Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Death of Isaac P. Messner – Kicked Overboard by a Horse

Posted By on November 17, 2014


An entry in a 9th Pennsylvania Cavalryman’s diary read as follows:

Saturday 30th [November 1861] – In the morning about 4 A.M. another excitement On board the Arago owing to a report that Isaac Messner was kicked over board by one of the Horses on board the Anglo Saxon… one of Co. B…. Both sides of the river bank is quite white Resulting from one of these cold Atumnul frosts…. all the boats Tied up at Louisville Ky in the evening…. the report of Mr. Messner proves True the[y] could not recover his body so he found a watery grave in the Ohio…. [William Thomas as reported in Yankee Cavalrymen, p. 31-32].

Isaac P. Messner was born about 1840 in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, the son of John P. Messner (1817-1891) and Lydia [Buffington] Messner (1821-1892).  Through his mother’s paternal line he could trace his ancestry back to Richard Buffington (1654-1748) the immigrant, who arrived on the west shore of the Delaware River about 1675, and from whom nearly all the Buffington’s in America can claim descent.  Through his mother’s maternal line, he could claim Johann Peter Hoffman (1709-1797) as his 2nd great grandfather, the immigrant and pioneer settler of the Lykens Valley.

Isaac grew up in Mifflin Township, Dauphin County along with his brothers and sisters, including younger brother Henry Messner, born in 1844.  The father John P. Messner was a carpenter in and around Berrysburg.  On 25 March 1858, Isaac married Ellen Nellie Enterline (1836-1865) and on 26 June 1860 in Powell’s Valley, a daughter, Mary Catherine Enterline, was born to the couple.  In 1860, brother Henry Messner was still living with his parents, then in Washington Township, where John P. Messner was working as a millwright.  Then the Civil War came.

Isaac P. Messner enlisted in the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry on 23 September 1861 and was mustered into Company B as a Saddler on 7 October 1861.  At the time, Isaac stood 5 foot 8 inches tall, had dark hair, blue eyes and a dark complexion.  He was 22 years old, and was by occupation a saddler, a natural fit for his position in the cavalry.  Brother Henry also enlisted in the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Company B, at the same time.  He said his age was 20 but he was probably only 18.  He matched his brother in height and physical description.  Although his occupation was given as saddler, Henry was assigned as Private in Company B, where he remained until nearly the end of the war when he was promoted to Regimental Saddler on 1 January 1865.



The two Pension Index Cards [above, top, from Fold3; bottom from Ancestry.com) begin to tell the rest of the story.  In that Isaac Messner died in the line of duty, and application was first made by the widow, Ellen [Enterline] Messner, on 28 June 1864.  At that time, the daughter of Isaac and Ellen was about 4 years old.  Any dollar amounts that Ellen would receive would include additional support for the daughter, Mary Catherine Messner, so there was no need at that time to apply for a separate pension for the minor child.  But, as stated earlier, Ellen [Enterline] Messner died in 1865, about nine months after she applied for a widow’s pension, and before the Pension Bureau made a decision on her application.  She is buried in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery, Enterline, Dauphin County.  John Hoffman, who was Ellen’s sister-in-law (married to Ellen’s older sister, Polly Enterline), was appointed guardian of the almost-five-year-old-orphaned Mary Catherine Messner.   John Hoffman, who was a descendant of Johann Peter Hoffman, was also distant cousin of Isaac Messner (see above on Isaac’s mother’s lines of descent).  The application on behalf of the minor child was made on 9 June 1865.  That pension was received.

Unfortunately, Mary Catherine Messner died on 22 November 1873.  She is buried next to her mother at St. Paul’s Cemetery in Enterline.  A photograph believed to be an image of Mary Catherine is attached to an Ancestry.com family tree.

As part of the supporting documents to confirm the death of Isaac Messner, the following item was presented to the Pension Bureau:


Click on document to enlarge.

It was dated 15 December 1864 and was from the U.S Treasury Department.  It stated that Isaac Messner was “reported drowned in the Ohio River 29 November 1861, kicked into the River by a horse on boat Anglo Saxon.”

To understand why there were horses on board a boat in the Ohio River, it is necessary to study the movement of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the late days of 1861.  William Thomas wrote the following in his diary (excerpts from Yankee Cavalrymen slightly modified):

Wednesday 27th [November 1861] – great trouble to get the Soldiers aboard… commenced sailing down the river to Louisville… the Poe run aground and detained us about 2 hours…. It took 7 boats to convey our regiment and horses down the river….

Thursday 28th [November 1861] – The Anglo Saxon run aground… we run all night…. The Westmoreland run aground during the night…. It rained from 8 P.M. until daylight….

Friday 29th [November 1861] – Boats tied up this morning at Pomroy… to take in coal for the balance of the trip…. Passed the town Guyandotte all destroyed…  Passed Portsmouth, a town on the Ohio bank… at 9 P.M.  Passed Cincinnati in the morning about 3 A.M….

The next day, Isaac Messner was kicked overboard by one of the horses on the Anglo Saxon.

A significant amount of information is available in the pension application file (47 pages) now available on line through Fold3.  The above document from the Treasury Department is page 19 from that file.



Death of an Ex-Slave at Paxtang

Posted By on November 16, 2014

Manuel Walker was one of many ex-slaves who chose to relocate in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, in the years immediately after the Civil War.  He died on 18 September 1907 and his obituary appeared in the Harrisburg Patriot the next day.



Manuel Walker, the aged colored sexton of Paxton Presbyterian Church, died at 4:30 o’clock Tuesday afternoon at his home in Paxtang.  He had been ill for only a few days, last Sunday exactly three months after the death of his wife, being the first time he was unable to attend to his duties at the church.

He was dressing in his room at his home Tuesday afternoon when he fell dead and it is believed that heart disease was the immediate cause.  He was an ex-slave, coming here from Maryland with his wife soon after the Civil War.  He had been sexton of Paxton Church for a quarter of a century and was very well known east-of the city.  Like many of his race whose birth occurred during the ante-bellum period he was uncertain as to his exact age, but he was more than eighty, beyond a doubt.

Of seven children only one survives – Mrs. Dora Wright. The funeral services will be held from her home, 4 Haehnlen Avenue, at 2 o’clock tomorrow afternoon and Rev. E. M. Mulock, pastor of Paxton Church will officiate. He will be buried at Penbrook along side the grave of his wife.

Although there was a large community of ex-slaves living in the Harrisburg area, few specific records have been located that give more information on most of them.  In the case of Manuel Walker, for example, as of this writing he has not been located in the 1900 census (or censuses before) and a death certificate for him has not been found.

The cemetery at Penbrook is most likely Lincoln Cemetery, an historic African American cemetery, established as early as 1816 although the date on the cemetery gate is 1827.


Two Flag Stories

Posted By on November 15, 2014


John McConnell served in the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Company L, as a Private, from 23 May 1864 through his discharge, which occurred when he was at Camp Parole.  His death was reported in the Harrisburg Patriot, 14 May 1906:


Stroudsburg, 13 May 1906 — John McConnell, a veteran of the Civil War, is dead here at the age of eighty.

Several months ago Father Francis was called to the bedside of McConnell who was then thought to be dying.  He was delirious and unable to receive the sacraments and Father Craft resorted to the expedient of holding the national banner before his eyes.  This attracted his attention, he rallied, saluted the flag and returned to consciousness, then his health began to mend.

This was tried again yesterday, but the flag was of no avail.

McConnell was a pensioner as shown by the Pension Index Card for him that was located on Fold3:


John McConnell and his wife Margaret are buried in St. Matthew’s Cemetery, East Stroudsburg, Monroe County, Pennsylvania.  More information about him can be found at his Findagrave Memorial.



The following story was reported in the Harrisburg Patriot of 13 June 1906:


Oil City, 12 June 1906 — George Hamm, a Civil War veteran, living near Frogtown, Clarion County, was seriously burned last night while trying to save a historic battle flag from flames which destroyed his home.  His efforts were futile and the relic was consumed.

Hamm served as a color sergeant of the Seventy-eighth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers [78th Pennsylvania Infantry].  The flag was a present to the regiment from Governor Curtin, and had been torn into ribbons by Confederate bullets.  Hamm was made custodian of the relic when the regiment was mustered out.

As shown by the Pension Index Card (below, from Fold3), George D. Hamm served in the regiment from 29 August 1861 through his discharge on 4 November 1864.  He applied for a Civil War pension on 12 July 1879.  He died at Clarion, Pennsylvania, 12 January 1915.


George Hamm is buried at the New Bethlehem Mennonite Cemetery, Leatherwood, Clarion County, Pennsylvania.  More information about him, including his obituary (Clarion Democrat, 1915), can be found at his Findagrave Memorial.  The obituary tells how Hamm saved the flag in battle and at a reunion of the regiment after the war, he was given the flag for safekeeping.

It was in the battle of Stone River that Mr. Hamm first attracted attention of his officers. Colonel Snively ordered a charge, the men hesitated; Sergeant Hamm plunged into the river and waving the colors, cried, “Come on boys.”  They followed, but Hamm, being far in advance, had the colors shot from his hands. He picked up the colors which had fallen on the river bank.  Looking up, he saw a fine young southerner of 20 to 22 years, standing behind a tree 60 yards away. Sergeant Hamm rushed forward, sword in hand, and forced the Dixie soldier to surrender before he had time to reload his musket.

The injuries Hamm received while trying to save the flag are also recounted:

One night he was awakened by the cracking of burning wood. He barely escaped from the burning building. Reaching a place of safety his first thought was of the flag – his flag – the flag he carried all through the dark days of the rebellion. A thousand demons could not have held him then. He rushed into the building which had become a fiery furnace. He was rescued – almost lifeless – every hair burned from his head; face blistered, hands charred.

After months of suffering, months of tender care and patient nursing, he was saved to his friends but the flag he loved and for which he had offered his life on this country’s altar, was no more.


News clippings are from the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia.


Monuments at Gettysburg – 61st Pennsylvania Infantry

Posted By on November 14, 2014


The 61st Pennsylvania Infantry Monument at Gettysburg is southeast of the town of Gettysburg on Neil Avenue.  It was dedicated in 1888, a year prior to large group of monuments paid for by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The drawing of the monument (above) is from the Philadelphia Inquirer article describing the regimental ceremonies.  For a picture of the monument, see Steven Recker’s Virtual Gettysburg Web Site which has more information about the monument and the 61st Pennsylvania Infantry.

A full description of the monument, its GPS coordinates, a photograph, and some of the history of the 61st Pennsylvania Infantry can be found on the Stone Sentinels Web Site.


On 11 September 1889, the Philadelphia Inquirer included the following information on the 61st Pennsylvania Infantry in its article on the monument dedications:

Lost the Highest Number of Officers.

The 61st Regiment monument stands on Wolf’s Hill, and was dedicated last year.  This year there will be a reunion with headquarters on the grounds of the Battlefield Hotel.  The 61st Pennsylvania lost more officers killed during the war than any regiment in the service of the United States – it stands No. 11 on the list of great losses of men in any one battle and No 15 on the list of 45 regiments who had the greatest number of men killed during the war.

This regiment was on the march ten hours without a halt before reaching the rear of Little Round Top, which was a veritable volcano.  As the 6th Corps approached by the Baltimore Pike it was at first mistaken at Meade’s headquarters for the rebel Stuart’s Cavalry.  The corps passed Rock Creek and having barely time to wipe their faces the men went into the flashes of musketry and cheers on Little Round Top.  Longstreet gave up the struggle and fell back.  On the 3rd the regiment was commanded by Major George W. Dawson.  It occupied four different places on the line; on the evening of the 2nd, to the right of Round Top in the repulse of Longstreet; later to the right of Culp’s Hill; then on Wolf’s Hill connecting with the right cavalry, and during the 3rd day’s cannonade on cemetery Ridge in front of Meade’s headquarters.  When Pickett was repulsed the regiment moved back to Wolf’s Hill, where its monument stands.


George F. Smith (1840-1877)

George Fairlamb Smith, who commanded the 61st Pennsylvania Infantry at Gettysburg, was a 25 year-old lawyer from West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania.  He joined the regiment at Washington, D.C., on 15 March 1862 from prior service in two other Pennsylvania regiments and on 1 June 1862 received a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, the rank he held at the Battle of Gettysburg.  On 21 March 1864, he was promoted to Colonel and after the expiration of his term of service on 7 September 1864, he was re-commissioned on 29 September 1864.  His discharge came by General Order on 20 April 1865.

George F. Smith was born on 28 February 1840 and died 18 October 1877 at West Chester.  He is buried at Oaklands Cemetery in West Chester.  Further information about him can be found at his Findagrave Memorial.


Around the base of the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg are a series of plaques which, by regiment and company, note the names of every soldier who was present at the Battle of Gettysburg.  The plaque for the 61st Pennsylvania Infantry is pictured below.  By clicking on the plaque it should enlarge so the names can be more clearly read.  If a name does not appear, it could be that the soldier did serve in the 61st Pennsylvania Infantry, but was not part of the regiment during its days in Gettysburg.  There could also be errors on the plaque.




The news clippings are from the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia.


Emanuel H. Umholtz – The Bell Tolls for Him

Posted By on November 13, 2014


On 16 September 1904, Emanuel H. Umholtz died in Gratz, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.  His funeral was held a few days later at Simeon Church and he was buried in the church yard, now called Gratz Union Cemetery.  About two weeks earlier a new 649 pound bell, purchased from Buckeye Bell Foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio, had been installed in the church steeple.  Old timers in Gratz recalled that although the new bell was not dedicated until 29 October 1904, it tolled for the first time for the funeral of Emanuel Umholtz.  The difficulty in hanging the bell was told in a book published in 1978, Simeon United Lutheran Church, pages 13-14.  In order to get the bell into the existing steeple, the supporting posts had to be notched so the bell could pass through the attic window.

Emanuel H. Umholtz, born 5 August 1843, was the son of Samuel Umholtz (1814-1883) and Elizabeth [Harner] Umholtz (1820-1855).    His great grandfather Heinrich Umholtz (1745-1829) served in the American Revolution and is recognized on a memorial plaque in the St. Peter’s (Hoffman’s) Church Cemetery in Lykens Township.  Living with the family in 1850 was a 16 year old African American, Edward Crabb, who was working as a laborer.  At about age 15, Emanuel went to Ohio and tried his hand at farming there, but soon returned to Lykens Township, where he joined his father and brothers on the family farm.  He also participated in the Gratztown Militia, and when Pennsylvania was threatened in by Lee’s invasion in 1863, he joined the emergency group known as Company C of the 36th Pennsylvania Infantry Militia that went to Gettysburg to help clean up after the battle.  Edward Crabb was also a member of this militia.



During the winter of 1863-1864, Emanuel pondered what he had seen at Gettysburg and decided to enlist in the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Company H, as a Private.  At the time, 24 February 1864, the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry camped for the winter and was getting ready to send the re-enlisted veterans on furlough.  Emanuel was one of the replacements for those who chose not to re-enlist.  When the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry began to move in early 1864, it took action against Morgan’s raiders and Hood in north Georgia and Alabama, and eventually moved into the “March to the Sea.”  During that latter campaign, the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry saw action at Lovejoy Station, Georgia.  Eventually, after traversing nearly the entire south, and receiving the surrender of Gen. Joseph E. Johnson, the regiment was eventually mustered out on 18 July 1865.

While serving with the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Emanuel received word that his younger brother Isaac Umholtz had been killed on 1 April 1865 at Five Forks, Virginia, while serving with the 210th Pennsylvania Infantry.

The Pennsylvania Veterans’ File Cards (shown above) are from the Pennsylvania Archives and show his service in both the militia and the cavalry.  The second card gives personal information such as Emanuel’s height of 5 foot 9 inches, fair complexion, black hair, and gray eyes.  The Pension Index Cards (shown below) from Fold3 and Ancestry.com, give some details about his pension application.



The Pension Index Card shows that Emanuel Umholtz first applied for a pension on 6 November 1891, which he eventually received.  That card also gives his death date of 16 September 1904 and the fact that his widow applied for benefits on 28 September 1904, which she also was given.  The second card gives the widow’s name as “Mary Umholtz” but contains no information about Emanuel’s pension.  It is always best to consult with both versions (Fold3 and Ancestry.com) of the Pension Index Card.  If only the latter was consulted, it could have been assumed that Emanuel never applied for or received a pension.

Mary Umholtz, the widow, was Mary Hartman (1840-1908).  She married Emanuel in an 1866 ceremony conducted by Rev. Jeremiah Shindle.  The couple had two known children:  Isaac Monroe Umholtz (1867-1901) and Ida Elizabeth Umholtz (1869-1937).



In the 1890 Census, Emanuel noted that he he served in the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, but did not mention that he also saw service with the militia.  He also did not mention any Civil War-related disabilities.  When he applied for a pension in 1891, although he could have claimed “old age” as a reason for receiving a pension, Emanuel must have felt compelled to convey to the Pension Bureau that he was truly disabled.

In the two pages below, from his pension application file available from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the testimony of the local doctor and four of the Gratz-Lykens Township neighbors was provided to insure that he received benefits:

UmholtzEmanuel-003“I have known said soldier for the past twelve years…. He is now suffering from the following disabilities: First hypertrophy of the heart, accompanied by mitral regurgitation. A varicose condition of the veins of the left thigh and leg. A discolored spot on the lower third of left leg about one and three fourths inches in diameter will at some time likely give way leaving a chronic sore. Also a sebaceous tumor on the outside, extending all the way around, the second finger of right hand which prevents his hand longer than half day in chopping wood, plowing or grubbing. After working a half day the pain in the finger prevents his continuing longer at this work. The condition of the leg prevents his doing any work which requires much walking for a longer period that a half day. He is also suffering from dyspepsia and chronic rheumatism though not of a serious nature. We do believe that the above disabilities are permanent. We have never treated the claimant for any of these disabilities. We further believe from our examination that he is fully ¾ disabled from the performance of manual labor. These disabilities to our best knowledge and belief are not on account of any vicious habits on the part of the claimant….”  Signed and testified to by Dr. C. B McClure.


UmholtzEmanuel-006“Signs and symptoms of Emanuel Umholtz the said soldier as we know them are as follows. We know his tumor on his second hand left-finger. We also know the condition of his left leg below the knee. We also know him of complaining of rheumatism especially in his left leg. His leg prevents him from any hard labor. His leg in our opinion is f a permanent condition and his tumor on left hand finger is also of a permanent condition in our opinion and we know that they have not been resulted of vicious habits to the best of our knowledge and belief. They now incapacitate him of manual labor fully three fourths in our opinion from earning a support. We know him for over 20 years. We know him in his present condition about two years with the exception of Jacob Shiro who just saw leg this date. We all live within a radius of one mile. I see him every week. We have no interest directly or indirectly in this case….”  Signed and testified to by C. T. Bowman, Jacob Shiro, Henry Bush, and Joseph Phillips


Emanuel Umholtz‘s final years were spent as a farmer in Lykens Township and Gratz.  He was respected by his neighbors.  And he was honored by having the new church bell toll at his funeral.