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A Pennsylvania Roundhead Remembered

Albumen photograph of Lt. Andrew Nelson of the 100th Pennsylvania Infantry (Credit: Bill Howard Collection)

A native Pennsylvanian, Andrew Nelson was 40 years old when he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

The regiment had formed in the summer of 1861 in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops. Unlike many of the officers who accepted positions in the new regiment, Nelson had served previously in a local militia unit known as the “Slippery Rock Volunteers.” Like many early militias in the United States, the volunteers furnished their own rifles and designed their own uniforms. A history of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania published in 1872 remembered the uniform of the Slippery Rock Volunteers as being composed of “a yellow linen hunting shirt, trimmed with red fringe; red leggings, a citizen's hat with a white plume.” After the name of the unit was changed to the "Washington Guards", the uniform was also updated to blue pants and coat, red sash, and a cloth cap with a white plume.

The company, which consisted of about 100 men, had four military gatherings annually: drill May 4th, review, May 12, and drill July 4th and September 10th. The company entered United States service on August 31, 1861 and was led by Captain Samuel Bentley; First Lieutenant Andrew Nelson; and Second Lieutenant Norman Maxwell. They joined the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a unit that became known as the "Roundhead" regiment because of the fierce anti-slavery sentiments among the men. They joined the Regiment together as Company E. The rigors of military campaigning must have been too much for Lieutenant Nelson. He resigned his commission and was discharged from service at Beaufort, South Carolina, on February 15, 1862.

The photo of Lieutenant Nelson published above is a large format albumen image produced after the war from a wartime tintype. These images were frequently produced for family members in the postwar years. A notation on the reverse includes Nelson’s full name and indicates that he died March 9, 1886. It was this information that helped to identify the officer as having served in the 100th Pennsylvania. In the photo, a haggard looking Nelson wears a Hardee hat with an infantry bugle insignia that has no regimental numerals within the loop. He wears the standard nine button officer’s frock coat with shoulder straps and holds a Model 1850 Foot Officer’s sword. This sword was a French-inspired design that was adopted by the United States and was used by junior line officers.

The "Roundheads" were a well-regarded Union infantry regiment and fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. They fought at Second Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, and in the General Grant’s Overland Campaign in 1864. The Regiment suffered a total of 887 casualties, of which 248 were killed. The regiment lost 3 colonels, 5 captains, and 8 lieutenants killed.

Monument to the 100th Pennsylvania “Roundheads” at Antietam (credit: NPS Photo)

Lieutenant Nelson missed much of that action. After the war, Nelson settled back to farming around his home in Scott, Pennsylvania. After his death in 1886, his spouse, Elizabeth Nelson, applied for a federal widow’s pension. This pension was approved on July 3, 1890. Lieutenant Nelson is buried under a granite government headstone in the United Baptist Cemetery (Section 27) at Harlansburg, Pennsylvania. A newspaper announcement of Lt. Nelson's death in the New Castle Courant published a resolution adopted by the GAR Post No. 430 of Harlansburg, Pennsylvania. In memorializing Nelson's death, the resolution observed "that in his death we are reminded that our ranks are thinning and that we have lost a true and beloved comrade, yet we would bow in submission to our Heavenly Father's will"

Original song sheet commemorating the service of the Pennsylvania Roundheads in the Civil War (Credit: Bill Howard Collection)

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