Benjamin and John Jacob: Two Beacher Brothers in the Civil War
As young boys, Benjamin and John Jacob Bicher (pronounced Bee-cher ) heard stories about the Revolutionary War battles fought by their great-grandfather, Jacob Bicher. Likely they recalled these legends when they were Civil War volunteers in Company F of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
When the young men enlisted, the army records misspelled their last names as Beacher, not Bicher, and Benjamin and John Jacob and the rest of their family decided to forever keep the army’s misspelling for fear of losing the Civil War fame and pensions, although other family branches today remain Bichers, Beechers, or Biechers.
Their great-grandad Jacob Bicher spoke German, as did his father Engel who immigrated in 1751 on the ship Neptune to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Jacob was born in 1758 and following military service in the Revolution became a prosperous farmer and a founder of the Salem Lutheran Church in Lebanon, Pa. He was buried at the church in 1842 three years before Ben was born.
Benjamin was lucky to even be born, because his grandfather Jacob 2nd (1782-1812) had died of a self-inflicted sickle wound while farming his crops six months before Ben’s father was born in Lebanon on December 22, 1812. Jacob 3rd grew up without ever knowing his father. As a young lad fell in love with Angeline, the daughter of family friend Bernard Eisenhuth, and when she left with her father to go “over the Blue Mountain” into the wilderness of Centre County to pursue lumbering, Jacob Bicher followed.
In 1837, Jacob married Angeline Eisenhuth in Pottsville, Schuylkill County, Pa. and soon after their children were born: William, August 1, 1838; John Jacob, Jan 12, 1840; Hiram, July 1843; Benjamin Franklin, May 16, 1845; George, October 1847; Nathan, October 22, 1849; and Ann Mary, May 1852.
In 1850 the U.S. Census recorded young John Jacob, 11, and Benjamin, 6, living in the South Ward of Pottsville, Pa. with father Jacob Bieger, obviously the best spelling the census taker could make of Jacob’s heavy German accent pronouncing Bicher. Jacob’s occupation was tailor.
Just before the outbreak of the war, the 1860 Census recorded the father and sons all working as day laborers with the family living in Broad Mountain post office in New Castle Township.
The Civil War Comes to Pennsylvania
It wasn’t until 1863 when General Lee was advancing into Pennsylvania that the boys were confronted with the war. Five days after Confederates crossed the state line, the eldest Beacher sons William and John Jacob enlisted on June 19, 1863 in Company A of the 27th Regiment, emergency troops. On June 24, the regiment, under Colonel Frick, was sent to Columbia on the Susquehanna River to prevent the enemy from crossing the bridge to Lancaster and Philadelphia.
The troops took position upon the heights on the right river bank, a half mile back from Wrightsville. On the evening of the 28th, the Confederates attacked. Frick had no artillery, but held ground until outnumbered and outflanked. He ordered withdrawal across the bridge. A pre-set explosion failed to destroy the bridge and the men had to fire it. Nine were wounded. Then the rebels learned that the Army of the Potomac was on its flank and withdrew to Gettysburg. On July 31st when the threat of a Confederate invasion was over, William and John Jacob were mustered out and returned home.
The family thought their involvement in the war was over until Benjamin volunteered for the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry in 1864. Ben’s record in the Pennsylvania State Archives indicates when he registered he lied about his age, saying he was 20 when he was in fact 18:
Mustered in: 2-12-64 at Pvt. At Pottsville, PA.
Mustered out: 8-23-65, discharged, Macon, GA
Age at enrollment: 20
Complexion: Dark, Height: 5’3″, Eyes: Grey, Hair: Brown
Residence: Pottsville, born Schuylkill Co., PA.
The family story goes that big brother John Jacob enrolled on the same day in order to protect little Ben, and John Jacob’s enlistment record shows the 22 year-old was an engineer with a dark complexion, 5 foot 1 ½” tall with grey eyes and brown hair.
Seeing his brothers in uniform, eldest brother William re-enlisted as a private in Company C, 194th Regiment Infantry, at Pottsville, on July 13, 1864. The regiment was sent to Baltimore for provost duty before returning to Harrisburg, where William was mustered out of the service on November 6, 1864.
Their little brother Nathan never served in the military but according to stories told to Benjamin’s great-grandson Bruce: “Never tied down by the military or marriage, Nathan had contributed to the war effort by “procuring” horses for the 7th Cavalry, presumably for his brothers’ benefit, and not necessarily by legal means.”
Adventures during the Civil War
The two Beacher brothers made way to Harrisburg where the train took them to Columbia, Tennessee, south of Nashville. Here the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry was reforming in late February, and the many new recruits arriving would engage in drills to learn from the veterans of the 1862-63 campaigns how to fight as horsemen. The men received fresh horses, new sabers, and Spencer carbines – unique because they could rapidly fire 7-shot cartridges, a major advantage over the Rebel guns which fired single shots and were slow to load. By late April, they were finally ready to head out to face the enemy.
The 7th Pa Cavalry, together with the 4th Michigan Cavalry and the 4th U. S. Cavalry, and the Chicago Board of Trade artillery, were commanded as a brigade under Colonel Robert H. G. Minty. Minty’s 1st Brigade was one of three brigades in Brigadier General Kenner Garrard’s 2nd Division Cavalry, Army of the Cumberland.
Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign
On April 30, 1864, Minty’s Brigade marched east from Columbia with 2,200 men, 1,994 of them mounted cavalry. They crossed the Cumberland, Raccoon, Lookout, and Pigeon Mountains, reaching on May 10th Villanow, Georgia, where General Sherman was staging his troops before heading south to conquer Atlanta.
On May 15th, they encountered their first skirmish at Farmer’s Bridge, just north of Rome, Georgia. Riding south, on May 19th they captured Gillem’s Bridge near Kingston, needed so the infantry could cross the Etowah River. On May 24th, they were first to arrive in Dallas, Georgia, and discovering the enemy had heavily fortified the hilly terrain there, held on until McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee arrived.
The Battle of Dallas lasted from May 25 to June 1st, with the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry working to control roads and attacking the Confederate line’s flank from the rear, for which General McPherson sent his thanks to Minty.
On June 1st, Sherman ordered Garrard’s cavalry to join Stoneman’s cavalry on a critical mission – heading to the northeast to take control of the railroad at Allatoona Pass, without which Sherman had no way to bring from Tennessee by train the food, supplies, and reinforcements needed for his army.
On June 9th, the cavalry rode south into Big Shanty , driving the Rebel infantry and Martin’s cavalry for several miles back toward Kennesaw Mountain.
From June 10th to July 2nd, while the Union army held the Confederates in defense on Kennesaw Mountain, the cavalry’s mission was to protect the left flank of Sherman’s army from repeated attacks by the Confederates: Wheeler’s Cavalry as well as infantry. A major skirmish occurred at McAfee’s Crossroads on June 11th and a horrible battle at Noonday Creek on June 20th with heavy losses when the Rebel’s attempted to break around Sherman’s left flank, but were stopped by Garrard’s cavalry.
On July 3rd following the retreat of the Rebels from Kennesaw Mountain, the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry protected the railroad through Marietta, then on the 4th of July were ordered to explore east along the Chattahoochee River, pushing back Rebel resistance in an effort to learn where Sherman’s infantry could safely cross the river to reach Atlanta.
The 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry were first to capture Roswell, Georgia on July 5th, a major factory town supplying the Confederates with supplies. The next day, they burned the factories and mills there, sending over 300 women workers as prisoners to Marietta to be sent by train to Indiana.
On July 9th at Roswell, under fire they waded across the Chattahoochee River, driving away the Confederates protecting the south bank, and holding it until infantry reinforcements could arrive to control the river crossing and build a new bridge to replace one the Confederates had burned.
The cavalry also captured McAfee’s Bridge further up river, which they later crossed on July 17th on their way to Stone Mountain, where they destroyed miles of railroad on July 18th cutting off the Rebel’s supply of food, ammunition, and soldiers shipped Augusta, the Carolinas and Virginia.
On July 21st, Sherman dispatched the cavalry on a second dangerous raid, this time even further east to Covington and Social Circle, destroying the railroad tracks, locomotives, and important road and rail bridges over rivers.
On July 27th, Sherman again launched a raid, wherein Stoneman’s Cavalry was to head further south to cut off the Macon Railroad’s supply line into Atlanta, while Garrard’s Cavalry would remain north near Flat Rock to fool Wheeler’s rebel cavalry to engage Garrard, rather than discover and follow Stoneman’s raid. This plan failed when Stoneman made mistakes that led to his capture.
From August 1st to 14th, as Sherman’s armies formed a half-circle surrounding Hood’s army defending Atlanta, Garrard’s cavalry was ordered to dismount and get into the trenches on Sherman’s left flank.
Finally on the 15th, the horse soldiers were able to return to their steeds and now traveling around the north side of Atlanta all the way west to Sandtown on the Chattahoochee River, they prepared for their most daring mission of the Atlanta campaign. Kilpatrick’s 3rd Cavalry Division was combined with two of the brigades from Garrard’s division, including Minty’s Brigade and the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry,
Kilpatrick was ordered to sneak this massive cavalry behind enemy lines to destroy the West Point railroad linking Atlanta to Alabama, and then push further to tear up the Macon Railroad linking Atlanta to the south. Sherman knew cutting all the railroad supplies would force the Confederate General Hood to surrender Atlanta.
On the 18th of August they departed on this dangerous mission, which would last several days and nights without any time to sleep or find food for their horses. They reached Jonesboro on the 19th, battling rebel cavalry and infantry into the town so they could destroy the railroad. But by the time they reached the next station to the south, Lovejoy Station, on the morning of the 20th the Confederates were ready for them.
Kilpatrick’s cavalry soon was surrounded by thousands of Rebel infantry near the railroad, and Wheeler’s cavalry on their other side. With no way to escape, the only way to survive was to try a daring and dangerous charge directly into the Rebel line of fire of rifles and cannons, breaking through the enemy lines. The famous Sabre Charge, with swords swinging as they charged the Confederates, enabled many of the men to escape, although the losses were very heavy especially with Minty’s brigade who did most of the fighting. Today, the site of this battle is preserved as a park whose website has considerable information about the battle at http://www.henrycountybattlefield.com
Returning to Atlanta, the men and horses of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry were exhausted and wounded following Kilpatrick’s Raid, so they were assigned to easier duty patrolling and protecting the Chattahoochee River from Sandtown north to Roswell from August 25th until September 2nd, while the rest of Sherman’s army was moving around Atlanta to cut off Hood’s army resulting in infantry battles at Jonesboro and Lovejoy Station.
On the evening of September 1st, giant explosions and fires were heard and seen in Atlanta, and Sherman wondered if that meant the rebels were destroying their ammunition supplies and important parts of the city before they were to abandon it. On September 2nd, Sherman ordered Minty to dispatch a cavalry patrol toward the city to see if the Rebels were still there in force, and the 7th Pennsylvania horsemen were among the first to reach the city and send the good news that Atlanta had been abandoned and won.
The 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry had lost many men and horses, and rather than go with Sherman on his famous March to the Sea, they were ordered to remain to protect Atlanta during September, then into the fall to ride to the northwest to Rome to drive out the enemy that had retreated from Atlanta. Finally, they were told to abandon their exhausted horses and ride by train to Louisville, Kentucky, to reorganize at year’s end.
Benjamin in Jail in Kentucky
On Ben’s Civil War pension (discussed later) it indicates he was “under arrest” in Louisville at the end of 1864. Apparently while on holiday leave in Louisville, the cavalry men were known to party, so much so, that somehow Benjamin Beacher ran afoul of the local law. He didn’t return to army duty on December 31st when expected, and when they went looking for him, it was learned Ben was in arrest at Louisville from December 15, 1864 until February 28, 1865, when he finally was allowed to return to cavalry duty.
Across Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in 1865
In 1865 the cavalry regiment was stationed at Gravelly Springs, Alabama, on the Tennessee River, where it was engaged in drilling and completing its organization and equipment for the spring campaign of 1865. On the 22nd of March it joined the command of General James H. Wilson, and with it set out on the expedition from Eastport, Mississippi across the Gulf States. On the 1st of April, the cavalry was engaged in the battle of Plantersville, Alabama, and on the following day, arrived in front of Selma. The position of the regiment in the line of march for that day was third, in the advance brigade of General Long’s Division; but upon arriving near the city, the cavalry was ordered to the front to lead the assault upon the works.
The regiment was fearfully exposed, and lost heavily in killed and wounded. Lieutenant Jacob Sigmond was among the killed. Col. McCormick fell severely wounded at the foot of the works, as the regiment, in advance of all others, was about entering the fortifications. The command now devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Andress, and under him the regiment participated in the engagement near Columbus, Georgia, on the 16th of April. On the 20th it arrived at Macon, Georgia, where, the war having substantially closed. Their duty in the region surrounding Macon was to protect the area and enforce law and order, but they were ordered to purse one additional and important mission: try to capture Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who was rumored to be trying to escape through Georgia.
The Capture of Jefferson Davis
On May 9th, Minty deployed the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, the 4th Michigan Cavalry, and the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry to search the areas near Irwinsville, Georgia where Davis might be. Early in the morning of the 10th, the 1st Wisconsin and the 4th Michigan, unknown to each other, approached Davis’ campsite, and suddenly found they were under fire until they discovered it was the two cavalry units exchanging friendly fire. Davis was captured and a dispute ensued as to which of the cavalry units actually caught him and was entitled to a $100,000 reward offered for his capture. This dispute was finally settled by the U.S. Congress with the reward divided among members of both cavalry units. Left out was the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, in the area near Davis but not lucky to be on the scene.
The cavalry remained on duty near Macon until the 23rd of August, when they were mustered out. The boys then had to find their way by train back to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Life after the War
During the war, Shenandoah changed when coal mining began in earnest in 1862. Seeking the high wages offered, once back at home the Beacher boys took jobs as coal miners in Shenandoah, establishing a new home on Cherry street in addition to keeping their old home in Broad Mountain. In the 1870 census their father Jacob appears in Broad Mountain with his wife Angeline and William, George, Nathan and Mary; and in Shenandoah the census again records Angeline with William, Hiram, Benjamin, George, Nathan and Mary. The census records the men are all employed as miners.
At war’s end, Benjamin still missed the excitement of being a cavalryman who awoke at 3 a.m. to the bugle call to battle. In Shenandoah the best substitute was a fire alarm bell ringing in the night, so Ben joined the volunteer fire company as soon as it was created. Now he was fighting fires rather than rebels!
Ben’s grandson, Bruce (1919-2004), wrote in his family history about his grandfather who “frequented the Rescue, Hook and Ladder Co. fire station, of which he was a charter member, imbibing spirits freely while reliving his exploits as a Civil War cavalryman to his cronies.”
Benjamin was also a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows, Shenandoah Lodge #591.
Benjamin Beacher’s Family Life
The family bible of B. F. Beacher has these inscriptions:
That the rite of Holy Matrimony was celebrated between
Benjamin F. Beacher, Sr. of Newcastle Twp., Schuylkill Co.
and Sarah Jane Jacobs of the same
on the 13th day of May 1866 at Fountain Springs, Pa.
by the Reverend Mr. Dengler.
bro Jacob Beacher, witness
girlfriend Angeline Ocom, witness
Later that year, Jacob married his girlfriend Angeline, and we describe their family later on.
Ben’s wife, Sarah Jane, was born in 1846, the daughter of Mary Hood and William Jacobs who was described in the History of Schuylkill County as “an honored pioneer of the county and in the early days, before the establishing of railroad lines, he drove a stage between Pittsburg and Baltimore.”
Ben and Sarah Jane Beacher began their family in 1868. The first child died soon after birth in 1868, Hiram Grant Beacher, named for Ben’s brother Hiram and U.S. General Grant.
Daughter Emma Margaret was born in 1869; Laura in 1871; Sarah Jane, named for her mother, in 1873; Angeline, named for her grandmother, in 1875; Benjamin Franklin Beacher Jr. in 1877; Mary, named for her grandmother, in 1879; Charlotte in 1881; Arthur Garfield in 1883; and John Jacob, named for his grandfather and Ben’s brother, in 1885.
Tragically, on May 18, 1886, Ben’s wife Sarah died, leaving him to care for his younger children.
In 1890, a census index showed 45-year old coal miner Benjamin Beacher living alone with five children: Sallie, Linda, Benjamin, Mary and Archie, at 3 Apple Alley in Shenandoah.
Benjamin Almost Dies in the Great Railroad Accident
A great tragedy occurred on September 19, 1890 where Benjamin watched 35 people die before his eyes. He was lucky to survive.
He had been attending a State Firemen’s Convention in Chester, Pa. and was returning home by train on the Pottsville Express, loaded with firemen and many visitors to the Berks County Fair.
The train was late leaving the Reading station at 5:42 p.m. so the engineer was moving at a high rate of speed, approaching Shoemakersville on a bend twenty feet above the Schuylkill River, when the engineer was stunned to see the track ahead blocked by a wreck between freight and coal trains.
What happened next was described in a September 19th New York Times: “As it was, the engine dashed into the wreck and then plunged down the steep sides of the embankment, followed by the remainder of the entire train. There was a hissing of steam, a plunging of the waters as they received their prey, a crashing of timbers, and screams of agony and fright from 150 people in the imprisoned passenger cars.”
“The horrors of the scene of disaster are simply indescribable, and it will take the daylight of to-morrow to fully reveal the awful wreck and ruin wrought. The engine lies in the bottom of the river, whose waters are about five feet deep and the baggage, mail, and passenger cars are also in the water, while at this hour, 10 o’clock, 300 men are at work taking out the dead and dying.”
Among the injured listed in the New York Times report is “B. Franklin Beecher, Shenandoah, left hip badly cut and legs hurt.”
Ben had trouble walking from then on, because a year later, the November 6, 1891 edition of the Shenandoah Evening Herald carried the following story:
Among the pleasant things said and done at the Rescue Hook & Ladder Company’s banquet, Tuesday evening, we overlooked one of the most important. It was the presentation of a handsome gold-headed cane to the veteran member of the company, Benjamin F. Beacher. The presentation on behalf of the company was made by B. G. Hess and David Morgan received the cane in behalf of Mr. Beacher. It is a beauty and the recipient deserved it.
On March 3, 1892, Benjamin filed a Declaration for Invalid Pension stating he is unable to earn a support by manual labor by reason of an injured left ankle joint and scrotal hernia of right testicle. He claimed a military pension stating that he enrolled on the 12th of February 1864 in Co. F, 7th Reg. Pa. Cavalry and was discharged at Macon, Georgia on the 23rd August 1865.
On May 31, 1892, pension certificate 671866 was issued for claim 1097297.
His pension records include affidavits in July, 1893 by William Bolinsky and David Morgan who swore Benjamin had rheumatism of his left ankle caused by the September, 1890 railroad accident at Shoemakersville, plus was working at the West Shenandoah Colliery when he was sprained throwing a large lump of coal over causing a rupture of his right testicle.
On November 23, 1893 the pension bureau verified his military service but also noted he was under arrest in Louisville and missing from action from December 15, 1864 until February 28, 1865.
Benjamin Lives with his son Benjamin
On June 5, 1900 the census recorded at 118 W. Apple Avenue Benjamin Beacher, coal miner, age 55, living with son Benjamin, 22; daughter Mary, 20; and son Arthur, 16.
In the History of Schuylkill County, published in 1907, an article appeared about his son, Benjamin, who had become a prosperous candy maker, and mentioned his father as follows:
Benjamin F. Beacher, Sr., still resides in Shenandoah, where his wife died at the age of forty-five years. Of their children two sons and five daughters are living – Arthur G., a prominent painter and decorator in Shenandoah; Emma, wife of Alfred Horrox, of that city; Laura, wife of Thomas Heywood, of Girardville, Pa.; Sarah, who resides at Mount Carmel; Angeline, widow of Isiah Womer, residing at North Braddock, Pa.; Benjamin F., Jr., the immediate subject of this sketch; and Mary, wife of William Derrick, of North Braddock. The father was a loyal and valiant solider of the Union during the Civil war, as a member of Company F, 7th Pennsylvania cavalry, which command made a gallant record. He is now living retired, making his home with the subject of this sketch.
In the 1910 Census in Shenandoah, 65-year old Benjamin was living in the home owned by his son Benjamin, 33, with his daughter-in-law Bertha and his grandchildren: Ruth, 4, and Paul, 1.
Even as he grew old, Ben spent evenings at the fire station, where he told stories about the Saber Brigade during the Civil War.
Always ready to pursue adventure, 77-year old Ben Sr. responded to an emergency fire call in severe winter weather and contracted pneumonia. He died at 5:05 a.m. on November23, 1922, while living in son Ben’s home above his candy shop at 35 N. Main Street in Shenandoah. He was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery in Shenandoah Heights.
John Jacob Beacher’s Family Life
Soon after the Civil War, John Jacob married Angeline Ocum, born May 3, 1845, the daughter of Mary A. Miller and Daniel Ocum of Pottsville.
Their children were born: Mary Ellen, 1867; Laura, 1870; George, 1871; Thomas F., 1874; Catherine A., 1876; Harry Elmore, 1878; and Malissa, 1883.
The 1870 Census shows Jacob Beacher Jr., laborer, living with Angeline and daughter Mary in Broad Mountain. Since no real estate value is listed, likely John Jacob is living in a home on the same land owned by his father, Jacob, in Broad Mountain. In 1880 he is a miner recorded living in Shenandoah with Angeline and children Mary, Thomas and Catherine.
On May 16, 1892, Angeline filed an application 1112513 for John Jacob’s Civil War pension. It was re-filed as of January 3, 1916 as application number 1058134. The service records indicated on the form are Company A 27th Pa Mil Infantry and Company F 7th PA Cavalry.
The 1910 Census reports Jacob Beacher, 70 years old, was living alone with his wife, Angeline, age 65. It records they were married for 44 years at the time, and had 8 children, 4 of whom were still living.
John Jacob Beacher died on December 20, 1915, and was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery in St. Clair, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania with Angeline who died three years later.