This Memorial Day, as we pause to honor the nation's fallen and pay tribute to those who gave their lives so that this country may live, it is only appropriate, I think, that we also pause to consider the families of those honored dead, who also paid so dear a price upon that altar of freedom. Consider for a moment all the millions of mothers and fathers who, over the years, lost sons and daughters in our nation's conflicts, and also the men and women who may have lost a spouse, as well as the far too many children who lost their father or mother.
Consider the story and the sacrifice of the Brobst family, and specifically people like Salome Brobst who, within just three weeks in the late summer of 1862, lost both her husband and a son during the American Civil War, and that of Salome's daughter-in-law Sarah and her children, who lost their husband and their father.
|The Grave of Salome Kunkle Brobst (1816-1869)|
Jerusalem Salem Cemetery, Stony Run, PA
Salome Kunkle was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania, on March 5, 1816, In the summer of 1837, Salome married Simon Brobst, who was four years her junior at just seventeen years of age. The next year, Salome gave birth to the couple's first child, a son they named John.
John Brobst was born on June 17, 1838. He went to work at a young age--indeed, by the age of 12, he was a laborer--and, just like his father, he married while still quite young. He was, in fact, just nineteen years of age when he wed twenty-one-year-old Sarah Fink in 1857. The couple soon were raising children of their own: a daughter, Ellen, was born in February 1858, a son Benjamin in March 1860, and another son, whom Sarah named John, was born on April 18, 1862. By then, however, John Brobst, the father, was out serving his country and was just then hundreds of miles away from home.
Upon the outbreak of civil war in the spring of 1861, John Brobst was a twenty-three-year-old farmer, residing with his family in Upper Bern Township, Berks County. The census of 1860 reveals that he was doing reasonably well, with the family's real estate valued at $400.00 and personal property at $50.00. Despite this, and despite the young children at home, John felt an obligation to serve his country, and when the call went out for volunteers, he was quick to respond. On August 9, 1861, he journeyed to nearby Port Clinton, in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, to enlist his services. He enrolled under Captain Daniel Kaufman to serve in what would become Company A, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, and the next month, was mustered into service as a Corporal. He stood 5'9" in height, had a Dark Complexion, Dark Hair, and Grey Eyes. Bidding farewell to his children and his wife, Sarah, by now pregnant with the couple's third child, John Brobst set off for war.
|Captain Daniel B. Kaufman|
Company A, 48th PA Infantry
John's father, Simon, would also soon depart for war. In October 1861, forty-one-year-old Simon Brobst said farewell to his wife Salome as well to his children. He had also volunteered to fight though he would enlist into Company G, 96th Pennsylvania Infantry. While his son John soon found himself stationed first at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, and then Hatteras, North Carolina, with the 48th, Simon would be on his way to Washington, D.C., where the 96th would ultimately be attached to the hard-fighting Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac.
From Camp Hamilton, near Fortress Monroe, in October 1861, Corporal John Brobst would write to Sarah, to let her know that he liked "this playing soldier very well so far," even though lying on the sometimes wet and soft ground took some getting used to. He would also write of the soldiers of the 48th tearing down some of the homes in nearby Hampton in order to secure fire wood for camp, and of the looting that was done to some of the property belonging to former U.S. President-turned-secessionist John Tyler. A pianoforte once belonging to Tyler, said Brobst, valued at some $800.00 was "smashed all to pieces."
|November 27, 1861 Letter From John Brobst to Sarah Brobst|
(Courtesy of Linda Moyer)
John would write regularly to Sarah while he was away at war. First from Fortress Monroe and then from what he labeled "This Sandy Island," Hatteras, North Carolina. Like so many others, he sent money home to help support his family, though he would caution Sarah not to spend any more than what was necessary. And like so many others, he complained that she did not write to him nearly enough. He oftentimes requested that Sarah send along some boots, gloves, and some tobacco, since what they had at Hatteras was "so bad that we cant chew it and so dear that we can hardly afford to buy it." Of course, there was a war going on, and John wrote to discuss Burnside's very successful expedition against Roanoke Island and Newbern. John's company--Company A--was among the six companies of the 48th sent from Hatteras to participate in the battle against Newbern but because their steamer, the George Peabody, got stuck on a sandbar, they arrived too late. But the scenes of the battlefield left a vivid impression on John. "Dear Wife you cannot imagine the scene of the battle ground," he wrote, "at one place you could see an arm at another a leg and at another a head severed from the body I saw eleven dead rebels lying side by side all shot in the head or breast. . . ."
In May, 1862, some very good news arrived. John learned that "God had given" him and Sarah "the gift of a little son." Sarah had presumably written and requested that John bestow a name upon the baby boy. But John demurred; names, he said, are "not that important." He left it to her and she would name the boy John, after his father.
In his letters home, John wrote about his desire to visit home and we can only imagine how much more he wanted to get there to see his newborn son.
Sadly, he would never get the chance.
On August 29, 1862, Corporal John Brobst was shot through the right breast at the Second Battle of Bull Run, becoming one of the more than 150 soldiers of the 48th who became a casualty of war that terrible day. In the chaos and confusion of battle, John was left behind upon the battlefield and captured by Confederate soldiers. Likely because of the severity of his wound, however, John Brobst was immediately discharged. He was soon taken to the Georgetown Hospital where, on September 12, 1862, he drew his last breath. His final thoughts, no doubt, on his wife Sarah and his three young children.
While the news of John's death must have been a staggering blow to Sarah and her children, we can also imagine the heartache felt by his mother, Salome, who, at the time of John's death, was still grieving the loss of her husband, Simon.
It is not known whether John was ever aware of it, but his father Simon Brobst, who was serving in the 96th Pennsylvania, had died of disease in a hospital in Philadelphia, on August 24, 1862, less than a week before John's mortal wounding at Second Bull Run. Simon's remains were interred at the Philadelphia National Cemetery, while John's were laid to rest, most likely, at the U.S. Soldiers and Airmen's National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
|Although Inscribed Jno. Brobert, this is the likely final|
resting place of John Brobst at the
U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's National Cemetery,
Within just three weeks in the late summer of 1862, then, forty-six-year-old Salome Kunkel Brobst lost both her husband Simon and her son, John. The loss may have been too heavy to bear, for she was dead just seven years later, passing away at age fifty-three in May 1869.
Sarah Brobst, John's widow, also passed away quite young; she died at age forty-nine on September 21, 1885, Her remains were laid to rest in the Port Clinton Cemetery.
This Memorial Day it is, of course, our duty--our obligation--to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers. But let us also remember all those they left behind and reflect upon the sacrifices they paid as well so that this nation might live.
[My thanks go to Mr. Steven Lamm and Ms. Linda Moyer. Linda, a descendant of John Brobst, very generously shared John's letters with me as well as some biographical information. John Brobst's transcribed letters can be located here.