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:


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 ( 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.