Researching family roots spurs Civil War historian
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Joe Nihen at original grave stone which is located behind the new military grave stone of Charles Henry Neumiller at the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery in Summit Hill. Neumiller died at age 19. From his 11th Regiment Company H Pennsylvania Volunteers, 340 men were discharged whole out of 1,890 men who served.
Ten years ago, Joe Nihen of Lansford became curious about his family history, and so he drove to his ancestral home to visit his great great grandfather's grave site in Shamokin.
"I found by the epitaph that he served with the 208th Regiment," Nihen said. "I didn't know he was in the Civil War."
That's all he had to go on. "Finding his grave marker in Shamokin started me on a path," Nihen said. "I started looking for information on him, and as I did, I started to find information on the men who served with him."
"There's not much information on him," Nihen noted. "But there's an awful lot on the men around him."
He learned that his great great grandfather, Henry S. Werline, was a private who volunteered to fight for the Union during the waning days of the Civil War.
"He was approximately 21 years old when he enlisted in September of 1864. The war ended in April 1865," Nihen said.
Werline, a carpenter by trade, was recently married and had an infant when he entered the service. Stationed in the Bermuda Hundred, a series of islands around the James River in Virginia, he was involved in combat in the defense of Fort Stedman.
The Battle of Fort Stedman was fought on March 25, 1865, and was an engagment that broke the back of the Confederacy, leading to the end of the war two weeks later on April 9.
In the middle of the night, the Confederates sent in pioneer troops to wreck the cheval de frise defenses outside Fort Stedman along the Union line. Although the Rebels were successful, they found themselves inside the Union line, surrounded by Grand Army of the Republic troops, and soon surrendered.
Werline returned to his family and fathered more children, including Nihen's great grandfather. In 1894, he received a Civil War pension of $8 a month which later increased to $10 a month.
Along the way, Nihen became an expert on the 208th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Thanks to the book Patriotism of Carbon County, Pennsylvania, and What Her People Contributed during the War for the Preservation of the Union by Jacob D. Laciar, he was able to learn the names of the men in the regiment and has assembled over 1,000 pages of information, and a wealth of photographs of grave stones.
Here are two of the stories that he discovered.
• From a newspaper report. "On Sunday morning, May 3, 1863, Mrs. Lansford F. Chapman, wife of the gallant soldier who was then in Virginia and in command of the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, attended services in the church to which she belonged, in Mauch Chunk. Shortly after the service had begun she was suddenly taken very ill. Friends came to her assistance, and when she became able, she gasped, 'The Major has been killed in battle.'"
"This statement was found afterward to be strictly correct. He was killed while leading his comrades in a charge against the enemy at Chancellorsville in the midst of the severest fighting of that sanguinary engagement. He was killed so far as can be learned at the very moment his wife became ill."
• George W. Moss of Wilkes-Barre had been wounded in the head during the Civil War during service with the 6th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Company A. The wound had affected his behavior, and his wife had taken out a restraining order. Upon release from prison on bail, Moss shot his wife dead and then shot himself three times in the head. He survived, was convicted of murder, and was hanged.