Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Philadelphia's First Civil War Casualty

***This article appeared in the April, 2011, HSP monthly email publication, "History Hits: Collecting & sharing the stories of Pennsylvania." For a free subscription, simply click here to enter your email address.*** 

On this day, April 19, in 1861, Philadelphia suffered its first military casualty of the American Civil War. A 26-year-old German immigrant named George Leisenring (who also appears as John Lichtenhahn in contemporary records of the day) was mortally wounded in Baltimore, Maryland, and died a few days later at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

Leisenring was a member of the Washington Brigade, which included the Washington Guards, a group of volunteers commanded by Colonel William F. Small. Small's volunteer force, composed in part of German immigrants, had been organized as a militia regiment in January of 1861. They along with the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, by train, only to encounter an enraged mob of "secessionists" or pro-Confederate residents of the city. Some of the mob boarded the railroad car in which George Leisenring was an occupant, and the young resident of Philadelphia received "two stab wounds," one in his back and another by a knife which was also "plunged into his side." He and four Massachusetts soldiers would die, while some 25 others were wounded during the assault.
1862 Civil War recruitment poster

Samuel Bates, in his multi-volume work, The History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, first published in 1869, states how those soldiers attacked during the Baltimore Riots were "recruited in Philadelphia, in the districts of Northern Liberties and Kensington, and at least one-half of its members were German." Leisenring served as a private in Company C, commanded by Captain Henry Ungerer of the 2nd Regiment of the Washington Brigade, according to Frank Taylor, Civil War soldier, author, and artist, in his work, Philadelphia in the Civil War: 1861-1865, published in 1913.

Leisenring was first buried in the Union Wesleyan and Harmony Burial Ground located in Kensington. The bodies buried there were later re-interred at Fernwood Cemetery, Delaware County.  Regrettably, the exact whereabouts of Leisenring's grave is not known. All are welcome to attend a memorial service to commemorate the sacrifice of Philadelphia's first military casualty of the American Civil War at 1 p.m. this Saturday, April 23, at Palmer Cemetery in Fishtown, Philadelphia (the town where Leisenring resided). A movement is afoot to erect a monument to his memory. For more information on how to support this effort, visit

During this 150th sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, which begins this month, it should be remembered that Philadelphia from the beginning paid a price, as it has done in all wars, for both freedom and liberty. George Leisenring was no exception. He is someone to be remembered with honor for his sacrifice, which is the more remarkable since he gave his life in the defense of his adopted country.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 Covers HSP Civil War Display

Pa. Historical Society Displays Civil War Items On 150th Anniversary Of War’s Start

April 12, 2011 1:35 PM
(Photos by John Ostapkovich)
(Photos by John Ostapkovich)
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Today marks the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War, the attack on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

civil war display side Pa. Historical Society Displays Civil War Items On 150th Anniversary Of Wars StartTo mark the anniversary, a treasure trove of artifacts was on display today at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

The Historical Society began collecting Civil War memorabilia after the Gettysburg Address.

“We have thousands and thousands of diaries, photographs, manuscripts, prints, lithographs,” says Lauri Cielo, director of programs at the society.
Military historian Dan Rolph (second from left in top photo) strolled the display, engaging visitors in engaging tales — such as that Philadelphia, birthplace of the Union, was not entirely in its corner.

“Philadelphia was a hotbed of Copperheadism,” says Rolph.  “Philly was split down the middle.  It had economic ties to the South.  It had familial ties to the South.  You had a lot of men who were at, say, Jefferson College when the war broke out who went South when their state seceded.”

Dr. Rolph tells of a Gettysburg native who moved to Virginia, joined the Rebel army, and was killed invading his own family farm in 1863.

Reported by John Ostapkovich, KYW Newsradio 1060

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Listen to KYW 1060 Podcast: HSP's Civil War Collection

As part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, HSP will showcase to the public our vast Civil War collections which include letters, diaries, posters, currency, etc.  This will occur on Tuesday, April 12, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Philadelphia's news radio, KYW 1060 AM, interviewed me to discuss elements of this collection.  The 19 minute audio podcast can be accessed here: