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.  

October 6, 2014

Photos from Perryville

Location: Perryville, KY, USA
Back in May, I finally had the opportunity to visit the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, where on one afternoon in October 1862 the 79th Pennsylvania played a key role in saving the Union army from disaster.  The battlefield seems like it's an hour from anything else, but it's certainly a compelling and well-interpreted site.  While the armies engaged were relatively small, the casualty rates were extremely high.  The ground is a series of undulating ridges, which helps to delineate the engagements and understand their sequence.  I definitely recommend visiting the battlefield, preferably by foot or bike.

Map showing correct position of 79th PA at Perryville
By Hal Jesperson (Wikimedia Commons)
I got the chance to walk the battlefield, focusing on the site where the Lancaster County Regiment, and met with park manager Kurt Holman.  Besides dropping off some eagerly devoured primary sources (available here), we had a discussion to straighten out the 79th Pennsylvania's role in the battle.  Kurt -- probably using Ken Noe's book -- had them moving a couple different places over the course of the afternoon, where primary sources make it fairly clear that the regiment stayed in one place for the duration of the fighting.  We seemed to reach a pretty satisfying conclusion (matching what I wrote in a previous post), and Kurt updated park maps and files.

The 79th PA fought on a shoulder ridge that stretched south beyond a bend on the Benton Road from a hill on which the 1st Wisconsin and Bush's and Stone's batteries fought.  To their front was about a 100-yard down slope that ran into a wood lot on land not suitable for farming.  The 24th Illinois would have been to their right, but the ground drops off and it does not appear as if that regiment coordinated with the 79th PA.  So, it's not hard to imagine how the 79th Pennsylvania felt isolated in their position.



79th PA battle line, looking south (left to right) from left flank

79th PA battle line, looking north (right to left) from right flank

Left flank of 79th PA battle line, looking north.  Col. Hambright swung out his left two companies from this position to provide a flanking fire on Confederates to the regiment's front.  The 1st Wisconsin fought beyond the 79th PA's left flank on the hill with the artillery piece. 
View of 79th PA position from front left (roughly from the direction of the 1st Wisconsin.  
View of the 79th PA left flank position from the front

April 6, 2014

Death and the Civil War

"The Soldier's grave" (HW, 11/5/1861)
Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin comments on a recent article, "The Great Exaggeration: Death and the Civil War," by Nicholas Marshall in the Journal of Civil War History.  Marshall reappraises the significance of the Civil War death toll, arguing that it wasn't all that different from death before and after the war.  After reading the article, I have major issues with the statistical framework used in his analysis and found the assertion that one single statistic (i.e., number of deaths) does not give a full picture of societal ramifications to be somewhat obvious.  Furthermore, it was jarring to see assertions like "dying of disease in a camp must have seemed distressingly normal" [p. 16] appearing in an academic publications without any evidence or exploration.  I was going to comment on Kevin's blog, but instead will use this post to give some thoughts on the topic and connect them to Lancaster and the 79th Pennsylvania.

The article's main argument is that the variability of the death rate was not all that different from pre-war levels.  Unfortunately, the author has no sense of the very important relationship between population size and the variability of the death rate.  Of course the variability of the death rate will be higher for smaller cities and very low nationally -- the variability of the death rate should decrease with population size.  Raw annual changes in the percentage of people who die mean nothing if you're not comparing populations of similar size, and Marshall is comparing that of single cities or states with changes in the national rate.  He should have known that something funny was going on when the death rate in Chicago jumped by 300% one year.

He also claims that drops in the male survival rate for the 1860s decade was not significant because, well, it's still within the range of 1/4 and 1/5 -- whatever that means [p. 12].  [Interesting side note: did the female death rate during childbirth increase during the 1860s due to war's claim on medical resources?]  We have measures of statistical significance for a reason -- just because you're writing history doesn't mean that you shouldn't use them!  

Even within this "change in death rate" framework, there are two other problems: (1) the high casualty rate lasted for three or four consecutive years and was not just a one-year fluke; and (2) although the war spanned four years, combat casualties were concentrated over three years.  For Lancaster, it was really 2 years and 9 months (Seven Days Battles in June 1862 though Battle of Bentonville in March 1865).  This would make the spike in the death rate look more dramatic, and possibly better point out the scope and scale of the war's trauma.

By the way, I never placed too much stock in the whole "if the death rate was extrapolated to today's population..." meme as a teaching tool; I think the stats speak for themselves.  For example, Lancaster County had a population of 116,000 according to the 1860 census.  From my knowledge of Pennsylvania volunteer companies recruited in Lancaster, I'd guess around 10,000 men served as soldiers and approximately 1,500 died.  The 79th Pennsylvania (9 out of 10 companies from Lancaster) accounts for 268 of those deaths -- which I believe to be reasonably accurate based on reviewing rosters -- according to Dyer (1908).  Having these numbers on a county level seems to give better intuition about how death affected a community than national statistics.  

Regardless of this considerably flawed statistical analysis, the article does touch on an interesting issue -- the response to death fit into prewar and postwar traditions and did not reflect a fundamental shift.  This is an interesting hypothesis to investigate.  In my research, I was struck by one particular example that demonstrates how Civil War death fits into an existing framework.  When Emanuel Rudy of Company A, 79th Pennsylvania, died a couple days after the Battle of Perryville of a wounded from that battle, hospital steward and newspaper correspondent John B. Chamberlain wrote a letter that appeared in the October 24, 1862, Daily Inquirer:
Poor Emanuel Rudy, whom I reported as wounded in the groin, in the list of Company A, has since died.  Poor fellow, I was with him to the last moment.  His death strangly reminded me of the last verse in Mr. Norton's "Bingen on the Rhine" that I loved to declaim semi-monthly in my school boy days at the Lancaster High school:  
His trembling voice grew feint and hoarse...[continues to quote the poem's last verse]
The point is that Chamberlain relied on an English poet's words about the death of a soldier with the French Foreign Legion in Algiers to make some sense of Rudy's death.  A comprehensive look at how the literary and artistic tools for confronting death before the war transferred to the war could be very interesting, if not already done.  In particular, I always pay special attention to wartime tombstones in cemeteries as they often offer an artistic richness that shows how people dealt with death during the war, and am curious to know more about that subject.  A comparison of different religious newspapers and the ideas (or lack thereof) from religious thought leaders could be particularly illuminating.

Gravestone of Capt. John H. Dysart, Co. C, 79th PA
Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, PA
However, the poem and the topic of cemeteries point to a way in which death was experienced very differently during the Civil War.  Namely, there was no body to bring home to bury.  Considering Company E, 79th Pennsylvania, how many bodies of the 26 soldiers who died during the war were brought back to Lancaster?  As far as I know, zero.  Almost all are in military cemeteries from Louisville to Nashville to Chattanooga to Atlanta to Andersonville to Bentonville, and some even suffered unknown fates on the battlefield and presumed dead.  As evidenced by its prominence as a topic in almost every letter after the Battle of Perryville, the inability to bring bodies home for burial significantly frustrated pre-war death rituals.  In response, more public forms of commemoration in Lancaster (e.g., Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Lancaster, erected 1874) and more national ideas about death and sacrifice took hold.  This is basically the premise of the PBS documentary from last year, I believe.

So, with some knowledge of statistics and the social mechanics of death in one particular Northern community, I find Marshall's characterization of recent scholarship on death and the Civil War as built on a "great exaggeration" to be unconvincing.  Although there are many interesting questions on this subject left to explore regarding the broader context of death in that era, I estimate current scholarship to be more or less on the right track.