LEBANON, Pa. — When Jonestown shoemaker Washington Horn married Rebecca Helm on July 26, 1857, they could not have foreseen that a war would separate them in just four years.
After the Civil War broke out, Horn enlisted in the 93rd Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment from Lebanon sponsored by G. Dawson Coleman, the iron ore magnate.
Like many wartime couples, the Horns wrote letters to each other, detailing the battles, events at home, the children and other concerns.
In a letter to his wife on May 16, 1864, Horn described the Battle of Spotsylvania, Va., which took place between May 8-12:
"... We have been fighting now for 10 days in succession and 2 got through safe so far without a scratch and we drove the Enemy as far back as Spottsylvania Courthouse where they are well fortified and we expect to have another hand fight with them. There was a heavy loss of life on both sides ..."
During his military service, Horn was promoted from corporal to sergeant, then 1st sergeant and captain of Company A.
Rebecca's letters show that she pined for her beloved husband:
"... I had been thinking that you would be home long before this but there are no (signs) yet of you coming ... some say still that you would soon be discharged."
She also described to her husband the homecoming of other soldiers: "... Since they are home they are drunk and get (crass) and commence to fight ... it is awfull I pitty there poor wives and children after they have been from home for so long ... and come home to act this way it is a shame."
Like others, the couple had financial problems. In one letter, Horn asked his wife to send him $50; she wrote back saying she could only collect $20 from some friends.
The Horns' letters are among the many Civil War artifacts in the collection at the Lebanon County Historical Society. The collection includes the Horns' portraits, his sword and binoculars.
The Horns were married in Zion Lutheran Church in Jonestown and had four children: Kate, Harry, George and, after the war, John H.
Society archivist Brian Kissler said Horn was wounded in action twice in 1864. He died in Jonestown 10 years later at the age of 45. Kissler said Rebecca never remarried and died in 1898 at the age of 63.
The Horns' story is one of many in the archives at the LCHS, which has opened a special exhibit to share their story and others.
Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the Battle at Gettysburg. This year, the Lebanon County Historical Society is focusing on Lebanon County's role in the Civil War.
"When you say Civil War in Lebanon County, the immediate thought is the 93rd Regiment," Kissler said. "It certainly had a role throughout the war from 1861, and it was very prominent in 1864 in the push through Virginia."
Lebanon County raised and sent other units to Gettysburg — the 26th Pennsylvania Militia Co. E; the 31st Pennsylvania Militia Co. H; and the 48th Pennsylvania Militia Cos. A, B, D, E, F, H and K.
There are many Lebanon County soldiers who served in a variety of units during the war, Kissler explained.
"The service expands even beyond Pennsylvania," he said. "There are guys who served with New York or Vermont or Massachusetts. There are a few — Robert B. Cook, Owen Jones and George Foreman — who served with the United States Colored Troops."
Among the LCHS Civil War collection are five diaries kept by three soldiers. Daniel Fegan kept two of the five diaries, Kissler said. The others were kept by Jacob Brower and W.H. Oliver, who mentions President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in his diary.
The collection includes many other items, such as military papers, personal correspondence and the 93rd Regiment Veteran Volunteers Association materials.
Tina Valgenti, LCHS administrative coordinator, said the society has a program every month on the Civil War from April through October at the Stoy Museum in Lebanon. There is a permanent Civil War exhibit on the second floor of the museum, but the staff created a new exhibit in the front parlor on the first floor using artifacts rarely seen by the public.
"It's a really good opportunity for us to unite the things from the archives and the objects from the museum to tell a story," Valgenti said.
The most important artifacts are the two flags carried by the 93rd. They were donated to the society in 1935 by the Coleman family. The exhibit also includes the Horns' pictures as well as letters the couple wrote to each other during the war. There is also a 34-star American flag, made by Amelia Karch, carried by the soldiers in the Battle of Gettysburg.
"We're also showcasing several individuals," Valgenti said, noting among them Theodore O. Rogers, a drummer. "We have his pup tent. We have his frying pan, with the handle missing, and his snare drum."
Also, LCHS is offering a bus trip to Gettysburg on Saturday, June 21. The cost is $55 for members and $65 for nonmembers. The trip includes a guided battlefield tour with a focus on the troops from Lebanon County. For tickets or more information about the trip, call 717-272-1473.
The society also will host an three-day encampment at Union Canal Tunnel Park the last weekend in September.
The society has several Sunday programs planned. The next will focus on the ministry, abolitionism and Civil War service, presented by the Rev. Col. James M. McCarter at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 27, in the Reese auditorium in the society headquarters at 924 Cumberland St. This program is free to the public.