Army Pension No. 154761 is such a cold, impersonal way to refer to a soldier who gave his life in the service of his country, yet it is nearly all that remains of the short life of Pvt. Thomas O. Kline who died on the 4th of July from wounds received in an ill-advised Union assault on the earthworks in front of Petersburg on June 17, 1864. Pvt. Kline was a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery “Provisionals,” a unit of consolidated troops who, despite being an artillery unit, was urgently pressed into the infantry ranks in the spring of 1864. From the thickets of the Wilderness to the earthworks surrounding Petersburg, Gen. Grant’s army displayed an aggressiveness in 1864 heretofore unseen by opposing Rebel forces. Moves and countermoves by Grant’s army carried the “Provisionals” from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor and finally to Petersburg itself where they were rushed forward with the hope of breaking through the undermanned, though well-entrenched Confederate defenses. Many men would fall in the assault — some killed and left on the battlefield; others wounded and returned to hospitals where they endured their final hours in sultry, fly-infested field hospitals.
25 year-old Pvt. Thomas Kline was mustered into Company I of the “Provisionals” on 26 February 1864. Census and genealogical records confirm that Thomas was the son of Isaac A. Kline (1802-1887) — a blacksmith in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. Pension records, reveal, however, interesting information about Kline’s death that even Regimental Records fail to capture. When W. G. Ward published his history of the regiment in 1904, he stated simply that Kline had died July 1, 1864 and was buried in Cypress Hill Cemetery, on Long Island. No mention is made of his participation in the assault on Petersburg. This has resulted in many of his descendants and genealogists to conjecture that he died of disease in an army hospital in New York City — not exactly a noble ending.
The Pensioner files tell a different story. Because Pvt. Kline wasn’t married, a pension was awarded to Kline’s father, Isaac, in 1868. A portion of that Pension Brief reads:
…[that] Thomas O. Kline…Enrolled and Mustered as a Private February 26, 1864 and died July 4, 1864 at David Island, N. Y. H. [New York Harbor] of Gunshot Wound. Surgeon General reports [that Kline] died July 4, 1864 at De Camp General Hospital, David’s Island, N. Y. H. of Gunshot Wound of Thorax — Admitted June 26, 1864 from City Point, Va. with G. S. W. [gunshot wound] of Thorax received June 17, 1864. Captain certifies that the soldier was wounded in an engagement with the enemy June 17, 1864, shown by affidavits of credible witnesses, that the soldier left neither widow nor minor children surviving. Was son of Claimant, shown by evidence of eye-witness present at the marriage and the testimony of witnesses who knew the parties…[and that] the wife of said claimant died September 16, 1853…
The credible witness alluded to in the aforementioned brief was probably Capt. Rees J. Millard who made the following sworn testimony in May 1868 before a Columbia County justice:
…That he was Capt. Co. “I” 2 Regt. Pennsylvania Provisional Artillery Vols. during the war of 1861; that Thomas O. Kline deceased, late a Private same company, was wounded on the seventeenth day of June 1864 while in line of duty and without any fault or improper conduct on his part, in an engagement with the enemy in front of Petersburg, Va., Gun Shot would ball passing through his body near the kidney cutting the spinal cord… — R. J. Millard
Though failing to record that Pvt. Kline died of wounds received in the assault on Petersburg, the Regimental history may have been accurate when it stated that he was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery on Long Island. Cypress Hills began as a zone of the Interior Military Cemetery and was located within the boundaries of the large and private Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. Almost three acres were set aside for the burial of Civil War dead in what became known as “Union Grounds.” These were later deeded to the US Government for the establishment of a military cemetery.
Either Isaac, or one of the fallen soldier’s brothers, must have made the journey from rural Pennsylvania to the cemetery on Long Island to retrieve Kline’s body, however. His body — or at least a grave marker to his memory — is placed at the Stillwater Cemetery in Columbia County, Pennsylvania.
[Note: De Camp General Hospital was established on David’s Island in Long Island Sound. Wooden structures were erected to house thousands of wounded prisoners from the battlefields during the Civil War. By late 1862, De Camp was the Army’s largest general hospital, housing more than 2,100 patients. Originally, De Camp General Hospital treated only Union soldiers, but following the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the War Department opened it to care for hundreds of wounded Confederate soldiers. Davids Island soon held more than 2,500 Confederate prisoners. Most had recovered by October, and they were moved to prisoner-of-war camps elsewhere.]