York-born preacher ministered to wounded from the Gettysburg battlefield
During the Civil War, the United States Christian Commission ministered to wounded and ill soldiers in field hospitals and permanent medical facilities. More than 5,000 delegates helped distribute almost $6,000,000 (in 1863 dollars) worth of supplies and relief goods to military personal, as well as providing spiritual support.
Following the Battle of Gettysburg, scores of USCC delegates congregated at Gettysburg and nearby towns such as Hagerstown, Maryland, to help out with the wounded, which numbered in the thousands.
Among them was the Reverend John Beck, a 33-year-old native of York, Pennsylvania, and a long-time minister in the German Reformed Church. The bilingual Beck would prove useful, as so many of the wounded soldiers (particularly in the Eleventh Corps) spoke German.
Here is an old biography of Beck taken from a 19th-century book:
Rev. John BECK, D. D., the only son of George and Eliza Beck, was born in York, Pa., April 10, 1830. After attending the academic schools of York, he entered the Preparatory Department of Marshall College, “where his application was intense and progress rapid.” In 1844 he entered the Freshman class, graduating with his class. He united with the Goethean Society, and held important offices in that body.
Soon after graduation, he entered the Theological Seminary at Mercersburg, pursuing a full course and graduating with high honors in the fall of 1850. In October of this year he was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Synod which met at Martinsburg, Va. He was ordained by the Maryland Classis in 1853, and soon after accepted the Funkstown charge in Maryland, consisting of three congregations: Funkstown, Clearspring, and St. Paul’s, where he labored with great zeal and encouraging success. In September 1854, he accepted a call to the Third Street Reformed church, the oldest church in Easton, Pa. In this charge he labored with untiring energy, conducting for a long time both German and English services.
On November 8, 1855, he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of George and Martha B. Shafer, of Springdale, Washington county, Md. Of five children only one, Martha Bond, survived her father.
He was made by the German Reformed Church: a director for life of the American Tract Society, in 1855; a director for life of the American and Foreign Christian Union, in 1865; a life member of the American Seamen’s Friend Society, in 1869; and, in 1863, he was appointed a delegate of the U. S. Christian Commission to minister to the sick and dying on the Gettysburg battlefield, in the Hagerstown hospitals, etc. From 1863 he was a member of the General Synod, and at the time of his death he was president of the Synod. He was also a member of the Board of Visitors of the Theological Seminary.
During his ministerial labors, three new congregations, St. Mark’s in the West Ward (1875-76), Grace Reformed church on College Hill, and one earlier still, in South Easton, were organized. In June, 1873, the degree of D. D. was conferred upon him by Franklin and Marshall College. From records we have gathered the following: He preached about 5,000 sermons, lectures and discourses; officiated at 966 baptisms; received by confirmation 429 persons; solemnized 475 marriages; and conducted 481 funerals. He was an ” honored and prominent” member of the ” Ministerial Association,” in which he held ” various positions of trust and responsibility.” Dr. Beck died very suddenly of paralysis of the brain, April 19, 1877. We see from the resolutions adopted by the Sunday School, that it, too, sustained in his death a great loss: “An able and willing guide, a learned and efficient expounder of, and instructor in, divine truths for nearly twenty-three years.” A marble In Memoriam tablet was erected near the altar by the school; a very beautiful and appropriate memorial window in the church, and a handsome monument in the Easton cemetery, both by the congregation, in memory of one who had so faithfully served them for nearly a quarter of a century.
Source: 1848 Marshall College Obituaries