Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dedication Address~May 29, 2010

After a two-year-long, nationwide effort, at last, the 48th Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam has been restored. Today, May 29, 2010, witnessed the rededication ceremony. I could not be more pleased with the event; indeed, everything went perfectly. The ceremony lasted a little over half an hour, and an estimated 60-70 persons were in attendance.

I will post photographs (and videos) of today's event in the days ahead, but I thought I would begin by posting the Dedication Address, which I delivered this morning. I had several requests for copies, and figured this would be a good way for all those interested to have a copy.

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Dedication Address
John David Hoptak
May 29, 2010

48th Pennsylvania Monument
Antietam National Battlefield

Superintendent Howard, Reverend Schildt, Mr. Kraus, Ladies and Gentlemen: All Honored Guests: It is a great privilege to be here with you this morning as we celebrate the completion of a rewarding effort: at last, the general and his sword are reunited.

I am both humbled by and proud of the support given to this endeavor since first launched in April 2008 and I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank those who have lent their support and provided their encouragement. First, I would like to thank Bob Casey and the Western Maryland Interpretative Association for its generous pledge to match all donations. Thanks also to Superintendent Howard, Jane Custer, Antietam’s Chief of Cultural Resources, Pete Warren, monument restoration specialist, and my colleagues in the interpretation division, including Ranger Brian Baracz, for all of their assistance every step of the way. Thanks also to Reverend John Schildt, Dave Maher, and Mike Pasquerette for their participation today. No words of appreciation can truly measure the incredible artistry of Mike Kraus in sculpting the sword, an exact replica of the one presented to Captain James Nagle upon his return from Mexico in 1848, the same one he proudly carried throughout America’s Civil War, and the same one that was replicated in bronze to adorn the side of his statue behind me when this monument was first unveiled 106 years ago. I am confident you will soon agree with me, Mike Kraus did outstanding work. I am confident that even the general himself, no doubt watching from above as we gather here this morning, would be very proud himself. Last, but no means least, I must thank each of you, for without your generous donations, without your great contributions and support, none of this would have been possible. Donations arrived from throughout the United States, from California to Idaho, from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and from right here in Maryland to Florida. Many of the donors are either direct or lateral descendants of General Nagle; many others are descended from soldiers who served under Nagle’s command especially in the 48th Pennsylvania. But regardless of our backgrounds or our ancestry, all of us here gathered are committed to noble cause of preserving our history and honoring the memory of those who served. It is a commitment displayed by your journeying here today and a commitment displayed by your donations to restore this monument.

This monument is a “magnificent tribute to the valor of the Forty-Eighth. . . .It emphasizes the fact that notwithstanding the years that have passed the deeds of these citizen-soldiers are intensified in the minds and hearts of the people. . . .It tells the present generations of the loyalty here displayed, and teaches future generations that we do not forget the sacrifices made by its sons in defending its interests unto death—a lesson to strengthen patriotic love of State and country—an outward and visible sign of great and glorious principles vindicated by the deeds here performed by the men of Pennsylvania in the shedding of their blood.” The man here honored, honors the 48th in turn. Brigadier General James Nagle, “the foremost soldier of old Schuylkill County” who “well deserves this meed of praise bestowed upon him.”

These exact words were spoken here more than a century ago by Colonel Oliver C. Bosbyshell, a veteran of the 48th Pennsylvania, on what was known as “Pennsylvania Day,” when this and twelve other monuments to Pennsylvania units were unveiled and dedicated.

On September 17, 1904—some thirty-six aging and graying veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry, in company with a host of dignitaries and other attendees, gathered here, on this very same ground, to partake in this dedication and witness the unveiling of their regimental monument.

For many of these veterans, that day witnessed their first return visit to these fields since the battle of Antietam, fought forty-two years to the day earlier.

On that Wednesday, the seventeenth of September 1862—on what was otherwise a beautiful late summer day—the once peaceful and tranquil farming fields surrounding us were transformed into vast, horrific killing fields. In a little more than twelve hours of savage conflict, along the banks of the meandering Antietam Creek, across the narrow farm lanes and country roads, and through standing fields of corn, more than 23,000 Americans, whether in blue or in gray, fell either killed, wounded, or went listed among the missing in action. It was, and remains, the bloodiest single-day battle in all of American history.

Best remembered for this unimaginable loss, Antietam’s greatest legacy was born five days after the guns fell silent here. With Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the north repulsed and with his once seemingly invincible Army of Northern Virginia in retreat following the Union victory here, President Abraham Lincoln gained his long-awaited foundation, or platform, for announcing a proclamation of emancipation.

It was, in words of Horace Greeley, “the beginning of the end of the rebellion, and the beginning of a new life for the nation,” or, to borrow a more famous phrase, it was here that the nation truly witnessed its “new birth of freedom.” At last, the promises and ideals of this American nation, so prevalent at its founding, would apply to all; it was a first step, from this point on, all would be free to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Of course, all of the blessings of this nation, all of the freedoms we have long enjoyed and which we continue to enjoy, have been secured through the bravery and sacrifice of those who have fought and those who have died on the field of battle. And on this particular field of battle, so many thousands fought, and so many thousands died.

Among them were fifty-one members of the 48th Pennsylvania. This monument stands as a silent tribute to those men, and to the hundreds of others who fought in the 48th and who fell on such sanguinary fields as Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Knoxville, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and elsewhere throughout its four- year organization. This was the first monument established by the regiment’s survivors—another came several years later at Petersburg, to commemorate their services there, particularly in their famed tunneling under the Confederate defensive line. Because this was their first, it was only fitting that they chose to honor the soldier who organized and first led the regiment: James Nagle.

Born in 1822, James Nagle never received any formal military training, but from an early age developed an interest in martial endeavors. Perhaps it was the legacy of his own grandfather, Philip Nagle, who served in the Pennsylvania Continental Line under Washington during the Revolution, that inspired him, or perhaps it was his inherent sense of duty to serve his nation. Regardless of the motivation, in 1840, and at just eighteen years of age, he organized the Pottsville Blues, a militia company that in two years changed its branch of service and became the Washington Artillerists. Twenty years later, this company, under a different commander, would march to great fame as one of the first five Northern volunteer companies to reach the United States capital upon the outbreak of sectional hostilities in 1861, arriving in Washington on the night of April 18. Because of this noteworthy feat, the Washington Artillerists, along with four other Pennsylvania companies, became collectively known as the First Defenders, and it was James Nagle who founded this unit.

In 1846, Nagle led the Washington Artillerists off to war in Mexico, where they became Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers. He served with great merit, such as at Cerro Gordo, where, according to one of his soldiers, he stood “calm and unmoved amid the leaden storm of death,” and on other fields where he earned distinction. With the conclusion of the war, Nagle returned to Pottsville to a hero’s welcome. The grateful citizenry presented him with a beautifully inscribed sword, a sword he would treasure for the rest of his life.

Nagle returned to more peaceful pursuits, raising children and pursuing his vocation as a house and sign painter, and then in 1852 as sheriff of Schuylkill County. All along, however, he maintained his interest and involvement in the Pennsylvania State Militia, rising through the ranks until, just prior to the outbreak of civil war, he was a colonel and brigade inspector.

Such a position, in addition to his reputation, caught the attention of Governor Andrew Curtin, who summoned Nagle to Harrisburg, where he helped to organize the trainloads of volunteers that were then pouring into the state capital. It then led to his appointment of the three-month 6th Pennsylvania Volunteers, which he led in the Shenandoah Valley. With the expiration of this three-month term of service, Nagle returned to Pottsville with authorization to raise a three-year regiment, which he resolved to do from his own Schuylkill County. From the anthracite-laden mine fields in the north to the fertile farming fields in the south, hundreds of volunteers came forth and by the end of summer, these volunteers were organized and were mustered into service as the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Nagle led the 48th until the spring of 1862, when he was elevated to brigade command in what became General Jesse Reno’s division of the Ninth Army Corps. His first true test as brigade commander came at 2nd Bull Run. Following this fight, General Reno wrote directly to Abraham Lincoln, recommending Nagle’s promotion to brigadier general. Lincoln endorsed the application with a handwritten note: “Let the appointment be made.”

It was here at Antietam, two days after the battle, the James Nagle’s commission arrived and where he first learned of his promotion to brigadier general.

Nagle went on to lead his brigade Fredericksburg, where he continued to earn the praise of his superiors and the admiration of his subordinates. As testimony to the esteem in which he was held, one of Nagle’s men later wrote that “though inflexibly firm and persistently industrious in the performance and requirement of every camp and field duty, yet such was the kindness of his demeanor, and the tender regard for the health, safety, and comfort of his men, that we considered him rather as a friend and father, than a mere military commander.”

Sadly, failing health, brought on by heart disease, forced his resignation in the spring of 1863 and cut short what was a promising career. Upon accepting his resignation, division commander Sam Sturgis wrote, “By his intelligence, energy, zeal and courage, and quiet, unassuming deportment, General Nagle has endeared himself to this command, and will carry with him the love and respect not only of those gallant troops he had led so often to victory, but of all who have the good fortune to know him.”

Nagle returned to his family in Pottsville, but did not stay idle for long. That same month General Lee embarked upon another northern campaign, this one reaching deep within his native Pennsylvania. He once again sprang into action, organizing the 39th Pennsylvania Militia. The following year, in the summer of 1864, elements of Lee’s army under the command of Jubal Early were once more heading north, passing through this area on their way toward Washington. With Early’s columns threatening, Nagle, for the fourth time in four years, raised and led yet another regiment, this time it was the 194th Pennsylvania, a 100-day unit. At last, in November 1864, Nagle was mustered out of service for the final time. He returned to his home and sought a return to more peaceful endeavors. Sadly, by the summer of 1866, his health had taken a turn for the worse and on August 22, surrounded by his family, General Nagle passed away at only 44 years of age, leaving behind his wife, Elizabeth, and seven children, the youngest of whom was just eleven months old.

But General Nagle also left behind an inspiring legacy. His commitment and dedication went unsurpassed. More than one century ago, when this monument was first dedicated, William Blackwood, the regimental surgeon and Medal of Honor recipient, spoke of this legacy when reflecting upon Nagle’s promotion to general: “At this time,” said Blackwood, “the merited and (for ourselves), the coveted promotion of Colonel Nagle eventuated—he won his star as brigadier general. Never did a soldier win the distinction through a harder road—for his whole time of service this more than brave gentleman and splendid soldier devoted his every energy to the cause for which he left his home and family, and supported by his gallant men, he won imperishable fame.”

Your contributions have helped restore this monument. This monument, and all monuments, serves to remind us, and to teach all the future generations, who will travel here long after we’re gone, to reflect upon the meaning of such a sanguinary battle, that those who fought and those who died on this now hallowed ground, that their service and sacrifice was not in vain. The reuniting of the general and his sword also helps honor and preserve the memory of one so brave and one so dedicated as Brigadier General James Nagle.

I will conclude with a passage from Surgeon Blackwood, spoke here on this very spot on a similar occasion: “Today we celebrate the attainment of General Nagle’s glory—a glory to him and to those who can never forget his leadership—may the bronze and granite which we now dedicate to his memory remain till time shall be no more on this historical field where so many of our Pennsylvania heroes gave their all to the defense of the land they loved—and the flag they adored.”

Photographs of the May 29, 2010 Monument Re-Dedication & Unveiling

As I have mentioned many times before, I could not be happier with the results of the 48th Pennsylvania Monument restoration project. From the very start, I have been both proud and humbled by the support given and pleased by the generous contributions that arrived from all parts of the country. The Rededication Ceremony, held on Saturday, May 29, could not have gone any better. The weather was perfect and the turn-out was outstanding. All in all, it was a very good day. Below are various photographs taken at the event by several attendees, including my colleagues Rangers Mannie Gentile and Brian Baracz.

I am hoping to soon have a video of the event posted, so stay tuned.

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1904 Photograph of the Dedication of the 48th PA Monument at Antietam

Civil War Historian Tom Clemens, an expert on the Maryland Campaign, exchanges handshakes with Artist Mike Kraus
A large crowd of about seventy turned out to attend the rededication. It commenced with an invocation delivered by Reverend John Schildt, a lifelong student of the Maryland Campaign.
Antietam Battlefield Superintendent Presents Artist/Scultor Mike Kraus with a National Park Service Arrowhead in Recognition of his fine work and artistry in sculpting the replacement sword.
I Delivered The Dedication Address while Antietam Park Volunteer and Civil War Living Historian Dave Maher Kept Old Glory Flying
The Unveiling

The Sword Returned/The Monument Restored

Saturday, April 5, 2008


We have taken yet another great stride forward in restoring the 48th PA Monument at Antietam. Click here for the latest.
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Click here to read how we have taken yet another step closer to returning the sword to General James Nagle!
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Welcome to, a site dedicated to the effort to replace the missing sword on the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry Monument at the Antietam National Battlefield. Here you will be able to keep updated as to the progress of this endeavor and learn how you can help!

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The 48th Pennsylvania Monument, which is located along Branch Avenue on the Antietam National Battlefield, was dedicated and unveiled on September 17, 1904. The monument features a 7'4" bronze statue of Brigadier General James Nagle, the man who raised and first led the regiment. As you can see from the photograph below, when the monument was first unveiled, a sword hung by General Nagle's side.

That sword, however, is now missing, and it is my hope that we will be able to get it replaced. Here are two photographs of the 48th PA Monument as it looks today:

As you can see, the sword is missing.

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Brigadier General James Nagle (1822-1866)

James Nagle was born on April 5, 1822, in Reading, Pennsylvania. He received little in the way of a formal education, and his early childhood was marked by a series of family migrations. By the early 1830s, the Nagle family settled in the Schuylkill County seat of Pottsville, where in 1840, at just 18 years of age, James organized the Pottsville Blues, a militia company which two years later became the Washington Artillerists. As its captain, Nagle led his company during the Mexican-American War, seeing action at the battles of Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, and during the siege of Mexico City. Upon his return from Pottsville in 1848, Nagle was presented with a sword by the grateful citizens in recognition of his service. This sword was one of Nagle's most treasured possessions and he would carry it throughout his service in the Civil War.

A young Captain James Nagle upon his return from Mexico in 1848. . .the sword he is holding was presented to him by the people of Pottsville and was the source of great pride. He carried it throughout the Civil War, and when his statue was sculpted for the regimental monument at Antietam, an exact bronze duplicate of this sword hung by his side.

Elected sheriff of Schuylkill County in 1852, James maintained an active role in the city and state militia system. He was also a devoted husband and father. When in April 1861 South Carolina forces opened fire on Fort Sumter and thus sparked the Civil War, Governor Andrew Curtin summoned Nagle to Harrisburg where he helped to organize the trainloads of volunteers that arrived daily in the state capital. Curtin then commissioned Nagle colonel of the 6th Pennsylvania Infantry, a three-month unit that served under General Robert Patterson in the Shenandoah Valley. Upon his discharge in July 1861, Nagle was authorized to raise and recruit a regiment of volunteers to serve a three-year enlistment. Returning to Pottsville, he was determined to raise this regiment entirely from Schuylkill County, and enlisted the help of ten men who recruited volunteers from the county's anthracite coal mining towns and agricultural districts. In late September, Nagle's regiment was mustered into service as the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Nagle led the 48th from September 1861 until April 1862 when he was elevated to brigade command in General Jesse Reno's Division of General Ambrose Burnside's 9th Corps. He commanded this brigade with great distinction at the battle of Second Bull Run, and was afterwards recommended for promotion to brigadier general by Reno. President Lincoln approved of this recommendation and on September 19, two days after the battle of Antietam, Nagle received his commission. He saw further service as a brigade commander at the battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, but began to develop chest pains. His doctors diagnosed him with heart disease and suggested he tender his resignation. With great reluctance, Nagle resigned from the army in May 1863 and returned to his home and family in Pottsville. He did not rest idle for long, however. Soon after Nagle returned home, General Robert E. Lee launched his invasion of Pennsylvania. In response, Nagle organized the 39th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia and led this unit to Harrisburg, where General Darius Couch named him a brigade commander. After Lee's defeat at Gettysburg, Nagle once again returned to Schuylkill County. The next summer, in response to General Jubal Early's drive northward, Nagle raised and subsequently commanded his fourth regiment of volunteer soldiers--the 194th Pennsylvania. Assigned to Baltimore, Nagle and his regiment were mustered out on November 5, 1864. Nagle's heart disease continued to worsen. On August 22, 1866, James Nagle died. He was just forty-four years of age. He left behind a widow and seven children, the youngest of which was but eleven months old. His funeral in Pottsville was one of the largest the city ever witnessed. He was laid to rest in the Presbyterian Cemetery.

General Nagle's final resting place in Pottsville's Presbyterian Cemetery

To learn more about the life of James Nagle, please read this article I wrote for the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) in December 2007:

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Here is the official press release of the effort to restore the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry Monument at Antietam:

Donations Sought to Replace Missing Sword from Statue of General James Nagle

On September 17, 1904, thirty-six surviving veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry gathered at the Antietam Battlefield to attend the dedication and witness the unveiling of their regimental monument. Exactly forty-two years earlier, the regiment was heavily engaged in the significant battle, losing eight men killed, fifty-one wounded, and one missing. In addition to commemorating their wartime service and cherishing the memory of their fallen comrades, the aged veterans who traveled to Antietam in September 1904 were there also to honor the memory of the man who organized and first led the 48th Pennsylvania, Brigadier General James Nagle. Nagle (1822-1866) hailed from Pottsville, in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, and although he never received a formal military education, he led troops with great distinction during the Mexican-American and Civil Wars. In 1840, at just eighteen years of age, Nagle organized the Washington Artillerists, which he subsequently commanded in Mexico, seeing action at such battles as Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, and the siege of Mexico City. During the Civil War, Nagle raised no less than four regiments of volunteer infantry—including the 48th Pennsylvania—and commanded a brigade in the Federal 9th Corps at the battles of Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Heart disease forced his resignation from the army in May 1863, and caused his untimely death in August 1866 at the age of forty-four.
Oliver Bosbyshell, a veteran of the 48th, commenced the dedication ceremony at Antietam by delivering a few opening remarks. After expressing his gratitude to the state of Pennsylvania for procuring the funds necessary for the construction of the monument, Bosbyshell spoke of the late General Nagle: “The man the Forty-Eighth honors by placing his statue to mark the spot it maintained in the fight, honors the Forty-Eighth in turn. The organizer and disciplinarian who brought his command to the highest point of efficiency amongst the Ninth Corps organizations, the foremost soldier of old Schuylkill County, Brigadier General James Nagle, well deserves this meed of praise bestowed upon him.” Following Bosbyshell’s brief opening remarks, the regiment’s former surgeon, Dr. William R.D. Blackwood, delivered the dedication address. He spoke of the role the 48th played in the battle of Antietam and the appropriateness of the regimental monument on the battlefield before turning his attention to General Nagle:
At this time the merited and (for ourselves) the coveted promotion of Colonel Nagle eventuated—he won his star as a Brigadier General. Never did a soldier win the distinction through a harder road—for his whole time of service this more than brave gentleman and splendid soldier devoted his every energy to the cause for which he left his home and family, and supported by his gallant men, he won imperishable fame. . . .Today we celebrate the attainment of his glory—a glory to him and to us who can never forget his leadership—may the bronze and granite which we now dedicate to his memory remain till time shall be no more on this historical field where so many of our Pennsylvania heroes gave their all to the defenses of the land they loved, and the Flag they adored.

Following Blackwood’s address and amidst great applause, the monument was unveiled. On its granite base stood a 7’4” bronze statue of General James Nagle. At his side was sculpted an exact copy of one of his most treasured possessions, the sword he received by the grateful citizens of Pottsville upon his return from Mexico in 1848. Nagle carried this sword throughout the Civil War and can be seen holding it in all of his wartime photographs. To him it was a source of great pride, and it was only fitting and proper that it was replicated in bronze to hang by his side on his statue at the Antietam Battlefield, where he received his promotion to brigadier general. Nagle’s statue still stands atop the 48th Pennsylvania monument at the Antietam National Battlefield. Unfortunately, however, the sword is missing. When or how it disappeared remains unknown, but an effort is now underway to have the monument restored and the sword replaced.

John David Hoptak and the Western Maryland Interpretative Association, in cooperation with the Antietam National Battlefield and the Antietam National Battlefield Division of Cultural Resources, are partnering in an effort to restore the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Monument on the Antietam Battlefield by raising money to replace the missing sword from the statue of Brigadier General James Nagle. Hoptak, a Park Ranger at Antietam and Civil War historian, is a native of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, and is an expert on the 48th Regiment and the life and service of General Nagle. The Western Maryland Interpretative Association is the nonprofit (501-C3) cooperating association for the Antietam National Battlefield, and is dedicated to the preservation of the battlefield. Mr. Hoptak has secured the services of artist and Civil War preservationist Michael Kraus to sculpt the bronze sword, which will ultimately be placed on the statue by Antietam National Battlefield’s Division of Cultural Resources. The goal, based on an estimate provided by Mr. Kraus, is $6,800.00. Individuals and organizations can help honor and preserve the memory of General Nagle and pay tribute to his services by generously donating today. Donations can be made payable to the Western Maryland Interpretative Association, and because this is a not for profit organization, are entirely tax-deductible. Please write “Nagle Sword” in your check’s subject line. Robert Casey, director of the Western Maryland Interpretative Association, has graciously agreed to match all donations on a one-to-one basis. To learn more about this effort, please contact John Hoptak at (717) 337-9388 or at You can also log on to to learn more about this undertaking online. Donations can be mailed to the Western Maryland Interpretative Association/P.O. Box 692/Sharpsburg, MD 21782.

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