Roundtable to feature CalU grad
Dan Clendaniel is coming home…in more ways than one…or two…or… .
As Clendaniel's 34-year teaching career rapidly draws to a close with his retirement at the end of the school year, his greatest challenges may still be on the horizon, a challenge that may come in the form of a book about the 85th Pennsylvania Volunteer Civil War Regiment Company D.
Although he has been researching the 85th for only several years, Clendaniel, a California Area High School and 1978 California University of Pennsylvania grad, has already accumulated enough information for that prospective book. He will share that information with the California University of Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable Thursday in the university's Kara Alumni House, with the presentation scheduled from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.
Clendaniel's presentation, “The Experiences of John and Stephen Clendaniel in the Civil War,” focuses on a chronological study of the men of the 85th Pennsylvania Infantry, in their own words through the written records they left behind.
John Clendaniel, Dan Clendaniel's great-grandfather, and John's brother, Stephen, were members of the 85th. John Clendaniel enlisted in August 1862, and served until June 1865. He witnessed the end of the conflict at Appomattox, Va., where he was among the last Union soldiers who fought against Gen. Robert E. Lee, and blocked the Confederate leader's last escape route. Stephen enlisted in October 1861, and served until December 1864.
After teaching American history and government for 33 years, Clendaniel accepted a one-year position this year as Teacher in Residence at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va. Selected via an interview process with county and museum personnel, Clendaniel is liaison with Prince William County schools, encouraging schools and students to visit the museum for field trips. At the museum Clendaniel also teaches American history from the Colonial period through the Cold War.
But Clendaniel's retirement promises more time for his most recent project, researching and discovering information about his ancestors and their roles in the conflict.
“I began my research because I wanted to find information about our ancestors for my father, William,” Clendaniel said. “As a history teacher I've always had a cursory interest in the Civil War, but I am learning so much more. I always felt I knew a little about a lot, but not a lot about specifics, so I am determined to find out as much as possible about John and Stephen.”
Through brief family histories, Clendaniel knows the brothers were Civil War veterans and were from Jefferson Borough, Greene County, at the time of their enlistment. Histories and documents relating to the 85th opened additional doors. Through Clendaniel's research, he recently had a cemetery headstone replaced for John Clendaniel, buried in the Jefferson Baptist Cemetery. Stephen is buried in Berwick Cemetery, Berwick, Iowa, having settled there following the war. He had one biological child, plus several stepchildren. Dan Clendaniel has been in contact with one of the stepchildren's descendants and that family may have a picture, at least of Stephen, Clendaniel said.
With five letters — but no photos — dating to the Civil War from each of the brothers, letters that served as the basis for his research, Clendaniel, 55, began his quest in October 2010, thoroughly delving into the history of the 85th, comprising soldiers from Fayette, Greene, Somerset and Washington counties. Formed and trained in Uniontown, the regiment initially constructed forts in Washington, D.C., and eventually participated in the Peninsular Campaign, Seven Pines (Richmond), Siege of Charleston, Goldsboro Expedition in North Carolina, and Petersburg. Illness led to Stephen Clendaniel's discharge in late 1864, but John Clendaniel served until after the war's conclusion.
Although Dan Clendaniel has not discovered any photos of his ancestors, he has seen photos of the men of the 85th, but the Clendaniels are not identified.
John Clendaniel died in 1894, 28 years prior to William (Bill) Clendaniel's birth, and Dan Clendaniel admits that part of his “research was intended to help John come to life for my dad. By the time my dad passed away in June 2011, I had given him the outline of his (our) ancestors' service, when and where they entered the service, their initial camp in Uniontown where, incidentally, my father enlisted in 1940.” (Bill Clendaniel, incidentally, grew up in Brownsville and moved to California Borough in 1963, where he worked in the college's athletic department (with Ed LaCotta as equipment supervisors) from 1956-84. He is a member of the California University Sports Hall of Fame.)
Laughing at the often tedious process of investigating both the history of the 85th and his family, Dan Clendaniel has visited numerous libraries, as well as websites www.ancestry.com and www.ChroniclingAmerica.com. An official history of the regiment was written in 1915, and additional books, including “Bloody 85th” deal with the battles in which it participated.
Les Harvath is a freelance writer.