Colonel Sickel, Horatio G., Field Officer

    HORATIO GATES SICKEL, Colonel of the Third Reserve regiment, Brevet Brigadier and Major-General, was born in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, on the 3d of April, 1817. His paternal ancestors were descended from an old Holland family, his maternal from English Quakers who came to this county with William Penn. For several generations both branches had been well-to-do farmers in the neighborhood of Philadelphia. His mother, Elizabeth (Vandergrift)Sickel, an intelligent and refined lady, died when he was but seven years old, and he afterwards found a home in the family of an elder sister, Mrs. Henry Kuhn, where he wrought upon a farm in summer and attended school in winter. At the age of eighteen, having a mechanical turn, he apprenticed himself to the business of smithing, reserving the right to three months attendance annually in the Friends' school at Byberry. On arriving at his majority, being possessed of a good business education and a small legacy from his grandfather Vandergrift's estate, he established himself in smithing and coachmaking at Quakertown. In 1842 he married Eliza, daughter of William Van Sant, of Northampton, and three years later removed to Philadelphia, where he engaged in manufacturing and mercantile business, which he prosecuted with success.

    For more than twenty years previous to the Rebellion he had been an officer of the volunteer militia, commanding the Old Washington Grays of the Second, and the Mechanics; Rifles of the First Division. Among his earliest lessons was that of devotion to country. His eyes had first seen the light in the neighborhood of some of the most stirring exploits of Washington and the patriots of the Revolution. Familiar with the story of their trials and sufferings and imbued with the spirit which moved them, he rendered prompt obedience to the call for aid in the spring of 1861, and was unanimously elected Colonel of the Third Reserve, organized in the camp at Easton. His discipline was methodical and exact, and withal so mildly yet firmly enforced that it encountered little question or resistance. He exercised special care for the health, comfort, and well-being of his men, and while encouraging manly sports and diversions, discountenanced gaming and kindred vices. The social intercourse at his head-quarters was agreeable and elevated. He went to the Peninsula just previous to the opening of the Seven Days' battle, and participated in the hottest part of the actions at Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines' Mill, and Charles City Cross Roads, having a horse shot under him in each of the last two engagements, and was honorably mentioned in the reports of Generals Meade and McCall. In the last battle General Meade was disabled; whereupon Colonel Sickel succeeded to the command of the brigade, which he continued to exercise until it reached Acquia Creek, on its way to join Pope. In the trying campaign which followed, he lead his regiment, and though suffering from sunstroke in the battle of Bull Run, continued with his men to the last.

    Recovering from a sever indisposition he rejoined the army at Sharpsburg, and moving down the Valley of Virginia acted with great gallantry in the memorable charge of the Reserves in the battle of Fredericksburg. Soon afterwards, upon the promotion of General Meade to the command of the fifth Corps, Colonel Sickel succeeded to that of the Reserves, and in February, 1863, was placed over the defences of the city of Alexandria. In April, 1864, he was ordered to the command of a brigade, under General Crook, in West Virginia, and participated with distinction in the campaign from the valley of the Kanawha to Wyattsville and Doublin on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. On the 9th of May a heavy force of the enemy, under General Jenkins, was discovered posted near the summit of Cloyd Mountain in an apparently impregnable position. An assault was at once ordered. When arrived near the hostile works, Colonel Sickel, seeing that his men were exposed to a destructive fire, ordered two regiments to lie down and crawl stealthily forward. While the attention of the foe was attracted by these, he sent the balance of the brigade to the right. Proceeding under cover of the high ground their progress was not discovered until, with a wild shout, they burst like a whirlwind upon the rebel left flank, driving it in confusion and achieving a complete victory.

    On the following day, General Crook, on account of sickness, turned over the entire command of the army to Colonel Sickel. The destruction of the depots and warehouses, with immense stores and military equipage, was promptly commenced. The railroad for a distance of six miles was utterly destroyed, the rails being twisted and the culverts blown up. Advancing eastward, at New River Bridge Sickel encountered the enemy under General McCausland, whom he defeated after an obstinate resistance, driving them over the bridge, an immense covered structure a mile and a half in length, which was totally destroyed. The army moved to Meadow Bluff, when the three years' term of service of the two Reserve regiments, which were of Sickel's brigade, expired. He was accordingly ordered to move with them to Philadelphia, where, on the 17th of June, they were mustered out. But Colonel Sickel was not the man to desert his country's armies in this her hour of need. He at once tendered his services to Governor Curtin, and was offered the command of a veteran regiment, but accepted instead that of one of the new ones just then being recruited by the Union League Association of Philadelphia, the One Hundred and Ninety-eighth.

    On reaching the front it was placed in the First brigade, First division of the Fifth corps, and Sickel was given command of the brigade. He at once won distinction, leading with marked skill in the battle of Peebles' Farm and in the movements of the 1st, 2d and 3d days of October, being honored at their conclusion with the brevet rank of Brigadier-General. He was engaged in the demonstration upon the South Side Railroad, and on the 6th of December in the destruction of the Weldon Railroad. At Hatcher's Run, on the 6th of February, 1865, seeing the Second brigade hard pressed, he led his force to its support, and with sword in hand headed the charge which ended the struggle and brought victory to the Union arms. In the heat of the engagement he received a painful flesh wound. Fortunately it soon healed, and he returned to duty in time to take part in the action at Lewis' Farm or Quaker Road, one of the principal military achievements of his life. General Chamberlain, of Maine, since Governor, in referring to General Sickel's conduct, thus describes it: "His regiment greatly distinguished itself here, the gallantry of its charge being fully equalled by the fortitude with which it withstood a heavy and determined countercharge, and for more than an hour disputed the ground..... While all this was going on, General Sickel and his command were behaving in the most admirable manner. Though repeatedly forced to yield ground, he constantly rallied and fought so determinedly as to hold the enemy in check until we had restored the left, and being reinforced made one final and decisive assault. In the midst of this noble conduct General Sickel fell severely wounded; but his spirit still pervaded his men. This was a severe action, in which we pressed an assault for nearly two hours before being reinforced against Wise's and Wallace's brigades, supported by other troops of Johnson's and Anderson's commands. In the final assault we carried the ground, the enemy's dead and wounded falling into our hands, and we intrenching beyond the Boydton Plank Road, which was our objective point. We buried one hundred and thirty-five of the enemy's dead." In his official report of this action General Chamberlain said: "I cannot fail to speak of the unflinching fortitude and commanding courage of Brigadier-General Sickel, whose example and conduct made my presence needless on that part of the line, until he was borne from the field severely wounded." This was a fitting termination to his service; for long before his wound had healed the war had ended gloriously for the Union arms, and the legions of the Grand Army had come marching home. The Government was prompt in bestowing upon him the brevet rank of Major-General.

    Not long after the close of his service, he was appointed by Governor Curtin Health Officer of the Port of Philadelphia. He was subsequently appointed Collector of Internal Revenue for the fourth district of Pennsylvania, and is at present United States Pension Agent for that city. He early took a deep interest in the public schools, was for several years a director and for two terms president of the fourteenth section. He has for a long period been a member of the Board of Health, President of the Philadelphia, Newtown and New York Railroad Company, and is intimately connected with the mining and banking interests of the State. In person he is above the medium height and of powerful frame, with dark brown hair and gray eyes. In society he is taciturn, but with the mien of one possessing decided opinions and reserved power. His high sense of honor and moral worth endear him to all.

SOURCE: MARTIAL DEEDS OF PENNSYLVANIA BY SAMUEL P. BATES; PHILADELPHIA: T. H. DAVIS & CO., 1876. Part II, Chapter XII, Pages 844-847.