Eating Tacks in the Civil War

Two years ago I wrote about my great great grandfather Samuel Charles Phenice’s Civil War experiences.  He was on my mom’s side of the family, and all of her ancestors were from the Northern USA, England, or Ireland.  The Phenice line was in Pennsylvania for a few generations and that is where Samuel joined the military in February 1864.  He fought and was injured in the Battle of the Wilderness a few months later.  He then was in the “Invalid Corps,” where he was stationed at Ford’s Theatre on the historic night of the Lincoln assassination.

Parts of pages 318 and 319 from the book “History of Mercer County.”

Since I wrote that post, I found out a few more details that I thought I’d add to his story.  One of the things I thought about his previous experiences was that he was a new recruit when he went into battle and was injured.  That could mean that he didn’t really know his fellow soldiers very well and might have felt very alone.  This first document I found eased a bit of that concern.  (Not that it would make any difference at this point anyway!)  I saw this document a few times before I noticed the important part.  While the names are in alphabetic order for the most part, it’s not strictly in order. 

The thing that I noticed was that Samuel’s brother William Henry Phenice was in the same Company F as he was.  As you see in the document, they spelled the name differently – Phenicy.  Samuel himself spelled his last name as Phenicie on some documents.  Our line of the family now consistently spell it as Phenice.  The descendants of William Henry spell it the same way.  There are a few of them who have taken DNA tests and they are strong matches to us.  I like this other connection that we have that our ancestor brothers fought together in the Civil War out of Mercer, Pennsylvania.

The other new information comes from an article I found in Nebraska last year when I visited Samuel and Cathrine Phenice’s graves.  I had already seen at least four articles that talked a little bit about Samuel’s Civil War and Lincoln Assassination experiences, so I wasn’t expecting to see more.  But I was wrong.   In Beaver City’s little library there was a binder with Phenice information in it.  A lot of the information was about the Civil War group called the Grand Army of the Republic or G.A.R.  It was for veterans of the Union army.  There was even a small square in the middle of town that had a monument for this group.  I can kick myself now for not walking across the street to see it.  It’s likely to have his name engraved on it, but I don’t know that for sure.  Maybe another cousin will visit one day and give a report.

1937 Newspaper article from Precept, Nebraska

But I did find this article.  What struck me most were the details about his time after getting injured in battle.  Soon after sustaining the injury, he was taken to a field hospital.  Unfortunately for young Samuel, the hospital was taken over by Confederate forces.  It did not stay in Confederate hands for long, but it was a difficult time nonetheless.  There was no fresh food supply for the patients, so they resorted to the emergency rations called hardtack.  They would heat it up a little to soften it, but it still was barely palatable.

But even worse was the medical situation.  The injury that he had sustained was not too severe when he first received it.  But due to lack of care and supplies, he suffered from gangrene.  They were finally able to make a compound to clean out the damaged tissue and he was able to heal more quickly.  The field hospital went back to Union hands and he was then transferred to the West Philadelphia Hospital.  I had seen records of his stay in Philadelphia as well as a stay in Pittsburg.

He reports that he was able to make a visit home between that time and the time he was assigned to Ford’s Theatre.  He talks about having worked at the Theatre for some time before the Assassination.  I had wondered about that.  All I knew before was that he was there that one night.  I didn’t know if it was a one time assignment or something else.  Obviously it was the something else.  He states that he was familiar with the layout of the stage and such. 

Previously I had been skeptical about all of the details that he seemed to remember from that night.  But if he was in familiar surroundings, it would have been easier to remember all of the things that went on at that historical event.  Yet, he says that several people died at the Theatre that night.  I’ve never seen that report anywhere else, so I doubt that it happened.   So I’ll leave it up to you to decide what parts of the article are true or not. 

I’ll clarify one item.  They didn’t really eat tacks.  Hardtack is a type of hard biscuit.

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