Standing where their Soldier once stood
GETTYSBURG – Clad in a wool Union uniform and totting forty pounds of weight in ninety-degree temperatures, Henry Nuss marched into Gettysburg on July 1863. In stark contrast, the day was cool and peaceful when 18 members of his family converged on the town on Oct. 21, 2012.
Coming to learn about their ancestors’ participation in this part of the Civil War were family members from various parts of Pennsylvania including Elimsport, Hughesville, Williamsport, Harrisburg, Lititz and Bayonne, NJ.
Boarding what was immediately dubbed “The Nuss Bus,” the group ranged in age from nine to 80. David Richards had been engaged as tour guide. A Picture Rocks native, Richards has expert knowledge of soldiers from Lycoming and surrounding counties. The account began to unfold as to how his ancestor survived the battle that claimed 51,000 causalities.
The subject was Henry Nuss, then of Danville, who’d become a part of a unit enlisted from neighboring Schuylkill County. Led by Colonel Rickett, Nuss was assigned to Artillery Battery F, First Regiment of the Pennsylvania Reserves.
Setting the scene Richards said, “In 1863 the town consisted of about 200 buildings and a population of 2400 persons. It was a quiet market town, seat of Adams County, and home of a Lutheran Seminary founded by German/Lutheran settlers.”
This clash was purely happenstance. “It was an accident of fate. Two armies were on a collision course on July 1, 1863. The rebels were merely looking for food on their march to capture Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C,” Richards said.
On that fateful day, Nuss’s outfit was near Taneytown, a ten-mile distance. Hearing weapon fire they hurriedly followed the sound to lend support.
When Rickett’s battery arrived at the scene late afternoon on July 2, they’d find little cover behind split rail fences and fields edged with stonewalls. The men relieved another battery already on the scene by switching fresh troops in and out. Cannons were positioned on East Cemetery Hill, a few yards from the gatehouse of the town’s Evergreen Cemetery.
Nearing sundown, a brigade of North Carolinian rebels broke through the line and hand to hand combat ensued. As darkness made it impossible to identify friend from foe, Richard’s described this time as “an hour of sheer terror.”
At the rear of the battery, a rebel was found stealing ammunition. He later died after First Lieutenant Charles Brockway picked up a stone and bashed the thief’s head. Brockway of Bloomsburg was said to have yelled, “Death on our own state’s soil rather than our guns.”
After all cannon ammunition was gone, canisters without fuses were loaded which exploded immediately on exiting the barrels. It was said to be “the greatest pyrotechnic show of the Civil War,” Richards said of Brockway’s account penned four months later.
The battery remained at its vantage point the next three days until the southern armies retreated.
The presence of Nuss at the battle was confirmed when in raised letters his name appears on the Pennsylvania Monument. This young soldier who’d turned age twenty in March that year, survived to fight in eleven major battles during his four and one-half year enlistment.
Following the war, Henry Nuss moved to Catawissa, then to Montgomery in Lycoming County. He wedded Sarah Cinderella Frees and fathered 15 children, 13 survived to adulthood. Those residing locally were Leaman or “Lee”, James, Henry Jr. or “Harry”, Lester, and Emma, wife of Nathan Baker Hess. Others included John and Susan, wife of William Emsley, both of Erie, Charles or “Will”, Mary Elizabeth (Wm) Osborn, Julia (Roy) Sperry and Amanda “Tilley” (Henry) Zondler.
The veteran of the Grand Army of the Republic died in 1924 at age 81. He is interred in Clinton Township’s Fairview Cemetery.
Each year the Nuss family is among more than three million visitors to Gettysburg. Of the trip, organizer Don Francis, Jr. of Elimsport said, “I experience an inspiring rush of connectivity each time I visit the Gettysburg Battlefield. Although my own service in a field artillery unit woefully pales in comparison to what Henry Nuss did 149 years ago, I still feel part of him runs though my veins. I know the honor and commitment my great-great-grandfather displayed during his military service emanates through many of his surviving progeny. To have seen many of Henry’s kin witness first hand their own link to the site of arguably the greatest battle ever fought in the western hemisphere, is a day I will always cherish in my memory.”
Deb Black of Harrisburg, daughter of Ruth Ann Nuss late of Hughesville said, “It was wonderful to find out about this part of our family history, what happened there and how it ended.”
Eileen Nuss Cooper of Hughesville said, “I’d visited the battlefield many times without knowing my ancestor was involved. I now know why hairs raised on the back of my neck when standing on the spot where he once stood.”