Historic Tinicum cemetery preserves Civil War legacies
A Union soldier from Bucks County survived the Battle of Antietam, but took his last breath near the Stafford Court House in Virginia.
The cause of the young man’s death? Civil War researcher Paula Gidjunis can only theorize.
That’s because veteran Henry Swartz died in between battles – the few surviving bits of information coming from a headstone that has been preserved for more than a century.
It’s for this reason that historic cemeteries, such as the one at Tinicum United Church of Christ where Swartz is interred, play a vital role in recalling the sacrifice of veterans past.
“One day I was up at Union Cemetery, by Almshouse Road and Tanner’s (Tanner Brothers Dairy Farm),” said Gidjunis, a longtime Montgomery Township resident. “I found this tombstone that had a little poem on it about George Saxton – he was in the 128th (Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry). I started asking questions and found out that a lot of people didn’t know anything about them. I became curious and I went to the Bucks County Historical Society, found some stuff and next thing you know I was hooked.”
“That’s how I started,” she said. “I found a grave.”
Gidjunis is pursuing her master’s degree in history at LaSalle University. She’s a first generation-American and has no familial ties to the 128th regiment, which was comprised of volunteers from Bucks, Lehigh and Berks counties, including Swartz and Saxton. Still, she’s been interested in the Civil War since she was a little girl, and 15 years after wandering upon Saxton’s grave, she’s hard at work stitching together the personal stories of some of Bucks County’s earliest military heroes.
“I don’t have any Civil War relatives, so I’ve adopted them,” she said. “They’re my guys.”
The 128th regiment, organized in Harrisburg in August of 1862, was comprised of six companies, two of which hailed from Bucks County. Company F was led by Christian Frankenfield and Company C was led by a Doylestown lawyer named Samuel Croasdale, who ascended to the rank of colonel before the group was sent to Washington, D.C., where they dug trenches to fortify the capital against a Confederate takeover.
Their work leaving little time for drill practices, Gidjunis said, the men were called to Frederick, Md., where their unit was assigned to the 12th Corps in September 1862. From there, the 12th Corps marched on to the bloody battle of Antietam, which claimed the lives of Croasdale, 19-year-old Saxton and Gen. Joseph Mansfield. A monument to the 128th regiment at Antietam indicates the group suffered 118 casualties.
Swartz, however, was not one of them, and went on to camp in Maryland Heights with the 12th Corps, which narrowly missed the Battle of Fredericksburg. The 12th Corps was assigned to the Army of the Potomac, and Swartz spent some of his last days on Earth marching with this army in a disastrous attempt to attack Gen. Robert E. Lee while he was entrenched in his winter quarters in Virginia, Gidjunis said.
Infamously known as the Mud March, the failed campaign – stymied by soaking rain and unseasonably warm temperatures that thawed the ground – took place Jan. 19 to 23, 1863. It cost Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside his post and perhaps Swartz, who died six days later on Jan. 29, his life.
“He could have died from wounds from Antietam,” Gidjunis theorized. “Or he became ill. Disease and infection from wounds killed more people than being wounded in battle.”
The 128th regiment went on to fight in the Battle of Chancellorsville, and during this campaign many were captured (a prisoner exchange would later take place). They were in the same area where Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson was struck by friendly fire, Gidjunis said. Jackson’s arm was amputated and he eventually succumbed to pneumonia on May 10. Nine days later, the 128th regiment mustered out.
Swartz is one of at least two men buried in the Tinicum UCC cemetery to have served in the 128th; the other, Jonathan Strouse, was wounded in battle but survived the war, Gidjunis said. However, if it weren’t for cemetery records, Swartz’s service might easily be overlooked.
Interestingly, his name doesn’t appear on the regiment’s original muster roll, Gidjunis said, which means he probably enlisted after it was assembled. Further digging, however, led Gidjunis to a pension application filed by his mother, suggesting the 20-year-old was her sole source of support – proof that faded names, dates of births and deaths, and special inscriptions etched on headstones can lead historians to paper records and new discoveries.
There are four graveyards that surround Tinicum UCC, located on East Dark Hollow Road in Pipersville: Hillpot, Swope, Union and Fox. Three of these cemeteries are named after prominent families who were members of two church congregations – Reformed and Lutheran – that met at the same brick church until Christ Lutheran Church moved to a separate house of worship down the road in the early 1900s, said Craig Trauger.
To this day, members of the two congregations share the responsibility of preserving these sacred grounds for future generations.
“At least once a year in the spring we try to lean them [the headstones] up to keep them from leaning too far that they break,” Trauger said at the Tinicum Township Historic Commission’s Founding Families Day in June.
The ones that fall over, they try to maintain and repair as best they can, he added.
A majority of cemetery expenses go toward mowing and lawn maintenance, but the slabs they’re protecting make the expense and time well worth the effort, Trauger said.
“It’s history,” he added. “Once the stone is obliterated beyond reading or falls over, then there’s no longer history.”
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