What Did We See? We Saw the Sea

We do not know where Samuel Butler and his children were when his wife was captured by Confederate cavalry, bound and gagged, and led through the streets of Gettysburg to head South into slavery. We know she escaped and survived in the belfry of the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. It’s hard to no the effect her near kidnapping had on her family, but we might guess how powerfully the family felt about slavery from what transpired just six months later.

In January 1864, the younger Samuel Butler, reporting his age to be sixteen, mustered into the USCT 25th Regiment at Chambersburg and headed off to fight for his family’s freedom. While the 25th would see no combat, the 5’5″ teenage boy would see as much death as many combat units. Why?

After completing initial training, the unit was ordered to Texas. The men shipped out on the steamer Suwanee only to encounter a major storm off Hatteras, which caused a leak. The ship’s pumps were nearly overwhelmed, and the men themselves were put on bucket brigade for thirty-six hours straight in order to save the ship, which they managed to do. The ship limped into harbor at Beaufort, North Carolina, the men were ordered off, and the ship was abandoned.

The unit then was ordered to join others in New Orleans to support the Red River Campaign, the largest combined land and sea operation of the War. The campaign was grossly bungled and became the last major Confederate victory of the War. Because of its inexperience in combat, the 25th was not used and was instead ordered to garrison duty in Barrancas, Florida.

Butler saw various minor deployments and redeployments but ultimately saw no combat. However, as the War wound down, the casualties in the 25th piled up. In the spring and summer of 1865, scurvy swept through the unit, and approximately one-hundred fifty men died from its ravages, often at a rate of four to six men per day. The regimental muster roll in the image shows Samuel Butler, and if you look up and down, you will find various men who passed from disease or were mustered out owing to disability from disease.

Officers in the unit pleaded for proper nutrition and relief (scurvy can usually be prevented by eating fresh fruits and vegetables) but received none until the illness had mostly finished its work. In the late fall, the unit was ordered back to Philadelphia, and the men mustered out December 6, 1865.

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