On April 12, 2011, our country will begin a commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War (1861-1865), the bloodiest war in our history. In preparation for that commemoration, the Gratz Historical Society has begun a research project on the soldiers who fought in that war. The project started with the pension application files of 300 soldiers from the Upper Dauphin-Lykens Valley area, but it quickly became obvious that there were many more veterans than previously thought. Now, more than 2000 Civil War veterans have been identified!
Many of these veterans served honorably but their graves are not marked with the customary G.A.R. star (Grand Army of the Republic). Others never applied for pensions or joined post-war patriotic organizations. Some moved out of the area, while others moved into the area following their military service. Some also were “cousins” of those in the Lykens Valley – fighting on both sides, sometimes in the same battle against each other.
Many descendants of these soldiers have come forward with information and materials about their ancestors. These materials have enriched the Civil War Collection at the Gratz Historical Society – which now numbers more than 50,000 items – all which are digitized and readily available for research.
The digital records are organized in files labeled with the name of each veteran. Each veteran file contains some or all of the following:
• Photographs of veterans and their families
• Roles of the women – wives, mothers, sisters, daughters – before, during and after the war
• Photographs of gravestones
• Obituaries of the veterans and members of their families
• Genealogies of the veterans and their families
• Military records with muster dates, regiment and company information, battles fought (and sometimes pictures of the battles), and the National Archives microfilm references.
• Pension records with applications made by the soldier and widow, copies of medical certifications, marriage information, military record information, and National Archives pension application references.
• Census returns showing the soldier and his family
• Military gravestone application record
• Prisoner of war records
• Veterans home records
• Regimental histories
• References to objects in the Gratz Historical Society collections or books published by the Society
• Letters from soldiers sent to their loved ones at home or letters they received
• Diaries – there is a complete diary kept by one soldier for most of the war
• Monuments and tributes
• Historical sites pertaining to the veteran
• G.A.R. Post records
These member and community-shared items enable us to discover what happened to the citizens of the Lykens Valley more than 150 years ago – how and in what ways they supported the war and or avoided it, and how they were affected by it.
For the purpose of defining the geographic area of this study, a modified portion of a map from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is provided below:
The area of study is a large triangle, the Lykens Valley falling within its heart. The entire area within the triangle has to be considered because of the free movement of people in and out of the Lykens Valley area. Anyone who at any time was associated with any of the communities both within and along the sides of the triangle was considered for this study.
The “points” of (A) Herndon in Northumberland County, (B) Tremont in Schuylkill County and (C) Clarks Ferry in Dauphin County create the triangle.
The western side is the Susquehanna River with Millersburg about mid-way between Clarks Ferry and Herndon.
Along the northern side is the Mahantongo Mountain with its gaps at Pillow and Klingerstown, allowing access to the Lykens Valley from the Northumberland County townships just beyond the gaps.
The southern side of the triangle is Peters Mountain – a formidable barrier which in effect separates Dauphin County into two parts.
Two east-west roads (Route 25 and Route 209) bisect the triangle and run from Millersburg at the river to Tremont in the east. Between these roads for about half their distance is Short Mountain. Where Short Mountain ends is “The Crossroads” connecting Routes 209 and 25. These roads allowed free movement of people in and around the Valley and enabled commerce and communication in the Civil War period just as they do today.
Although the natural boundaries did confine many of the people of the Lykens Valley for generations – others found ways in and out. Many of the soldiers identified in this study may have been born abroad and were immigrants drawn by work in the coal mines or farms. Others were born in the Lykens Valley and left to seek their fortunes in the West – Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa. A surprising number were related to each other by blood or marriage and were descended from the same group of the original settlers to the Lykens Valley. Today, the names that are found in abundance in the Civil War files, are the names of many current residents – undoubtedly descendants of those veterans.
This geographic area, while broad, falls within the mission of the Gratz Historical Society which was founded with the purpose of serving the northern end of Dauphin County with the aim of discovering and preserving records and materials to illustrate the history of the area, collecting artifacts of the region, fostering an interest in its history, and collecting and preserving genealogical records of the settlers of the area.
Members and friends of the Gratz Historical Society can continue to send or bring in items relating to the Civil War to add to the research project. Stories are especially welcome. The Society now has the capability to make copies of pictures and other records (digital scans) if you want to keep the originals. The Museum also accepts donations of items.
Members are encouraged to use the Civil War Collection for research. Stop at the Society Library on Wednesday between noon and five during the spring, summer & fall months to see the materials in person. For those anxious to get started right away, contact Norm Gasbarro, who is directing this project. E-mail: email@example.com, or by regular mail at 1900 John F. Kennedy Blvd., Apt. #1403, Philadelphia, PA 19103. Norm is usually available at the Society Library on alternate Wednesdays in season, but it is best to check in advance as to his schedule.