Col. Jacob G. Frick led the defense of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge
Colonel Jacob G. Frick was one of the most prominent citizens of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in Schuylkill County, the heart of the coal-mining region. He was a Medal of Honor winner for gallantry in action during the American Civil War, a wealthy businessman, and a civic-minded family man. Frick spent several days here in York County, Pennsylvania, during the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, and his actions in leading the defense of the mile-long covered bridge over the Susquehanna River at Wrightsville significantly influenced the course of the campaign and thwarted the Confederate crossing of the river into Lancaster County.
Often overlooked by historians, Colonel Frick also played important roles in the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, for which he was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
Who was this man?
Jacob Frick was born in Northumberland County on January 23, 1825, the ninth of sixteen children, fourth-generation descendants of a Swiss immigrant who had settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s. As a youth, instead of joining his family’s boat-building business, Frick went to Canton, Ohio, to learn printing. In June 1846, he was commissioned as a third lieutenant in the 3rd Ohio Infantry with the outbreak of the Mexican War, serving with gallantry in several engagements. After the war ended, Frick was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 11th U.S. Infantry. He married in 1850 and garrisoned at a number of army bases across the country. Later in the decade, he served as assistant instructor of infantry tactics at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Frick was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention, where Abraham Lincoln received the presidential nomination.
When war erupted, Frick was commissioned as the lieutenant colonel of the 96th Pennsylvania and fought in the Peninsula Campaign. On July 29, 1862, he became colonel of the 129th Pennsylvania. Major General Joseph Hooker ordered Frick to lead the last charge at Fredericksburg in December, and he bravely guided his regiment toward the stonewall on Marye’s Heights. The flag bearer and most of the color guard went down as the battle line advanced. Frick quickly seized and raised the fallen flag, but almost instantly, a Minié ball passed close to his head and sheared the wooden staff in two. Undaunted, Frick continued at the head of his command until he was wounded.
A dispute with division headquarters over dress coats for his men led Frick to be court-martialed on January 25, 1863, but the War Department quickly recommissioned him. At Chancellorsville, Frick’s precision in handling his regiment impressed his brigadier, who declared that “no man ever saw cooler work” than what the 129th Pennsylvania did during the confused fighting. Their firing was “grand – by rank, by company, and by wings, all in perfect order.” His embattled soldiers clearly heard Colonel Frick’s stentorian voice above the roar of musketry, and his regiment “did its duty well.” Six feet, two inches tall and powerfully built, he recaptured the regiment’s lost flag in hand-to-hand combat with several Rebels.
His regiment mustered out in May and Frick returned to Pottsville. When Robert E. Lee’s invasion threatened the Keystone State, Frick hurried to Harrisburg to assume command of the 807-man 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia. It had been raised primarily in Frick’s native Schuylkill County in north-central Pennsylvania, as well as in nearby Northampton, Huntingdon, and Berks counties. Frick’s regiment traveled by train from Harrisburg to Columbia, where they formed the bulk of the troops defending the bridge. When John B. Gordon’s brigade attacked, Frick skillfully withdrew his militia across the bridge, setting it on fire to prevent Rebel passage. later, his men were involved in the pursuit of the retreating Robert E. Lee, and the 27th was the first Pennsylvania militia to cross into Maryland while chasing the Army of Northern Virginia. He and the regiment mustered out in August 1863.
In June 1864, he assisted Brigadier General Henry Pleasants in planning the explosives-filled, 230-foot-long tunnel under the Petersburg entrenchments, which resulted in “the Battle of the Crater.” He remained interest in politics, serving as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in both 1860 and 1868.
He remarried after the war, raised a son, authored two books, and manufactured wire screens for the coal mining industry. In 1892, Frick received the Medal of Honor for his valor at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. He passed away March 5, 1902, and was buried in Pottsville’s Presbyterian Cemetery. He was the first man in Schuylkill County to receive the Medal of Honor.