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Nicholas Biddle:The Civil War’s First Blood

10/3/2008 • America's Civil War

After the sermon at the cemetery, a number of uniformed First Defenders carried the simple coffin to the burial site and laid Nicholas Biddle to rest. The surviving First Defenders contributed $1 each to pay for a tombstone, upon which was inscribed: In Memory of Nicholas Biddle, Died August 2, 1876, Aged 80 Years. His Was the Proud Distinction of Shedding the First Blood In the Late War For the Union, Being Wounded While Marching Through Baltimore With the First Volunteers From Schuylkill County 18 April 1861. Erected By His Friends In Pottsville.

On April 18, 1951, the 90th anniversary of the First Defenders’ famed march through Baltimore, the people of Pottsville dedicated a bronze plaque for the Civil War Soldiers’ Monument in Garfield Square. “In Memory of the First Defenders And Nicholas Biddle, of Pottsville, First Man To Shed Blood In The Civil War. April 18, 1861,” it reads.

Since that time, remembrance of Biddle’s role in the Civil War has faded almost to the point of oblivion, and, shamefully, his tombstone has been destroyed by vandals.

John D. Hoptak works as a ranger at Antietam National Battlefield. He is the author of First in Defense of the Union: The Civil War History of the First Defenders, and maintains a Web site on the 48th Pennsylvania at

Read the poem “The Grave of Nick Biddle“, a stirring ode written in 1876 about April 18, 1861, the day “In Baltimore City, where riot ran high.”

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