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Yorkers fought (& died) in the Mexican War: Part 3

Downtown YorkAntebellum view of “Little York,” Pennsylvania. Detail from a 19th century lithograph in the author’s collection.

A delegation of eight men had left York in the fall of 1847 to travel to Harrisburg to join a Philadelphia-based company of the 1st Pennsylvania Infantry. Two of the men had died in Mexico during the Siege of Puebla, one from illness and one from Mexican gunfire in a brief but spirited charge on enemy breastworks. Now, their friends, including diarist J. Jacob Oswandel, planned to ship the bodies home to their loved ones.

Here is Oswandel’s account, adapted from his 1885 book Notes on the Mexican War (reprinted in 2009 by the University of Tennessee):

“Tuesday, May 30, 1848 — This morning our soldiers were up early, preparing to march homeward, at the same time singing our national songs and cite “We are Coming Home.’

“I was approached this morning by Sergt. Thomas Ziegle, Peter Ahl, and Alburtus Welsh, wanting to know how much money I could loan them, as they wished to take up the dead bodies of William Eurick and Jacob Danner. I ran my hand down into my pocket, pulled out my purse, examined it, and I found that I could spare them two ten-dollar gold pieces and a Mexican doubloon, handing it to them and saying that was about all I could spare them. They thanked me most kindly for that much, and expect to have enough money now to take both bodies with them home to their friends in Little York, Pa., where they as well as myself will received the thanks of the citizens of that little town for loaning them the money, and at the same time saying had it not been for me they could not have been able to take them both up and bring them home.”

The 1st Pennsylvania marched for several weeks through Mexico in miserable weather, alternately snowing and raining, and then oppressive heat until they reached the Texas border on Monday, June 19.

More than a month later, after various modes of travel, they reached Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, about noon on Friday, July 21. Earlier that day they learned of the recent death of Governor Francis R. Shunk, who had issued the call to arms under which they had enlisted the previous year.

“In the afternoon,” Private Oswandel wrote, “a delegation of citizens from Little York, Pa., accompanies by Sergt. Thomas Ziegle, Peter Ahl, Alburtus Welsh and Samuel Stair, called upon us. They came for the express purpose of taking charge of the dead bodies of William Eurick and Jacob Danner, who both formerly belonged to that patriotic little borough. I, of course, had an introduction to these gentlemen, and they were informed by Sergt. Ziegle and Peter Ahl that I was the man that furnished the best part of the money toward bringing the dead bodies of Eurick and Danner to Little York. They bursted into tears and thanked me most cordially, paid me back the amount laid out, and then again thanked me most heartily for my kindness, and wanted me positively to promise them that I would call upon them when I got my discharge, to which I could not possibly make answer.”

The contingent of Yorkers in the 1st Pennsylvania were not the only soldiers from York County to serve in the Mexican War, although their friend Oswandel’s diary may be the most interesting and detailed account of the service of the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Daniel Craver, also from York borough, served in the same company as the eight men Oswandel mentioned, but for some reason his name does not appear in the diary. According to 19th century historian George R. Prowell, “Edward Haviland, afterward a well known architect of York, and R. M. Russell of Hanover, who during the Civil War became the lieutenant-colonel of the Ninth Pennsylvania Cavalry, also served in this regiment.”

A number of other York County men served in the Second Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which included a company raised in Harrisburg by Captain William Small. Among these soldiers were Samuel Roller, Jacob Snyder, and John Walters. The latter two men died of sickness while at Puebla. More than a dozen other Yorkers served in other infantry units, all in the army of Winfield Scott. A handful also served in the U. S. Navy.

The highest ranking York County native in the Mexican War was Colonel Albert C. Ramsey, who commanded the 11th Infantry. George Johnston of York served in this regiment and was killed in action at the battle of Molino del Rey. Another prominent York was Theodore Cochran, one of the editors of the York Republican newspaper. Granville O. Haller served in the war and later in the Civil War commanded the defense of Adams and York Counties during the Gettysburg Campaign. It was Haller’s men who retreated from Gettysburg to Hanover and then to York before manning the defenses of Wrightsville in June 1863.