Saturday, April 02, 2011

Peter A. Weber

Peter A. Weber was born in 1841 in New York, the son of Rev. William Myers (1803-1853) and Emeline Margaret (Talman, 1805-1879).

William and Emeline were married sometime before 1833, possibly in New York. In 1857 Peter moved with his mother and family from Fairfield, Connecticut to Grand Rapids. He was, wrote the Grand Rapids Eagle,

a bright, interesting lad, of about 15 years of age. His gentlemanly bearing, correct deportment, and intelligent activity, commanded more than casual notice from all with whom he came in contact. When, from a praiseworthy ambition to be doing for himself, he sought a clerkship, a situation was offered him in one of our leading houses. Always prompt, attentive, and diligent, he won the high esteem and confidence of his employers. At length, impelled by a restlessness, almost universal among boys, he sought to satisfy an irresistible desire for adventure, by a season “before the mast.” A very short experience, however, sufficed to convince him that a life on the ocean wave was not all his fancy had painted it, and he returned to appreciate in a three-fold degree, the joys and comforts of home and friends. During the two succeeding years, he occupied several positions of honor and trust in our city, making to himself fast friends by the faithful discharge of his duties, and by his courteous address.

By 1859 (or perhaps 1860) Peter was employed as a librarian for a local subscription library. He soon left that job to resume his work as a clerk for J. W. Pierce, and in 1860 he was a clerk living with his mother in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward. (Peter was succeeded as librarian by Hobart Chipman, son of Dr. Oscar Chipman, who would join the Third Michigan Band.)

“In April, 1860,” wrote the Eagle in 1863, Peter “girded himself for the warfare of life, by ratifying his baptismal vows in the solemn rite of confirmation. The five young men who that evening knelt together before the altar, afterwards entered their country's services. Two of them -- [Thomas] Mitchell and Weber -- have already found the ranks marshaled on the starry plains above.”

Peter was 20 years old and living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted with his mother’s consent as Second Corporal in Company A on May 13, 1861. According to Rebecca Richmond, teenage daughter of William Richmond one of Grand Rapids’ leading citizens and a close friend of Peter’s sister “Lizzie,” Weber came to call on her and her family on June 2. He told Rebecca that he had just enlisted that day and expected to go into camp (Cantonment Anderson at the old fairgrounds south of the city) the following day, and join the Third Michigan then forming in Grand Rapids.

And on June 12, the night before the Regiment left for Washington, Rebecca wrote in her diary that “This evening Mr. [Daniel] Littlefield and friend, Peter Weber, Corporals in the Third, called to bid us good bye. Poor Peter seemed to feel badly enough and I am sure we did too. He will be very much missed from our circle of young people as well as from his home. Should any accident befall him it would be mourned by the whole city, for Peter was widely known.”

A month later Peter wrote to Rebecca, and on July 13 she noted in her diary that Littlefield and Weber “write cheerfully, but express a desire for more active service than the guarding of a bridge [Chain bridge] across the Potomac. It seems to us anxious and waiting ones at home a most insane desire which we hope may not be fulfilled.”

Peter was soon promoted to Sergeant, probably in late July or early August, but remained determined to see “more active service.” Consequently, on August 31 he requested from his commanding officer, Captain Samuel Judd, that he be “transferred from your command to the cavalry Regiment being raised in Michigan by. Colonel F. W. Kellogg. My reason for doing so is that I have had the offer of a commission as second lieutenant in a company of that Regiment; and I believe that in many respects I am better fitted to belong to a cavalry corps than Infantry.”

Captain Judd allowed the transfer, and Weber was discharged in the first week of September of 1861 in order to be transferred to Second Michigan cavalry as Regimental Adjutant, while the regiment was then forming at Detroit. Following his discharge he returned to Grand Rapids, arriving there on September 9. Rebecca noted in her diary on September 10 that “Peter Weber called to see us this evening. He returned from Washington yesterday, having obtained a discharge from the Third Regiment, with a view of entering Colonel Kellogg's cavalry Regiment here as 2nd Lieutenant in one of the companies.”

Peter was commissioned Battalion Adjutant as of September 2, 1861, and mustered on October 2 at Grand Rapids, when the Second cavalry was mustered into service. The regiment left Michigan for St. Louis, Missouri, on November 14, 1861 and was on duty at Benton Barracks in St. Louis through February of 1862. It participated in the siege of New Madrid, Missouri, the siege and capture of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River, in the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, and was assigned to Louisville in September of 1862. It participated in the battle of Perryville on October 8 and numerous actions in eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia through the winter.

Peter served as aide-de-camp on the staff of Colonel Elliott, Second Brigade cavalry Division, from April of 1862 through May and was acting Assistant Adjutant General for the Second Brigade, cavalry Division, from June 21, 1862, on the staff of General Granger through July. Rebecca wrote on July 24, 1862, that “Peter Weber returned yesterday from his Regiment . . . on business, I presume, and has today gone into Detroit.”

Two days later Rebecca wrote that “Lizzie and Peter Weber called here this afternoon. Peter has just returned from Detroit and Kalamazoo, and is to return to the latter place next week to open a recruiting office for the 2nd Mich Cav. He is aid de camp to some general, and ranks as Lieut.” And on July 28, “Peter Weber spent the evening with Mary and me. We enjoyed his call exceedingly.”

On August 6, 1862, Peter was appointed Battalion Adjutant and was mustered out on August 13 in order to be transferred to the Sixth Michigan cavalry. He was promoted and transferred as Captain of Company B, Sixth Michigan cavalry on or about October 9, 1862, and commissioned October 13, at organization of that unit, and was mustered on October 11 at Grand Rapids, crediting Grand Rapids and listing Grand Rapids as his residence.

Peter was promoted Captain and Assistant Adjutant General on April 17, 1863. By the summer of 1863 Peter was (apparently) serving as Major for the Sixth Michigan cavalry, and he distinguished himself in that role during the cavalry’s various actions near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in early July. Peter was in fact serving in that capacity on June 30 when elements of the Michigan cavalry brigade, under the command of Brigadier General George A. Custer, went into action near Hanover, Pennsylvania against elements of General Fitz Lee’s Confederate brigade. The Fifth and Sixth Michigan had just reached Littlestown, Pennsylvania, south and west of Hanover,

shortly after daylight, spending much of the morning resting in town. The Fifth departed first, scouting on a back road near Hanover. When a local man reported Rebels toward Hanover, the Sixth marched on the Littlestown Road. About a mile from their destination, they struck Lee’s troopers, who were deploying to cover Stuart’s left flank.

The Southerners formed for an attack. Colonel Gray of the Sixth Michigan realized that his regiment had little chance against an entire brigade. Forming companies B and F, under Major Peter Weber, into a skirmish line to delay the Rebels, Gray detoured the remaining companies to the northwest, and in the words of a disgruntled sergeant, “was obliged to skedaddle not very creditably.” Twice Lee’s veterans attacked Weber’s squadron and were repulsed by the Northerners, who were armed with Spencer rifles. The Spencer was a .56-caliber weapon, with a seven-shot magazine, or cylindrical tube, that fit into the stock. A squadron of men could deliver firepower beyond their numbers, and the Michiganders raked the Southerners. A third assault settled it, however, as Weber retired, losing approximately 20 men as prisoners. Cut off from their comrades, the squadron did not rejoin the Sixth until the next morning [July 1].

On July 1, Union cavalry forces marched from Hanover to East Berlin where they bivouacked for the night. Early in the morning of July 2 Union General George Meade further concentrated his army (which had begun the day before) near the village of Gettysburg and consequently ordered General Pleasonton, commanding the Union cavalry forces, to bring his troopers to Gettysburg. Near Hunterstown the Sixth Michigan ran into elements of Confederate General Wade Hampton’s brigade. The Sixth chased the rebels into Hunterstown. During the day units of the Sixth clashed with the rebels near the John Felty farm. That night, Kilpatrick’s cavalry division was ordered to march to Two Taverns, just south of Gettysburg, where they arrived just before daybreak on July 3.

Following some skirmishing near Two Taverns, elements of the Michigan Brigade, including the Sixth cavalry, bivouacked for the night. The next day the Brigade headed toward the Gettysburg battlefield and by July 5 Confederates began retreating to Virginia, and the Union cavalry took up the pursuit. On July 10, Union infantry and artillery units found the rebels along the banks of the Potomac stretching from Williamsport to Falling Waters as they sought to cross the river. On July 13 General Meade ordered a reconnaissance for the following day.

As a part of Meade’s reconnaissance in force on July 14, Kilpatrick’s division closed on Williamsport, where it discovered abandoned works and a handful of rearguard troops. During the night, shielded by more heavy rain and the darkness, Lee evacuated his position, crossing the ford at Williamsport and the pontoon bridge at Falling Waters [Maryland]. Most of the Confederates had passed into Virginia by daylight, except for infantry at Falling Waters. Local residents alerted Kilpatrick to the presence of these troops, five miles downstream, and the Union general hurried his division to the location in what an officer described as “a wild ride.”

Custer halted the Michigan Brigade in a woodlot. Beyond the tree line, a large, cultivated field rose to a knoll, where “crescent-shaped” enemy works could be seen. Uncertain of the Rebel strength, Custer instructed Major Peter Weber to advance Companies B and F of the Sixth Michigan, dismounted, into the field as skirmishers. Kilpatrick, however, reined up, briefly studied the works, and countermanded the order, directing Weber to mount the companies and attack., “Gen. Kilpatrick don’t wait for infantry or orders when the rebels are in places as that, retreating across a river,” a staff officer boasted about the general on this day.

Regarded as “the best officer in the regiment,” Weber formed the two companies -- fifty-seven men -- in a column. Emerging from the trees, they crossed the muddy field at a trot. Fortune rode with them for a few minutes as the Southerners mistook them for their own cavalry. Before the alabamians and Tennesseans realized that they were Federals, Weber’s men had plunged into the works, sabers slashing and pistols firing. The surprised confederatesd belonged to Major General Henry Heth’s division and numbered in the hundred. They blasted the horsemen at point-blank range and swung muskets or fence rails. Weber pitched from the saddle, dead; Lieutenant Charles E. Bolza was killed and Lieutenant George Crawford’s leg was shattered, . . . Caught in a vise, the Michiganders never had a chance. Of the fifty-eight officers and men, fifteen were killed, twelve wounded and thirteen captured. “It cost us Some of our Bravest & Best men,” complained a surgeon in the brigade.”

In his official report of August 7, 1863, General Judson Killpatrick, commanding the cavalry division in which Weber served, wrote of the action at Falling Waters

that at 3 o'clock on the morning of the 14th ultimo I learned that the enemy's pickets were retiring to my front. Having been previously ordered to attack at 7 a.m., I was ready to move at once. At daylight I had reached the crest of the hills occupied by the enemy an hour before, and at a few moments before 6 o'clock General Custer drove the rear guard of the enemy into the river at Williamsport. Learning from citizens that a portion of the enemy had retreated in the direction of Falling Waters, I at once moved rapidly for that point, and came up with the rear guard of the enemy at 7.30 a.m., at a point 2 miles distant from Falling Waters. We pressed on, driving them before us, capturing many prisoners and one gun. When within a mile and a half of Falling Waters, the enemy was found in large force, drawn up in line of battle, on the crest of a hill, commanding the road on which I was advancing. His left was protected by earthworks, and his right extended to the woods far on my left. The enemy was, when first seen, in two lines of battle, with arms stacked. Within less than 1,000 yards of this large force, second piece of artillery with its support (consisting of infantry) was captured while attempting to get into position. The gun was taken to the rear.

A portion of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry, seeing only that portion of the enemy behind the earthworks, charged. This charge, led by Major Weber, was the most gallant ever made. At a trot he passed up the hill, received the fire from the whole line, and the next moment rode through and over the earthworks; passed to the right, sabering rebels along the entire line, and returned with a loss of 30 killed, wounded, and missing, including the gallant Major Weber killed.

Shortly after the battle of Gettysburg, Peter had written to his family

in a very happy strain, rejoicing in the merciful Providence which had again preserved him through so many and great dangers. Only those who have near and dear ones within reach of the singing shot and shrieking shell, and enveloped ever and anon, in the ‘great white breaths of the cannon smoke’ -- only those can know of the emotions of joy and thankfulness that swelled the mother's heart, on the happy termination of her agonizing suspense. -- Through the cloud of apprehension which darkened his devoted sister's life, struggled a gleam of hope. That darling brother, her girlhood's constant companion, guardian and champion, would yet return to raise with them, under his own roof-tree, the glad song of deliverance --. Alas! delusive hope! The gleam was but a lightning flash, portending the approaching storm. -- The burden was raised from the mother's heart, only to sink back, a dead weight. Twelve short hours of happy musing over the letter which brought such good tidings -- and then came the telegram.

Were it all of life to live, we might indeed murmur at the decree according to which these most estimable characters, these cherished friends, have,

‘”to the grave gone down.”

The Eagle of July 27 printed a memorial to those men who had recently perished on the fields of battle, in which were given details of the battle at Falling Waters. “Another wave from the rapidly swelling tide of sorrow,” wrote the paper,

has just swept over our city. From a distant battle field came, a few days since, a telegram announcing the death of Major Peter A. Weber, and Lieutenant Charles E. Bolza. They were both members of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, which has gained for itself such an honorable name in the Army of the Potomac. On the 14th instant, this Regiment met, at Falling Waters, Virginia, four Brigades of the enemy, in line of battle, in a very strong position. “Two companies were deployed as skirmishers, while companies B and F, led by Major Weber, made the charge. So sudden and spirited was the dash, that the first Brigade surrendered without firing a shot. The charging squadron moved directly on, and engaged the second Brigade, when the Brigade that had surrender, seized their guns, and then commenced a fearful struggle. Of the 100 who made this charge, only 30 escaped uninjured.” There fell the gallant Weber -- then the gallant Bolza fell, pierced through the heart. Thus two more names are added to the list of Grand Rapids heroes -- a long list -- a glorious list -- but every word of it is the key to some widow's, some orphan's, mother's, or sister's grief. How strange that they should go hand-in-hand! How hard to be obliged to entwine cypress with the laurel wreath! The young men who are the subjects of this tribute, were widely and favorably known to our citizens, having been identified with our business and social circles for several years.

Many years after the war, J. H. Kidd, who served with Peter in the Michigan Brigade under general Custer and who knew Peter well, wrote that Custer had

ordered Weber to dismount his men, advance a line of skirmishers toward the hill and ascertain what he had to encounter. Kilpatrick, however, ordered Weber to remount and charge the hill. At that time no other portion of the regiment had arriverd so as to support the charge.

Weber, knowing no law for a soldier except implicit obedience to orders, first saw his men well closed up, then placed himself at their head and giving the order “Forward,” emerged from the woods into the open field, took the trot until near the top of the slope, close to the earthworks, and then with a shout the little band of less than a hundred men charged right into the midst of ten times their number of veteran troops. The first onset surprised and astonished the enemy, who had mistaken Weber’s force for a squadron of their own cavalry. The audacity of the thing amazed them for a minute, and for a minute only.

Weber, cutting right and left with his saber, and cheering on his men, pierced the first line, but there could be but one result. Recovering from their surprise, the confederate infantry rallied, and seizing their arms, made short work of their daring assailants. In a few minutes, of the three officers in the charge, two -- Weber and Bolza -- lay dead on the field, and the other -- Crawford -- had his leg shattered so it had to be amputated.

On July 18, Lieutenant Colonel Foote of the Sixth Michigan cavalry wrote to his wife, informing her of the recent developments in the Regiment and mentioned in detail the recent deaths of several of his officers.

I am so bewildered [he wrote] with the fatigue and hardships of marches, day and night, and the successive and severe fighting, and more than all, with the grief I suffer for the dead of our Regiment, that I cannot write. Captains Weber and Royce, and Lieutenant Bolza, were killed at Falling Waters -- Captain W., in leading the most brilliant charge on the enemy's works, that was ever performed in this or any other war. His last words to his men were worthy of him: “Follow me, my men. -- words worth the sacrifice of life. Oh! Weber, how can I part with you? the bravest of the brave! I brought the body of Captain Weber from the field, and made every effort to get it to Washington, to be embalmed. I tried to do the same for the body of Captain Royce; and they were brought as far as Harper's Ferry and there buried. Lieutenant Covell has been detailed to get them embalmed and sent home. Captain Weber was appointed Major July 12.

“When the ominous boom of Moultrie's cannon started our patriots to arms,” observed the Eagle on July 27, 1863, “young Weber was among the first to respond to the call for volunteers, enlisting in the glorious Third as private. A companion one day rallying him about his short jacket and lack of title -- ‘Ah, my friend,’ replied he, ‘I have commenced at the lowest round, and one step at a time, I am going up, up, up.’ His subsequent career shows how persevering he was, how true to his watchwords ‘upward and onward’.

Colonel Gray, commanding the Second Michigan cavalry, wrote on August 19 in his official report, that at Falling Waters Weber “was indefatigable in the discharge of every duty. Heroically, he had no fear of danger. Wherever duty called he was ever forward, and to him, more than any other person, am I indebted for aid in the conduct and management of the Regiment. A truer soldier, a more honorable, efficient and accomplished officer, I never knew; and these characteristics and qualities were so displayed during the battle of Gettysburg, as on all other occasions, as to render his name one that deserves particular mention in this report.” J. H. Kidd, who also served in the Custer Brigade with Peter, wrote some years after the war that in his opinion Peter “was a rare and natural soldier, the embodiment of courage and, had death not interrupted his career, must have come near the head of the list of cavalry officers.” Kidd noted elsewhere, that “Weber was a born soldier, fitted by nature and acquirements for much higher rank than any he held.”

Peter’s body was returned to Grand Rapids and his funeral was held at S. Mark’s church on Saturday July 25. At about 3:00 p.m.

the immediate friends, with the relatives, assembled at the residence of the mother of the deceased soldier, on Ransom Street, and escorted the remains to St. Mark's church, at the front entrance of which, they were received by Rev. Dr. Tustin, who preceded the funeral cortege up the center aisle, reciting the sentences of Scripture commencing with, “I am the resurrection and the life” -- the organ accompanying in a plaintive and solemn melody.

The body was enclosed in a rich metallic coffin -- over which the stars and stripes were thrown, and upon them was laid the dead hero's saber; and was placed in front of the Chancel rails, which had also been appropriately festooned with the American flag; and in the rear of the leading desk, were suspended the battle-rent colors of the ever to be remembered “3rd.” An elegant vase of flowers also appeared upon the communion table.

We noticed, in the front pews, and near this portion of the church, General Stephen G. Champlin, formerly of the 3rd; Colonel Byron R. Pierce, now its commander; Colonel A. A. Alger, of the 5th cavalry; Captain Thompson of the 6th cavalry, Captain I. C. Smith, of the 3rd, and Lieutenant S. B. Smith, of the 3rd -- with all of whom the deceased had served -- and Lieutenant Elliott F. Covell, of the 5th cavalry. -- With the exception of the last, all of these officers wounded in their country’s service; and under any other circumstances, than such as were then transpiring, it might have been thought almost presumptuous, in their present condition, to have been out of their rooms. Throughout the large audience, we noticed several other military men, and a number of discharged wounded soldiers.

After the usual services, which were interspersed with music, had been performed, Dr. Tustin preached from the text of Scripture, “I have fought the good fight,” a short but interesting discourse. The choir, consisting of Mrs. Wenham, Mr. N. I. Gallup, Messers R. Smith, Jr., and James H. Willson, then sang ‘The tribute to Ellsworth’, the words aptly improvised for the lamented Weber -- and thus closed the exercises at the church. A long train of carriages followed the body to Fulton Street cemetery, where the church services concluded. The Masonic Order, under the direction of Worthy Master A. J. Rogers, and in the interesting liturgy of that institution, completed the solemn services of the hour -- John W. Champlin, Esq., Senior Warden, pronouncing a beautiful, patriotic, and highly appropriate eulogy, replete with true sentiment, generous thoughts, and loyal references, over the receding remains.

Major Weber, entered the ranks of the Mich 3rd, as a private, in May 1861, as a 3-months volunteer, relinquishing a lucrative clerkship with J. W. Pierce, in order to enlist. When, a few weeks later, the Regiment was informed that no more three months' men would be taken, but that enlistments must be for “3 years, or the war,” he was one of the foremost to step ‘to the front.’ He continued with the 3rd until the then succeeding fall, when he joined the 2nd Michigan Cavalry, and acted in the capacity of Battalion Adjutant until mustered out by general orders, under the act of July 1862 -- having been with the Regiment constantly, and in several skirmishes -- in which he proved himself an able and proficient soldier. Returning to his home in this city, last fall, inducements to enter into the pursuits of private life were offered him, which he declined, and on it being announced that Colonel Kellogg was to get up another cavalry Regiment to be commanded by Colonel Gray, young Weber again entered the service, was appointed Captain of Company B, September 15, 1862, having for his Lieutenants, Warren C. Comstock (who subsequently resigned), and Charles E. Bolza, who also met his death at the same time and place with that of his warmly attached Captain. His subsequent promotion to Majorship, was due to his excellence as a soldier, his devotion to duty, and his ever watchfulness in the performance of detail in camp -- all of which is vouched for to this writer, by his late Lieutenant Colonel (now Colonel) Alger, who speaks of him as “a most brave, true, and reliable officer.”

His widowed mother, to whom he was ever a dutiful and warm-hearted son, and his amiable sister, who loved him as only sisters can love -- will have the poignancy of their grief somewhat assuaged by the knowledge that his young life -- like that of the equally to be lamented, and heroic Bolza -- was offered up at the call of the constituted authorities of the Government, and in defense of its preeminent nationality. In the multitude of remembrances which they will naturally call up from the past, it will be a sad, yet not unprecedented thought, that he died, with his face to the enemy, and on the battle field, shouting to his men the ever to be remembered words, ‘Follow me, my men!’ -- and that his patriotic life-blood, mingled with that of the 100s of others of like promise and hope, has baptized anew the flag of our country, and rededicated its stars and stripes to the saving of a noble and beneficent government.

The loss of such generous and determined spirits as those of Major Weber and Lieutenants Mitchell, Bolza, and Kellogg, Major Ferry, and Captains Church and Judd, are not family but national losses. The example of such lives and deaths, will shed a halo of light around the future pathway of the youth of our land, who will learn to emulate their energy of character, and zealous devotion, and grow wiser and better, in virtue thereof. Therefore it is, that this community does cordially sympathize with the relatives of the noble son who proved the “bravest among the brave,” and one who, with others, sent forth from our daily walks, we had hoped to see safely returned, with the wreath of laurel around a living brow, rather than the perfume of virgin flowers rising from over his lifeless remains.

During a regular meeting of the Grand River Lodge no. 42 (?) held on August 26, at the Masonic Hall in Grand Rapids, passed the following preamble and resolutions:

Whereas, it having pleased the Great Ruler of the universe to remove, by death, our beloved brother mason, Major Peter A. Weber, of the 6th Mich. Cav., who fell while defending the flag and integrity of our country, at the battle of Falling Waters, Va. [sic], on July 14, 1863, we fell it not only our duty but mournful pleasure to bear witness to his worth as a man and a Mason. Therefore,

Resolved, That by the death of Major Weber, the service has lost an able and accomplished officer; society one of its brightest ornaments and our fraternity a friend and brother whose memory will be cherished as one of the brightest pages in their recollections.

Resolved, That we deeply sympathize with his bereaved mother and relatives in their irreparable loss and pray that “He who tempereth the wind to the shorn lamb” will fold His arms of love and protection around them and afford them that consolation which mortals cannot give.

Resolved, That a copy of the above resolutions be presented by the secretary under the seal of the lodge to the mother of our deceased brother, and also that he furnish a copy thereofto each of the city papers for publication. [signed] C. S. Allen, Secretary.

Peter was buried in Fulton cemetery: block 7 lot 8.

In September of 1863 his mother applied for and received a pension (no. 13480). By 1870 she was living in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward (she owned $4500 each of both real estate and personal property).

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