Civil War Blog

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Dr. Charles A. Rahter – Prussian Immigrant in Civil War and Franco-Prussian War

Posted By on November 21, 2012

The headline story in the Harrisburg Patriot of 22 September 1910 noted the death of well-known physician Dr. Charles A. Rahter in Atlantic City, Atlantic County, New Jersey.  Dr. Rahter was a Civil War veteran of the Union Army, but was also a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War.  When that war began in Europe, Dr. Rahter returned to his native Prussia and offered his medical services to the Prussian Army.  Dr. Rahter spent most of his career as a physician in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Rahter’s biography appeared in the Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia of Dauphin County, published by Runk and Company, of Chambersburg, page 369.  A portrait of him also appeared in that same book, page 377.  Note: Click on book title for free download of this resource.


Charles A. Rahter, M. D., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, born 8 August 1839, near Minden, on the Weser, Westphalia, Prussia, is the son of Christian Rahter and Charlotte [Wehmeir] Rahter. His father, Christian Rahter, the son of a farmer, was born in Prussia, in the year 1805, and having an elder brother who inherited the paternal esta e, he, Christian, learned the trade of coach-making, immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1842, and settled at Conestoga Centre, and removed to Littlestown, Adams County, in the spring of 1847.  Here Charles A. Rahter attended the public schools; in 1858 he entered the classical institute at Hanover, Paennsylvania, and afterwards took a partial course at the Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg.  In 1859 he taught school at Littlestown, Pennsylvania, during one session, and then attended the Littlestown Classical Institute for one year. During the winter of 1860-1861 he was engaged as principal of Carroll Academy, Union Mills, Maryland.

In the meantime his father had removed to Woodsborough, Maryland, and Dr. Rahter commenced the study of medicine there in 1862, under the direction of Dr. C. W. Benson; matriculated at the medical department of the University of Maryland, 1863, and the following year attended lectures at the Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, where he was graduated in 1864. Soon after graduating, Dr. Rahter entered the Union service as Acting Assistant Surgeon, and for a time was stationed at Fairfax Seminary, United States General Hospital, near Alexandria, Virginia.  Early in 1865 he was transferred to Campbell United States Army General Hospital, Washington, D. C., where he remained until June 1 of the same year, when he resigned and went to Harrisburg, Pa., and opened an office 1 July 1865. In August, 1865, Dr. Rahter was appointed examining surgeon for pensions at Harrisburg, and continued to discharge the duties of this office until August 20, 1870, when he resigned to accept an appointment as Acting Curgeon in the German Army. Dr. Rahter sailed for Liverpool on the steamship City of Washington, Inman Line, from New York, in the latter part of August 1870, with orders to report to the German Consul at Antwerp. Upon arriving at that place he was ordered to report to Surgeon General Scholler, Eighth Army Corps, at Coblentz on the Rhine, and was there assigned to duty as Assistant Surgeon in the Garrison Hospital of that city. After serving for a period of four weeks, Dr. Rahter was promoted to be Staff Surgeon, and was ordered to St. Johann, Saarbincken, and placed in charge of the Barracken Lazarett of that city. In January, 1871, he was promoted to be Surgeon-in-Chief to the Garrison Lazaretto in addition to the Barracken Lazarett, continuing to serve in this capacity until July 15, 1871, when he resigned from the service. After leaving the German Army Dr. Rahter made a tour of Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, England and Belgium, returning to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1872, and resumed the practice of medicine. He was one of the founders, in January, 1866, of the Dauphin County (Pennsylvania) Medical Society, President in 1876; is a member of the American Medical Association; of the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania since 1868; of the Philadelphia Pathological Society; of the Harrisburg Pathological Society: charter member of the Harrisburg Academy of Medicine; was president of the Harrisburg Board of Pension Examiners 1885-89; a member of the Harrisburg school board for three years, and a member of Perseverance Lodge, No. 21, F & A. M.  The Doctor married, 11 November 1875, Miss Mary R. Keffer, of Harrisburg, an accomplished vocalist. They have one child living, John Howard Rahter.

One day prior to the death of Dr. Rahter, the Patriot reported the following:

Dr. Rahter Still Very Low

The latest report concerning the condition of Dr. Charles A. Rahter, of 110 North Second Street, who is seriously ill in Atlantic City, was that he was very low.  Dr. Howard Rahter, of this city, received this information from his mother last evening at 8:30 o’clock.

Dr. Rahter’s obituary was constructed primarily from information in the Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia of Dauphin County and departed only in describing the doctor’s life in the time period after the biography was published.  Those new portions are reproduced below:

Dr. Charles A. Rahter, aged seventy-two years, one of the best-known physicians and surgeons of this city, died yesterday morning at 5o’clock at the Hotel Ostend, Atlantic City.  He had been unconscious since Sunday following a succession of paralytic strokes which were responsible for his death.

Dr. Rahter practiced medicine and surgery in this city for the past forty-three years….

Dr. Rahter left here for Atlantic City on Friday, 9 September.  A few days later he became ill but recovered sufficiently to be about.  Last Friday he was seized with a stroke and several slight ones on Sunday rendered him unconscious in which condition he remained until the time of his death.  Word concerning Dr. Rather’s death was received here by Dr. J. Howard Rahter at 5:30 o’clock.

Dr. Rather [sic] had not been in good health since last February when he was seriously ill with pneumonia.  He recovered, however, and in a few months was able to be out….

He was married to Miss Mary R. Keffer, an accomplished vocalist, who, with one son, Dr. Howard Rahter, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, 1904, survives.  Dr. Rahter is also survived by three brothers — David Rahter, proprietor of the Hotel Ostend, Atlantic City; Benjamin Rahter of Chicago; and Adolphus Rahter of Baltimore; and one sister, Mrs. Charles Howard of Gettysburg.

Dr. Rahter was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic [G.A.R.]…  [and] the Philadelphia and Harrisburg Pathological Association…. [Note: other memberships match those given in the Biographical Encyclopedia].

The funeral will take place from his late residence, 110 North Second Street, on Saturday afternoon at 2 o’clock.  Rev. Rollin A. Sawyer, Rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, will officiate.  Interment will be made in the Harrisburg Cemetery.

The body will be brought to this city today by Undertaker Ogelsby.

Two days after the obituary notice, the Patriot added the following to the funeral arrangements:  Dr. George S. Chambers, Pastor of Pine Street Presbyterian Church, was included as a second officiating minister at the funeral, and that the burial would be private.

Finally, on 26 September 1910, the Patriot reported on the funeral, noting that Rev. Rollin A. Sawyer and Dr. George S. Chambers officiated.  The pall bears were named as:  Congressman Marlin E. Olmsted; William E. Bailey; William Hammond; Dr. H. M. Stine; Dr. Hugh Hamilton; and Dr. Hiram McGowan.  Also, a delegation of members from the Academy of Medicine and Dauphin County Medical Society attended.

Although Dr. Rahter’s connection with the men of the Upper Dauphin County area as well as the extended geographical area including veterans identified in the Civil War Research Project is not specifically stated – in general, he must have been known to these veterans is a number of ways;  (1) his service during the Civil War at the two hospitals previously mentioned where many wounded men were brought from the battlefields – some of whom were from the Lykens Valley area; (2) his service after the Civil War as a pension examiner, he came into contact with men from Dauphin County and surrounding areas in evaluating their claims; and (3) his time in Harrisburg as a physician and association with the closest hospital to the Lykens Valley area.

Views of Campbell Army Hospital, Washington, D.C., and Fairfax Seminary, where Dr. Rahter served during the Civil War, are shown below, as is his Pension Index Card:

Campbell Army Hospital

Fairfax Seminary

It is noted from Dr. Rahter’s Pension Index Card that although both he and his widow applied for benefits, neither received them.


Pension Index Cards are from Ancestry.com and reference pension application files available from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  Photos of Civil War-era army hospitals are available from the Library of Congress and such images are in the public domain.  The news clippings are from the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia.


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