April 17, 2018

Genoa (NY) at War: Researching my new hometown

Location: Genoa, NY 13071, USA
Almost two years ago my career took me to the Finger Lakes region of New York, and I moved to a beautiful house from the 1850s in the small hamlet of Genoa, New York. While I maintain a deep interest in the Civil War history of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the demands of career and family have limited my ability to post on this blog. However, I'm naturally curious about the Civil War history of my new hometown and recently took part in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Genoa Historical Association. Here's my account of the discussion that summarizes some of the things that I learned preparing for that discussion.


Title page of list of Civil War soldiers compiled by the clerk of the Town of Genoa at the war's end
When the Civil War ended in 1865, the state of New York required all town clerks to compile a list of all soldiers and sailors from each town who fought in what was then more commonly known as the “War of the Rebellion.” The clerk for the Town of Genoa dutifully completed this task, documenting the basic service details for 156 men.  This list and the details it provided became the basis for a roundtable discussion on Genoa’s contribution to the Civil War at the Genoa Historical Association on Sunday, February 25. The discussion aimed to start discovering the fascinating stories of courage and conflict behind the names, dates, and places on the town clerk’s list.  I presented information on Civil War soldiers from Genoa, and Joe Jadhon gave an interesting overview of the uniform and equipment of the average Civil War soldier from New York.

The enlistments of soldiers from Genoa were spread out over the years 1861 through 1864 with most enlisting in 1861 or 1862 and serving a three-year term.  Some who enlisted in 1861 – including George W. Crocker, who was wounded in battle in 1863 – even chose to reenlist when their term of service expired before the war ended. Out of the 156 soldiers, 115 were listed as single and 41 were listed as married.

Civil War soldiers usually served in regiments of up to 1,000 soldiers from the same state, and ten companies recruited in individual towns made up a regiment. Serving with soldiers from one’s hometown produced social cohesion and fostered connections between the home front and battlefield.  However, it also meant that a regiment being in a tough spot in a battle could result in a devastating casualty list for a town, as was the case for Genoa and the Battle of Gettysburg.
The most common Civil War regiments in which soldiers from Genoa served were the 75th New York and the 111th New York.  The 75th New York fought in many lesser-known campaigns in Florida and Louisiana before finishing the war in Virginia and Georgia.  The 111th New York fought in many of the more famous battles in the Eastern Theater of the war, and suffered heavily while playing a critical role in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Gen. George D. Robinson
(Source: Captaining the Corps D'Afrique)
Soldiers from Genoa served in many other regiments, as well.  George Dorgue Robinson, the highest-ranking of all of Genoa’s soldiers, enlisted in the 75th New York as a 2nd Lieutenant. His parents, Joseph and Maria (Sill), immigrated to the United States from England and owned a farm just to the west of the Genoa Rural Cemetery by 1855. Against the advice of his professors, George left the University of Michigan after the war’s outbreak to become an officer.  In 1863, he presumably volunteered to take a position as a major in the 1st Louisiana Colored Engineers – a recently established regiment of freed slaves – and later as the colonel leading the 3rd Louisiana Colored Engineers (later the 97th Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops).  He died in Florida in 1873 after receiving the rank of brevet brigadier general and completing his studies at the University of Michigan.

George Robinson and the 3rd Louisiana Colored Engineers’ biggest contribution to the war came in May 1864 during the ill-fated Red River Campaign in Louisiana. The Union army had suffered many setbacks, but the Union navy was on the verge of a complete disaster when a drop in the Red River’s water level meant that a flotilla of gunboats was stuck upriver and in danger of capture by the Confederates. Robinson and his soldiers spent two weeks helping to construct a partial dam with an opening in the middle to allow the valuable Union gunboats to escape downriver.

Karen Spiero, great-granddaughter of George Robinson’s sister, attended the presentation and provided more information about the family. George’s brother, Charles, served in the 111th New York and was mortally wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg.  Karen also brought a sword likely used by Col. Robinson while he completed this task and a beautiful sword presented to him as a testimony of respect form the officers of the 3rd Louisiana Colored Engineers.

Bailey's Dam, Harper's Weekly 6/18/1864
Two African-American residents from Genoa served in the Union army, according to the town clerk’s list. Aaron Prime – who is listed as a farmer born in Auburn and appears in the 1850 census as living with father Simon and mother Sophia – went to Rhode Island to join the 11th Regiment, US Colored Heavy Artillery, in 1863.  Henry Green was born in Virginia, presumably as a slave, and joined the 26th Regiment, US Colored Infantry. Research indicates that both men survived the war and that Prime is buried in Owego while Green is buried in Ithaca.

The town clerk’s list also indicates the fate of those who served in the war – whether they survived and where they resided upon coming home.  Ten of the 156 soldiers were killed in battle or died of wounds received in battle. All but one of the ten were casualties from the Battle of Gettysburg; Henry C. Crocker died in the opening battle of the Siege of Petersburg. All but one of the ten belonged to the 111th New York; Henry Hallet was killed defending Culp’s Hill with the 137th New York in the Battle of Gettysburg. Twenty more of the 156 soldiers from Genoa lost their lives from other causes.  Four died in captivity – one at Andersonville prison and three at Salisbury prison in North Carolina. Sixteen others died of disease in hospitals at places such as Petersburg, Hilton Head, and Fort Pickens, and at home.

The Genoa Historical Association intends to continue these roundtable discussions to discover and share the stories of Genoa and the Civil War. Anyone with information (especially letters and photographs) about soldiers from Genoa, their families, or life in Genoa in the mid-1800s is welcome to contact the Genoa Historical Association at GenoaHistorical@gmail.com or (315) 364-8202. Future roundtable discussions will be organized by regiments in which soldiers served and will focus on the soldiers’ battle experience and biographies. The next event will take place on April 22, 2018, with a topic of the battles and campaigns of the 111th New York and the soldiers from Genoa in that regiment.

June 9, 2016

The Story Behind a Gravestone in Lancaster Cemetery

Location: Lancaster Cemetery, 205 E Lemon St, Lancaster, PA 17602, USA
Gravestone of Jacob and Elizabeth Gemperling, Lancaster Cemetery
Local artist J. Augustus Beck sculpted the wreath in 1854.
 Gravestones provide one of the most accessible and intimate connections to the nineteenth century.  However, the personal, commercial, and artistic decisions behind them rarely show up in research, so I jumped at the chance when I accidentally ran across an article in the May 16, 1854, Lancaster Intelligencer while pursuing another research tangent. 

In an article that led with "Lovers of Art" that the Intelligencer actually copied from the Inland Daily, a couple items in the marble yard of Lewis Haldy on North Queen Street received attention.  The first was actually a relief sculpture by J. Augustus Beck -- son of the noted artist from Lititz -- on its way to the Washington Monument.  Commissioned by the American Medical Association via Dr. John L. Atlee in 1852, Beck's sculpture depicted Hippocrates refusing the gifts of the Persian King Artaxerxes meant to entice him to provide medical aid to his country's enemies.  The newspaper reported, "The execution of the work is in the highest style or art, and evinces extraordinary talent in the artist."  Some sources indicate that the sculpture is still in the Washington Monument in very damaged form and others say that it is in the Smithsonian Institute. 

Gravestone detail
Jacob and Elizabeth Gemperling
Lancaster Cemetery

The article continued:

We might mention several other fine specimens of art, the productions of this talented young artist, which may be seen at the same place.  Among other things we note a beautiful wreath--the prettiest thing of the kind we have ever seen.  It is engraved on a marble slab, and designed for the grave of the late Mrs. Gemperling, whose remains repose in the Lancaster Cemetery.  

The deceased referred to in the article is Elizabeth Gemperling (1785-1854), and the gravestone still stands in Lancaster Cemetery not far from the entrance.  I have not found anything about Elizabeth, but her husband Jacob and son Daniel received attention in the Biographical Annals of Lancaster County (1903) in an entry on Elizabeth and Jacob's grandson, Henry Clay Gemperling:
Jacob Gemperling, grandfather of Henry Clay, who was a distiller and farmer, was born near Rohrerstown; his son Daniel, who was born in Lancaster, died Nov. 13, 1895 at the age of eighty-seven years.  The latter and his brother John, were the leading tinsmiths of the city for many years, filling many important contracts.  Daniel Gemperling conducted the business on East Orange street alone to within a short time of his death, and became one of the best-known citizens of his time, owning a large amount of real estate, and making his influence felt in business and commercial circles.  Anna Hurst, his wife, was a half-sister of Elam Hurst, a prominent citizen of Lancaster, and also a sister of the mother of H. C. Demuth.  From this union were born three children, two of whom, William and Anna, died in early childhood, and the only survivor is Henry Clay Gemperling. 

Henry Clay Gemperling
Biographical Annals of
Lancaster County (1903)
Henry Clay Gemperling was born in the large brick mansion at the southwest corner of East King and Jefferson streets, then the home of his parents, in February, 1846, and was educated in the city schools and at John Beck's celebrated school in Lititz.  When less than sixteen years old he left school to enlist in the Union army, joining Co. A, 79th P.V.I., Aug. 19, 1861, and served throughout the war, receiving his discharge Aug. 12, 1865.  He took a gallant part in all the battles and skirmishes in which his command participated, and was wounded in the arm at Jonesboro, Ga., under Gen. Sherman, being promoted to the position of corporal.  After the war Mr. Gemperling was captain of "The Boys in Blue," a campaign organization in the first campaign of Gen. Grant for the presidency.  After Gen. Grant's election the boys in blue were organized into two military companies, A and B, and attached to the National Guard of Pennsylvania, Mr. Gemperling being commissioned captain of Co. B, both companies taking part in the inauguration of Gen. Grant as President.  Until 1879 he worked with his father at the tinsmith and plumbing trade, and then removed to Ephrata, where he engaged for himself in the same lines.  There he remained until March 13, 1895, when he returned to Lancaster, to become a tip-staff in the court house, very shortly being made a court crier for court No. 2, and in November, 1899, he was made court crier of the courts of Lancaster county, to fill a vacancy created by the death of Joseph C. Snyder, a position which he still holds.

While living in Ephrata, Mr. Gemperling bought and remodeled a fine property.  For fifteen years he was a deputy coroner of the district, for nine years he was a notary public, and was the first president of the Pioneer Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company, and was acting in that capacity, when he left the borough; he was commander of Post No. 524, G.A.R., of Ephrata, for three years, and was the second man to be elected burgess after Ephrata became a borough.

While a resident of Lancaster he served as a policeman during Mayor Stauffer's first term, and is remembered as one of the best police officers this city ever had.  During his residence in Ephrata he twice arrested Abe Buzzard, the noted outlaw, "putting him behind the bars."  This he did as a private citizen, his fellow townsmen calling on him because of his well-known fearlessness.  When thieves broke into the store of Schaeffer & Reinhold, at Ephrata, Mr. Gemperling discovered one of the thieves, arrested him, and took him to jail.  This same bravery was conspicuous through his army experiences.

Mr. Gemperling was married Aug. 14, 1869, to Miss Susan Jacobs, daughter of William Adam Jacobs, a farmer living near Beartown, Lancaster county.  From this union were born four children: Anna Maria, the wife of E. E. Royer, a farmer of Ephrata township; Martha Alpha, unmarried and at home; Daniel H., a paper hanger; and Henry Clay, Jr., now at school. 
Henry Clay Gemperling Service Record (PA Civil War Card File)
 While on the subject of the Gemperling family, you may note that another soldier with the surname Gemperling served in the 79th Pennsylvania.  William Gemperling also enlisted in Company A with Henry Clay Gemperling.  William Gemperling was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga.  He died a year later in the Andersonville prison, although I'm not sure if he was captured at Chickamauga or elsewhere.  I also cannot establish the relationship between Henry and William Gemperling, which I guess to be first or second cousins.  If anyone knows more about William Gemperling, feel free to leave a comment below. 
William Gemperling Service Record (PA CIvil War Card File)

June 8, 2016

Ebay Find: Two USCTs Send Pay Home to Quaker Farmer in Gap

Location: Limeville, Salisbury Township, PA 17527, USA
Adams Express Company Cash Envelope from Isaac Parker to Joshua Brinton (Ebay)



Reverse of Envelope from Isaac Parker to Joshua Brinton (Ebay)

Adams Express Company Cash Envelope from Henry Harley to Joshua Brinton (Ebay)
Once again, an item being auctioned on Ebay led me on a rather fascinating research trail.  This time it is a pair of envelopes used to forward cash via the Adams Express Company.  In both cases, soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troop, sent money to a Quaker farmer near Gap. 

The 3rd USCT was organized in the summer of 1863 in Philadelphia, and largely recruited from central Pennsylvania.  Among those who enlisted were two African-American men from Lancaster County:
  • Isaac Parker, born c.1836 and mustered in as a corporal in Company B on June 30, 1863.  Parker shows up in the 1860 census as a farm laborer in Salisbury Township.  He is listed with presumably his wife and daughter: Mary Parker, age 20, and Sarah Parker, age 6.  Going back to the 1850 census, it is likely that Isaac Parker matches the sixteen year-old by that name who resided in West Caln Township in Chester County with Loyd Parker (age 63) and Margaret Parker (age 32).  Isaac Parker appears adjacent to the Brinton family in the 1860 census (see below), so it is likely that Parker labored on Brinton's farm.  
  • Henry Harley, born c. 1841 in Lancaster County (according to his USCT service record) and mustered in as a private in Company B on June 30, 1863.  I haven't been able to find anything else about him before the war, but he appears in the 1870 census as living in a black community and working as a laborer in Fernandina, Florida.  This census notes that he could read but not write.  
After training at Camp William Penn, the 3rd USCT moved south and went right into combat as part of the siege of Fort Wagner on Morris Island.  The regiment spent most of 1864 in Jacksonville, Florida, manning garrisons and going out on details.

While serving in South Carolina and Florida, both Parker and Harley sent some of the pay back to Lancaster County.  To do so, they paid the Adams Express Company to carry their cash to a Quaker farmer near Gap named Joshua Brinton.  Parker's envelope contained $15 and was sent from Morris Island on October 19, 1863.  Harley's envelope contained $120 and was sent from an unknown location on October 5, 1864.

Gravestone of Isaac Parker
Beaufort National Cemetery
Sadly, Parker died on April 25, 1864, in Beaufort, South Carolina, presumably in a military hospital there.  He was buried in what is now the Beaufort National Cemetery.  I had the opportunity to visit the cemetery a year ago and take the pictures displayed in this post. 

Much more information is known about Joshua Brinton (1811-1892), the recipient of the cash for Parker and Harley.  His farm was approximately one mile northeast of Gap near the small community of Limeville (see map below).  The 1903 Biographical Annals described him as " an excellent farmer but not an excellent manager for the reason that his too generous nature induced him too often to expend his means in aiding his friends when he should have applied them to use nearer at home. Lacking only a wise economy, he was a consistent member of the Society of Friends and an unusually warm upholder of its principles and methods."  He is credited in the March 8, 1861, Liberator with donating five dollars to relief for sufferers in Kansas.  I believe that Brinton is a direct descendant of William Brinton, who built what is now the William Brinton 1704 House museum in West Chester, which would make him a distant cousin of Gen. George Brinton McClellan. 

Gravestone of Horace Passmore
Beaufort National Cemetery

In a sad coincidence, Brinton's brother-in-law also served and died around the same time and place as Parker.  Brinton married Mary E. Passmore on November 23, 1848, in Philadelphia.  Mary's younger brother, Horace Passmore, enlisted in Company A, 97th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, on August 22, 1861.  The 97th Pennsylvania operated in South Carolina in 1862 and 1863, and Passmore would have experienced grueling conditions around Charleston and Fort Wagner in the summer of 1863.  Passmore died of chronic diarrhea on November 18, 1863, a little over a month after the regiment moved to Fernandina, Florida.

PA Service Card for Horace Passmore, 97th Pennsylvania          

Census listing Isaac Parker and Joshua Brinton, Salisbury Township, 1860

Detail of 1864 Salisbury Township Map showing farm of Joshua Brinton near Limeville
Gravestone of Horace Passmore at Beaufort National Cemetery


August 16, 2015

With the Pennsylvania Reserves at Camp Wayne, June 1861

Location: West Chester, PA, USA
Mathew Brady image of camp of 1st Pennsylvania Reserves, June 1863. As seen in the center background of the image, the soldiers' June 1861 fascination with leaning on each other (recorded in the letter) continued two years later.
Although personal and professional priorities have limited my blogging this year, an inquiry about the Pennsylvania Reserves from a soldier's descendant gives me the opportunity to post the transcription of a soldier's letter.  This particular letter appeared in the weekly Lancaster Inquirer, a newspaper with limited surviving copies (which are not on microfilm but in the archives of LancasterHistory.org). 

Before heading south for the seat of war, the newly-formed Union Guards went east for a rendezvous in Chester County. On June 4, 1861, the Union Guards -- which later became Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Reserves -- under command of Captain Thomas Barton boarded a train in Lancaster for Camp Wayne. The following letter gives a picture of the company’s first week away from home and appeared in the June 15, 1861, Lancaster Inquirer:

CAMP WAYNE,

West Chester, June 11th, 1861.

Mr. Editor: —Since you were kind enough to compliment the Union Guards, at the time of their primary organization, we have been literally overwhelmed by the “sunny smiles of adventitious fortune.” Since our departure, all prior difficulties vanished into “thin air,” and joy and gladness dispelled the vexation and discontent that had prevailed in our ranks. Although not strictly on the tented field, or by the bivouac fire, to recount brave deeds done, or bloody frays made victorious, our camp life furnishes its incidents to weave into an interesting tale. Fun and frolic, duty and labor are agreeably interspersed.

The first Regiment, under the State Reserve was formed last Sunday. The post of honor, through chicanery and favoritism was allotted to the Brandywine Guards: and our Company secured the second post. We do not desire to cavil or object now at this unjust disposition of the two companies, as regret is unavailing; but in all equity and honor, the first position was deservedly ours. This same finesse of management gave to Chester county all the prominent posts. The Lt. Colonel, McIntyre, is of the Brandywine Guards: the acting Adjutant is from the same Company: the Quartermaster is from Chester county. In short, all the loaves and fishes were appropriated by men from this section of the country. Biddle Roberts, the Colonel is a native of Pittsburg; and Samuel, the Major is from Carlisle.

The “Union Guards” are well furnished with musical instruments from the rattle of the “[?]bones” to the soft strains of the flute. – Every night, we have a gratuitous concert. – Since our arrival here, we have improvised and adopted a “cheer,” in honor of the “Union” Fire Company. It is given by spelling the word, “Union” three times, and pronouncing it each time, ending with a hiss, a bomb and a tiger. It is popular and temporarily “lionized” its authors. We have also introduced a new feature of evolution, not laid down in Hardee – called “the Company squat.” – The men are marched, in close order, so as to form a circle, when the command of “Company squat!” is given, when we sit down on each other’s knee. It is quite amusing to see the boys each the sport, which has become contagious, and as we have not secured the services of the Bummers’ Counsel, B.F. Baer, Esq, to get it copy righted (!) it has become adopted by the whole camp. I do not desire to be considered as a boaster, but our company is considered the best in the camp.

The ladies of West Chester are a little charish about visiting the Camp, as but few have as yet honored us with their presence. Our men are all well; but two or three being slightly indisposed since our arrival here. We have an excellent hospital here, fully supplied with all the necessary appurtenances. Dr. F. de W. Breneman of your city, is with us as Assistant Surgeon—a fact which gives our men great satisfaction.

I am quartered with the Captain, first and second Lieutenants, the four Sergeants, Corporal Hoffmeir, privates Rutler, Nauman, Steinhauser and that jolly typo, Nathan Bear. Our quarters are extensive and well arranged, as we have a dining room, bed room, and office parlor. Our bunks are weather tight, and well built, so that none can complain in rainy weather. We have three cooks detailed for the Company, and so far we have had plenty to eat. If short rations should ensue, be assured I will let you printers ventilate the matter! I am a firm believer in the power and efficacy of printers ink, as a curative to all abuses. Two men of Captain Neff’s Company refused to take the oath, and were drummed out of camp, by our drummer, Frank Haines, who, by the bye, is a “brick;” he is the life of the camp, and his presence is always welcomed in a crowd.—Out three cuisines, Geo. M. Bauman, William Dellet, and James Strachan, although not equal to Demonico, or Taylor, or Shultz Reese, deserve praise for their proficiency in providing for the inner man.

Ye Captaine Barton was tendered the post of Lt. Colonel of this Regiment, a position which he would have efficiently filled; but love for and pride in his company to whom he is devotedly attached prevented him accepting the position. They then insisted on him taking the place of Major; but this he also finely declined. Our Captain is by far the best drilled, disciplined and competent man here—a fact generally acknowledged. His men are devoted to him for his innumerable acts of kindness, courtesy, and attention. Our mess sends its respects to you. Sergeants Bauman and McCracken, and private Wm. Cox, and dozens of others desire to be remembered.

Yours truly,
S. R. EVERTS,
O. S. Union Guards.