This year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. During the four years of furious battles the American landscape and family was scarred. The list of casualties mounted to 620,000 plus, but what of those who survived the horrific fighting, and attempted to lead normal lives and establish their own families? Henry Rittenhouse was one of the soldiers who survived the killing fields.
Henry, born in Pennsylvania, as a young man learned the wheelwright trade. He enlisted in the Union Army on 19 August 1862 and became a member of the 149th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company C. This unit was known as “The Second Bucktails.”

Organized at Camp Curtain, Harrisburg, the 149th saw action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Henry was wounded on the nose during the second day of battle at Gettysburg, but obviously not seriously, as he participated in the pursuit of Lee’s army after the battle. During operations on the North Anna River in Virginia, Henry was captured by the confederates on 23 May 1864. Unfortunately for Henry he was sent to infamous Andersonville Prison. Contracting scurvy while in prison, Henry was fortunate to survive his ordeal and was paroled at Savannah, Georgia on 30 November 1864. He returned to civilian life on 12 June 1865.

Prior to 1870, Henry married Sarah Heck and they had two children: Ulysses, born in 1871, and Mary Ellen born in 1876. Henry worked as a wheelwright, and later as a lock tender for the Schuylkill navigation company. An industrious individual, Henry was quiet but always cheerful to those who knew him.

As Henry aged, the hardships of his war and prison experiences began to take their toll on his health. He feared that he would not be able to provide properly for his family. Feeling proud of his military service, Henry petitioned the government for an increase in his six dollar a month pension. The government refused his petition for an increase, and Henry, with his deteriorating health and loss of eye sight, lost hope. He became melancholy and felt he was becoming a burden to his family. He mentioned to his wife, when a funeral procession passed them by, “he wished it was his.”

On the morning of 22 June 1896 the Rittenhouse family was startled by a gun blast. Running to the attic the household found Henry Rittenhouse lying on the floor clutching a shotgun. His remains, attired in a black shroud, and reposed in a satin lined walnut casket with a plate bearing the inscription, “Father,” were buried in Zions Church Cemetery at Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. Members of post 16, Grand Army of the Republic, acted as pallbearers.

Henry served his country well and became forgotten as time marched on. We, as citizens of this country, have a responsibility to remember those, who because of their sacrifices, gave us the lives we enjoy today, whether they be our ancestors or not.

Comments (6)

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  1. Our family has been looking for three civil war soldiers for over 100 years. Recent new databases at the Family History Library have helped me discover them. Thank you for helping me solve this research problem.

    Descendant of Civil War soldier. 27 July 2011
    5:26 pm
  2. I thought my ancestor who left his family was a bum until I discovered his own father had died when he was a young teen, just prior to the Civil War. Living on the Iowa frontier there were no job opportunities for this boy who was now the man of the house. He enlisted-must have lied about his age-and went off to war. No doubt he thought his army pay would help his mom and younger siblings. When he returned he started his own family, then left them. I havent found records to clarify the situation, but I wonder if he was a victim of PTSS. Anecdotal records indicate there were lots of veterans who suffered from combinations of physical and emotional trauma after their service. In searching post-Civil War censuses one catches glimmers of this kind of thing-veterans who never married, lived as boarders the rest of their lives, drifting from one casual job to the next. Will we ever completely understand the price they paid?

    Heather Miller 06 July 2011
    6:48 pm
  3. Great piece Tim. I agree, I think it is one of your best.

    09 June 2011
    9:58 am
  4. This man is a hero and it is really a sad thing that he would feel so useless at any time. Hope he is on find a grave and receiving virtual flowers at least.

    Kay 03 June 2011
    10:43 pm
  5. yes, let us remember both Union and Confederate Soldiers who fought and died for what they believed in....

    soldiers grgrgddau 03 June 2011
    4:56 pm
  6. Thanks for this great article and yes, we must remember those on whose shoulders we stand.

    J. Malone 02 June 2011
    9:25 pm

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