The Gumbert Brothers

The Gumbert Brothers

3rd great-granduncles of brother Bill Butler

Henry Gumbert - Company D of the 103rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Daniel Gumbert - Company D of the 53rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Jeremiah Gumbert - Company B of the 53rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment

A Tale of the Brothers Gumbert

When I (Bill Butler) joined the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) in January 1998, I had only just recently stumbled upon my family's Union heritage. Growing up in Florida and Alabama, I was very familiar with Civil War history from studies at school and from visiting such notable sites as Forts Morgan and Pickens. My maternal grandmother had also regaled me with family lore about Confederate ancestors who had served in Alabama units; most especially her grandfather Private McCormick Pruitt who lost an arm at Chancellorsville in May 1863. But I had no idea that my family tree had meaningful roots in the North until I began earnest research into genealogy during the mid-1990s. From these endeavors, I discovered that my Butler family line actually led back to pre-war Pennsylvania. Coincidentally my familial epiphany also came at a time when I was involved in establishing a SUVCW camp in Montgomery, Alabama; a city known as the "Cradle of the Confederacy." Established as the Major General James H. Wilson Camp No. 1, it was the first such undertaking to honor Union veterans there since the dissolution of Montgomery's local GAR post in the 1920s. It was while helping the new camp get started that I uncovered the stories of my Union forebears: the Gumbert brothers Henry, Daniel and Jeremiah.

The youngest son of William and Margaret Gumbert, Henry was 31 when he answered President Lincoln's call to preserve the Union. Remaining in Pennsylvania while his father moved west with a new wife and half-siblings (Margaret had passed away in 1830), Henry worked as a collier (coal miner) in Armstrong County, located in the far western part of the state. He was also married with one child and one on the way when he enlisted in September 1861. Henry actually joined the army on behalf of Jonas Lumberson as a paid substitute, which was fairly common practice on both sides during the war. Officially mustered into service at Camp Orr later in November, Henry joined Company D of the 103rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He and his fellow recruits spent the next several months drilling and adjusting to military life. By early 1862, the 103rd had amassed its full complement of men and had completed its training regimen. Henry and his compatriots then boarded trains headed toward Pittsburg and further on to the state capital in Harrisburg, where the regiment received its flag from Governor Curtin on February 26th 1862. From there, the regiment moved on to camps in Washington D.C. and was now ready to embark upon active service with the Army of the Potomac.

The spring of 1862 marked the beginning of over two years of campaigning for both Henry and the 103rd Pennsylvania. On March 28th the regiment set forth to do its part in McClellan's Peninsula Campaign as an element of Casey's Division under General Keyes' IV Corps. Transported by boat to Fort Monroe, where they arrived on April 3rd, Henry and the 103rd moved up to support the left wing of McClellan's stalemated siege at Yorktown. Duty along the trench lines over the next month was severe on both sides as the weather remained persistently cold and rainy causing chronic sickness and even death. Active campaigning finally commenced in early May as Confederate General Joe Johnston began withdrawing his forces toward Richmond. Although not involved in the heaviest fighting, the regiment's participation in the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5th 1862 marked its exposure to the combat environment. Late in the day the 103rd and the rest of General Keim's brigade helped to shore up the Union lines facing Fort Magruder in the wake of General Hooker's abortive efforts in that sector. There Henry and his fellow soldiers were exposed to heavy skirmishing and endured a long, cold and rainy night keeping watch on picket duty. (Little did I ever imagine that I would actually live within just a mile of where Henry got this first taste of battle!) Greater ordeals were yet to come however as the 103rd moved forward in the vanguard of the Union advance on Richmond.

On the outskirts of the Confederate capital, Henry and his regiment endured their true trial by fire. Casey's Division closely shadowed the Confederate retreat and eventually took up positions astride the Williamsburg Road just west of Seven Pines; essentially where today's Richmond Airport now sits off U.S. Highway 60. There the 103rd and other regiments of the division entrenched while McClellan deferred further action pending the arrival of reinforcements. The delay allowed Confederate General Johnston time to organize a counter strike, one directed squarely at the advanced positions held by the 103rd Pennsylvania. A portion of the regiment was posted on picket duty out in front of the Union earthworks when Johnston launched his assault on May 31st 1862. Not long after the Confederate attack began, General Casey ordered the rest of the regiment forward in the hopes of slowing the enemy's onslaught. The clear and open ground surrounding the airport today differs significantly from the thickly wooded and swampy ground that Henry and his compatriots had to deal with in their efforts to resist the Confederate attack. The scraggly terrain also masked the extent of the forces moving against them, which soon became overwhelming. Leading the charge against the 103rd was General Rodes' Alabama Brigade, including the 5th and 6th Alabama Infantry Regiments in which my great-great-grandfather McCormick and several other Confederate ancestors were serving. So at Seven Pines, also known as Fair Oaks, my ancestors on both sides were literally right across the field from one another!

This day alas was not a good one for Henry and the 103rd as they were soon overpowered despite valiant efforts to stem the Rebel tide. The regimental flag almost fell into the Alabamians' hands since nearly all of the color guard was either killed or wounded, but by the end of the day the colors remained in the 103rd's possession. Even though grossly exposed, outnumbered and unsupported, Casey's Division managed to hold on long enough for reinforcements to arrive thus bringing the battle to a standstill by day's end. For the remainder of the campaign and the ensuing Seven Days battles, the 103rd generally served in a supporting role and witnessed the ignominious retreat of the entire Army of the Potomac to the James River by July 3rd. At the close of the Peninsula Campaign the regiment had lost nearly half of its original strength to casualties and sickness, and in mid-August 1862 they returned to Fort Monroe for rest and recuperation.

At this point, the 103rd Pennsylvania and the rest of its brigade, now under the command of General Henry Wessells, parted ways with the Army of the Potomac, moved south to Norfolk and on to coastal North Carolina, where it would take part in operations there. Unlike their experience at Seven Pines, the men of the 103rd enjoyed more success in engagements near Goldsboro, Kinston, and the area around New Bern from late 1862 to early 1863. The unit earned frequent praise from higher-ups as they engaged in raids and expeditions to disrupt Confederate use of railroads and ports in the area. In May 1863, General Wessells was given command of the Albemarle district and his brigade moved to Plymouth, North Carolina where they would remain until the following spring. On January 1st 1864, Henry reenlisted...for an additional three years, as did many of his now "veteran" comrades of the 103rd. Unbeknownst to Henry however the new year would not turn out well for either him or his regiment.

The spring of 1864 soon proved to be an even greater ordeal than the 103rd's initiation to combat two years prior. Seeking to relieve Federal pressure against vital railroads supplying General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and to retake lost territory, Confederate forces under General Robert Hoke initiated attacks against the Federal garrison at Plymouth on April 17th 1864. Two days later in a rare joint operation with General Hoke, the Confederate ironclad ram CSS Albemarle appeared in the river near town, sunk the USS Southfield, damaged the USS Miami, and drove off the other Union ships supporting the Plymouth garrison. Later that day, Hoke's rebels captured several outlying fortifications thus sealing the 103rd and the rest of the Union forces in the town. Finally on April 20th, General Wessells surrendered his troops, and Henry (recently promoted to Corporal) and his compatriots headed off into captivity. Marching on foot to Tarboro, the regiment boarded a train on April 29th, and after making stops at Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, and Macon, they finally arrived at a small rail depot in rural southwestern Georgia on the evening of May 2nd. The next day Henry and the other enlisted men of the 103rd entered the stockade of what was officially designated as Camp Sumter, but was more widely known as the infamous Andersonville Prison.

Construction of the camp had begun in early 1864 after the Confederates decided to relocate captured Union soldiers to a more secure location. The first prisoners arrived in late February, and over the course of the next few months an average of 400 prisoners entered its walls each day. By the time Henry and the 103rd arrived over 12,000 prisoners were confined in a stockade designed to house 10,000. Conditions in the squalid camp only grew worse as hunger, exposure and disease took their toll on the ever-growing number of prisoners. Sadly, Henry was among those as according to his official discharge papers he died of "acute-diarrhea" on June 29th 1864; only a month and a half after he arrived at Andersonville. Today, Henry lies buried in the national cemetery there along with 13,000 other soldiers.

As events turned out, Henry wouldn't be the only Gumbert family man to serve in the Union Army. His half-brothers Daniel age 23 and Jeremiah age 21, enlisted near the end of the war at Camp Randall in Madison, Wisconsin. Both had moved from Pennsylvania in 1855 with their father William and mother Sarah to settle near Gilmanton in Buffalo County. Jeremiah was the first to sign up on March 22nd 1865, and he was assigned to Company B of the 53rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Daniel joined only days later on March 31st and was assigned to Company D of the 53rd. The brothers and their fellow recruits underwent training at Camp Randall over the next month until their companies were directed to Saint Louis and then on to Fort Leavenworth in late April 1865. There the men of the 53rd joined elements of the 51st Wisconsin that were responsible for pacifying war-torn Missouri and guarding renewed construction efforts along the Pacific Railroad as it wound its way toward Kansas and beyond.

With the cessation of hostilities following the surrender of all Confederate forces by mid-May, the War Department called for a gradual demobilization of the army. Thus on June 11th 1865, the existing companies of the 53rd Wisconsin were consolidated into the 51st Wisconsin, with Companies B and D of the former becoming Companies H and I of the latter. The unit continued its routine but important peacekeeping service as the area transitioned back to normal life. It was during this period that Jeremiah became ill with diarrhea and was hospitalized from July 19th through August 3rd. Unlike his brother Henry, Jeremiah recovered from his illness and returned to his unit just in time to go home. With peace well underway and the Pacific Railroad secure, the 51st Wisconsin was ordered home to Madison on August 5th 1865. By the end of the month, the two Gumbert brothers had been mustered out of service along with their companies. Jeremiah returned home to Gilmanton, where he was briefly involved in a failed logging venture with his father, but later became a very successful local farmer. He passed away in January 1910. Daniel returned home and eventually moved to Douglas County in the northwestern part of the state where he worked as a carpenter until his death in 1910 also.

In many respects the story of the Gumbert brothers mirrors those of thousands of others in America's greatest conflict. On the other hand, they represent unique pictures of the individual paths of service the veterans took and from which we as Sons of Union Veterans individually draw pride and inspiration. I have definitely cherished uncovering their tale and will continue to learn more about them and the other "Boys in Blue," and I hope you will too.