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Departure of “Sewickley Rifles” 45 Years Ago

Signals, May 2011

This article appeared in The Weekly Herald on May 26, 1906, the year that the four Rodman cannons, a gift of the United States government, were unveiled on Memorial Day at Sewickley Cemetery. In 1943, the cannons were donated to the Sewickley Salvage Committee during a World War II scrap collection drive.

Saturday, July 6, 1861, was a day never to be forgotten by Sewickleyans who still live, for it was then that the “Sewickley Rifles,” 100 men, left here to enter the war, which lasted four years and added the remains of heroes to the silent scores in our cemetery.

On July 11, 1861, the Rifles were mustered in at Philadelphia, and became Co. G, 28th Reg., Pa. Volunteers. This was commanded by Col. John Geary, who afterwards became governor of Pennsylvania. The officers (commissioned) of the Sewickley organization were: Captain, Conrad U. Meyer; first lieutenant, William G. Shields (who was killed at Chancellorsville): second lieutenant, Col. John I. Nevin (who died in 1883); Captain Nicholas Way, who was promoted from first sergeant in July, 1862; first lieutenant, Thomas J. Hamilton. Non-commissioned officers: Sergeants, George H. Grady, Robert M. Erwin and Nicholas Way. The corporals included John D. Tracy (killed at Antietam, September 17, 1862), Albert Moore (who lives yet, on Beaver street, and who was promoted to sergeant), James D. Travelli (killed at Antietam, September 17, 1862) and Samuel B. McKown.

The spring months of 1861 were marked by the early stages of the Civil War's beginning. On April 15, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers, and on April 17 he issued another call for 300,000. Virginia seceded and seized Harper's Ferry. In Pittsburg [sic], war excitement was intense. Owing to the existence of secession, or "Copperhead" feeling, Pittsburg lamp posts were hung with ropes labeled "Death to the Traitor." On Friday, April 12, the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter and the actual war began. On Saturday evening, May 11, the Rifles drilled for the first time in the then new Presbyterian Church, which was floored hurriedly for this purpose, and on Sunday the company marched into the old Presbyterian Church, which stood where the residence of Mr. John B. Reno now is, creating a profound impression on the congregation. The late Rev. James Allison was the pastor. At last came the day of departure. During the forenoon the Rifles marched into the old church, where the captains and lieutenants were presented with fine swords by the late Judge J. W. F. White, who was then known as "Lawyer White." At this ceremony women shed tears, and all were deeply affected. By 2 p. m. a heavy shower ceased, and amid great heat, a huge crowd assembled at Sewickley station, which was where the freight station now stands. Tears, smiles and cheers combined with the adieus as the soldiers departed in extra cars on the 2:10 accommodation train. Two hours later the Sewickley Rifles left Pittsburg, from the P. R. R. depot, which was then a wooden shed on Liberty Street, where new Grant Street now joins that street; and adjoining the present Lafayette Hotel, They reached Philadelphia safely on Sunday, were mustered in on the following Thursday, went to Harper's Ferry July 26, and fought in many battles, including Gettysburg, which they reached July 1, 1863, and passed through the terrible battle on July 2 and 3.

Then came the aftermath of war; the deaths in fields and hospitals, which have made Memorial Day the most sacred of holidays. A year after partings at Sewickley station carne the climax of heroes' deaths, for at Antietam, Va., in September 1862, there fell J. D. Travelli, John D. Tracy, William G. Ritchey and Moses Sherman, all brave Sewickley young men, and their remains are in graves on the hill north of this village. The Soldiers’ Monument was dedicated July 12, 1866, and upon it are engraved these names: Killed in battle. Lieutenant William G. Shields, William Banks, William Painter, Robert White, Theodore Webb, William Wharton, John D. Tracy, James D. Travelli. William G. Ritchey, Robert Johnston, Thomas tain Alexander McKinney, James Scott, James L. Grady, Albert J. White, Andrew J. Gray, Henry M. Rhodes, William I. Nevin, Thomas A. Hill, Harry Black, W. H. Forrester, G. W. Forrester, James Grimes, L. B. Gainer. Other interments in the cemetery are those of these soldiers, as given by Superintendent A. Winters. In Section A: Thomas Gray, Charles Ritchey, John Moore, Abe McCray, Thomas Stevenson, Samuel Brooks, George Brush, George Thornberg, Silas Hill, Joseph Harper, H. Neely, William Thompson, William Ellis. Section B: William Woods, Thomas Linn, John Little, Samuel Bonham, John Adair, William Miller, Col. W. H. McKelvy. Section C: Moses Gloss, John Neeley, George Evans. Robert Win- ters, Robert Long. ----- Boyd, William Henderson, Archie Wharton, Thomas Bronson, ----- Knox, Caspar Kaufman, John Sanders, Philip Emmert, ----- VanCleve. Milo Scott. Section D: James McHenry, Madison Bonham, Edward Muckles. Section E: Jackson J. Scott, John Borem. John Shull, Joseph Douglas. In all, nearly one hundred he- roes are buried in Sewickley Cemetery, but their spirits still live, and inspire the living to do honor to the dead, on Memorial Day, May 30,1906, when the newly-equipped Soldiers' Monument and lot will be a place of special interest, nearly half a century after the heroes were laid to rest.


Wednesday, May 18, 7:30 p.m.

Held at the Old Sewickley Post Office

Michael E. Murphy is a member of the Board of Directors of the Sewickley Valley Historical Society In the investment management business for 35 years as the national director of client services at BNY Mellon Wealth Management, he is now semi-retired and has taken on the Carson Street Deli, adding a beer emporium that serves some 250 craft beers. He has been brewing beer at home in his kitchen as a hobby for many years.

To mark the commencement of the Civil War, which began 150 years ago this spring with the firing on Fort Sumter, Murphy will present several items with a Western Pennsylvania connection from his noteworthy Civil War collection, among which are:

- A presentation sword belonging to Captain Robert Galway, 9th Pa. Reserves, 38th Pa. Infantry, who raised a company on the North Side, was wounded at Dranesville, Virginia, December 20, 1861, and died of his wounds 2 years later. The government refused to pay benefits to his survivors.

- An officer’s commission on vellum signed by Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, endorsed by Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, making Alexander Murray Captain in the regular Army. Murphy will discuss Stanton’s Pittsburgh connections.

- A flag from the Union VI Corps, 2nd Division, 3rd Brigade, belonging to Thomas Niell, Brigade Commander. Among the units in this brigade was the 61st Pennsylvania, raised in Pittsburgh. The flag was presented just before Gettysburg and carried through Third Winchester, September 19, 1864.

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