January 11, 2012

Back to the Green River: A Letter from Ben Ober

Location: Munfordville, KY, USA
Ambrotype of George and Elizabeth Pontz, who had two sons enlist in 1861 in Company K, 77th Pennsylvania, and by the war's end had three more sons join the same company.  All five brothers survived the war.
(Richard Abel Collection, which also includes a family album with a couple images identified to the Pontz family)

Getting back to the 79th Pennsylvania and the other Pennsylvanians encamped along the Green River near Munfordville, Kentucky, not much changed over the span of a couple weeks from late December into early January.  Dress parades, work details, and picket duty across the Green River and into the countryside pretty much summed up the life of the regiment.  I did miss two letters over the last two weeks--one from Lt. Ben Ober of the 77th Pennsylvania and another from Corp. Elias H. Witmer. 

Today's post republishes the letter of Ben Ober, the former local news editor of the Daily Evening Express.  It included a roster of Lancasterians in the 77th Pennsylvania, indicating that "Company Q" was finally settling in with the 77th Pennsylvania after sitting out as an orphan company for a couple weeks at Camp Nevin to protest its exclusion from the 79th Pennsylvania (see this post for more details). 

Check back tomorrow for a weightier letter with some interesting thoughts about the Union cause written by Elias H. Witmer. 

From the January 9, 1862, Daily Evening Express:


BANKS OF GREEN RIVER, Ky., Jan. 2, 1862.

We are still encamped on the banks of the emerald stream destined to henceforth hold a place in the memories of many sons of the old Keystone—if it does not, from “coming events,” occupy an important page in the history of our country. The railroad bridge is rapidly approaching completion, and I think in a few days it will be ready for travel. Besides this bridge two others have been thrown across the stream for the passage of the grand army of the Ohio. One of these is a pontoon bridge for the passage of cavalry and artillery. We cannot tell, therefore, how soon we may be ordered to advance. Our pickets now extend about a mile south of the river, within sight of the enemy’s pickets, and occasional interchanges of compliments, in the was of rifle balls, take place. The diversion is said to be very pleasant and exciting, except when a ball takes a notion to tickel the watchful sentinel in the neighborhood of the ribs or equally tender part. Picketing, by the way, has many pleasures as well as many pains. During the fortnight we have been encamped here our regiment has been out twice and we go again this evening to the south side of the river. The pleasant part of the duty is in the day time, when the weather is fair, and when it seems like an old-fashioned Lancaster picnic; the only thing wanting to complete the illusion is the absence of bright eyes and expansive crinoline. As it is, the boys at home would call is a “stag party.” The unpleasant part of the duty is at night, and especially towards morning, when the frost begins to encrust the leafless tress with a silver sheen. The poor sentinel must not be blamed if he then thinks of the comforts of his far-off home and sometimes says so in his letters. He stands silently beneath a tree, or in a fence corner, with eyes wide open peering through the gloom, and ears straining to catch the slightest sound of a stealthy foe. The snap of a twig or the fall of a nut may send the blood back, chilled to his heart, or if the sentinel should happen to be of an active turn, an unusual sound sends him gyrating around the biggest tree in his neighborhood. I have seen such things in my brief experience or soldiering. No fires are permitted on the outposts at night, they serving to attract the lurking for just us a candle attracts gallinippers in August.

We have occasional reports of the enemy, but I can give nothing authentic. The latest is that he is advancing towards Green River, and is now within six miles of us, forty thousand strong. That figure is too big. A collision between the two armies, however, like the advance along the Potomac, is “daily expected.” The Louisville Journal of yesterday, in a brief article says that a battle in this neighborhood is imminent, and as the editor of the Journal has evidently better authority upon which to case the prediction than your correspondent, I adopt his assertion and say, look out for stirring news from this quarter.

Lieut. J. S. Duchman, of Company K, arrived here on the evening of the 31st ult., bringing with him a detachment of men. The company is now as full as that of any other in the regiments in our neighborhood, and I send you herewith a transcript from the muster-in roll. I also send you the names of a number of other Lancasterians attached to Capts. Wimer’s and McNally’s companies, none of which have appeared in the Express. In addition to these we have two Lancasterians on the Regimental Staff, namely, Jacob E. Cassell, Quartermaster, and S. T. Davis, Adjutant. Both these gentlemen have proven themselves thoroughly competent for their respective posts, and are deservedly popular with both officers and me. Long may they wave.


(Company K, 77th Regiment, P. V., Col. F. S. Stambaugh, Fifth Brigade.)
Captain—Frederick S. Pyfer.
1st Lieutenant—Benj. H. Ober.
2d Jacob S. Duchman.
Orderly Sergeant—John C. Shroad,
2d James A. Haus,
3d Henry M. Erisman,
4th George L. Myers.
Quartermaster Sergeant—Geo. Conrad
1 John J. Hartley
2 Maris Alexander
3 Jacob Pontz
4 David B. Martin
5 Michael B. Huffnagle
6 Alex. Marshbank
7 John Obreiter
8 Henry Good
Drummer—John Glazier. Fifer—William Marks. Teamster—John Decker.

[List of privates in Company K, 77th Pennsylvania]

The following Lancasterians are in Company D:
Captain—John M. Wimer.

The following Lancasterians are in Company C, (Capt. M. McNally):



  1. Thanks so much for posting this, which I came upon recently by google. I'm the great great granddaughter of George and Elizabeth Pontz (Jacob Pontz was my great grandfather.) I've never seen their photos before. My father (who is 93) remembers his grandfather Jacob Pontz well, and remembers him telling him stories of his Civil War experiences.

    1. Hi Felicia,
      My name is Joshua McCown and Jacob Pontz is my great-great grandfather. I heard of Jacob Pontz's Civil War experiences from my great aunt Fran. I have been doing a lot of research on our family tree and would love any additional input you might have. Please feel free to email me if you feel like it. lostcircuit@hotmail.com

  2. Hi Felicia! Thank you for commenting. I'm glad you found this site. The album in Rick Abel's collection is very interesting and contains other pictures of Jacob Pontz and relatives. Rick graciously allowed me to take pictures of the album and is happy for me to share them, so let me know if you would like to see some of the album pictures.

    1. Hi Vince,
      I would love to see those pictures as well. I am Jacob Pontz's GG Grandson. Please feel free to email me at lostcircuit@hotmail.com. Thanks!