Commanding The Regiment: Colonel Richard Coulter, 11th Pennsylvania

Born in Greensburg in 1827, just east of Pittsburgh PA, Richard Coulter attended Jefferson College in the town of Washington, PA. Following that he worked in the law office of a relative. He became a lawyer, was active in the local militia, and married Emmy Welty. The couple had six children.

Coulter was also a prominent businessman and managed a steam mill in Greensburg. When the Mexican War broke out in 1846 he served in the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment. He saw action at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Conteras, Churubusco, Chapultepec, and the capture and occupation of Mexico City in 1847.

Following his return, he continued with his law practice and business interests in Greensburg and Westmoreland County. At the start of the Civil War, he joined the 11th Pennsylvania, recruited from the western part of the state, as its Lieutenant Colonel.

The regiment served under General Robert Patterson and was engaged at Falling Waters. They missed the battle of Manassas, being stationed at Martinsburg at the time. All of the Pennsylvania units had enlisted for three months, and by July 1861 their terms of service were up. General Patterson requested the regiment to remain ‘a week to ten days’ beyond its term of service until new troops arrived, and the 11th unanimously volunteered to do so.

In August the unit mustered out, and most of the men reenlisted. In doing so they were able to keep their designation as the 11th Pennsylvania. The Secretary of War offered to accept the regiment for three years service if it were ready to march within 21 days after its mustering out. Coulter was now Colonel of the regiment.

They were stationed in the defenses of Washington, and by summer, 1862 joined the 3rd brigade, 2nd division, 3rd corps of the Army of Virginia. Their first major battle was at Second Manassas, where Coulter took over the brigade when Colonel Fletcher Webster of the 12th Massachusetts was killed. Next they saw action at Chantilly, South Mountain, and in the West Woods at Antietam. Here Coulter again took temporary brigade command when General Hartstuff was wounded.

ruins of a house at Manassas
The 11th Pennsylvania fought near the Chinn House at Second Manassas. Today only the foundations remain. Author photo.

At Fredericksburg the regiment suffered heavily and Coulter was wounded. Next they were engaged northwest of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Along with other units, the 11th helped repulse Iverson’s North Carolinians. Gradually they were overwhelmed and pushed back through town.

Coulter and the 11th Pennsylvania were part of Gen. Henry Baxter’s brigade. Due to the loss of Gen. Gabriel Paul and other officers, division commander Gen. John Robinson had Coulter and the 11th transferred to Paul’s brigade so that Coulter could lead it. Colonel Coulter was badly wounded in the arm but returned to command after briefly having it treated.

Gettysburg battlefield
The 11th Pennsylvania fought on the distant ridge at Gettysburg on July 1. Author photo.

That fall they were engaged at Mine Run, where Colonel Coulter again commanded the brigade. The veterans were granted a furlough, and when they returned, new recruits brough the unit up to a strength of 590. The 11th was now part of the 2nd brigade, 2nd division, 5th corps.

At the Wilderness in 1864 Colonel Coulter took command of the brigade due to the wounding of General Baxter. The 11th and Coulter fought at Laurel Hill prior to the main engagement at Spotsylvania. Then at Spotsylvania Colonel Coulter was wounded in the chest when he led a charge of the 88th Pennsylvania.

The 11th fought at Hatcher’s Run and Five Forks in the spring of 1865. Hatcher’s Run was a particularly sad day, as the unit’s mascot, the dog Sallie, was killed. Coulter and the 11th moved west following the Army of Northern Virginia after the breakthrough at Petersburg. They were in the rear of the army at Appomattox.

He received promotion to brevet major general of volunteers to rank from April 1, 1865.for  “gallant conduct in the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, Va.”, and Major General, US Volunteers on April 1, 1865 for “gallant conduct in the battle of Five Forks, Va., in an energetic assault of the enemy on the Ford Road.”

The 11th Pennsylvania was mustered out on July 1, 1865. Of the 1,890 men who served in the regiment, only 340 men were discharged. Three times Coulter was wounded in action. Three times he assumed temporary brigade command.

Coulter and a business partner collaborated on several of the largest and most significant companies in Westmoreland County in the 1880s, including the Keystone Coal and Coke Company, the Greensburg-Hempfield Electric Street Railway, and the First National Bank of Greensburg (now the First Commonwealth Bank). Coulter served at the bank’s president until his death in 1908. Appreciating local history, he was also involved in the preservation of the Bushy Run battlefield near Greensburg, site of a 1763 conflict between British troops and Native Americans in Pontiac’s War.

5 Responses to Commanding The Regiment: Colonel Richard Coulter, 11th Pennsylvania

  1. My 3rd great grandfather Sgt Steele Williams and his son , my 2 great grandfather Walter Williams served in Company F under Colonel Coulter.

    1. Your great great grandfather is entombed where I now live in Marietta, OH. I always wanted to do a tribute to his service on Veterans Day. Would love to hear from you. I’m a big follower of the 11th PA.

      1. I was at his tomb in the mausoleum some 35 plus years ago. His wife is further down on the other side in an unmarked vault. If you ever do a service I would love to attend. I have large database been working on re the 11th

  2. Do they come any braver??? Coulter gets promoted for action at Five Forks, but Wikipedia order of battle for Five Forks has Maj. John B Overmyer leading the 11th at Five Forks under Crawford, who I have it as the guy that got Warren fired.

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