Frank Holsinger's (8th Pa. Reserves) Account of Antietam

Andy Cardinal

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Holsinger's account, entitled "How Die a One Feel Under Fire" can be found here.

Holsinger's account is very interesting and he talks about his experience not only at Antietam but also in other battles.

I haven't had much luck finding out much about Holsinger other that he went to Kansas in 1855. Presumably he had strong abolitionist feelings and went for that reason. By 1860, he was nack in Bedford, Pennsylvania, where he was a teacher. He was discharged in February 1864 and was commissioned as a captain in the 19th USCT in March. He married and returned to Kansas after the war, and became a prominent citizen in Shawnee.

Having been reading through his account, I have a couple of questions and thought I would post here on the chance that someone might be able to answer them --

The 8th Pennsylvania Reserves were engaged at the northern end of the cornfield. Two brigades of the Reserves stood in reserve as the First Corps made its initial attack. When Hood's division counterattacked around 7:00, Law's brigade overlapped the Pennsylvanians' left flank. Colonel Magilton's brigade was ordered to move toward the East Woods to stop Law's attack.

The 8th Pennsylvanians had already been deployed in a line of battle followed their orders by moving "by the left flank." While the movement was being completed, the 6th North Carolina opened fire in the exposed Pennsylvanians. Two regiments following the 8th fled, but the 8th held their ground near the corner of the East Woods. Holsinger writes: "Great God, the slaughter! Corporal White, my file leader, shot in the arm; Frank Dean, my rear file, wounded; my left file, James Gates, received four wounds…."

Holsinger refers to the "files" around him (all men who were hit). My first question -- What exactly is a file? I assume that Dean was the man behind Holsinger as they were moving, and Gates was the man to his left. Corporal White is identified as the file leader.... How many men would make up a file?

Secondly, Holsinger gives two separate accounts of what happened immediately after the North Carolinians fired their devastating volley.

"The regiment was demoralized," he recalled. "I was worse -- I was stampeded. I did not expect to stop this side of the Pennsylvania line." And yet he did not run, even though every fiber of his being told him to save himself. "The influence of a courageous man is most helpful in battle," he reflected years later. In his case, a "tall, thin young soldier, very boyish in manner, but cool as a cucumber" swung his cap in the air: "Rally, boys, rally! Die like men; don't run like dogs!" "Instantly all fear vanished," he wrote. He asked himself, "Why can I not stand and take what this boy can?" "I commenced loading and firing, and from his on I was as comfortable as I had been in more pleasant places." ( p. 301)

Elsewhere in the article he also describes the immediate aftermath of the volley. After recounting the slaughter that took place around him, he describes Cpl. George Horton, the color-bearer, rallying the regiment. "I responded with a few others," Holsinger wrote, "stopping with my friend [Gates] only to tell him to unsling his knapsack and try to protect himself behind it." (P. 299-300)

I know there really is no way to tell -- but it seems to me that it is likely that Cpl. Horton and the "tall, thin, young soldier" were the same man. It seems unlikely to me that in what was surely only a minute or two of time in which the enemy fired a devastating surprise volley, everyone around him (including his best friend Gates) were killed or wounded, he thought about running away, was stopped from doing so by the sight of a courageous man (his words), and returned fire that he would have specifically have noticed two different men rallying the troops.

I would welcome anyone's thoughts about this, and thank you for indulging me!
 
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Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
Holsinger refers to the "files" around him (all men who were hit). My first question -- What exactly is a file? I assume that Dean was the man behind Holsinger as they were moving, and Gates was the man to his left. Corporal White is identified as the file leader.... How many men would make up a file?
A unit organized in close order is formed of ranks and files. A rank is a "single row of men", while a file is a "single column of men".

If the force was moving in three ranks, then three men would make up a file. If the force was moving in column of fours, a file could be as many as 250 men in a completely full strength combat battalion (i.e. a full size regiment where everyone was on the field).

This is where we get the term of having to go "single file". It means only one line of men can fit through at a time.


It seems unlikely to me that in what was surely only a minute or two of time in which the enemy fired a devastating surprise volley, everyone around him (including his best friend Gates) were killed or wounded, he thought about running away, was stopped from doing so by the sight of a courageous man (his words), and returned fire that he would have specifically have noticed two different men rallying the troops.
It's quite possible that he could have seen two different men rallying the troops. Combat is a chaotic environment, and it's possible that in the first case he was being rallied while in the second case he was rallying someone else in turn.

It's also quite possible they were the same man. I don't think there's enough information there to certainly disambiguate them.
 

Saphroneth

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Here's a good diagram:

diagram-1.jpg


This is why normal soldiers are referred to as "rank and file". They were the men who were formed into a block with ranks in one direction and files in the other.
 

Andy Cardinal

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So did each file have a file leader? Or was the file leader -- who I assume were sergeants or corporals -- in charge of several files?
 

Saphroneth

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So did each file have a file leader? Or was the file leader -- who I assume were sergeants or corporals -- in charge of several files?
This is somewhat more speculative, but I would assume that the "file leader" was whoever happened to be in front of that file at that point. This is because designating individual file leaders as an official position would be completely unworkable, a two-deep line for a regiment would mean half the regiment would need to be designated file leaders and then you'd need to rework it every time casualties were suffered. Then if the line switches to three-deep you need to work out which people have higher priority as file leaders.


It simply makes more sense to me if "file leader" is a role which people perform when they are in the front rank, or to be more precise people in the other ranks conform to the file leader. The file leader cannot see the men in the other ranks, while the men in the other ranks can see the file leader, so for the file to remain organized they have to conform to the man in front (the file leader).


There was a position called "file closer", which would be NCOs and officers etc., who were at the back of the relevant files. Sometimes this meant lieutenants, sometimes NCOs of various types, it's basically shorthand for "has the position behind the front line" AIUI.
 

Arioch

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the 7th Pa was part of this movement as well...This was the movement after the 7th (at least) came out of their initial engagement in the Cornfield, and ran into Gen. Mansfield who ordered them back into action (the East Woods movement). As the unit was moving across the battlefield going towards the East woods, a shell hit amongst the moving troops and killed 8 soldiers including Captain Colwell of the 7th. Colwell was an attorney from Carlisle and over 40 yrs. old....his letters to and from his wife are published in the book by his descendants 'The Bitter Fruits'

Also, a real good account of this is also published in the book 'Dear Folks at Home'...the letters of George and Leo Faller (7th Pa). George was one of the 8 men killed...Leo continued on and gave the account of his brother's death.
 

Arioch

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https://archive.org/details/ourboyspersonale02hill

Here is one the best personal accounts of a soldier's experiences that I have ever read. 'Our Boys' is about life and times in the AOP. Written by A. F. Hill, 8th Pa. Reserves.....including a real good account of this movement by the author who is also wounded here and out of the war (leg was amputated).

This is a GREAT read....funny, too...very well written.
 

ErnieMac

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Some additional info on the men mentioned in Holsinger's account:
Corporal George Horton - Mortally wounded at Antietam, died September 19, 1862.​
Corporal Edmund White - Discharged January 14, 1863.​
Private Benjamin Franklin 'Frank' Dean - Discharged February 7, 1863.​
Private James Gates - Mortally wounded at Antietam, died October 16, 1862.​
 

HortonPA

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Sep 13, 2021
Holsinger's account, entitled "How Die a One Feel Under Fire" can be found here.

Holsinger's account is very interesting and he talks about his experience not only at Antietam but also in other battles.

I haven't had much luck finding out much about Holsinger other that he went to Kansas in 1855. Presumably he had strong abolitionist feelings and went for that reason. By 1860, he was nack in Bedford, Pennsylvania, where he was a teacher. He was discharged in February 1864 and was commissioned as a captain in the 19th USCT in March. He married and returned to Kansas after the war, and became a prominent citizen in Shawnee.

Having been reading through his account, I have a couple of questions and thought I would post here on the chance that someone might be able to answer them --

The 8th Pennsylvania Reserves were engaged at the northern end of the cornfield. Two brigades of the Reserves stood in reserve as the First Corps made its initial attack. When Hood's division counterattacked around 7:00, Law's brigade overlapped the Pennsylvanians' left flank. Colonel Magilton's brigade was ordered to move toward the East Woods to stop Law's attack.

The 8th Pennsylvanians had already been deployed in a line of battle followed their orders by moving "by the left flank." While the movement was being completed, the 6th North Carolina opened fire in the exposed Pennsylvanians. Two regiments following the 8th fled, but the 8th held their ground near the corner of the East Woods. Holsinger writes: "Great God, the slaughter! Corporal White, my file leader, shot in the arm; Frank Dean, my rear file, wounded; my left file, James Gates, received four wounds…."

Holsinger refers to the "files" around him (all men who were hit). My first question -- What exactly is a file? I assume that Dean was the man behind Holsinger as they were moving, and Gates was the man to his left. Corporal White is identified as the file leader.... How many men would make up a file?

Secondly, Holsinger gives two separate accounts of what happened immediately after the North Carolinians fired their devastating volley.

"The regiment was demoralized," he recalled. "I was worse -- I was stampeded. I did not expect to stop this side of the Pennsylvania line." And yet he did not run, even though every fiber of his being told him to save himself. "The influence of a courageous man is most helpful in battle," he reflected years later. In his case, a "tall, thin young soldier, very boyish in manner, but cool as a cucumber" swung his cap in the air: "Rally, boys, rally! Die like men; don't run like dogs!" "Instantly all fear vanished," he wrote. He asked himself, "Why can I not stand and take what this boy can?" "I commenced loading and firing, and from his on I was as comfortable as I had been in more pleasant places." ( p. 301)

Elsewhere in the article he also describes the immediate aftermath of the volley. After recounting the slaughter that took place around him, he describes Cpl. George Horton, the color-bearer, rallying the regiment. "I responded with a few others," Holsinger wrote, "stopping with my friend [Gates] only to tell him to unsling his knapsack and try to protect himself behind it." (P. 299-300)

I know there really is no way to tell -- but it seems to me that it is likely that Cpl. Horton and the "tall, thin, young soldier" were the same man. It seems unlikely to me that in what was surely only a minute or two of time in which the enemy fired a devastating surprise volley, everyone around him (including his best friend Gates) were killed or wounded, he thought about running away, was stopped from doing so by the sight of a courageous man (his words), and returned fire that he would have specifically have noticed two different men rallying the troops.

I would welcome anyone's thoughts about this, and thank you for indulging me!
This is a great post. George Horton is actually an ancestor of mine. I am compiling information for a book I am writing about George and his brothers and cousins who fought in the war. Four of them in the 8th Pa. Reserves at Antietam. Anyone with information on the Hortons as well as the regiment would be greatly appreciated. [email protected]

George Horton 3.JPG
 
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