Philipsburg, the small community straddling Moshannon Creek on the Centre-Clearfield County line, seemed quiet on the day of my visit. With it being a holiday weekend on the day of my visit, I would have thought there would have been more traffic, but it seemed that I had the area to myself.
Parking along Presqueisle Street, I stepped out of the vehicle to study the structure. The Union Church, which is known regionally as the “Old Mud Church,” is an important part of the community’s history, having served as the town’s first school and as a place of worship for all denominations. Surrounding the historic structure is the Union Cemetery, a pioneer cemetery, which holds over five hundred early settlers of the region, including veterans of the Revolutionary and U. S. Civil Wars.
I paused at the entrance to the historic grounds and scanned the area before I stepped through the opening in the stone wall. I could see a number of American flags standing guard over those who served and carefully made my way among the fragile stones. Almost immediately I could see the grave that brought me to these historic grounds.
The government stone reads “E. L. Reed / Pvt Co. C / 16 VRC.” The stone marks the resting place of Edgar Levi Reed, who was only eighteen years old when he was killed. At the foot of his grave is a small granite marker which records the death of Private Reed: “Killed in action / Knox Township / Clearfield County / December 13, 1864.”
The son of Levi and Mary Reed, young Edgar rests far from his birth state of New Hampshire. The VRC on his stone refers to the “Veteran’s Reserve Corps,” which were regiments comprised of men who 1) were partially disabled but whose term of service had not expired or 2) had been discharged due to wounds and disabilities, but still desired to serve. Members of the VRC were still able to perform light military duty, allowing able men to continue fighting.
Reed was originally a part of Company G of the 6th New Hampshire Infantry. The unit was formed in Keene, New Hampshire and Reed enlisted as a member of the regiment on March 12, 1864. Reed would only serve less than three months before being wounded during the Battle of Cold Harbor. By December 1864, he had been reassigned to Company C of the 16th VRC.
By 1863, many of the residents living in the mountains of central Pennsylvania had tired of the U. S. Civil War. The desire to save the Union was being replaced by the both 1) the reality of war and 2) the realization that work on the farm or homestead was going undone. These two ideas were causing soldiers to desert the army and those drafted to not respond to the call for fighters.
While those living in the mountains of Clearfield County were disgruntled with the war, the first major event that would lead to the stand-off known as “Bloody Knox” was in June 1863. On June 19 David Cathcart, an enrolling officer for the U. S. Army, was shot in Knox Township, Clearfield County. Described as an elderly, crippled man, he was riding along when ambushed. The first shot fired hit him in the foot and the second struck his horse in the leg, causing Cathcart to be thrown to the ground, where he would later be discovered.
Note: Many modern sources state Cathcart was shot by draft dodgers. However, that is not what the June 29, 1863 edition of the Raftsman’s Journal (Clearfield, Pa) states. While the article implies he had been shot by draft dodgers, what the article states is Cathcart was shot by “some concealed and cowardly wretch.”
Two events in 1864 would cause the federal government to send the VRC into the mountains of central Pennsylvania to arrest draft dodgers and deserters. The regiment would only be in the region for less than a month before the two sides met in a brief, but deadly clash.
The first event was the failure of Clearfield County residents to respond to the draft in October 3, 1864. According to the March 25, 1865 edition of the Raftsman’s Journal, the draft notice was sent out to residents of Clearfield County, requiring them to show up in Brookville, Jefferson County on October 20. Of the 660 notices sent out, less than 300 men responded. Note: In many modern retellings of the events leading up to Bloody Knox, it is reported this happened in August of the year, but it was actually October when the draft happened.
The second event was the murder of Colonel Cyrus Butler, a recruitment officer, by Joseph Lounsberry on October 28, 1864. The murder of the federal officer brought the 16th VRC to Philipsburg, where they established their headquarters while searching for draft dodgers and deserters.
In early December 1864, the members of the 16th VRC were informed about a gathering being held at the home of Tom Adams in Knox Township. Adams had enlisted in 1862 as a member of the 149th Bucktail Regiment, but had deserted the following year.
On December 13, 1864, Captain Southworth led members of Company C, 16th VRC from Philipsburg to Knox Township. The regiment surrounded the home of Tom Adams, who was hosting a party which was attended by neighbors and friends known to be draft dodgers and deserters. In the early morning hours of December 14, an officer – most likely Captain Southworth – knocked at the door of the cabin. Adams opened the door and was told to surrender.
Here’s where the story has morphed over the years. The events that happened at the Adams’ cabin in the early morning hours of December 14, 1864 are recorded in the December 21, 1864 edition of the Clearfield Republican (Clearfield, Pa). After the demand for his surrender, Adams ran upstairs to the loft of the cabin, grabbed a musket loaded with buckshot, and fired upon the men outside. The blast struck Private Edgar L. Reed in the head, killing him instantly. Note: In the December 21, 1864 edition of the Clearfield Republican, Reed is referred to as Private Cooper.
Adams fled the loft and dropped to the ground outside the cabin. When he landed, Adams was commanded to halt. Instead, Adams continued toward the woods and the troops fired upon him. Only one bullet found its mark, killing Adams. After a very brief stand-off, the remainder of the men inside surrendered, and eighteen men were placed in shackles and marched to Philipsburg. The only other person listed as being hurt in the events of Bloody Knox was the son of John M. Chase, who was struck on the head by a pistol handle from one of the soldiers.
Note: In some retellings of the affair at Bloody Knox, it is reported that Adams walked outside and shot Reed point blank before being gunned down himself. Other retellings state there were numerous shots exchanged between the group in Adams’ cabin and the federal troops, but the Clearfield Republican states the only six or seven total shots were fired and those shots were fired between Tom Adams and the troops.
Private Reed’s body was taken to Philipsburg, where it was buried in the shadow of the Union Church along Presqueisle Street. The tragic event between the U. S. Army and the residents who had no desire to fight in the war they did not see as their own is still known as “Bloody Knox.” A historical marker, placed by Clearfield County, stands along Route 453 near the location of the events of December 14, 1864.
I finished remembering the short life of Private Edgar L. Reed and left him resting at the edge of the small cemetery far from his boyhood home. Leaving the sacred grounds, I paused just outside the stone wall and looked westward to where patriotic music was coming from the grounds of the Philipsburg’s Memorial Park. I paused to listen for a couple moments as I finished paying my respects to Edgar Reed and the events of “Bloody Knox.” As the song faded, I left the the young man slumbering far from home as I respectfully left the historic grounds.
Note: The December 21, 1864 edition of the Clearfield Republican makes an interesting statement about the men arrested stating: “not a single citizen of Knox township was among them.” They list Jacob Reed “whose loyalty” is above suspicion. While it is mentioned that the son of John M. Chase had been wounded, it is not revealed if he was among those arrested.
In the December 21, 1864 edition of the Raftsman’s Journal, the following people reported as being arrested at Knox Township: draft dodgers were Dr. J. J. Krise and George Nagle; arrested for desertion were Stephen A Durbin and William Brown both from the 55th Pennsylvania; Daniel Timolin from the 82nd Pennsylvania; and Daniel Brant from the 184th Pennsylvania.
The same edition of the Raftsman’s Journal lists a number of others who had been arrested across Clearfield and Centre Counties. John McCoy and Simon Wetzel were arrested as draft dodgers. William Heman was arrested for bounty jumping, meaning he took money to serve in the Army, but instead deserted.
The following were arrested for desertion Daniel Moore from 110th Pennsylvania; Robert A. Keefer from the 112th Pennsylvania; and George B. Albright of the 5th Pennsylvania. The most interesting name on the list of those arrested was J. J. Icklin, who had deserted from the 16th VRC, the unit sent to bring in the deserters and draft dodgers.