A Bedford-born editorial writer for one of the leading newspapers in Philadelphia in the late 1800s is buried there – Col. John H. Filler.
It’s the “Col.” and reference to the “55th PA.” on his gravestone and caught my eye but, as if often the case, Filler’s life is so much more than what can fit on a headstone.
The Jan. 4, 1912 Warren Mail called Filler an “old-time editor” and “veteran writer of ‘The Philadelphia Record.’”
He was living with is brother – W.H. Filler – in Warren when he died.
The Mail republished the death notice that ran in his native paper.
“Colonel Filler was a journalistic rough diamond, the foundation of whose newspaper creer was laid in his intimacy with the ante-war political leaders of Pennsylvania in the days when Bedford Springs was the fashionable summer resort and political mecca for the Commonwealth.”
He was born in Bedford in 1829 and lived into the area into his early adult years, working as a school teacher and was active in the Underground Railroad.
He entered the newspaper business in the early 1850s publishing a weekly in McConnelsburg and became a “personal acquaintance” with key political figures of the era such as Thaddeus Stevens, Simon Cameron and Andrew Curtin.
“So that his early days were spent in an atmosphere of politics admirably calculated to develop the keen controversial quality which constituted the predominant feature of his later editorial career,” the report said. “He was a Pennsylvanian to the core, and during his entire life retained the personal friendships of a group of congenial spirits among the public men of the State.
An article in his hometown Bedford Gazette said he wrote editorials for the Philadelphia Record for 32 years, writing up until a month before his death.
That article details the backstory by how he came to be known as “Col. Filler.”
“The day after the bombardment of Fort Sumter he raised a company of three months’ volunteers in Bedford and entered the Union service,” the report explained. When that expired, he was heavily involved in recruiting the 55th, commissioned major in Dec. 1861.
He was taken prisoner in the assault upon Fort Wagner in Charleston Harbor, SC in July 1863. That assault is far more well known for the role the 54th Massachusetts Infantry – the first African American regiment raised in the north – played in the unsuccessful assaults.
“While the Battle of Fort Wagner was a Confederate victory, this battle showed the fierce determinations of African Americans in the Union army with the brave assault led by the 54thMassachusetts Infantry,” according to the American Battlefield Trust.
Union forces ultimately laid siege to the fort and the Confederates abandoned it later that year.
The assault on Fort Wagner would go on to serve as the basis for the 1989 film “Glory.”
Filler’s story, though, is much less dramatic – he was taken prisoner at Fort Wagner and would remain captive for over 19 months (and included two unsuccessful escape attempts).
“To his prison confinement was due the partial paralysis of his lower limbs which made him a permanent cripple during his after life,” the Gazette article explained.
He returned to Bedford before making a move to Harrisburg in 1868 as the editor of the Harrisburg Patriot for 12 years before his move to the Philadelphia Record where he “spent the residue of his days advocating the reduction of American tariff schedules to a revenue basis. Occasionally he would take a shy at state politics in the devious intricacies of which he was exceedingly well versed, but with the death or retirement of the old leaders… his personal interest in state politics gradually declined.”
He was a Republican but broke with the party over the tariff issue.
He continued to advocate Democratic principles and measures with unabated vigor, leaving the details of party administration to other hands. On all questions of tariff and revenue schedules he was an acknowledged authority and his editorial denunciations of high tariff robbery, as he termed it, were logical and caustic.”
He’s buried in Section O at Oakland Cemetery.
From the Warren Mail: “Colonel Filler was a typical representative of a group of Pennsylvania newspaper men of the last generation whose power was exercised chiefly through their writings and who sought neither office, conspicuous fame, nor great wealth.”
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