and His Company "A".
Captain William Wynkoop and His Company "A".
BY THADDEUS S. KENDERDINE, NEWTOWN, PA.
(Doylestown Meeting, January 17, 1911.)
Too often, as the aged look on death, it is with a sort of cynicism at thought of the little note made of their exit; little more than a nine days wonder at their going, the talk concerning which begins with the saving phrase "How he will be missed," or "Who is going to take his place?" the feeling slowing down to wondering if the deceased made a will, and then as to what he was worth, and then, through surmise and comment, until the ninth day, when the social surface of the neighborhood is as little ruffled by the sinking of one who was a prominent figure thereon as a mill-pond an hour after a stone has been cast into its depths. There are times when one who has made his departure from this life remains long in the memory of the thoughtful who realize how few there are to fill the vacancy made. The memory of Captain William Wynkoop comes fittingly into this suggestion.
The subject of this sketch was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Torbert) Wynkoop. His father was of Dutch descent; his mother of Scotch-Irish parentage. His death occurred October 12, 1910, so that he was a few months beyond the three-quarter century mark, he having been born in July, 1835. Next to the late General W. W. H. Davis, Captain Wynkoop was the
most prominent of the officers who were in the Union army yet living in Bucks county, so that at the time of his death he was the most active, although never pushing himself forward as such, and never holding a rank above that of captain, to which he rose from the ranks. He was at times on the brigade staff, serving under Brigadier General Davies in Gregg's Cavalry Division, as provost marshal, ordnance officer and assistant adjutant general. Besides being wounded in the foot by the explosion of a shell, he afterwards received two minor wounds, one in the hand, the other on the ear from a rifle ball, the last the closest call of all. He was home but once during his over three years' service, which was after his most serious wound. Coming to Philadelphia on the cars, he had difficulty to get from there to his home at Newtown, on account of the lack of traveling facilities. Connected with this event, he once related to me a rather striking incident pertaining to the attribute of inconsistency of those civilians who held pronounced opinions relative to the war. In the city the captain met a farmer who was down to market whom he asked for a ride home, his wounded foot preventing him from walking. This farmer had been the advocate of strenuous means for carrying on the war for the union, although at the same time, like many others, being perfectly willing to let others do the practical part of crushing the rebellion. He at this juncture told the wounded captain that it would inconvenience him to comply with his request. Shortly afterwards the captain made application to another farmer who was as glad to help him as the other was reluctant. Now the point is this: the second farmer was one of the opponents of the war and had done what laid in his power to obstruct its successful close. Another question is, that any one, no matter what his proclivities were, would hesitate for a moment to do all he could for a wounded soldier, who had left everything, family, friends and home to fight for his imperiled country. He was at home for but a few weeks when he was again on the firing line in the Army of the Potomac, a matter to be remarked, when for far less serious causalities officers made use of their privileges of resignation to get out of their dangerous vocation. He had already lost one brother in the service, which would have made a serviceable plea for his coming home, inasmuch as the wounding of one of the family and the death of
another might have been exoneration enough from further service in the war for that branch of the Wynkoop family; and other branches had also done their full share; for the name Wynkoop frequently occurs on the rosters of the rank and of those who battled for the Union. The brother who lost his life was Thomas H., who having been detailed to gun-boat service in the west, was killed in an explosion. His body was never found.
William Wynkoop, at the opening of the Rebellion, was engaged in farming near Johnsville, Pa., on a farm his father bought for him and where he expected to make his permanent home. But the Civil War came on and, full of patriotism of a practical sort, he left his family of a wife and two little girls, his farm and all its belongings and joined a cavalry company then forming from recruits around Hatboro under the leadership of John Shelmire.
Major Shelmire was a miller, as his father was before him. Their mill was on the Pennypack creek, and as you pass along this stream on the Newtown railroad you will see signs of the dam and the walls of the old mill. Shelmire was a lover of his country, as well as was William Wynkoop, and as the last "left his plowshare in the mold," as was spoken of the New England Continentals, so did Shelmire shut down the gate of his mill and go to gathering food for powder in the way of cavalry recruits till he got a round hundred.
Major John Shelmire, for he had been promoted from captain, had a good record and was the kindest of officers. The death or wounding of any of his men cut him to the heart, and he was always looking to the comfort of the living. When there was disorder in the camp his "Tut, tut, tut" was enough to even quiet the men of the more obstreperous companies. His end was tragic At the battle of Brandy Station a charge on the enemy was ordered, but, knowing that the major was sick, the colonel sent word to him to stay in camp. For once he disobeyed orders and, mounting his horse, was soon in the "rapture of the strife." The charge was repelled and the retreat left the major, with other dead, on the field. Some time afterwards Captain Wynkoop revisited the scene of the conflict and there learned from an old colored man that two Union officers, one a major from his
insignia, with other dead, had been thrown in a well. As the latter was a large man, this was doubtless the sad ending of this "bold miller of the Dee."
CAPTAIN WYNKOOP'S COMPANY "A."
The subject of our sketch is so identified with the captain and his company, that at the expense of deserting him for awhile I will say something of them. Of the hundred composing the troop, there were so many Quaker boys that it was sometimes identified by that title, which is not to be wondered at when the names of the townships they came from are mentioned - Moreland, Horsham, and Upper Dublin, and some of the names of the boys - Hallowell, Twining, Roberts and Kirk. Two of the companies of the regiment they were afterwards placed in, were made up of Trenton mill men, rough fellows from foundries and rolling mills, though they made good soldiers, and they had their fun listening with wondering ears to the "thees" and "thys"; the "First-days" and "Second-days" of the Company A boys. One of these was Edward H. Parry, who went out as a corporal and came home a first lieutenant He is now in business on Chestnut street, Philadelphia. He had a cousin, John Parry, who lost his life in the service. John had a nervous disorder which would have exempted him from the service, and the boys when in action, though he never shirked his duty, sometimes wished that he had stayed at home, his carbine pointed so many ways. Take care John," his neighbor would say, "how thee points that gun, for the way it is handled, thee is as likely to hit a Yankee as a Reb." To hear these Quaker boys using the plain language while at their grim work would have had a comical sounding but for the awful surroundings. For instance: one would say after a shot, "Did thee see me fetch that Johnnie?" as if they were engaged in a pigeon-shooting match. Did we not know that many of George Fox's followers had been soldiers from Cromwell's Roundheads, we might wonder at such inconsistencies in their religious descendants. The warlike spirit seems to have died out of these people for a time, and then, through a species of atavism, jumped a generation or two. One of these boys was a son of Elias Kirk. He had a brother to visit him while his regiment was at the front and just as it was starting off on a
raid. He wanted to go along, and so, to humor him, a carbine and revolver were belted on him, and on a borrowed horse he was soon on his way. But not for long. Before they had gone far an engagement ensued, and the bullets whistled around the head of the venturesome brother so he made this his last scout, and thinking that he was needed more at home than in such volunteer service, was soon on his way hack to Horsham. But as for the rest of the boys, they rather enjoyed their work. The reversal of the peaceful attribute of friends, in their life-long opposition to war, is strongly emphasized by the appearance of their graveyards on memorial day when, abloom with flags, they show that if they practically supported the Union in its terrible distress, and that if this meant patriotism, the Quakers had it. I remember as a boy, that Friends, as a body were looked by the outside world as lacking in courage and love of country because they opposed joining military companies such as were then numerous in Bucks county, particularly in the upper end, sixty years ago, and because they refused to pay military fines, even allowing constables' levies and sales in preference. I lived to see the time, at the coming of the Civil War, when such supporters were needed, for the brilliantly uniformed militia with their gold-laced commanders, melted away as the mist before the sun, and those who had shown no war-like preferences made up the rank and file of those who went to the front.
Captain Shelmire was ambitious. He wanted his company in the first cavalry regiment of the State, and to be Company A at that. But there was already a First Company in the First Pennsylvania, so he was barred from it. Any subsequent letter was offered him, but he declined. Then hearing that there was a First New Jersey cavalry regiment just in process of formation he applied for the coveted position and it was willingly given him, the quality of his men being a great factor in the transaction. This was in a measure afterwards regretted by the Pennsylvania boys as it cut them off from State organizations formed after the war, and the many consequent reunions, as well as whatever benefits might come from pension legislation by their native State, for the Bucks county boys have been since looked on simply as Jerseymen. At the recent dedication of the Gettysburg monument to the Pennsylvania soldiers engaged in the
battle, and whose names were all engraved on bronze tablets, and whose railroad fares were all paid from their homes to the scene of that historic conflict, the Keystone boys in the regiments of other States were totally ignored, although fighting for their country on their own soil.
Captain Shelmire, as I stated, was a miller, and as was the case in the times of 50 years and more ago, he had a mill team for hauling his flour to the city. This, a four-horse one, he took as a commissary outfit for use in his Hatboro camp, and as soon as his regimental assignment was made and his men had their horses ready, the cavalcade started for Trenton, going by way of Newtown. Pemberton Webster, a son of the late Jesse G., of Hulmeville, was driver, and to see him on his near wheelhorse, whip in his right hand and lead-line in his left, his four horses and his Conestoga wagon, the scene was as a whiff from the plains of the far west, doubly emphasized by the cavalry escort of 100 men, as if guarding the wagon and contents from the Indians. I will here say that Pemberton drove his team all the way to Virginia, where horses and all were eventually obliterated in the "wreck of matter and the crash of worlds," as exemplified in army life, till there was nothing left of it to send back to the Pennypack mills "when the cruel war was over" and Pemberton himself seems to have been obliterated with the outfit. The steady old mill horses were not equal to the stress of martial life, and they died one by one, in fact the whole outfit, horses, wagon and driver, seems to have evaporated from the face of men. The last seen of them, as adjuncts of the Army of the Potomac, was at Camp Custis, near Mount Vernon.
While on the march to Trenton, at which the "second crossing of the Delaware" was made, the 101st recruit caught up to Company A, but his lateness made him "a man without a company" he being one too many. He, however, found a haven of refuge at last in Company C, but as Captain Wynkoop afterward commanded it, he was made to feel at home.
Our Captain was so identified with this company that I make apology for dwelling so much on what apparently does not concern him. And he was one of Company A. Even when an officer and entitled by the privileges of his rank to what may be
termed palatial quarters, he tented and messed with his old neighbors.
The Company A boys owned their horses, and many a trooper had with him the colt he raised and had assigned him by his father, and the boys took pride in having them well groomed and fed, that is, when rations were at hand. How it cut them to the quick when by bullet, shell and disease they went to earth we can well imagine! Not one of the horses came back home. As for the boys themselves, there were but fifteen to muster out at the close of enlistment of the original 100, death and discharges having eliminated the rest. As for the whole regiment, from the start to the finish at Appomatox, of the 272 cavalry organizations in the Union Army, it stood sixth in point of losses, 228 having been killed outright, while 189 died from disease and 35 met death in Southern prisons. The total losses in killed and wounded were 457, so the story of the scarcity of dead cavalrymen will not hold good, at least as far as the First New Jersey is concerned. By a rule of the time troopers furnishing their own horses were allowed $120 apiece for them if they wished to sell them, or $12 per month for their use. Should their horses get killed they could pick others out of the government drove. This bore rather heavily on those who lost their mounts early in service, and which they were to get a monthly pay for, as this ended when the horse died. But war is a game of chance and these boys took their risks, and took their remounts sometimes in the same off-hand manner, whether it was a riderless horse coming off the field or from a plow team some poor old colored man was using in turning over the red sacred soil of old Virginia. War is cruel any way you take it. Even one of the Company A boys, with all the good bringing up, despoiled a poor darky of his plowhorse as he was at work, his own mount having been killed by a shell.
Returning to the statistics of Company A, we find that from first to last it had in its ranks 266 men. Of these 13 had been discharged, 2 transferred. 30 had been lost by death, 43 by desertion and 33 were listed "unacounted for." Leaving out the deserters, and Comany A had a large percentage of them, and assuming that a part of those unaccounted for met death in the service, the percentage of those who lost their lives was heavy.
Another fact worthy of mention is, that if the Hatboro company did not get into the First Pennsylvania, that and the First New Jersey were brigaded together, and fought side by side until Appomattox.
Returning to our Captain, he from first to last did his duty as a soldier. His peaceful country life he dropped with the past, and for over three years he made it his business to reduce the number of rebels by the usual means of warfare. The Union saved, he returned home, and again entered the pursuits of peace, finally moving to the borough of Newtown, where he entered a business career, to emerge from it successfully, and then to retire from its care as advancing years told on him. But whatever he had taken hold of were successes, whether it was school teaching in his younger days, farming, soldiering or church work, various as these avocations were. In a literary way, he could not be taken amiss. As political speaker, debater, the addressing of lyceums or educational assemblages or Grand Army reunions or as toastmaster at banquets, it was all the same. A staunch Republican, he was never rewarded with a remunerative office. He should have gone to Congress, and there was a hiatus adapted for such a purpose, but the Captain was one of those who wanted the office to hunt him up instead of him running after it. At this time I thought fit to write a suggestive article tending towards his nomination, but it went before heedless eyes. Those who made and unmade Congressmen did not notice it, and a man who was old enough to have shouldered his musket the same as our Captain, was boosted into the vacancy. The great Republican party, the party which of all others should have rewarded a soldier of the Civil War with a seat in Congress, in the forty-six years, following, has never in this district nominated or sent one to Congress; the more shame be unto it.
Still, perhaps our Captain was happier without such position. As a member of his local school board, an official in the Bucks County Historical Society, as a church trustee or Sabbath school superintendent, but, above all in his Grand Army work, he filled the metes and bounds of his usefulness. The first commander of the post he organized, he had held the position for many years before his death, and as a subordinate, though seated at his right hand, I will never forget his zeal in looking up details of work
to be acted on at our regular meetings. In fact it gives me a feeling of heartache to find him missing at our little gatherings with his tall erect form, his soldierly appearance and his earnestness in filling the duties of his office, and at the semi-annual gatherings of the posts of Bucks county, where he was always ready with advice, suggestion and dutiful endeavor. It is of note that while Captain Wynkoop was bitter in his denunciation of secession and its aiders and abettors during and long after the war, near the close of his life his feelings were so changed that when his Post was asked to lend its aid in opposing the placing of the Lee Statue, in the Capital at Washington, he did not favor this opposition.
It is worthy of remark that the plantation, which Captain Wynkoop occupied at the breaking out of the war was once known as the "Hart Farm," and covered the site of the present borough of Ivyland, and that the plow which Captain Wynkoop left in furrow had for years turned over the soil which in a generation would be streets and building sites for homes, and that a railroad would divide the homestead in twain. After being sold by Thomas L. Wynkoop, from his son going to war, the farm was eventually bought by Edwin Lacey, of Wrightstown. This was in the middle seventies, and here was tried a second "Holy Experiment," in which there was an attempt to inaugurate an exclusive temperature town. Laying out streets, he flanked them with forty-foot lots, for homesteads, and larger areas for business places, and calculating as the maid did on her road to market with her eggs on her head he showed too much optimism, for as she tumbled with her marketing, so he stumbled with his calculations. The acres developed lots of lots, but the auction did not show a corresponding number of buyers, perhaps because there was in each deed a proviso for forfeiture of title if liquors were ever sold on the grounds. But alas for the promoter's ideas these provisions did not hold the purchasers from selling to those who might wish to break them, for a large temperance hotel, which he built to accommodate World's Fair visitors in 1876, eventually got a license, in spite of efforts to prevent it. This hostelry sunk thousands of dollars before it was sold from its original intentions. It was a stock concern, and Edwin got many temperance
people to subscribe with this idea. I doubt if there was a single centennial visitor who ever got there.
Mrs. Wynkoop, who was the daughter of the late Joshua C. Blaker, and whose mother is still living, for the rest of the year stayed on the farm, her brother putting in the crops. She eventually went to live with her father-in-law on the old Wynkoop homestead, on the west shore of the Neshaminy, below Newtown, near the Campbell bridge. Here she remained until the Captain returned from the army, when he turned his cavalry sword into a plowshare and went to farming his ancestral acres like a veritable Cincinnatus. Those who care to remember know that it was a literal truth about the merchant leaving his counter, the bookkeeper his desk, the blacksmith his forge and the Carpenter his bench for the war, but when the farmer left his holdings with his crops ungathered or the seed unsown, and a family behind, he did his full share and more. In the words of the poet:
"He left his plowshare in the mold,
and that for $13 per month, with a chance for promotion, or the chance of the brave miller-captain of Company A, who, shot down by the rebels, was thrown in a well by their rear guard. But, as according to the maxim, a well is the abiding place of Truth, Major Shelmire had deserved company. I sometimes think, in admiration for the deeds of the ancient Greeks and Romans, or, to come down later, if such a thought is not heresy, towards the "ragged Continentals" of the war of the Revolution, that we forget the sacrifices of the men of the first half of the sixties, although they are so near in touch.
As he leaves this world of action for another where its good will be surely rewarded, we say in memory of Captain William Wynkoop, hail and farewell.
Kenderdine, Thaddeus S., "Captain William Wynkoop and His Company "A"", A Collection of Papers Read Before the Bucks County Historical Society, Published for the Society by Fackenthal Publication Fund, 1917, Volume IV.: 164-173.
Thaddeus S. Kenderdine is the author of a book about his adventures in California called, A California Tramp and Later Footprints., Philadelphia: Press of Globe, 1888.
This consists of his travel writings as he made his way from Philadelphia to California and back to New York between 1858 and 1859. It recounts his adventures as a wagon driver, ranch hand, and amateur writer and reveals a wealth of information regarding the area.
It's a pretty good read. You'll find it online at the following web address:
Created April 28, 1999; Revised September 17, 2003
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