- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - John Popp wouldn’t let a hernia keep him out of the Civil War, his great-grandson says.

Popp, an immigrant from Bavaria who lived in Westmoreland County, enlisted in 1864. He served in Company M of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry until the war’s end in 1865, despite having suffered an abdominal tear getting on his horse.

His great-grandson, Raymond Popp, is president of the Rostraver Historical Society, one of the many organizations across southwestern Pennsylvania that keep alive the memories of people like John Popp with artifacts, photographs and stories during the final year of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Regional museums and historical societies in places including Donora and Harmony have mounted special shows to commemorate the sesquicentennial. Others, including LeMoyne House in Washington, Pa., have permanent exhibits devoted to their communities’ experiences during the War Between the States. In many local cemeteries, American flags fly above the graves of Civil War soldiers.

About 180 Union army veterans are buried in St. Clair Cemetery in Hempfield. They include Col. Richard Coulder, who commanded the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers. “They served from the beginning of the war to the peace at Appomattox,” Westmoreland historian Glenn Smeltzer said of the regiment.

His great-grandfather, Capt. George A. Cribbs, was among the unit’s casualties. Capt. Cribbs had been a prosperous farmer living near what is now Hempfield High School when he signed up, Smeltzer said.

He was shot and died from injuries suffered during the second Battle of Manassas in August 1862. “I was able to visit the spot where he was mortally wounded,” Smeltzer said. How could he locate the place? The 11th Pennsylvania was fighting next to the 12th Massachusetts, a unit commanded by Col. Fletcher Webster, the son of Sen. Daniel Webster.

Col. Webster died on the battlefield, and a monument was erected where he was killed, providing a landmark for locating where Capt. Cribbs was shot. Capt. Cribbs is buried in Hempfield’s Harrold Cemetery.

John Popp was not Raymond Popp’s only ancestor with a Civil War connection. His English-born great-grandfather, David Brown, was a private serving in the 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry when he was wounded in the right foot at the Battle of Gettysburg. Pvt. Brown, who lived in both Westmoreland and Washington counties, became a successful coal mine operator after the war.

In addition to family stories, the soldiers’ descendants often have artifacts. “I still have my great-grandfather’s saddle gun,” Raymond Popp said. “One of my relatives has David Brown’s rifle.”

It is those family connections that keeps the Civil War alive in the minds of so many people, he said.

The collections at the Westmoreland County Historical Society include items connected with Col. Coulder and other local soldiers. The society recently acquired items belonging to Col. Thomas Foster Gallagher, a merchant in New Alexandria, who was captured and wounded on Civil War battlefields. The society owns and is conserving his clothing and his weapons.

Those items are not currently on display, but the society hopes to remedy that by building a history education center at its Hanna’s Town site in Hempfield.

The Butler County Historical Society is home to dozens of items from the Civil War, including military enrollment lists, order books, discharge papers, letters and photographs.

Pat Collins, the society’s administrative director, said there usually is a story behind each item. Jacob Sipe was a volunteer from Butler County who joined Company E of the 103rd Pennsylvania volunteers on Dec. 7, 1861. The canteen he carried during the war hung for many years in the family barn until it was given to the historical society.

Sipe was luckier than many other men who joined his company that same day. Samuel. P. Bates’ five-volume “History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers” lists several members of his unit who were captured, sent to the infamous Confederate prison at Andersonville, Ga., and died there.

LeMoyne House on Washington’s Maiden Street is best known as a stop on the Underground Railroad that helped escaping slaves flee to Northern states and Canada in the years before the Civil War.

But it also is home to a museum that features Civil War memorabilia, including one case filled with items connected to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Gen. Grant’s wife was the cousin of the wife of Washington County businessman William Wrenshall Smith. Gen. Grant wrote many letters to Smith and made multiple visits to Washington County.

“Grant’s visits were so common that citizens would see him coming and just say, ‘Hello, Mr. President’ - it was no big deal,” explained Clay Kilgore, executive director of the county historical society.

Other items in the collection include a Pittsburgh-made snare drum carried by Company H musician Jesse Morris of the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteers and what may or may not be Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s shoulder epaulets.

There also is a photo of 7-foot-1 cavalryman William Patterson Bane, a Washington County native from Amity who is said to be the tallest man in the Union army. “I don’t know where they found a horse big enough for him,” Kilgore said.

One of the great Union defeats during the Civil War occurred in Fredericksburg, and men from southwestern Pennsylvania were among the victims.

William Stewart was a farmer from Adams, Butler County, who enlisted in Evans City and was elected captain of Company D of the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves. He led his troops bravely at the battles at Manassas and Antietam, but his luck ran out in December 1862 at Fredericksburg, according to Brad Pflugh, a history teacher at Knoch High School in the South Butler County School District.

Almost 1,300 Union soldiers, including Capt. Stewart, were killed or mortally wounded as they attacked entrenched Confederate positions. Although there is a grave marker for the young soldier in the Evans City Cemetery, his name is not on the list of Civil War veterans buried there.

Pflugh said it is more likely he is buried near the battlefield in a section of graves marked “unknown.”

The county historical society’s collection contains items connected with the Civil War career of Alfred G. Reed. The Butler County man served in three Pennsylvania units during the war - the 13th, 78th and 134th infantry regiments.

At Fredericksburg, he took part in a doomed attack on dug-in Confederates at Marye’s Heights. “They got within 75 yards but took so many casualties that they were forced back,” Pflugh said. “Reed took a bullet and died 14 days later.”

The history teacher noted one indicator of how highly respected the young would-be lawyer was. After the war, Butler’s largest organization for Union veterans, Grand Army of the Republic Post 105, was named for him. He is buried in Butler’s North Cemetery.

Darlington native William Huffman believed he had been destined to die at Fredericksburg but had been spared by fate.

As writer Jay Paisley tells the story, Huffman, the son of a wealthy Beaver County family, already had survived multiple battles with the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry when his unit was assigned to charge the Confederates at Marye’s Heights. Union generals called the attack off at the last moment, a decision that Huffman believed saved his life. “He wrote home that ‘if we had been sent up there, I don’t think I would have come back,’ ” Paisley said. He is the author of “The Huffman Letters,” a book about the battlefield messages the Beaver County soldier wrote to family members at home.

Huffman sent some of his letters to his brother-in-law, John Burns White, who was married to Huffman’s sister, Ellie, and was the business agent for the Harmonist Society in Beaver County. White’s story was a common one. Facing the military draft, he, like many other wealthy Northerners, paid $300 to a substitute to take his place in the army, Paisley said.

Even after 150 years, why do stories about the Civil War continue to resonate with people in southwestern Pennsylvania?

“The events were not so far back,” Pflugh said. “And the most dramatic battle of the war happened at Gettysburg.”

Alysha Federkeil, a first-year student at Butler County Community College, was one of Pflugh’s students at Knoch High School and was bitten by the history bug. She volunteers weekly at the Butler County Historical Society and is one of many students who help each year with cemetery cleanups.

“There are lots of lessons we can learn from the past,” she said. “And it is important to remember what happened to the people who lived before us.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1C1HIhf

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com

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