Hidden Histories

Philadelphia's First Civil War Casualty

Wednesday, 4/20/11
***This article appeared in the April, 2011, HSP monthly email publication, "History Hits: Collecting & sharing the stories of Pennsylvania." For a free subscription, simply click here to enter your email address.*** 

On this day, April 19, in 1861, Philadelphia suffered its first military casualty of the American Civil War. A 26-year-old German immigrant named George Leisenring (who also appears as John Lichtenhahn in contemporary records of the day) was mortally wounded in Baltimore, Maryland, and died a few days later at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

Leisenring was a member of the Washington Brigade, which included the Washington Guards, a group of volunteers commanded by Colonel William F. Small. Small's volunteer force, composed in part of German immigrants, had been organized as a militia regiment in January of 1861. They along with the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, by train, only to encounter an enraged mob of "secessionists" or pro-Confederate residents of the city. Some of the mob boarded the railroad car in which George Leisenring was an occupant, and the young resident of Philadelphia received "two stab wounds," one in his back and another by a knife which was also "plunged into his side." He and four Massachusetts soldiers would die, while some 25 others were wounded during the assault.
1862 Civil War recruitment poster

Samuel Bates, in his multi-volume work, The History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, first published in 1869, states how those soldiers attacked during the Baltimore Riots were "recruited in Philadelphia, in the districts of Northern Liberties and Kensington, and at least one-half of its members were German." Leisenring served as a private in Company C, commanded by Captain Henry Ungerer of the 2nd Regiment of the Washington Brigade, according to Frank Taylor, Civil War soldier, author, and artist, in his work, Philadelphia in the Civil War: 1861-1865, published in 1913.

Leisenring was first buried in the Union Wesleyan and Harmony Burial Ground located in Kensington. The bodies buried there were later re-interred at Fernwood Cemetery, Delaware County.  Regrettably, the exact whereabouts of Leisenring's grave is not known. All are welcome to attend a memorial service to commemorate the sacrifice of Philadelphia's first military casualty of the American Civil War at 1 p.m. this Saturday, April 23, at Palmer Cemetery in Fishtown, Philadelphia (the town where Leisenring resided). A movement is afoot to erect a monument to his memory. For more information on how to support this effort, visit http://generalmeadesociety.org/.

During this 150th sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, which begins this month, it should be remembered that Philadelphia from the beginning paid a price, as it has done in all wars, for both freedom and liberty. George Leisenring was no exception. He is someone to be remembered with honor for his sacrifice, which is the more remarkable since he gave his life in the defense of his adopted country.