December 12, 2014

Better Know an Officer -- Lieut. Henry Ransing

Detail of Sword Presented to Lieut. Henry Ransing (Sold on Heritage Auctions in 2014)
Lieut. Henry Ransing
(79th PA Officers Oval)
Name: Henry Ransing
Birth: September 15, 1838 (Holland)
Occupation: Attended Lancaster city public schools; Worked in cotton mill from age 13
Church/Religion: Roman Catholic
Term of Service: Enlisted in Company G, 79th Pa, on 10/3/1861. Promoted to 1st Sgt., 2nd Lt, dates unknown.
Notable Events: All battles with 79th Pa.; Clothing perforated by 16 bullets at Bentonville; Chickamauga monument committee
Post-war:  Watchman; Mill overseer, Grocer, Hotel Keeper
Death: May 19, 1900 (St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Cemetery)

Yesterday, blog reader Glenn Benner contacted me to let me know that he had documented the grave of Lieut. Henry Ransing of Company G, 79th PA, on Find a Grave.  Not knowing anything about Ransing, I entered his name as a Google search and was surprised to see his presentation sword scheduled for auction today by Heritage Auctions (it sold for almost $6,000). 

So, to give Lieut. Ransing his due, here is his Biographical Annals entry, accompanied by some pictures of the sword.  (Source: Biographical Annals of Lancaster Co., Pa., 1903 by J. H. Beers & Co., page 1129-1130.)



CAPT. HENRY RANSING (deceased) was a son of George Hiram Ransing, who died in Holland, and whose widow came to the United States when Henry was a lad of two years of age. She became the owner of the land between East Orange, Plum, Marion and Center streets, and this land she sold little by little as the march of improvement took its course in that direction.

Henry Ransing was educated in the Lancaster public schools, and at the age of thirteen years entered a cotton mill, where he worked until the breaking out of the Rebellion. At that time he enlisted as a private in Co. G, 79th P. V. I., and at the end of his first term of enlistment, he re-enlisted for the war. He rose rapidly and presently attained the rank of captain. When the company came back in which he first enlisted, he was its captain, though only nine of the original members survived the dangers of war. He was in twenty-seven battles and eighteen skirmishes in the Western Army, but was never wounded. though at the battle of Bentonville his clothing was perforated by sixteen bullets. After the war Capt. Ransing was presented by the members of his company with a magnificent sword, sash, belt and epaulets, the sword bearing this inscription: "Presented to Capt. Ransing by the members of Company G, 79th regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry, as a token of respect and friendship; and for the gallantry displayed in all the battles in which he participated." Capt. Ransing was a member of the Committee on the Monument to the memory of the men of the 79th P. V. I, who fell at Chickamauga.

The war ended, Capt. Ransing became an overseer in the Lancaster Fulton Cotton Mills, where he remained until the factory was partially destroyed by the explosion of the boiler. After this he gave up his position in the mill, on account of the objection of his wife to his being in what she regarded as a dangerous place, though he was in the line of promotion to the superintendency. Capt. Ransing engaged in business, opening a small grocery, which soon assumed large proportions under his close and careful management, soon necessitating the construction of the fine brick building on East Orange street, where for ten years a successful business was carried on. At the end of that time this building and business was converted into a hotel, for which he secured a license, and established the "East End Hotel." After a prolonged absence from the hotel, and a residence in another part of the city, Capt. Ransing finally returned to it, where he died May 19, 1900, deeply regretted far and wide. The following poem was published in the New Era, shortly after his death:

IN MEMORY OF A GALLANT SOLDIER.

We mourn. but we comfort feel.
When of our friend we're thinking.
That when on him Death pressed the seal
He died brave and unshrinking.

He feared not death: Why should he fear?
He who with musket's rattle
And shot and shell and wildest cheer
Feared not the bloody battle!

No mocking yell his soul could quell;
He fought to save the Union;
Stood like a rock while others fell,
Stood firm against disunion.

He rose from private rank to lead
The gallant volunteers.
He rose from merit and with speed,
Rose with his comrade's cheers.

They honored him by act and word,
And to attest their feeling,
They gave to him a handsome sword,
Their deep love thus revealing.

The war was o'er. His sword was sheathed.
And doing good to others,
No gentler, kindlier heart e'er breathed,
Beloved by all his brothers.

For all the world to his kind heart,
Were just like sisters, brothers;
He never failed to do his part,
In lending help to others.

His soul's at rest; his battle's done.
He's done with care and striving;
He left a light like noonday sun
To comfort the surviving.

To danger he was first to go,
None quicker in advancing,
No braver man e'er met a foe.
Than gallant Captain Ransing.

Capt. Ransing was married in 1866, to Rose Roth, who survives him, as does his only son, Henry Edward. The latter was born Sept. 16, 1877, and after securing a partial education in St. Anthony's parochial school, finished his education in Franklin and Marshall College, but was compelled to leave school before graduation that he might assist his father, who became seriously ill three years before his death. Henry E. Ransing has since succeeded to the hotel business. He was married Sept. 20, 1900.

Capt. Ransing was a devout Catholic, having taken his first communion at old St. Mary's Church when twelve years old. In his later years he was associated with St. Anthony's Church. He was the founder of St. Michael's Catholic Benevolent Society, and was chief marshal of the great parades that attended the laying of the corner stone of St. Anthony's Church, at the dedication of St. Anthony's Institute, and at other notable Catholic occasions in this city, besides leading his society frequently to other cities to participate in prominent events. Few men indeed were better known in Lancaster than Capt. Henry Ransing, and none more esteemed.

December 4, 2014

'Set Your House in Order for Death': A Pastor's Letter to a Soldier

Location: Spring Grove, PA 17362, USA
Envelope for Letter from Frederick and Rebecca Conrad to Lieut. Peter A. Filbert
(Sold on Ebay in 2006)

While Civil War soldiers' private letters are a scarce resource that we treasure for the factual details and the opinions that they contain, even rarer are letters to Civil War soldiers from family members.  I am aware of very few in Lancaster: one to William T. Clark of the 79th PA from his father just before returning home to try to recruit a company during the Gettysburg Campaign (LancasterHistory.org collection) and one to 1863 militiaman William H. Torr just before Gettysburg (in my collection and likely the subject of a future post).

The Rev. F. W. Conrad
(Holy Trinity Archives)
In this post, I will transcribe and comment on another such letter related to several individuals from Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, with an important connection to Lancaster's Civil War history.  The recipient was Lieut. Peter A. Filbert, 10th Pennsylvania Infantry, and the writers were his sister Rebecca and her husband Rev. Frederick W. Conrad -- whom you might recognize as the ardent abolitionist/unionist who was pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster between 1862 and 1864 (see post).  Believe it or not, I stumbled across this letter when it was sold on Ebay for $270 in 2006.  For family details, see their biographies on pages 321-323 of The History of Schuylkill County, Pa.  Filbert's diary, letters, and photographs are part of the Harrisburg Civil War Roundtable Collection at USAHEC in Carlisle, and were apparently the subject of master's thesis by Kurt Emerich at Penn State Harrisburg.

The letter was written six weeks after the war's outbreak.  The Rev. and Mrs. Conrad were in Dayton, Ohio, where he had been pastor of First Lutheran Church since 1855.  Lieut. Filbert was at Camp Slifer near Chambersburg helping to lead Company D, 10th Pennsylvania Infantry, which he had joined on April 23.  News was just spreading of the shooting of Col. Ellsworth.

The first three of the letter's four pages were a letter from Rebecca to her brother.  She expresses her concern for him, reacts to Col. Ellsworth's murder, and provides an update on her status.  I have added paragraph breaks to enhance readability.  See the original here.

Dayton, Saturday morning 25th/61

Dear Brother,

Your very welcome letter was received on friday the 24th, and read in a great hurry, as I was very anxious to know where you were, and how you are getting along.  I am much relieved to hear that you are so well satisfied that you are in the path of duty, and hope that you will ever be faithful to your God and country.  Remember that a Sister's heart beats in this bosom, and that a Sister's prayers ascend to the Throne of Grace for your protection and success in your effort for the once happy union.  

God grant that the seceding States may see their error before it is too late.  This morning brings the sad tidings of the murder of Col. Ellsworth.  He had hauled down the Secession flag from the market house in Alexandra and with flag in hand was shot by a concealed foe.  If that be Southern chivalry, let it be added to the dastardly assaults of the Baltimore mob, and pray that the North may never be guilty of so mean an act.  

In your letter you said nothing about brother Will.  I am very anxious to hear how he is getting along. If he were a Christian, how great a burden would be taken of my heart.  I long to hear that he is a Soldier of the Cross.  Then only can he be a faithful Soldier of his country  

The unsettled state of our Country has changed my arrangements for the present.  I am anxious to go home if Mr Conrad can make up his mind that it is best for me at present he seems inclined to think that it will be best for me to remain here.  I wish I could be where I could add to your comfort.  I often think of you, and the many privations you must have in camp, and would willingly share my comforts with you.  

Mr. Conrad has treated himself with a fine Horse, Phaeton Harness and Sadle which makes him feel a little more as in bygone days.  We call the horse Bonnie.  I will leave a little space for Mr. Conrad.  Farewell God bless you.  Be faithful.  Write soon.  Tell me what your hopes are for eternity so that I may pray for you with an understanding heart, and if I should never see you again in this world may we meet in heaven is the heartfelt prayer of your anxious Sister R.

I am much obliged for the Photograph and if I do not go home shall ask them to send it.

Monday morning

Much love to William from us, and tell him we would like to hear from him soon.  Write whenever you can.  We are very anxious about you. Many hopes and much love from your affectionate Sister Rebecca.

The part about the new horse is actually somewhat funny, as it would tie in to the Intelligencer's unfriendly characterization in 1870 of his time in Lancaster: "His penchant for preaching political sermons, a la Beecher, and driving fast horses, a la [Robert] Bonner, soon disgusted the greater portion of his congregation, and would have disgusted all of them, had it not been for the angry passions stirred up by the great rebellion."  Pastor Conrad followed his wife's comments with his own one-page pastoral exhortation for his brother-in-law.

Dear Peter,

Rebecca has left his side for me to fill, but as I must go to Springfield in the cars his morning (Monday) I can say only a word or two.  While we sympathize with you in your hardship and danger, we feel that you are in the path of duty.  There never was a better cause to fight for than that of the Government, the Constitution, the Union.  And as God was with our fathers in establishing them, so too will he be with us in defending them.  But you must not forget that your lives are daily in your hands and may be sacrificed any hour.  Your soul's salvation is worth more than the whole cause gained for which you entered.  While you show yourselves good soldiers of the U.S. don't neglect to show yourselves good soldiers of Christ.  You must be ready not only to meet the enemy, but your maker in judgment.  Prepare to meet God!  Set your house in order for death!  Be ready for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man cometh.  We can bear the loss of your life on the altar of your country, but not the loss of your souls on the altar of impenitence.  Yours prayerfully and encouragingly, F. W. C.



November 20, 2014

Church Records Speak -- Lancaster's Slaveholders, "Elmer Ellsworth ___", 79th Pa Connections, Faith and Gender

Location: 31 South Duke Street, Lancaster, PA 17602, USA
Trinity Lutheran Church, Lancaster
(From Memorial Volume, 1861)
While it may seem that the Civil War has been studied from virtually every angle, one important but largely missing perspective is the experience of religious communities such as churches and synagogues on the local level.  Over the past ten years, I've thoroughly enjoyed researching Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (see here) -- one of Lancaster's more physically and historically prominent churches -- and have been lucky in the abundant high-quality primary source material that I have been able to glean.  This has better enabled me to better understand the war's effect on individuals at the local level, as well as take historical persons more seriously (sometimes a problem in Civil War studies) due to our shared institutional connection.

Since earlier this year, I've even been working with members of First Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh (the one at the base of the US Steel Building) to reproduce this line of research inquiries and see what we find.  A comparative lack of newspaper primary sources and turn-of-the-century industrial biographies for First Lutheran Church and Pittsburgh vs. Holy Trinity and Lancaster has made us turn to (1) published sources related to famous pastors Passavant and Krauth and (2) church records as staring points.  Studying church records prompted me to go back and do something during a recent weekend in Lancaster that I had not done before (at least not comprehensively): examine Holy Trinity's baptism, marriage, and burial records.  In this post, I'll give some thoughts based on my preliminary scan of these records.

Slavery in Lancaster


(This paragraph refers to an LCHS Journal Article: Ebersole, Mark. ‘German Religious Groups and Slavery in Lancaster County Prior to the Civil War.” Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society. Vol. 107, No. 4. Winter, 2005-2006. 158-187.)

I'll start by saying that it's rather jarring to someone with your last name (Schlauch, or its many Anglicized forms such as Slough and Slaugh) and connected to the same church listed as "one of the largest chattel-holders of the county" with eleven slaves.  It turns out that there's no perceptible genealogical relationship, as my Schlauch line only came from Germany to Lancaster in 1871 (Andreas Schlauch, from Baden Baden), but the somewhat surprising fact remains that some of Lancaster's and Holy Trinity's leaders in the mid-1700s owned African Americans as slaves.  Ebersole describes this essentially as a adaptation by select Germans of a more largely English practice.  While it may not have had the industrial scale of later forms of slavery in the cotton South, slavery in Lancaster still evidently involved the separation of families for profit and slaves and a system that some slaves tried to flee.  Clearly, it's a complex subject with a range of primary and secondary sources that I still need to study.

At Holy Trinity in the late 1700s and early 1800s, free and enslaved African Americans had some level of participation in church life through baptism, marriage, and burial (hence, the helpfulness of church records).  In the years after emancipation began as a gradual process in 1780, laymen and pastors of Holy Trinity supported the founding of African-American churches in Lancaster and later joined the Africa colonization movement.  Despite giving some prominent examples of slaveholders, Ebersole writes that "for the most part, the Moravian, Reformed, and Lutheran churchmen also stayed aloof from the English culture, and from all slavery practices, upon their arrival in the New World."  It will be interesting in future research to identify differences in opinion between members of the congregation, as well as the German-born Rev. Gottlob F. Krotel and the Pennsylvania-born Rev. F. W. Conrad,  Furthermore, what can we infer from the exclusion of African-Americans at Trinity-connected Woodward Hill Cemetery, or from the Ladies' Kansas Relief Meeting at Holy Trinity that so irked the Democratic Intelligencer (12/4/1860)?

I don't recognize too many family connections between the mid-1700s slaveholders and those active with Holy Trinity in the Civil War Era, with one exception: records exist of George Hopson Krug's grandfather Valentine Krug leaving slaves to George's father Jacob in his will.  The Krug family was known for its tannery, and George H. Krug was an important lay leader at Holy Trinity until his death in 1869.  At Holy Trinity in 1842, Krug's daughter, Rebecca, married a young Navy officer named William Reynolds, whose father was in the same Democratic Lancaster social circles (think James Buchanan) as Rebecca's father.  William went on to lead a remarkable career in the Navy, and his younger brother John Fulton Reynolds achieved even greater fame as a general in the Army of the Potomac.

Baby Names 


Col. Elmer Ellsworth
One rather interesting way to assess the patriotism of the people affiliated with Holy Trinity at this time is to look at trends at baby names.  And we're really talking about one trend: many people named their child after Elmer Ellsworth, the Union martyr who died one month into the war while trying to seize a Confederate flag in Alexandria, Virginia.  A total of nine(!) children (out of roughly 10-12 per month) baptized at Holy Trinity in the succeeding months would bear some version of his name (one baby born in April 19 was even apparently named retroactively).  Especially because the original Elmer Ellsworth was known pretty much solely as a martyr, these children seem to be a way for families to signal their willingness to sacrifice for the Union cause.  Here is a list:     

  • Elmer Ellsworth Filler (b. 4/19/1861), son of Henry and Juliana Filler (sponsor).   
  • Elmer Ellsworth Shreiner (b. 6/15/1861), son of Henry Michael and Mary Shreiner (sponsor). 
  • Ellsworth Leibley (b. 6/20/1861), son of Jacob and Elizabeth Leibley (sponsor).  
  • Elmer Ellsworth Winour (b. 7/15/1861), son of George Washington and Fanny Winour. Sponsored by Amelia Sensendorfer.  
  • Charles Ellsworth Peterman (b. 8/2/1861), son of George and Frances Peterman (sponsor). 
  • Ellmer Ellsworth Steigerwalt (b. 9/5/1861), son of Michael F. and Martha Steigerwalt (sponsored by both parents).   
  • Charles Ellsworth Bowman (b. 9/23/1861), son of William and Catherine Bowman (sponsor).
  • Ellsworth Holtz (b. 8/9/1862), son of George Washington and Mary Ann Holtz (sponsored by both parents).
  • Edward Elmer Ellsworth Cogley (b. 12/13/1861), son of Joseph and Sarah Ann Cogley (sponsored by grandmother).
A couple other names show up in the records, but none with the concentration of Elmer Ellsworth:
  • George B. McClellan Killian (b. 4/18/1863), son of Henry K. and Pricilla Killian (sponsored by both parents).  I wonder how ardent abolitionist F. W. Conrad felt baptizing this child.  
  • Abraham Lincoln Mishler (b. 11/9/1865), son of Isaac and Catherine Mishler.  Sponsored by mother.
At least two children were also named after the Rev. Dr. Gottlob "George" F. Krotel, who had earned the admiration of much of the congregation before his departure to Philadelphia in 1861.


  • George Krotel Bender (b. 8/17/1861), son of Benjamin S. and Hetty Bender (sponsor).  
  • George Frederick Krotel Erisman (b. 2/23/1863), son of Emanuel J. and Mary Erisman (sponsor not listed). 

79th Pa Connections

79th PA Monument, Chickamauga

From the baptismal records, I also recognized a few 79th Pennsylvania connections, which I note here for future biographical or genealogical research or investigations of the social networks from which the Lancaster County Regiment was raised:

  • Capt. Jacob Gompf: Jacob Augustus (b. 10/14/1860) baptized 3/14/1861 with mother Susan as sponsor.  
  • James P. Dysart (brother of 79th PA captains): Henry Scherff (b. 11/26/1860) baptized 4/18/1861).  Sponsored by grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Henry Scherff.
  • Capt. Edward Edgerly: Edward Everett Edgerly (b. 9/3/1859).  Son of Edward and Rosanna Edgerly. Sponsored by grandparents John and Rosanna Stehman.  
  • Lieut. William P. Leonard.  Three children with wife Harriet baptized on 6/10/1867.  Daughter Emma Virginia (b. 6/24/1846) baptized on July 15, 1846.
  • William F. Dostman (b. 10/8/1841), son of John Peter and Catherine Dostman (sponsor).  
  • Horace Binney Vondersmith (b. 5/6/1844), son of Daniel B. and Clara Elizabeth Vondersmith.  Both parents sponsored.
  • Robert M. Dysart and Lyman G. Bodie: both listed in death records for mid/late-1860s which I did not copy.

Note that Dostman and Vondersmith are the color bearers depicted in the 79th Pennsylvania's Chickamauga monument.  In the battle, Dostman was fatally wounded by an exploding shell and Vondersmith carried the flag forward.  As an aside, Vondersmith's father, Daniel B. Vondersmith, had become infamous during the 1850s when he fled the United States on charges of fraud in a pension forging scheme.  He later returned to serve jail time before being pardoned.  Later in life, he could be found as the cashier for a traveling circus.  His son, meanwhile, earned a sterling reputation as Lancaster's fire chief.  I'll have to document the lives of the father and son Vondersmith in a future post.

And connections to other notables:
  • Oliver J. Dickey (Republican politician): Mary Elvira (b. 9/10/1858) baptized 11/10/1860.  Sponsored by mother Elizabeth.
  • Rebecca Reynolds Krug (b. 6/23/1861), daughter of John H. and Henrietta Krug.  Named after her aunt, wife of future Admiral William Reynolds.  Baptized 8/12/1861. Sponsored by grandfather George H. Krug.  Rebecca Reynolds Krug and Rebecca Krug Reynolds seemed to have a mother-daughter relationship (see latter's obituary). 
  • Emlen Franklin (Col., 122nd PA): Emlen Augustus (b. 2/23/1864) baptized on 12/3/1865, son of Emlen and Clara Amelia Franklin.  Both parents were sponsors.  
  • George Unkle (correspondent and Pvt., 9th PA Cavalry): Ann Elizabeth Unkel (b. 2/11/1845), daughter of George and Ann Adelaid Unkle.  

Future Questions -- Gender and Faith


One thing that stuck out is approximately one-third to one-half of the baptisms only seem to have the mother as the sponsor.  What does this say about church membership and gender roles?  Is this specific to Holy Trinity or to Lutherans?  Was there a lost generation of men in churches in the mid-1800s?  Were maternal lines more important in determining a family's religious life?  Or is there some other reason to explain the trend?  I'll have to pay attention to these questions as I look at other churches' records and dig up Lutheran newspapers to see if any editorialists comment on a trend.

I'm glad I finally took the time to flip through Holy Trinity's records.  It's given a few interesting data points to help characterize the Union cause and will help to fill in some holes about 79th Pa personalities.  I haven't even touched on the weightier themes of the interplay between competing Lutheran ideologies and competing national ideologies regarding the Lutheran identity, race, patriotism, and church life.

Look for a future posts with a more biographical focus on members of Holy Trinity to enhance our capacity to imagine and study how the war affected communities and individuals.

October 7, 2014

Killed at Perryville

Detail of tombstone of Capt. Samuel J. Boone, Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church, Quarryville, PA
Thirty-seven officers and men of the 79th Pennsylvania died at the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862, making it by far the bloodiest day in the military history of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  With another 149 wounded and and three missing, the regiment's casualties numbered 189 according to Bates' regimental history and an 1863 casualty list published in the 3/24 Intelligencer.  Of the wounded, at least 10 soldiers would die in Kentucky before the end of October, although most of the remainder appear to have returned to service.  As far as I know, of these 47 men killed or mortally wounded at Perryville, the remains of only five made it back to Pennsylvania.  They include:
  1. Capt. Samuel J. Boone, Company C.  Killed in action.  Buried at Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Quarryville.  
  2. Lieut. Henry J. Test, Company C.  Killed in action.  Presumably buried in York.  
  3. Corp. Frederick J. Sener.  Died October 24, 1862, of wounds.  Buried at Woodward Hill Cemetery.  [Plot location unknown.]
  4. Corp. John A. Keller, Company B.  Died November 3, 1862, of wounds.  Buried at Lancaster Cemetery.  [Plot location unknown.]
  5. Pvt. William Eckert [Eakert], Company B.  Killed in action.  Buried at Calvary Monument Bible Church Cemetery, Paradise.
The rest of the men killed in action were buried on the field by their comrades -- despite the wishes of many family members in Lancaster to have remains sent home.  Those remains, which did not retain any identification, were transferred to Camp Nelson National Cemetery after the war.  Others who died in military hospitals are buried in national cemeteries around Louisville.  

Two years ago, I went out to visit and photograph the graves of Capt. Boone and Pvt. Eckert, which are only a couple miles apart in southern Lancaster County.  In posts over the upcoming days, I'll post more about their lives and deaths and share some photos of their tombstones.