my amazement, I discovered that there many well be 50,000 cousins alive today, and that the family surname today has many variations, primarily Minerd, Minard, Miner and Minor. Another remarkable learning is that Ephraim was just one of more than 100 relatives (including spouses) to provide military service during the Civil War.
When the Internet was invented in the 1990s, I grasped that the new technology would be a perfect venue for publishing my research findings to share with everyone, and as a tool for attracting the interest of tens of thousands of distant, line-minded cousins, to broaden our collective knowledge and deepen our understanding. So in May 2000, I launched the Minerd.com website, filled with biographical and feature pages loaded with names, keywords and photographs, and with each bio linked to bios of parents and children for easy navigation. In 2003 it was named one of the top 10 family websites in the nation by a national genealogy magazine, Family Tree. Each Minerd-Miner soldier and relative mentioned in this book has a more detailed biography on the Minerd.com website.
As I wrote in Pittsburgh Quarterly Magazine in 2008, on the 250th anniversary of the founding of Pittsburgh, Minerd.com is intended to protect and preserve a fragmented family history and culture against the ravages of time and erosion of memory, public disinterest, destruction of interpersonal relationships and dispersion of families. When I too often hear of families breaking apart, I realize this website is an unprecedented way to re-connect everyone and to educate cousins and their families that regardless of where they live today, their ancient, unbreakable roots are here in the region.
In my search for Uncle Ephraim and the family at large, I have had the privilege of walking where he walked and viewing some of the very sights that he saw, on the battlefield and in the mountains of home. This rare experience has provided me with a profound appreciation for the self-sacrifice that he and his soldier-friends made for a country they barely knew when they enlisted but which they discovered in person during the fire and sweep of their wartime journeys.
~ Part I: Becoming a Man ~
Ephraim Miner was a common, God-fearing farm boy from a rural Southwestern Pennsylvania county whose life was profoundly changed as a fighter but primarily as a sidelined observer in the Civil War. He suffered physical anguish at the Battle of Fredericksburg but no doubt endured significant emotional guilt as, enduring deafness, sore back and frostbitten feet, he sat out the rest of the war while many in his former regiment mates were wounded and killed in some of the most important battles of the war – Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Petersburg and finally the end at Appomattox.
Set into the broader sweeping context of Civil War history, Ephraim bore the first of his injuries during a tragic, one-sided slaughter at Fredericksburg, pitting the Army of the Potomac under the command of Ambrose Burnside against the Army of Northern Virginia led by Robert E. Lee. Among the other generals directly involved were George Meade (Union), James Longstreet, Stonewall Jackson, Jubal Early, A.P. Hill, John Bell Hood and Jeb Stuart (Confederate), names deeply imbued in American military legend. Three times as many Union soldiers were killed at Fredericksburg than Confederates, but Ephraim – fortunately – survived. It is entirely possible that any of these generals actually could have laid eyes upon Ephraim for an instant, as he was among the massing blue tide of Union soldiers crossing the Rappahannock River and assaulting Fredericksburg in the cold, foggy pre-Christmas days of Dec. 11-15, 1862.
In later years, Ephraim told his children and grandchildren of the “rivers of blood” that ran at Gettysburg, which, while true, he did not see, because in fact he was not at that battle. Rather, he was in a military hospital in West Philadelphia. He shared tales of having been so hungry that if he had seen a piece of meat lying in the mud, he gladly would have eaten it.
He told his grandchildren about when for a number of frightening nights in a row, one of the guards of his camp would be shot in the darkness. Each time, a large pig could be seen grazing some distance away. Finally, one frightened guard decided to shoot any living thing that came near. Sure enough, Ephraim recounted, the pig came around the next night, and promptly was shot dead. Upon examination, a Confederate’s body was discovered under the camouflage of the pigskin. Tied to the pig’s tail was the gun he dragged and used to pick off the Union guards.
As an old man, Ephraim relished attending Civil War reunions, perhaps making up for the time he spent convalescing during the actual conflict. At death, he left instructions that he be buried in his old uniform.
In addition to proudly serving his nation, perhaps the most important effect of Ephraim’s wartime experience was that he personally saw the mighty nation he loved and was defending, and made friends from all bounds of the northern United States. His wartime journey took him from the mountains of Somerset County to the battlefields of Virginia, and then to hospitals and posts in such cities as Philadelphia; Washington D.C.; Richmond; New York City; Albany, N.Y.; Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio; and Indianapolis. The back of his diary contains signatures of friends he made, fellow invalid soldiers from Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and West Virginia. His eyes beheld the shattered bodies of friends; the not-yet-finished capitol building in the District of Columbia; teeming hospitals with hundreds of wounded men in conditions of indescribable horror; and the railroads linking the nation’s major cities.
Everything Ephraim would do for the rest of his life would be seen through a completely different lens than before. Returning to his quiet sheltered farming village of Kingwood, he rebuilt his health and strength; married and had sons; lost his wife at a young age; remarried again; had three more children; and dealt with two sons having significant mental disabilities. Deeply Christian, he imparted a love of faith and family to his offspring, and his example endures today in the lives of hundreds of his descendants.
Early Life in Rural Somerset County
Ephraim was born in the mountains of Hexebarger near Kingwood, Somerset County, on July 1, 1838, the son of Henry and Polly (Younkin) Minerd. His parents were cousins to each other, and he is believed to have been named for an uncle, Ephraim Younkin. As an adult, Ephraim was married twice, and both his brides were local kin – Joanna Younkin (a cousin on his mother’s side, from Paddytown) and Rosetta Harbaugh (a second cousin on his father’s side, from Scullton).
Although marriages of first cousins today are illegal in Pennsylvania, they were prized then, especially in rural communities where clusters of families lived of the same ethnic background and cultures. People of the 1800s had no knowledge of modern genetic research (which became a recognized science in the early 1900s), nor were there laws to prohibit intra-family unions. In fact, cousin marriages had value to ensure that like-minded couples with similar values and heritage stayed together. It may be surprising to learn that President Thomas Jefferson urged both of his daughters to wed cousins, and in fact they did.
As a boy, Ephraim attended some school and learned basic reading and writing, though his diaries later show an inability to spell consistently or to form anything more than basic sentences. In fact, he used the family surname of “Minerd” indiscriminately with “Minard” and “Miner” and in some Civil War records the name is printed as “Minor.” In the decades before Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service forced Americans to spell their names with exact precision, Ephraim apparently did not care which spelling he used, much as someone today named “William” might not really mind if called by Will, Bill, Willie or Billy.
Ephraim grew up in a family compound of steep farms, comprising about 500 acres which his grandfather Jacob Minerd Jr. had acquired in 1837. Ephraim’s father Henry and uncles John, Jacob III and Charles each shared a quarter section of the farm, of about 125 acres each. On the Minerd side of the family , Ephraim would have known 16 first cousins living on four adjacent farms within a radius of less than one mile, and another 36 first cousins living elsewhere, all born within a 46 year span from 1827 to 1873. He also had scores of Younkin cousins in the region. During the Civil War, at least 107 of his cousins nationwide joined the military, including seven from Kingwood.
As a boy, Ephraim raced horses through the fields with his brother Chance. He also spent time with his maternal grandfather, John J. "Yankee John" Younkin. According to one story, Ephraim was shooting game for Yankee John, who was watching nearby on his horse, and when the shot was fired, the horse became excited, fell over a hill and was killed.
He also witnessed a triple tragedy involving his mother Polly, but miraculously may have helped to save her life. She was epileptic, and once, while holding a baby, had a seizure and fell headlong into a burning fireplace, burning off her ear and hair, and killing the child. In one version of the story, Ephraim somehow had the presence of mind to pull her out of the fire, saving her life. He later gave credit to God for giving him the strength. A grandmother, witnessing the horror, went running out to the fields to call for help, but fell over dead from the excitement. In another version, the grandmother pulled Polly out of the fire, but died of fright after seeing the extent of her burns.
In his early teens, Ephraim and his family survived a terrible house fire, said to have destroyed everything but the shirts on their backs. Sometime afterward, his parents sold their farm at a loss and moved to another one a short distance away. In the mid-to-late 1850s, Ephraim’s parents and younger siblings migrated to the northern panhandle of Virginia (later West Virginia). Within a year or two they relocated again, crossing back over the state line into Pennsylvania . Ephraim remained behind in Hexebarger, in the care of relatives or friends.
At the age of 20 or 21, in Ephraim in his "young manhood... gave his heart to Jesus Christ, and united with the Church of God at Old Bethel, in Upper Turkeyfoot," said the Somerset County Leader. Old Bethel was the first Church of God planted in Somerset County, and Ephraim is acknowledged in a history of the congregation as "an active member..." It was a symbol of a national religious renewal among German-Americans in the 1830s and '40s, and was especially strong in Kingwood.
The Church of God movement was founded by Rev. John Winebrenner, whose roots were in the German Reformed Church. One of Winebrenner's chief colleagues, Rev. John Hickernell, helped establish Ephraim’s home church, Old Bethel, and performed Ephraim’s marriage ceremony to Rosetta Harbaugh.
When the federal census was taken in 1860, Ephraim boarded in the home of farmers John and Elisabeth Dumbauld near Kingwood. They were neighbors to Ephraim's uncle and aunt, Andrew and Susan (Younkin) Schrock, and 68-year-old widowed grandfather, Yankee John.
At age 24, some 16 months after the Civil War began, Ephraim enlisted in the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at Stoyestown, Somerset County on Aug. 1, 1862. Enlistment records show he stood 5 feet, 10 inches tall, had dark eyes and dark hair, and a fair complexion. He received an immediate bounty payment of $25.
Also joining the 142nd Pennsylvania were his first cousin Martin Miner, whom he considered a brother, and a cousin by marriage, Andrew Jackson Rose Sr. They traveled to state capitol of Harrisburg to be mustered into the regiment.
Ephraim’s enlistment immediately exposed him to a wide variety of men and cultural backgrounds with which he would have been unfamiliar. George R. Snowden, captain of the regiment, later said:
As much could have been expected and foretold from the character of the men who filled up its ranks, for they represented the diverse pursuits and composite character of the American citizen. Among them were the followers of the learned professions, men in business, bankers, mechanics of all kinds, drillers of oil-wells, miners of coal and iron, farmers, clerks, producers and manufacturers of lumber, teachers – in fact of almost every branch of industry – and generous and spirited boys from school, college, and the shop. The sturdy Pennsylvania Dutch were there, with their simple ways and honest hearts; the stern and resolute Scotch-Irish, the indomitable Welsh, the pertinacious English, the gallant and impetuous Irish, the steadfast Scotch, and the American of every extraction, Protestant and Catholic, all met on the same level of citizenship and patriotism.
In September, without any basic training, the 142nd Pennsylvania was sent to Washington, D.C., “arriving there just as the wounded were coming in from the second battle of Bull Run,” reported one of the commanding officers of the regiment, Gen. Horatio Nelson Warren. “We learned from the wounded, who were flocking into the city, that the Army of the Potomac had been put to flight, and most severely handled…” It was the first time most of the members of the regiment had seen the “dome of the great capitol building.”
The 142nd Pennsylvania, led by Col. Robert P. Cummins, was placed in the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 1st Corps, under the command of Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin and Maj. Gen. George Meade. Its first activity in Washington included guard duty and trench digging. “This was our first picket duty,” Warren said, “and, as yet, some of my men scarcely knew how to load a musket, and, while there may not have been an enemy within twenty miles, we could peer out into the darkness in our front and, in our imagination, see long lines of the enemy marching and counter-marching and getting ready to sweep us from the face of the earth.”
They watched as other Union regiments marched out of the city, toward Maryland where they would face Confederate forces at South Mountain and Antietam. Within the week, the 142nd Pennsylvania was ordered to Frederick to provide care for the wounded of those battles. For the first time, these raw, untrained men observed “the horrible results of these battles,” Warren said, “as we saw them and heard of them from the mouths of those that were sent there, shattered and torn in every conceivable shape by bullets and shells…”
In late October, the 142nd Pennsylvania marched to Antietam and Harper’s Ferry to join the massing Army of the Potomac. Reported Warren, “This march was fraught with much that was trying to our experience,” he said, “for, as yet, our men knew nothing about foraging, little about cooking and less about taking care of and dispensing their rations… In consequence of this, half of the time we were nearly starved.”
During one halt, at Starvation Hollow, the hungry men caught their first glimpse of Gen. Meade, the commanding officer of their division. As he rode by, they shouted “crackers and hard-tack so loud and long at him, [and] in his wrath he ordered the whole division under arms and made them stand in the rain for about two hours,” Warren lamented. Their final stop, before reaching Fredericksburg, was Berk’s Station.
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