Wednesday, November 11, 2015

World War II Veteran and Civil War Student

I had the privilege to enjoy a lively discussion over dinner at Remington's Restaurant with World War II veteran Chester (Chet) F. Rohn. We were seated together so we might talk about our mutual interests in the Civil War.

Mr. Chester F. Rohn
World War II Veteran
and Civil War Enthusiast
Mr. Rohn is a proud member of the Color Guard of The Iron Brigade Association of the Civil War Round Table of Milwaukee. He recalled the many meetings he attended especially those presented by Ed Bearss. During a visit to Vicksburg, Chet heard Ed's distinct voice through a fog-shrouded battlefield. After Ed was finished speaking, Chet shouted "Is that Ed Bearss?" I mentioned that Mr. Bearrs was going to speak at the Dallas round table in December and urged him to attend.[1]

Chet's favorite battlefields are Vicksburg, Shiloh, and Antietam. He is understandably proud of the Iron Brigade, which fought in the Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Mine Run, Overland, Richmond-Petersburg, and Appomattox campaigns.  He talked about the intense battle in the Miller Cornfield at Antietam that Captain Benjamin Cook described as "...the most deadly fire of the war. Rifles are shot to pieces in the hands of the soldiers, canteens and haversacks are riddled with bullets, the dead and wounded go down in scores."

Our conversation turned to Chet's participation in World War II where he was in the 11th Armor Division of General George Patton's Third Army. He was part of the division that came to the relief of the 101st Airborne Division and other units in the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Rohn, then a twenty-year old soldier, said that it was the coldest weather he had experienced. Considering Chet's Wisconsin roots, it must have been bitter. He was in a foxhole by himself and was ordered not to shoot unless attacked so he would not reveal his position.

Perhaps Rohn's most difficult wartime experience occurred during the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp. As he traveled to the camp, he noted the bodies of men dressed in striped pajamas and that they were not soldiers. He soon learned that these corpses were victims of the Holocaust. He recalled meeting the walking skeletons of the camp and his shock at the horrors that Germany inflicted on these people. He said that the military made the local residents visit the camp to see the monstrous behavior that existed near their homes.

Mr. Rohn shares his experiences with students to inform them about the sacrifices made by their great grand parents to defeat the Germans and preserve democracy. Chet brought the war to life for these students and put a face on pages in a history book. I hope these young people will treasure Chet's stories. Thank you Chester Rohn for your service to this country; and for a delightful evening. 

[1] Mr. Bearss, Chm. Emeritus National Park Service, Author will be speaking at Civil War Round Table of Dallas on December 9, 2015. He will talk about The Petersburg Campaign: The Eastern Battles. The Round Table meets at JJ’s Restaurant, Northlake Shopping Center, 10233 E. NW HWY at Ferndale: Ste 434 (NE Quadrant), 214.221.4659, Dinner: 6PM, Program: 7PM

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Paying My Respects

Kurt Wille (left) and Allen (right)
pay their respects to General Smith

On October 30, 2015, my wife and I paid our respects to Major General Charles F. Smith at his grave in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA.   We were joined by Smith's distant cousin, Kurt Wille, and his friend Jeff Albright. Kurt has been assisting my research on General Smith for over five years and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the general’s biography.

Allen at grave site
The General, his wife, Fanny M. Smith, and Smith's mother, Margaret F. Smith, are buried at the Laurel Hill site. The 55-year old general was interred on May 5, 1862. Fanny was 47 when she died and was buried on May 28, 1866. The last grave belongs to Smith's mother, Margaret, who died at 75. It appears that her remains were moved from another site and re interred on December 6, 1901.

Laurel Hill was founded in 1836 by John Jay Smith "Laurel Hill was not only established as a permanent, non-sectarian burial place for the dead, but also as a scenic, riverside sanctuary for the living." Laurel Hill is comprised of about 78 acres that is divided into three sections—the North, Central and South. . Laurel Hill is one of the few cemeteries in the nation to be honored with the designation of National Historic Landmark. Many prominent people are buried at the cemetery, including many of Philadelphia’s leading industrial magnates. General George Meade and over thirty other Civil War-era generals and six Titanic passengers are buried here. The Civil War generals include about twenty who received brevet promotions as part of the omnibus promotions issued after the Civil War. Many of these promotions were post dated to March 13, 1865. The cemetery also includes the grave of John C. Pemberton who was a Pennsylvania native who joined the Confederate Army. 

About 125 Union officers and soldiers who died during the war are buried at Laurel Hill. Of this total 53 died from disease, 39 were killed in action, and 25 died from wounds.  Seventy-four of those men were officers and fifty-one were soldiers.

Old Pine Street Church
Reverend John Blair Smith's Grave
at Old Pine Street Church

Smith's father, Dr. Samuel B. Smith, is buried in the Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Philadelphia near the grave of his father Reverend John Blair Smith. The Pine Street Church was founded in 1768 as the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.One of Old Pine's first pastors, George Duffield served as chaplain to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and, with many of his parishioners, joined Washington at Valley Forge in the winter of 1776-77. Old Pine became known as the "Church of the Patriots" because of George Duffield's activities and those of parishioners such as John Adams and other members who supported the Revolution. It is the only Presbyterian structure in Philadelphia dating back to colonial and revolutionary times. Over the years, two congregations merged into Old Pine and today, the official name of the church is The Third, Scots and Mariners Presbyterian Church.