Civil War Blog

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Was Henry B. Hoffman Excused from Military Service Because of a Diseased Eye?

Posted By on June 7, 2016


A family story, oft repeated but without any proof, was that Henry B. Hoffman of Millersburg was excused from Civil War military service because of a “diseased eye.”  Instead, he supposedly served on the staff of Gov. James Pollock at the rank of Colonel. An additional feature of this family story is that he served in the Pennsylvania Legislature representing Dauphin County from 1866-1869.

The following is from a final, pre-publication manuscript of a local historical society:

In 1850 Henry B. was a fuller in Wiconisco Twp [Wiconisco Township].  He was not able to serve during the Civil War because of a diseased eye.  So, he served on the staff of Governor Pollock with the rank of Colonel and represented Dauphin County in the Legislature sessions of 1866-1869.  He lived in Harrisburg.

The Henry Bernhart Hoffman in question was born on 22 September 1828, the son of John Peter Hoffman Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth [Umholtz] Hoffman, in Lykens Township, Dauphin County.  Two younger brothers, John Peter Hoffman III (1829-1900) and Jonas W. Hoffman (1838-1887), both were Civil War soldiers.  However, no record has been found that Henry B. Hoffman was drafted and discharged on disability or that his service was refused based on any physical or medical condition.

On 12 August 1849, Henry B. Hoffman married Catherine Kissinger (1829-1900), the daughter of Jacob Kissinger (1803-1854) and Sarah [Buffington] Kissinger (1807-1876).  At least 6 children were born to this couple between 1850 and 1864.  No record has been located of a Civil War widow’s pension application for Catherine Hoffman, who survived Henry by almost 7 years.

On the matter of service under James Pollock, who was the Governor of Pennsylvania from 1855-1858, if Henry B. Hoffman was a “Colonel” under him, it was not during the Civil War.  And, if Hoffman did serve under Pollock during the Civil War, it would have been at the Philadelphia Mint, where Pollock served as Director from 1861-1866, having been appointed by President Lincoln to that post in 1861.  Note:  Pollock is credited with “coining” the wording found on U.S. coins, “In God We Trust,” which was accomplished during his superintendency of the U.S. Mint.  The Governor of Pennsylvania during the Civil War was Andrew Curtin.

Henry B. Hoffman died on 2 August 1893 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Millersburg.  There is no G.A.R. Star-Flag Holder at his grave, nor is he mentioned on any list of veterans from that borough, nor is he named on the Millersburg Soldier Monument.


Henry B. Hoffman‘s obituary appeared in the Harrisburg Daily Independent, the day of his death:


One of the Best Known Citizens of Dauphin County And a Republican Leader.


The sad intelligence of the sudden death of Colonel Henry B. Hoffman, a respected citizen of Millersburg, was received in the city today.  Reports have it that the gentleman was found dead in bed.  Coroner Hoy was summoned and left on Fast Line to hold an inquest.  Deceased was well-known throughout the county, taking an active part in politics, being allied with the Republican Party. Deceased served as a member of the legislature representing the Second Legislative District of this county.  He was also keeper of the Dauphin County Jail for several years.

Mr. Hoffman was one of the best known and most highly respected citizens of Dauphin County.  A man not only of high standing in social life, or creditable repute in official position and of potential influence in politics, but of such personal traits of character as to win the esteem and confidence of men of all parties with whom he came in contact.  Every position that he filled and every duty that was devolved upon him he upheld with dignity and discharged with more than ordinary ability.  While living in this city as prison warden, he won the esteem of every man who came in official or social contact with him, because he performed the service devolved upon him with that amiable and quiet manner that divested it even of its rigors and toned down what is occasionally offensive when discharged by many other men.

As a member of the legislature he performed every duty in that position in a spirit and a manner which few other gentlemen in the same place equaled and certainly none ever excelled.  He was a reliable man in whatever he covenanted to do, and a trustworthy man in his obligations.  It was these traits which made him popular in public life and rendered him so successful in all his private undertakings.  Naturally mild and pleasant he was easy of approach, so that all men knew him as plain Henry B. Hoffman and as such esteemed him.  His death, when known in this city, elicited much regret, and as it became known through the upper end of the county will be a painful shock to the people there.  Deceased was about 65 years of age.

A more brief obituary appeared in the Harrisburg Patriot the nest day:



A Former Legislator and Republican Office Holder Passes Away.

Henry B. Hoffman, a prominent Republican and citizen of Millersburg died suddenly at his home in that place yesterday.  Coroner Hoy was notified and left for Millersburg yesterday afternoon to make an investigation.  Mr. Hoffman was a member of the legislature, having represented the Second Legislative District in the House of Representatives.  He was also keeper of the county jail.  He was well known throughout the county, and the news of his death will be heard with regret by many friends.  He was aged about sixty-three.

Similar brief obituaries were published in newspapers throughout Pennsylvania, e.g., Philadelphia, Reading, and Lebanon.

On 3 August 1893, the Harrisburg Daily Independent, in its “Millersburg News,” reported the  Coroner’s conclusion regarding Hoffman’s death:


Coroner Hoy was called here yesterday by the sudden death of H. B. Hoffman.  His investigation showed death to be due to appoplexy [sic] brought on by Bright’s disease, and he decided no inquest to be necessary.

Attempting to locate any Civil War service for Henry B. Hoffman in historical newspapers from 1861-1865 produced no results.  The only references found were to him being a candidate for the legislature.

Henry B. Hoffman was included on the Civil War Veterans’ List of the Civil War Research Project since the beginning of the project several years ago.  This inclusion was based on the unsubstantiated oral family history printed above – which has now found its way into a supposedly “ready-for-publication” book on the history of Lykens Township. In this final draft, no sources are given for the statements made.  However, the statements could be considered partially true, because the title of “Colonel” does appear in one obituary (above) and Hoffman did live in Harrisburg for a time while he was county jail keeper, as confirmed by the 1880 Census as well as all the newspaper notices of his death.  While there are many other errors (as well as omissions), found in the Hoffman pages of this soon-to-be published township history, the focus at this time is specifically on the Henry B. Hoffman who died suddenly on 2 August 1863 and who is buried with his wife at Millersburg.

What is presently being sought from readers and researchers who follow this blog is any evidence that Henry B. Hoffman served in any official capacity during the Civil War, whether his title of “Colonel” was anything more than honorary, and whether he had a physical or medical condition which would have precluded him from serving in a military capacity.  Please add comments to this blog post or send the information via e-mail.


News clippings are from the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia and from Newspapers.com.  The photograph of the grave marker is from Henry B. Hoffman‘s Findagrave Memorial, which does not mention Civil War service.




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