General Samuel Klinger Schwenk
50th PA Volunteer Infantry
General Schwenk was born at Curtin, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania May 8, 1842. He was educated at Dickinson Seminary in Williamsport, PA. He left during his senior year to enlist in the service of his country.
On August 19, 1861, he was appointed 1st Lt in the 50th Reg PA Vol and proceeded with the unit to South Carolina. He was with the Headquarters, Field and Staff, and Companies A, B, C, D, and E of his regiment on the ill-fated U S transport Winfield Scott when it encountered a hurricane of the coast of Cape Hatteras on November 1, 1861. He won the confidence of most onboard with his coolness.
He was in many battles and rose up in the ranks rapidly. He was also wounded several times – ankle, left hip, even ribs and spine – but he always stayed in the fight. He always remained calm in the heat of the battle.
(Excerpt from Harold B Birch’s “The 50th Pennsylvania Civil War Odyssey” Chapter VII, pages 268-270, Battle of the Wilderness)
Christ’s Brigade had been left to block the advance of a Confederate unit, but by early afternoon, it was ordered to join the rest of its division as it prepared to attack. It followed a direct path across contested fields to take its place. As the troops moved, they passed by the prostrate forms of the dead and badly wounded men in blue. It was a sight that might have unnerved them, but they resolutely turned to attack the rebel infantry of Hill’s Corps. Colonel Christ rode along his brigade line shouting “Throw off your knapsacks and go in and give them hell.” The men took their place amid Wilcox’s and Potter’s ninth Corps Divisions and moved forward at the double quick against Major General Henry Heth’s veteran troops. For its part, the 50th Pennsylvania was on the left flank of Christ’s Brigade and was frontally attacking a strong enemy position.”
Lt Colonel Overton led the 50th attack, but its very success carried it into position where it had Confederate forces on 3 sides. By then the troops had nearly exhausted their ammunition. A request for a resupply was carried to the rear. But there was none to be had, and the brigade commander, Colonel Christ, instructed them to “Hold your ground to the point of the bayonet.” The enemy, also low on ammunition, withdrew after dark. By then, brush fires across the battlefield were consuming the dead and wounded who had not been rescued.
The A Company commander, Captain Samuel K Schwenk, wrote to his hometown newspaper of this fight: “May 6th the regiment was engaged in the hottest fight of the Wilderness, and drove the enemy in good style to his rifle pits, which he was compelled to leave during the night. May 6th, 2 officers wounded, 8 enlisted men killed, 62 wounded.” As in past battles, Schwenk’s bravery in the face of the enemy was commented upon by informed observers. The Regiment commander of the 20th Michigan, Colonel Byron M Cutcheon, said his unit fought next to the 50th in the Wilderness fight. Of Capt Schwenk, he said “his gallantry was conspicuous and remarked by all who witnessed it.” At this time, Capt Schwenk was only 22.
He became a Lt Colonel March 25, 1865. He was made Colonel and brevet Brigadier General July 24, 1865. His unit mustered out July 30, 1865. He stayed in military positions until May 17, 1876 when he retired. His interest in later life included railroad financing, real estate and construction. He married Emma Marconier on December24, 1879. He died April 10, 1915.