Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

A Guide to Georgia’s Civil War Heritage

Posted By on September 1, 2014


The Georgia Department of Economic Development has produced an interesting and informative guide to the Civil War-related sites in that state.

An earlier version of this brochure was presented on this blog in the post entitled:  Marching Through Georgia.

The current web site describing activities related to the 150th Anniversary Commemoration of Civil War events that took place in Georgia can be found at www.gacivilwar.org.  The site contains many stories, announcements of special events, and a blog.

Many soldiers from the Lykens Valley area of Pennsylvania fought in the battles that took place in Georgia including the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman’s March to the Sea.  Prior blog post articles described some of those men and how these events affected their lives.

In addition to the major events, the brochure contains some interesting vignettes including one on Melvina Shields, the 3rd great grandmother of First Lady Michelle Obama.  Shields was a young slave girl owned by a South Carolinian who bequeathed her to a Clayton County, Georgia, farmer, Henry Shields in 1850.  After giving birth to her first child in 1860 by Charles Shields, the white son of the farmer, she remained with the family for the duration of the Civil War.  The farm was close to the Battle of Jonesboro.  After the war, she remained on the Shields Farm and raised several children who were listed in the census as mulatto.  Later she took the name of Mattie McGruder and lived the remainder of her life in Kingston, Georgia, where she died at age 94 and is buried at the Queen Chapel Methodist Churchyard at Kingston.

In July 2012, a monument was dedicated to Melvinia Shields (1844-1938) in Rex, Clayton County, Georgia.  A news report on this event can be found at Clayton Neighbor.  Speaking at the unveiling was Rachel Swarms, author of American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multicultural Ancestors of Michelle Obama.  She noted that “This is a story of going from slavery to the White House in just five generations.”

There is no way of knowing whether any soldiers from the Lykens Valley area actually encountered Melvinia Shields in their campaigns in Georgia.  But, undoubtedly, they did meet others in the same condition and their view on slavery had to be shaped by what they encountered.

For the calendar of events of the Georgia Civil War Commission, click here.

Unfortunately, the brochure, “Georgia’s Guide to the Civil War,” cannot be located on line in “pdf” form.  It is available in print form at most tourist information centers in and around Georgia and probably can be obtained by contact through the web site of the Georgia Civil War Commission.

Events of the World: August 1864

Posted By on August 31, 2014

August 1. The National Watch Company was formed in Chicago, Illinois. This company would become known as the Elgin Watch Company and would remain in business from 1864-1968. For nearly 100 years the company’s manufacturing complex in Elgin, IL was the largest site dedicated to watchmaking in the world. Though Elgin-branded watches are still produced today by a company in China, watches made since 1968 have no relation to the original company. 



August 10. The Uruguayan War (August 1864 – February 1865) was fought between Uruguay‘s governing Blanco Party and an alliance consisting of the Empire of Brazil and the Uruguayan Colorado Party, covertly supported by Argentina. Since its independence, Uruguay had been ravaged by intermittent struggles between the Colorado and Blanco factions, each attempting to seize and maintain power in turn. On 10 August, after a Brazilian ultimatum was refused, Saraiva declared that Brazil’s military would begin exacting reprisals. Brazil declined to acknowledge a formal state of war, and for most of its duration, the Uruguayan–Brazilian armed conflict was an undeclared war.

 August 20. John Newlands  was the first person to devise a periodic table of elements arranged in order of their relative atomic weights.  In 1865 he published  his ‘Law of octaves’, which stated that “any given element will exhibit analogous behavior to the eighth element following it in the table.” Newlands arranged all of the known elements into seven groups, which he likened to the octaves of music. In Newlands’ table, the elements were ordered by the atomic weights that were known at the time and were numbered sequentially to show their order. Periods were shown going down the table, with groups going across – the opposite from the modern form of the periodic table. The incompleteness of the table alluded to the possible existence of additional, undiscovered elements, such as the element germanium, which was predicted by Newlands. At the time, his ‘Law of octaves’ was ridiculed by his contemporaries. The Society of Chemists did not accept his work for publication. After Dmitri Mendeleev and Lothar Meyer received the Davy Medal from the Royal Society for their later ‘discovery’ of the Periodic table, Newlands fought for recognition of his earlier work and eventually received the Davy medal in 1887.

August 22.  The First Geneva Convention, for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field, is one of four treaties of the Geneva Conventions. It defines “the basis on which rest the rules of international law for the protection of the victims of armed conflicts.”The Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field was adopted in 1864. It was significantly revised and replaced by the 1906 version, the 1929 version, and later the First Geneva Convention of 1949. It is inextricably linked to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is both the instigator for the inception and enforcer of the articles in these conventions.




What Was the Middle Name of John G. Keihner?

Posted By on August 29, 2014


The recent addition of Pennsylvania Death Certificates to Ancestry.com has helped to provide some new information about many of the men who served as Civil War soldiers.  In the case of John G. Keihner (1847-1909), a new middle name has been found.  Keihner, who was from Lykens Township, Dauphin County, moved into Gratz in 1886.  He was featured in several prior posts here on this blog including: Gratz During the Civil War – Cemeteries (Part 3) and They Served Honorably in Company H, 210th Pennsylvania Infantry.

The death certificate shown above for John Gabriel Keener is clearly for the same person who served in the 210th Pennsylvania Infantry, although the surname is spelled in one of the several variations (Kiehner, Keihner, Keener, etc.).  This death certificate is the first occasion where the middle name is presented as “Gabriel.”  Note:  By clicking on the death certificate, it will enlarge.

Some of the facts obtained from the death certificate are:

1. John died on 22 May 1909 in the Borough of Gratz.  He was born on 12 March 1847, and lived 62 years, one month, and 10 days.

2. Dr. Arthur Woods of Gratz signed the death certificate and indicated that he had been treating John between 5 May and 22 May 1909 for the pneumonia which caused his death.

3. John Gabriel Keihner was a widower and a carpenter by trade.  He was the son of Philip Keener and Maria Saltzer, both of whom were born in Pennsylvania.

4. John was buried in the cemetery in Gratz [Union Cemetery] on 26 May 1909.

5. The informant was Jonathan F. Keener.

Turning to other information about John G. Keihner, it was discovered that his middle name had been previously represented as “George.”  In A Comprehensive History of the Town of Gratz Pennsylvania [Gratz History], on page 443, the following information is given:

John George Kiehner (Keener etc.) (20 March 1847 – 22 May 1909), was a son of Philip Kiehner and Mary Kiehner.  He married 14 November 1867, at Pillow, Mary A. Kissinger (3 November 1846 – 29 February 1904), a daughter of Jonas Kissinger and Rebecca Kissinger.  John and Mary [are] both buried in Simeon [Gratz Union] Cemetery….

John G. Kiehner served as a musician in Company H, 210th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War.  He was a carpenter by trade.  He inherited the carpentry skill from his father and grandfather who had lived in Gratz in previous years.  John became a contractor employing at least four men.  He probably did the construction on many buildings here in Gratz….

Mary died in 1904, leaving her husband and children….

No sources are given for the above information in the Gratz History, except it is known that where Civil War service is noted, there is a good chance that the information came from selected pages from the pension application file that were available to the authors in and before 1997.

According to the Pension Index Card (available from Fold3), John G. Keihner first applied for a pension on 28 January 1892.  Only three pages from the pension application file were available to the authors of the Gratz History and they are shown below.  By clicking on the pages, they will enlarge.



On the first page, information is given by John G. Keihner as to his marriage to Mary A. Kissinger (date, place, and by whom) as well as the proof he had of the marriage (marriage certificate).  He was never previously married.  The names of seven children are given with birth dates ranging from July 1868 to July 1880.  Note that the surnames of the children are spelled “Keener” and John signed his name “John G. Keihner.”


The second page (above) gives some basic information about his military service, a statement that was witnessed by two other Gratz residents, Josiah Umholtz and George Kissinger.  His reason for applying was that he had “rheumatick pane” which made him unable to earn support.  His signature again appears as “John G. Keihner.”


The final page (above from the pension application file also gives information about his marriage to Mary A. Kissinger and the names and birth dates of his children.  This page also bears his signature as “John G. Keihner.”

The last child noted on page one (above) and page three (above) is John F. Keener.  This is the same Jonathan F. Keener who attested to correctness of the information on the death certificate.  The Gratz Book notes that his full name was John Franklin Keener and that he was born 19 July 1880.  “John moved to West Virginia, and in 1909 came back to Gratz to spend Christmas with his sister Lizzie.”  This return to Gratz occurred after the death of the father, John G. Keihner.  In 1942, when he registered for the World War II Draft, John Franklin Keener was living in Akron, Summit County, Ohio, and was probably single since he gave his brother George Keener‘s name and address (Harrisburg) as next of kin.  John Franklin Keener died in May 1970 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio, according to the Social Security Death Index.

Also noted in the Gratz Book was the change in spelling of the family name to “Keener,” which was on a recorded deed of 1910 when the Gratz property of John G. Keihner was sold to Jacob J. Coleman.

All in all, there is no available evidence to show that John G. Keihner ever used “George” as his middle name.  There is evidence available that John G. Keihner always spelled his name “Keihner”, not “Kiehner” as it is spelled in the Gratz Book.  And, it it very likely that John G. Keihner‘s son John F. Keener knew his father’s middle name – since he had the same given name as his father.

Two additional postscripts.  The first is the house that was built by John G. Keihner for his own family in Gratz in 1886.  The second is a family photo of the “George Keener” family with a believed discrepancy in the identification of Mrs. Keihner, and perhaps of others in the photo.


The house built by John G. Keihner in Gratz is pictured above as it appeared in the late 20th century. It is on Lot #79.  Very few changes appear to have been made to the basic design, although there are modern porch roof supports in the front as well as new siding and shutters.


The above picture is identified in the Gratz Book, page 444, as the “George Keener” [sic] family.  However, information supplied to the authors of the Gratz Book seems to indicate that the mother is misidentified as “Sally” rather than “Mary A.”  If this is a photograph of the John G. Keihner family, then it was taken in the mid-to-late 1880s.  John G. Keihner is seated with his wife, Mary A. [Kissinger] Keihner.  To the left in the front row is Sallie Keener (or Sarah Amelia Keener) who was born in 1878.  To the right in the front row is John Franklin Keener, who was born in 1880.  In the back row from left, are Annie Keener (Ann Margaret Keener) born in 1868; George Allen Keener, born in 1875; and Lizzie Keener (Susan Elizabeth Keener), born in 1872.  The three persons in the back row look more like adults, but could be children and two women could be mixed up.  One child of John G. Keihner is missing – Mary Keener (Marietta Keener) who was born in 1870 and died in 1872 – so, she would not have been in the picture.  Her grave is in the Gratz Union Cemetery.

If this photograph is of John G. Keihner and family, then another photograph of a Civil War veteran has been found!  Perhaps a reader of this blog can shed some light on this.

Additional information can be sent by e-mail or comments can be added to this blog post.


More Information on Correcting Errors on the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg

Posted By on August 27, 2014

In August 2012, here on this blog, a post was published entitled “Correcting Errors on the Pennsylvania Gettysburg Monument.”  That post was written following the discovery by Patty Shoemaker Giroult that the National Park Service (NPS) was no longer correcting errors on battlefield monuments.  This information came to her as a result of an attempt to get the spelling of a name corrected on the monument – a soldier she was researching who died at Gettysburg.  She was told the following by Katie Lawhon of NPS:

When errors such as misspellings and omissions are discovered on monuments in national park areas, it is the policy of the National Park Service (NPS) not to change or correct the monuments or their inscriptions.  NPS management policies state:  “Many commemorative works have existed in the parks long enough to qualify as historic features.  A key aspect of their historical interest is that they reflect the knowledge, attitudes, and tastes of the persons who designed and placed them.  These works and their inscriptions will not be altered, relocated, obscured, or removed, even when they are deemed inaccurate or incompatible with prevailing present-day values.”

The park has created a full listing of Pennsylvania soldiers present at the Battle of Gettysburg, including corrected spellings and names that were omitted from the memorial.  The list is kept in the park’s archives, with a copy available for visitors to review at the park’s Museum and Visitor Center.  If you have not already provided information concerning your great-great grandfather’s service for this listing, you may send copies of your documentation to the Historian’s Office, Resource Planning, Gettysburg National Military Park, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 17325.

Although that policy was clearly expressed in an e-mail to Patty Shoemaker Giroult, it apparently was not transmitted to park rangers.  In a recent visit to the monument, Donald Triplett, “noticed some scratched off names, added names, etc., on the plaques… [and] tried to get some answers from the park rangers that were there, and they weren’t very knowledgeable as to the policy for correcting such errors….”  After doing some research on his own, he located the above-mentioned blog post, but wanted more information.

After communicating with Katie Lawhon at NPS, he found out that most of the “noticeable changes… came about before the [NPS] took control of the upkeep of the battlefield… [and] the last few changes came about in the 1970s-1980s, which is when the NPS decided to – system wide – stop correcting errors on monuments like the ones at Gettysburg….”

After filing several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and a request for a fee waiver, the scope was narrowed as follows:

Records related to the removal and/or addition of names to the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg from 1970 through 1989.

Records related to the policies and procedures for correcting errors on the Pennsylvania Memorial during the period 1970 through 1989 and records related to the current policy regarding correcting names on the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park.

The fee waiver was granted because Donald Triplett agreed to “distribute any information received to historians… who may be interested in a more in-depth look at the changes made to this monument.”

The results of the FOIA request are posted at : https://www.muckrock.com/foi/united-states-of-america-10/gettysburg-military-park-memorial-errors-12645/.  Included are documents pertaining to the specific changes that were made to the monument tablets in the 1970s and 1980s, the last such changes made to the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg.  The documents can be accessed by scrolling to the bottom of the page.  They are “scanned in and text searchable.”

The FOIA request made by Donald Triplett is a significant step forward.  In follow-up discussions with Donald Triplett and Steve Maczuga, who maintains the only known on-line, searchable database of names on the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg, Steve agreed to add notes to his database that would supplement or correct information on the monument.  Steve’s searchable index can be accessed at his web site, Pennsylvanians in the Civil War.  While Steve does not maintain an “official NPS” list, cooperation with the Historian’s Office at Gettysburg (address noted above), could result in a fairly accurate representation of the changes that have been approved and are on record at the Historian’s Office per the policy change made in 1989 – and, with the number of visitors to the park who have smart-phones and other internet-connective devices, provide an on-site index to the monument – provided, of course, that there is a posting of the URL at the monument site, and that park rangers can also access the information and provide it to visitors who do not have mobile internet access.

Information on how to use Steve Maczuga‘s searchable index can be found at:  A Searchable Index to the Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg.  Contact Steve by e-mail.



Some Basic Facts about the Civil War and Williamstown

Posted By on August 25, 2014

How many men from Williamstown and Williams Township were Civil War veterans?

One of the difficulties in answering this question can be illustrated by three historical maps of Williamstown and Williams Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.

The 1858 Map


Click on map to enlarge.

The 1858 map of Wiconisco Township shows the area presently known as Williamstown and Williams Township as not existing as a separate entity. The eastern part of the township, centered around the “O” in “Wiconisco” has no place names, only the names of the residents.  Central in the township are the towns of Lykens and Wiconisco.

The 1862 Map


In the 1862 map of Wiconisco Township, the name “Beuhlerton” first appears along the eastern end of the road that crosses the township, west to east. Lykens and Wiconisco remain in the township as the main towns.  Some territory has been lost to the west and has become part of Washington Township.  A proposed railroad extension appears from Lykens to the Summit Branch Tunnel just north of Buehlerton.

The 1876 Map


The final change is the creation of Williams Township from the eastern end of Wiconisco Township and the expansion and development of Williamstown.  The central features of this new township are the collieries and the new Summit Branch Railroad which terminates at the depot near the Williamstown Colliery.

In examining the three maps, what cannot be ignored is the territory to the “east” – or Schuylkill County and Tower City.  Some of the orientation of the pre-Civil War residents of what eventually became Williamstown/Williams Township was to the east and to Tower City, not to the west and to Lykens and Wiconisco.  From Tower City, it was a relatively easy travel run to Pottsville, the county seat of Schuylkill County.

Thus, those who enrolled in Civil War regiments from the geographical area surrounding Buehlertown, could have chosen to enroll at Lykens or Pottsville depending on their orientation and mode of travel.  During the Civil War, there was no railroad connection at Lykens with points east, but as previously mentioned on this blog, the Lykens Valley Railroad (L.V.R.R.) ran west from “Lykenstown” to just south of Millersburg and there connected with the Northern Central Railroad which ran from its northernmost point of Sunbury, Northumberland County, through Harrisburg (the location of Camp Curtin), to its southermost point of Baltimore, Maryland.  Ironically, those from Buehlertown who chose to enroll at Pottsville, had to travel by wagon, coach or buggy to Pottsville, and then after they enrolled, were sent from Pottsville “over the top” in the railroad “cars” to Sunbury where they connected with the Northern Central Railroad and then headed south to Camp Curtin at Harrisburg.  It was not until after the Civil War that the Williams Valley Branch of the Reading Railroad extended into Lykens at a station in north Lykens (close to Wiconisco).  A trolley provided a connection from the Reading station in north Lykens to the L.V.R.R. Station in south Lykens.

In developing lists of Civil War Soldiers from specific places such as Lykens, Wiconisco, Williamstown, and Williams Township, it is important to keep these facts in mind.  Since the latter two places did not exist between 1861 and 1865, the place of residence for soldiers may have been reported as Lykens or Wiconisco Township.  The unwillingness of many veterans to associate with a place name that did not exist at the time of their Civil War service is reflected in the list of veterans who preferred to join the Heilner G.A.R. Post for Lykens-Wiconisco rather than the Chester G.A.R. Post for Williamstown-Williams Township which was the actual place they lived at the time of their G.A.R. joining.   It is believed that about 1/3 of the approximately 400 veterans whose names appear on the Lykens G.A.R. Monument were actually connected with Williamstown and Williams Township.  Likewise, some Williamstown veterans chose to join the William Thompson G.A.R. Post at Tower City.  

Therefore, when compiling a list of Civil War veterans who had some association with Williamstown and Williamstown, always look carefully at those veterans who were associated with places such as Lykens, Wiconisco, Wiconisco Township, and Tower City including in the censuses of 1860 and prior, church records, and property records.