Sgt. James M. Rutter was not about to let an injured lieutenant be captured by the oncoming Confederates on that desperate first day of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.
So when the call came for a volunteer to dash back over the bloody ground the 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry had been forced to evacuate, Rutter did not hesitate. Braving a hail of fire, he ran out, picked up his fellow Wyoming Valley soldier, John C. Kropp, and carried him safely back among the retreating federals.
For his action he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration the United States can give.
Now, Lake-Lehman High School history teacher and Kingston resident Ryan Lindbuchler wants to make sure Rutter's act of blazing courage is not forgotten. Later this year Lindbuchler will place near Rutter's tombstone in Wilkes-Barre's Hollenback Cemetery a stone marker indicating that he was a Medal of Honor winner.
Wyoming Valley's two other Civil War Medal of Honor winners - Capt. Sylvester Rhodes and Lt. Col. Eugene B. Beaumont (both also buried at Hollenback) - will get markers, too. In Rhodes' case, the entire 1905 government-issue tombstone will be replaced. The other two markers will be flat footstones, since Rutter and Beaumont have privately placed headstones.
``None of them are marked as medal winners,'' said Lindbuchler. ``What I want to do is get them marked so people can see them and they're not lost.''
Keeping memories of Wyoming Valley's past alive for genealogists and amateur historians is Lindbuchler's avocation. A U.S. Navy veteran, he is also captain of the 81st Pa. Infantry Civil War re-creation organization, which makes many public appearances throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania every year, demonstrating camp life, drill and battle tactics.
Lindbuchler discovered the graves at Hollenback and collected the medal information while doing research for his new book, which will list names, burial sites and other information for some 9,000 Civil War soldiers from the area.
After learning of the exploits of Rutter, Rhodes and Beaumont, he brought documentation about the three medal winners to the Luzerne County Office of Veteran Affairs, and office employee Mike Meehan filled out the voluminous paperwork to get the federal-issue markers.
When the markers arrive, ``We'll go down there with a couple of shovels and put the stones in,'' he said.
Lindbuchler's book - which he expects to see in print by the end of the year - could be a treasure trove for people seeking data on their Northeastern Pennsylvania Civil War ancestors. The first volume of its kind to be published by the Luzerne County Historical Society, it will consist of a bound text, containing photos and about 40 biographies, plus a CD Rom with the 9,000 soldiers' names and vital information as well as histories of their regiments.
Famed Civil War historian Brian Pohanka, who makes many appearances on the History Channel, has agreed to write the forward.
Lindbuchler's long-term hope is that, as tombstones wear away and historical memory fades, the book sets a national precedent.
``There are over 300 Civil War vets in the Hollenback Cemetery alone, but a lot of the stones you can't read. Maybe other people will start doing what I did. The more documentation we can get now, the better.''
1) ``My great grandfather, Reuben Blakeslee, sang in a musical group called the Shawnee Warblers. I have been unable to find anything about this group on the Internet.'' Lana DuBois, Martville, N.Y. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lana, there is some local available information on your ancestor and his singing group. First, the name ``Shawnee'' immediately suggested to me that the group was based in Plymouth, a town near Wilkes-Barre still bearing the nickname ``Old Shawnee.''
The Phillips collection at the Luzerne County Historical Society says that the Shawnee Warblers took that name in 1904 when the original group, the Shawnee Minstrels, was reorganized. They were evidently very active. ``Before the advent of the auto they traveled by train, horse-drawn hacks, hay wagons and on foot,'' the society's books say. Daniel Phillips directed the group for 40 years. For some time, the interlocutor (speaker) was none other than Arthur H. James, a Luzerne County judge who became governor of Pennsylvania in the late 1930s and narrowly lost to Wendell Willkie in the race for the Republican nomination for president in 1940.
A Wilkes-Barre City Directory lists a Ruben (note spelling) Blakeslee, laborer, as living on Church Street in Hanover Township, bordering Wilkes-Barre, in 1919. If you know Wyoming Valley, you are aware that Hanover Township and Plymouth are next-door neighbors across the Susquehanna River.
Plymouth, incidentally, has a rich musical tradition. In the 19th and 20th centuries the town had many singing groups, including the Shawnee Choral Society and the Shawnee Male Chorus, as well as a classical string ensemble called the Philharmonics. Some of these groups traveled extensively, performed in big cities and won awards.
2) David Roberts of Kingston wants to know what happened to the remains in St. Hedwig's Cemetery, Larksville, after the ground's stability was threatened by the D&H Coal Company's mining underneath the area. He believes the bodies, including his ancestors', might have been moved.
David, an April 11, 1922, article in the Wilkes-Barre Record announced that the coal company and St. Hedwig's Church planned to meet and explore the possibility of moving the bodies. The coal company even offered to foot the entire bill for removal and pay half the cost of establishing a new cemetery. However, St. Hedwig's pastor, the Rev. Robert Zavacki, says the move never happened.
``It's intact. The problem was with St. John's, right in back. They moved St. John's out to Dallas.''
St. Hedwig's Cemetery is on Wilson Street, Larksville. The church, on Zerby Avenue, in adjacent Edwardsville, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Local History Moment: The Wilkes-Barre area has had many distinguished visitors over the years, including several presidents of the United States. But in the summer of 1797, a future king of France paid a call. Louis Philippe, who would one day become known as the Citizen King because of his down-to-earth ways, boated down the Susquehanna River from Asylum, a Bradford County settlement being prepared to serve as a home for nobles fleeing France during the revolution.
The young king-to-be visited a local tavern, met some of his fellow Freemasons and in general had a good time, according to newspaper accounts. Louis Philippe was crowned and given the title King of the French in 1830, but lost his throne in the revolution of 1848 and went into exile in England, dying in 1850.
News Notes: The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society will offer an introduction to genealogy at the Nanticoke Senior Citizens Center from 11 a.m. to noon on Thursday. The sessions are free, but you do have to register. Call 735-1670.
The society reports progress in getting its new headquarters ready for a summer opening. The building is on North Main Street, in the Shavertown section of Kingston Township. It will house the society's growing collection of genealogy-related material.
Hats off to the Luzerne County Historical Society for its recent series of Saturday noontime programs introducing children to the area's history. Programs centered on children's games of centuries past, the area's Native Americans, the coal industry and other topics designed to get young people interested in their ancestors. The society hopes to offer another series this fall.
Also deserving of praise is St. Nicholas Church of Wilkes-Barre for offering to open its shuttered old Darling Street cemetery over Memorial Day weekend so that out-of-town visitors could stop by. Since the 1950s, the church has used a Back Mountain-area cemetery.
Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at www.timesleader.com.
Have you solved some tough genealogical problems in your research? Do you have some tips you'd like to share with others? Would you like to report a success story? Drop me a line here at the paper. I'll get in touch with you and help you bring the benefits of your experience to others.
Tom Mooney, The Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18711. Email is email@example.com