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  • Jake Wynn

A wounded Pennsylvania soldier's dedication to coffee showed in 1864

In the regimental history of the 45th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry, survivors of the unit penned essays and remembrances describing their service in great detail. One of these essays contains an epic story about a sergeant's wounding and his dedication to his full canteen of coffee.

In Ephraim E. Myers's "Experience of an Orange Recruit," the soldier describes his personal experiences with Company K, 45th Pennsylvania. One of the more vivid descriptions documented by Myers occurred while he served as a sergeant in the company in June 1864 near Petersburg, Virginia.

Civil War soldiers loved coffee. They drank it in the morning, the afternoon, and at night. They consumed it before they marched, while they marched, and for relief and comfort after they marched. And they drank it before battle, took sips while in battle, and for a pick-me-up afterward if they were lucky to survive their contact with the enemy. Sergeant Ephraim E. Myers of Company K, 45th Pennsylvania made it very clear in his essay that he too loved coffee.

"Black coffee being my drink," he wrote in the essay, "whenever I had a chance I filled my canteen with it."

One such occasion where Sergeant Myers filled his canteen came on June 16, 1864, on the outskirts of Petersburg, Virginia. The US Army was pushing to seize the crucial railroad junctions in Petersburg in an effort to cut off the Confederate capital at Richmond. The 45th Pennsylvania, attached to General Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps, maneuvered to attack the Confederates near the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad tracks southeast of Petersburg.

An Edwin Forbes sketch showing fighting at Petersburg on June 15, 1864. The capture of Confederate positions on that day opened opportunities for the Union Army in subsequent days. Those opportunities were squandered. (LOC)

Amid the maneuvering, the regiment briefly halted in the evening of the 16th, long enough for the tired men to start a fire and boil coffee, but not long enough to consume it. Sergeant Myers described the subsequent events in his essay, highlighting just how devoted he was to his canteen of coffee:

"As soon as we got in place our cook went to boiling coffee. Just as it was ready to dish out came an order, 'Fall in.' It was hurry of course but I managed to fill my canteen and took time to wrap my skillet in my shelter tent, and flung the roll across my shoulder and breast.

I thought at the time, 'If a minie ball hits this skillet it will glance.'

When all was ready to move we were ordered to the right. We had not gone far in that direction when Captain Fessler gave orders, 'Close up, boys.' I repeated his command. That instant a cannon ball hit a tree and passing through, it struck me on the left leg above the knee.

It was a spent shot or that would have been the last of 'Sweaty Myers.' Its force, however, threw me 10 or 15 feet. I landed on my back, down and out. Four or five of the boys carried me some distance to the rear. At first I thought my leg was broken, but it was not.

It grew dark. I said, 'Boys, go back to the company.' They told me two months later (when I had returned from the hospital), that they did not go back that night.

The boys had laid me down in the woods. Our hospital steward, a sympathetic man, James A. Meyers, was always on careful look-out for any of us whenever the regiment went into action. He found me lying up against a tree, still holding on to my canteen of coffee.

The ambulance took me to the field hospital. There was another poor fellow in the ambulance with me, who had been hit on the shins just as I had been. He suffered as I did from what the doctors called a 'painful contusion.'"

Even after a cannon ball nearly ripped off his leg, Sergeant Myers held on to his canteen of coffee.

Sergeant Myers was evacuated to a general hospital in Annapolis, where he remained for six weeks to recover from his "painful contusion." While in hospital, events were put in motion that saw him promoted to First Sergeant of Company K, 45th Pennsylvania, a position he held into the end of the Civil War. In June 1865, First Sergeant Myers became 2nd Lieutenant Myers just weeks before the 45th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry mustered out of the service forever.

Ephraim E. Myers, circa 1910 (45th Pennsylvania regimental history)

Myers wrote several items about his time and service with the 45th Pennsylvania, including the above essay for the regimental history, a separate history of his service with the regiment, and a piece for the Grand Army of the Republic's newspaper, the National Tribune. He passed away after a week's illness on September 16, 1922 in York, Pennsylvania. He was 83-years-old. He was interred in York's Prospect Hill Cemetery.



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