Accounts of War

Lewis Donmoyer
1830 - June 29, 1864

“In September, 1862, he enlisted in the cause of the Union and joined Co. E, of the Seventeenth Pa. Cavalry. Early in the spring of 1863 his father, mother, wife and infant son Frank were all down with typhoid fever. He asked several times for a furlough that he might go home to see the afflicted ones so near and dear to him, but was refused, as the army was just then getting ready to move, and orders from headquarters were necessarily very strict that no leave of absence should be given. Another letter from home informed him of the hopeless condition of his wife, that she was constantly calling for him, a summons to which he felt that he must respond, and that his aged parents were in the same critical state. He showed the letter to his colonel, who, moved by sympathy for the distressed soldier, immediately wrote and stated the case to the Department at Washington. The matter was referred to President Lincoln, and that great-hearted man forthwith commanded, ‘Give that man a furlough.’ But when the anxious soldier reached home, in February, 1863, his wife and child were both dead, and the next day he had the sorrow to see them laid away in one grave. A few days later both his parents died, and he also saw them consigned to their mother earth. He then returned to his post of duty in the army, a sad son, an afflicted husband and father, and destined never again to see his home and surviving children.

“Lewis was in a number of the sanguinary engagements in which the Seventeenth Pa. Cavalry participated, made a number of hairbreadth escapes, having several horses killed under him while in action. On the 31st day of May, 1864, he took part in the bloody struggle at Cold Harbor, and this was his last battle. Here his regiment moved dismounted, and in its first advance was driven back with heavy loss, but on charging again routed the enemy and captured his works. Grant had resolved to seize Cold Harbor, a very important point to give him control of the Chickahominy and the roads to Richmond, and after a sharp struggle carried the position, though in gaining it he lost two thousand men, and in the still greater conflict that followed the next day (June 1st) he failed to get over the Chickahominy. Lewis was among the unfortunate in the struggle for the position, as he was severely wounded by a shot through the arm and elbow. The bones were badly shattered, gangrene set in, and on the 29th day of June he was mustered out by that Supreme Commander whom no earthly sovereignty or power can hinder.

Lewis Donmoyer, 1830-1864“In the summer of 1885 it was my privilege to visit the National Military Cemetery, at Arlington, opposite Washington City, D. C., and there I found the grass-grown grave of our sadly bereaved and patriotic kinsman, among the graves of 16,263 brave comrades who had died on battle fields and in hospitals, and are now laid in long rows, sleeping that last long sleep from which no one will ever be awakened by war’s stern alarms, or the sharp call ‘to arms.’ The first interments of Union soldiers in that historic ground (once owned by the wife of General George Washington, and when the war of the rebellion broke out was the inheritance of the wife of General Robert E. Lee, and from which the Lees reluctantly removed to Richmond when the General, after a painful heart-struggle, had finally decided that he must cast his lot with his native state as a member of the Southern Confederacy), were made in May, 1864, and therefore only a short time before Lewis Donmoyer fell from the ranks to await the final roll call, at the sound of the last trumpet, which his Lutheran faith had assured him would reunite him with the departed loved ones. Peaceful and beautiful is the vigilantly guarded place where he rests. On the borders of the extensive grave plots are here and there frames, on each of which is conspicuously inscribed some sentiment in verse that appeals to the heart of the thoughtful and sympathetic visitor, as the following, for example:

No rumor of the foe’s advance
Now sweeps upon the wind,
No troubled thoughts at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind
.’ ”

(from Heinrich Gernhardt and His Descendants, pp. 155-157)

(Editor’s note: For those who may be interested in visiting his grave in Arlington National Cemetery, he is buried in Section 5795, Grave 13, located close to McPherson Drive in the central rear of the cemetery.)

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