Posted By Norman Gasbarro on December 1, 2010
Benjamin C. Christ (1822-1869) was Colonel of the 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. Company A consisted of men largely recruited from Dauphin and Schuylkill Counties. His term of service was from 27 July 1861 to 30 September 1864. On 1 August 1864 he was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General. He is buried in the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, Minersville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. He is also honored by a bronze statue which sits atop the monument to the 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry that is placed on the Antietam battlefield.
In the 19th Century, cemeteries were like parks, where families gathered on important occasions and celebrated life as well as remembering their loved ones who passed on. Picnics and other gatherings were common in season and those grave yards that surrounded churches were especially frequented on Sunday following services. The grounds were maintained by the churches themselves rather than by independent companies. As churches lost membership into the later part of the 20th Century, it became more difficult and costly for churches to maintain cemeteries and the old church buildings. Sometimes consolidation took place and/or the churches closed and the burial business was left to professionals. New church buildings were often built with parking lots surrounding them.
Throughout the country there are cemeteries in great disrepair and in need of restoration. One such case was the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery in Minersville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. According to first hand information, no one had been interred in the cemetery since the 1970s and many of the lots were overgrown and had broken markers. One of the cemetery’s neighbors, Carol Kalinich, called the executive director of the Historical Society of Schuylkill County, Peter Yasenchak, and informed him that a Civil War general was buried there and it seemed that no one knew about it. There was no military marker. After doing some research, Yasenchak concluded that a proper military marker should be placed at the graveside of “Brevet Brigadier General Benjamin C. Christ.”
In 2007, with the full cooperation of William Edmunds, a member of the church council, a group of volunteers from the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized. These “Friends of the Cemetery” went to work and the cemetery was cleaned up. A graveside ceremony was planned for the installation of a Civil War marker. However, the Veterans Administration informed those responsible that the designation on the stone would have to be “Colonel” as his title of “General” was honorary and was bestowed upon him just before he left the service.
While research shows that the government may have provided a military marker for Col. Christ’s grave a short time after his death in 1869, cemetery records indicate that his remains had been moved from an older part of the cemetery after 1870 and re-interred in a plot purchased by his sister Elizabeth. No one knows what happened to the original marker – whether it was ever moved from the old part of the cemetery – whether it was broken, badly worn and removed – or in fact if it was ever delivered. Prior to the installation of the newly ordered marker, the grave plot consisted of a large obelisk and smaller stones including one for Col. Christ indicating his birth and death years. There was no mention that he served in the Civil War.
The new marker that was installed was of the same type that was provided for other Civil War veterans and is found in other cemeteries throughout the country, but especially in national military cemeteries such as Arlington.
Sadly, no descendants of Col. Christ attended the September 2009 event for the installation of the new marker. All efforts to locate any descendants were in vain. So, members of the committee, Deborah Nouzovsky and Carol Kalinich represented Col. Christ as his “surrogate family.” Extensive research on the life and military career has been done by Deborah. The pictures of the ceremony, of the marker and of the gravesite that are posted here are courtesy of Deborah Nouzovsky.
Col. Christ was born in Orwigsburg, Schuylkill Co., Pennsylvania on 12 September 1822. He then moved to Pottsville and later to Minersville. Christ taught in the Minersville schools in the 1840s and in 1854 he was president of the school board. In 1860 he operated an hotel in Minersville. He was also a coal merchant. Christ’s political offices included Schuylkill County treasurer and an election as a Pennsylvania representative.
The following is from Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia:
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Christ received an appointment on April 21, 1861, as the lieutenant colonel of the 5th Pennsylvania Infantry. He mustered out July 25 at the end of the regiment’s 3-months service. In September, he was appointed as colonel of the 50th Pennsylvania Infantry, and participated in the Battle of Port Royal. Soon he was in command of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division of the IX Corps. At Chantilly, he assumed temporary command of his division upon the death of, Isaac Stevens. He returned to command of the 1st Brigade and fought at the battles of South Mountain and at Antietam near Burnside’s Bridge. Shortly after Antietam he was transferred to command of the 2nd Brigade in the 1st Division. This brigade he led at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Christ was in command of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division in the IX Corps during the Siege of Vicksburg but returned to command of the 2nd Brigade during the Knoxville Campaign. In the Spring of 1864 the IX Corps was transferred back to the Eastern Theater and Christ took command of the 2nd Brigade in the 3rd Division and fought at the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor. When the Union army assaulted the Confederate works at Petersburg, Christ was wounded. He left the field for only a short time before returning to command the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division in the IX Corps. He was mustered out on September 30, 1864.
Fellow veterans from his 50th Pennsylvania Infantry erected a monument on the Antietam Battlefield in the decades after the war. Topping the memorial is a bronze statue of Col. Christ.
The above photo of the 50th Pennsylvania monuments is from the Google Books version of Pennsylvania at Antietam, a program summary of the activities on 17 September 1904 when Pennsylvania dedicated 13 monuments on the Antietam battlefield. Each monument represented one of the Pennsylvania regiments that fought in the battle.
Col. Benjamin C. Christ died in Philadelphia at the age of 46. His wife Mary [Davis] Christ survived him, living until 1884. The couple had two daughters and two sons: Maria, born about 1845; Henry, born about 1846; May born about 1848; and Douglas Heister, born about 1856. No one know if there are any descendants of the Christ’s alive today.
The individuals who organized the effort to clean up and restore the cemetery and recognize the meritorious service of Col. Christ are to be commended for taking on this project. I am indebted to Deborah Nouzovsky who provided much of the information for this post as well as the pictures of the dedication ceremony. Deborah continues to research the life of Col. Christ. Donations to help maintain the cemetery are accepted through the Methodist Episcopal Church of Minersville.