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York County theological student fought at Witmer Farm skirmish

A supply wagon of the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia hastily escapes along the Chambersburg Pike and heads toward Gettysburg while the infantry crosses muddy farm fields to the northeast as Rebel cavalry approaches. Miniatures from Scott Mingus

Last year the Cannonball Civil War blog presented a series of blog posts concerning the June 26, 1863, skirmishing near Gettysburg between Confederate Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s veterans and untrained Pennsylvania emergency militia. Among the defenders was Company I, mostly of men and boys from Hanover and southwestern York County.
Company A of the same regiment contained

college boys, mostly from Gettysburg’s Penn College and from the Lutheran Theological Seminary (including a son of seminary president Dr. Samuel Schmucker).Among the seminarians-turned-soldiers was Jesse C. Koller of York County, a member of the Class of 1865.

Jesse C. Koller was born October 24, 1839, in Springfield Township, York County, Pa. His parents, Henry and Anna Mary Koller, were farmers and descendants of some of the early German settlers to the region. In 1860, Jesse entered Preparatory classes as he planned a life in the Lutheran ministry.He proved to be an exceptional student, and was a member of the Philomathaean, Linnaean, and Phi Kappa Psi groups. He divided the coveted Freshman Prize with another student as the top performing student in his class. A year later, he divided the second year honors.

In June 1863, with several classmates, he enrolled in a company of volunteers raised in Gettysburg in response to the Confederate threat. They traveled to Harrisburg, where the unit became Company A of the newly raised 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia under Col. William Wesley Jennings.

The 743-man regiment was among a motley collection of barely trained units which tried to defend Gettysburg on the 26th of June against General Early’s oncoming division. Although 175 of his comrades were captured, including several of the college boys, Corporal Koller escaped with the bulk of the regiment and made his way back to safety in Harrisburg.

Koller then resumed his studies and became the Valedictorian of his class, graduating with highest honors. In 1867, he received his license as a Lutheran minister. He pastored a church in Glen Rock until 1877, when he assumed leadership of St. Matthews Church in Hanover. During his decade in Glen Rock, he married a local woman, Alice G. Heathcote.
He later became a director of his alma mater, the Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary and was Secretary of the West Pennsylvania Synod from1878-81.

The Rev. Jesse C. Koller died in 1907 at his home in Hanover.


Here is a biography from George R. Prowell’s History of York County Pennsylvania, Volume II, pages 828 -29.

REV. JESSE C. KOLLER, D. D. was born October 24, 1839 in Springfield Township, on the farm which was the birthplace of his father, Henry KOLLER, who was born in 1811. He married Miss Annie M. CRAMER, who was born in Codorus Township, York County, in May, 1817, daughter of Henry CRAMER, an old resident and highly respected citizen of that Township. To Henry and Annie M. (CRAMER) KOLLER were born seven children, namely: Jesse C.; Henry, who resides in Ohio; Catherine, wife of David CUNNINGHAM, of York County; Eli, a resident of Glen Rock; Ellen, wife of Alexander GOTWALT, of York Pennsylvania; Rebecca, wife of H. S. STECK, of York County; and William, deceased. The father died in 1852.

Jesse C. KOLLER spent the first 14 years of his life on the old homestead, after which he devoted himself to the acquisition of a higher education. For a time he attended the Shrewsbury Academy, then taught by Dr. Dinsmore, and later became the student at Cumberland Valley Institute. Here he completed the preparatory course essential for his admission to college.

Matriculating at Pennsylvania college at Gettysburg, he graduated from that institution in 1865. Having decided upon the ministry as his life’s work, the young man then entered the theological seminary at Gettysburg, from which he graduated in 1867. It is noteworthy that in his long career in the ministry, Rev. KOLLER labored in but two pastorates. In the fall of 1867, shortly after his graduation, he accepted a call from the congregation at Glen Rock, where he remained for nine and a half years.

Then in the spring of 1877 he was called to the pastorate at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Hanover, where his labors were uninterrupted. Then in the spring of 1877, the degree of D.D. was conferred upon him to his Alma Mater. For years he held a trusteeship in the theological seminary at Gettysburg. He has held some important appointments on the boards of Lutheran Synod, as well as among various other Synod. At present he is a member of Lutheran publication board.

In 1870 Dr. KOLLER married Alice G. HEATHCOTE, daughter of William and Catherine (ALLISON) HEATHCOTE of Glen Rock. To Rev and Mrs. KOLLER have been born four children, namely: the Rev. Paul W., Pastor of the Lutheran Church at Hudson, New York, who in 1902 married to Miss Mary BOLLINGER, daughter of Jesse BOLLINGER, a prominent citizen of Hanover: J. Morris, at home; Leonard, a graduate of Gettysburg College and now superintendent of the Arts and Crafts Department of the I. C. S. of Scranton, Pa; and Elsie E. at home, an accomplished musician of more than local renown.