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Battle of Gettysburg close to home for Porter family of Connellsville

| Monday, July 2, 2012, 12:16 a.m.

Thousands of people make a pilgrimage to Gettysburg each year for a spectacular re-enactment of the Civil War's pivotal clash on July 1-3. But Harry Porter of Connellsville need only open his photo albums for a personal reminder.

His grandfather, William H. Porter, fought at Gettysburg with the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteers -- and Harry Porter has the papers, photos, ribbons and even bullets to prove it.

"My wife (Gloria) and I have seen the re-enactment many times. We usually go to Gettysburg at least once a year," said Porter, 88, himself a World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific.

He is proud to point out that Grandpap Porter's photo is the only one from the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteers to have been displayed on Gettysburg's "Wall of Faces." William Porter returned after the war, married, raised 13 children and died in October 1913 at age 71. He is buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery near East Park; in 1997, Harry Porter replaced the original headstone, which was severely weather-beaten.

William Porter was a member of Company H of the 142nd, which was based in Fayette County, enlisting in August 1862.

Fought at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville First

The 142nd saw its first action at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862; among the casualties of that ill-fated struggle was William Kurtz of Connellsville. In May 1863, they were pitted against the Rebels at Chancellorsville, Va., the battle in which Confederate Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men. Like Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville was a Southern victory.

The diminishing 142nd tramped their way northward to Gettysburg, where they saw their fiercest fighting on July 1 -- first at McPherson's Ridge, then at Seminary Ridge, until they were driven back to Cemetery Hill and outflanked on their right and left by North Carolina troops. Today, a 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteers memorial stands on Gettysburg's National Battlefield site.

After Gettysburg, the 142nd swung south again, fighting in the Battles of the Wilderness in spring 1864 and at the Siege of Petersburg, Va., from June 1864 to April 1865. They were on hand at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865 when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

227 Men Lost

The 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteers started out with 550 men. Only 243 returned home; seven officers were killed as well as 148 enlisted men, and 72 died from disease, a total loss of 227.

Harry Porter learned about his grandfather secondhand.

"My father (Ellis Church Porter) said my grandfather didn't want to talk much about it. He would tell people to 'skedaddle' when they asked questions."

"Papa (Harry's father) would tell us stories about his father," Harry's wife Gloria added. "He said (William Porter) was a little, soft-spoken guy."

After the war, William Porter married a Perry Township widow named Nancy Layton Blakely, who had one daughter. Eventually, they moved to South Connellsville, where they built a house on West Gibson Avenue. There, their 13 children were born, including their youngest, Ellis, who was Harry Porter's father. The house is still occupied today.

William Porter worked at a local stone quarry, walking to work across a swinging bridge that was located near the site of today's Anchor Hocking Plant, Harry Porter said.

War's Ills Lasted Lifetime

However, the Civil War veteran never regained his full health after the war. He had suffered from heart palpitations and rheumatism in his back, a result of exposure in primitive battlefield camps. His right knee also bothered him all of his life; he had been wounded by an artillery shell.

Despite these ailments, Porter -- at age 71 -- managed to attend the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1913. Ironically, he came down with pneumonia that October after serving as a pallbearer for his wife's friend.

"He contracted a cold and took to his bed almost immediately," Harry Porter said.

On Oct. 19, 1913, William Porter died, leaving his family with only memories -- and the Civil War memorabilia that his grandson now treasures and plans to pass on to his own grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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