Edwin Ruthwin Biles was born in Philadelphia to Joseph T. and Rebecca C. Biles. His father was a carpenter.
His early adult years were somewhat undistinguished as compared to others involved in the extraordinary events that were breaking in the United States during that time (e.g. The Frontier Wars, the Gold Rush in California, The Oregon Trail, and the movement West to find new settlements). He began employment as a clerk, but he did join the Army and fought as a sergeant in the Mexican War in 1847. Following that he resigned and went back to clerking in Philadelphia until 1861 when he was 33.
Then came a complete turnaround, and he was to become an excellent field officer in the Union Army, participating in many significant battles throughout the end of the War in 1865.
In 1861 he joined a newly forming regiment as an Adjutant (an NCO, just above a Sergeant who assists the Commanding Officer) that would eventually become the 99th Pennsylvania Regiment Volunteers. He would remain in that regiment until the end of the war but in increasingly higher levels of rank. He was promoted to Lt Colonel on July 1, 1862; to Colonel on August 23, 1864; and to Brevet Brig.General on March 13, 1865.
He was wounded at Spottsylvania Courthouse in the Wilderness Campaign on May 12, 1864, at Deep Bottom at the Siege of Petersburg on August 17, 1964, and at Petersburg on March 25, 1865, 15 days before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House.
From August 8, 1861 to July 4, 1862 the 99th Pennsylvania was stationed around Washington protecting the Capitol. Their 1st taste of battle was at Bull Run on August 30th where they lost 3 killed and 10 wounded in 3 days of fighting. The next major battle was at Fredericksburg which was a disaster for the Union (For a more detailed description of the battle see the paragraph in the bio. of Col. William “Buck” McCandless). Next came the Battle of Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania, VA (April 30- May 3, 1863) which was another defeat for the Union. The Union brought 134,000 to the fight, while the South had only 61,000, but in the end the South prevailed by Lee’s battlefield tactics. Approximately two months later the 99th fought at Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) and the Union prevailed, making it the first battle in the East where there was a clear victory.
During the remainder of 1863 and the first 4 months of 1864, the 99th fought a number of minor battles (Bristoe Campaign, Kelly’s Ford, Mine Run Campaign, Payne’ Farm, and Brandy Station) sparring with Lee’s army in Virginia.
In May, General Grant took command of the Army of the Potomac and for the first time in the Civil War, Grant and Lee directly opposed each other on the battlefield. What followed until the end of the war in April, 1865 was a series of confrontations that were bloody, exhausting, closely fought, and characterized by large casualty rates. The Union actually lost more men in most of the battles than the South but the percentage of loses sustained by the South as compared to the size of their army was greater. It became a war of attrition.
On May 5-7 the Battle of the Wilderness was fought, followed by Spottsylvania and Spottsylvania Court House (May 8-21). Neither side won, and Grant slipped away to the southeast toward Richmond to Cold Harbor, a crossroad named after a tavern (June 1-12).The Union suffered enormous casualties (12,700 vs the South’s 5,300). Grant slipped away again to the South to attack Petersburg on June 16th, and this began the Siege of Petersburg which lasted until April 2, 1865.
The 99th participated in all of the battles, as well as the Siege. While there, the 99th was billeted in Ft. Sedgwick, a structure covering 2-3 acres, built of logs, sandbags and dirt. The fort was renamed “Ft. Hell” by the men because if its proximity to the enemy (about 100 yards) and a perfect target for artillery file and snipers. The regiment made 8 attacks on enemy forts during the siege.
Lee was supplied during the war from the South via the Wilmington Weldon R.R which ran from Wilmington, NC to Petersburg. It was under the South’s control until the start of the Siege. Grant wanted to destroy the line by ripping up the tracks, and he sent troops south from Petersburg in June and August and the raids were successful. Thereafter Lee had to offload supplies onto wagons for the trip to Petersburg. In December the 99th was in a unit tasked with going further south to Jarratt, VA to destroy about 16 miles of track. They achieved their objective making it impossible in the future for Lee to supply Petersburg.
Petersburg fell on April 2, 1865 and Lee led his army west toward Appomattox. Lee surrendered on April 9th. Biles was mustered out with the 99th Regiment on July, 1865. He returned to civilian life returned as a clerk in the Philadelphia Recorder’s Office.
What kind of field officer was Edwin R. Biles? He moved up in rank from Adjutant to Colonel from 1861 to 1865, leading his troops during the toughest fighting in the War, and he was brevetted a Brig. General for gallant and meritorious services during the War. Here is what Rev. Legh R. Janes, a Chaplin in the 99th during the winter 1864-1865 said of him when writing to one of the Chaplin’s relatives, “My Colonel, Edwin R. Biles was old untamed soldier, served in the Mexican War as Adjutant General. He was an infidel, with some redeeming traits of character. The regiment was engaged in all the prominent battles of the Potomac, fought in the final breakup of the lines at Petersburg, and was at surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court”
Biles died on April 20, 1883 and was interred in Glenwood Cemetery in Philadelphia. That cemetery eventually became extinct and he was re-interred at Mt Moriah on April 27, 1906 in Sect. 030, Lot 51. His wife, Sarah K. Furr Biles was interred in the same lot on August 20, 1903.
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