Serving, Deserting, Returning 30th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment. Library of Congress.
Mark Beatty knew hardship from an early age. His parents, Mary and Silas, sent a young Mark to work as a laborer for Benjamin Good and William Rice. Whatever wage Beatty earned, he sent home to his family. Beatty worked hard and was the family’s only source of income and support aside from the property that they owned. Beatty’s story was not unique, though. Throughout the Civil War, young men like Beatty left their families and their former lives behind as they were thrust into the chaos of war-making. The firing on Fort Sumter in April, 1861 prompted the organizing of Beatty and other men from Lancaster County on June 9 in West Chester, PA. They were mustered into service at Camp Carroll, near Baltimore, on July 22 under the command of General John Dix, and then were moved to McCall’s Reserves Division in September. Beatty, like many others, had volunteered his service to help restore the Union. However, many men joined the army with dreams of heroism. One Civil War veteran described the idea of heroism stating, “The man who does not dread to die or to be mutilated is a lunatic. The man who, dreading these things, still faces them for the sake of duty and honor is a hero.” Beatty likely left his home in Lancaster County in search of this heroism, just like so many of his peers, yet found only death and pain in his path.
In June of 1862, Beatty experienced his first action in the Battle of Mechanicsville, also known as the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek, in Virginia. It was here that Beatty got his first look at the real horrors of war. Wave after wave of Confederate troops stormed their lines, but were repelled by volleys of murderous rounds. A few days after the Battle of Mechanicsville, Beatty saw combat again in the conclusion of the Seven Days battles at Malvern Hill. Lee’s Confederates charged up Malvern Hill, on the crest of which the Union had established a formidable stronghold. Beatty watched as a deafening Union cannonade lit up the sky from atop the hill. When the smoke cleared from the Union artillery, Beatty could see the utter decimation it had caused. Bodies of Confederate soldiers, ripped apart by cannon fire, were unrecognizable as humans. The heroic stories of battle that convinced so many like Beatty to volunteer never materialized in Beatty’s experiences.
After witnessing the extreme casualties at the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 29, 1862, Beatty realized that he did not want to continue being a part of this conflict. He wanted to go home. An August 7, 1888 pension record from the War Department makes it apparent that sometime in September or October of 1862, Beatty deserted from the Army. It is unclear what Beatty did during this time. He mostly likely headed home, as he seemingly eluded the authorities. Abraham Lincoln’s March 10, 1863 amnesty proclamation to deserters prompted Beatty’s return to the ranks. There is no record of any formal charges, trial or punishment for his dereliction of duty.
The act of desertion, however, was still dishonorable, and Beatty likely lost some respect from the men in his regiment after returning. Men who deserted, like Beatty, were thought of as cowards, and for a whole host of reasons men did not want to be seen as such. Perhaps most compellingly, cowards were treated terribly in the army. Older veterans were known to “shoot cowards from their own ranks as well as the rebels.” Clearly, being considered a deserter was not only dangerous to a man’s social standing, but to his physical well-being as well.
Whether fallout from his desertion played a role in his sense of isolation or not, Beatty clearly missed his home. He wrote letters to his parents and his sisters often. Usually in his letters, he would try to update them on how he was doing and what his regiment was doing at that time. He liked being his family’s source of information for the war because with the “many reports afloat that are false…a person does not know when to believe any” reports. Beatty often tried to make his parents or his sister feel better by saying that the “rebs” should just give up because he believed that they were on their last legs. However, the rebels were most certainly not ready to give up yet.
By mid-summer, the hot June sun shone down on Beatty, making the march to Gettysburg nearly unbearable. His uniform was sweaty, dirt covered, and smelled of must. He understood that another battle was soon to come. Beatty had been through it before. He had made it this far, but he was not confident that he could continue to cheat death much longer.
Shot at Sunset An amputation performed after the battle of Gettysburg. Wikimedia Commons.
"He Sleeps His Last Sleep" Confederate dead in the Wheatfield. Library of Congress.
After Beatty’s death on August 2, 1863, it was clear that a close friend had been lost among the 30th PA Volunteers. In a September 12th letter to his father, Silas Beatty from one of his son’s superiors in the regiment, the person writing of Mark speaks of him in very high regard. The author of the letter stated that “as a soldier [Beatty] was beloved by all who knew him, ever faithful in performance of all duties and obedient to the commands of his officers.” The author of the letter spoke highly of Beatty’s bravery on the field and of the many friends that he was leaving behind in death. The author wanted to commemorate Beatty’s ultimate sacrifice by making it sacred and solemn. His last few lines of his letter gestured at the sacred nature of death during the war. The author describes Beatty’s death by writing, “In him, I have lost one of my best men. He sleeps his last sleep. He has fought his last battle. No sword can awaken him to glory again.” This was a very peaceful way to describe what was truly a gruesome and agonizing death. And not only did the author describe Beatty’s death in this peaceful way, but he also used his death to make it clear that the men that died on that field, such as Beatty, died with glory and honor. To Beatty’s fellow Pennsylvanians, Beatty was another example of someone who died a glorious and honorable death while fighting for the Union cause.
While Beatty’s comrades viewed his death through the lens of martial manhood, back home in Lancaster County, Beatty’s death was not only heartbreaking for his family, but was also a massive burden on them. Beatty had been the only family member bringing in any kind of income, so with his death, the only support that the family had was from the value of the property itself. With Beatty’s death, his mother, Mary, first began the application process to get her son’s pension in 1888.
The process in receiving her son’s pension was clearly a great source of stress in Mary’s life. So much was required to attain a pension that the process could seem tedious and almost not worth the time. Mary had to give multiple reasons for why she needed the pension, as well as provide statements from friends, neighbors, and other people whom she knew to vouch for her need for the pension. After the death of Silas Beatty on February 10, 1885, Mary was left with her daughters and no real way of making a living. Although her need was especially dire, Mary was but one of many mothers who had to go through this long, tedious process. Some were not as lucky as Mary, who had many neighbors and friends to vouch for her. Fortunately for her, many who did so had had former experience working with Mark and could provide additional trustworthy commentary on Beatty’s character . One such individual was Beatty’s former boss, Christian Warfel, who later vouched for Mary, although he most certainly did not have to.
Mary must have been utterly worn down by the end of the application process. Not only did she have to cope with losing her son, but then she had to fight a government agency that seemed determined not to give her the pension that she so desperately needed. She eventually received the pension, which she relied on for income until her death on June 30, 1903. The story of the aftermath of Beatty’s death is a solemn example of the time’s prevailing culture. “Mark Beatty” meant nothing special to the government. He was just another name on some paperwork that they had to fill out. So many men died during the Civil War that the United States Pension Agency must have been extremely busy all the time, rarely having a spare moment to step back and understand that they were dealing with people who had lost loved ones in a brutal conflict. Mary Beatty was treated just like everyone else; she had to give an incredible amount of evidence to prove that she was deserving of her own son’s pension. Some may say that boys were turned into men during the Civil War, but the life and death of Mark Beatty suggests otherwise. The Civil War numbed the emotions of those who were forced to face the true nature of the war’s extreme casualties. The reality was that the men who died were simply added to a list of thousands of other names, only to be remembered for their bravery and self-sacrifice as one of many in the faceless mass of the honored dead.
McPherson, James, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 414, Kindle.
“The Battle of Beaver Dam Creek, June 26, 1862,” National Park Service. Accessed March 8, 2017.
“The Battle of Malvern Hill,” National Park Service. Accessed March 8, 2017.
Dyer, Frederick. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Des Moines: The Dyer Publishing Company, 1908.
“IMPORTANT TO DESERTERS; A PROCLAMATION BY THE PRESIDENT. An Amnesty to Deserters who will Return Before the 1st of April. A Warning to Those who Promote Desertions,” The New York Times, March 11, 1863, accessed March 9, 2017.
Pension Records of Mark Beatty Who Served in the 1st Regiment PA Reserves Infantry (30th Volunteers). National Archives, Washington D. C.
Narrative and map by Trent Fye, Gettysburg College.