Civil War soldier to be honored

April 29, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

From the perspective of 137 years, it doesn't seem like much of a heroic deed - beating up an enemy soldier and grabbing his battle flag. But it was enough to earn Lt. Henry G. Bonebrake of Waynesboro a Medal of Honor.

Capturing an enemy's battle flag was serious business in the Civil War, said Don Stoops, owner of the Sharpsburg Arsenal, a shop specializing in Civil War memorabilia. Soldiers who carried it into battle often lost their lives.

"Flag bearers were always the first target because the enemy knew if their flag fell the troops would be demoralized," Stoops said. "The life expectancy of a flag bearer in battle was about two to three minutes."


Hand-to-hand combat over battle flags often was a struggle to the death.

"The flag was the rallying point in battle," Stoops said. Soldiers knew their unit was still in the fight as long as they could see their flag waving, he said.

Bonebrake, who was born in Waynesboro and lived out his life there after the war, is buried in a family plot in Green Hill Cemetery.

The community honored Bonebrake, Franklin County's only Medal of Honor winner, in 1987. The Combined Veterans Council and the Waynesboro Historical Society dedicated a bronze tablet May 25 at the borough's Memorial Park in Bonebrake's honor.

The event was held following the local Memorial Day parade. The featured speaker was a Medal of Honor winner from World War II.

On May 30, the veterans group and historical society placed a replica of Bonebrake's gravestone. Inscribed in the granite below the replica was the name of Bonebrake's unit, Co. G. 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

The stone carver misspelled Cavalry as Calvary.

"We sent it in with the correct spelling," Donald Ringer, master of ceremonies of the 1987 services, said last week. "It would have cost too much to have it corrected."

Bonebrake is about to be honored again.

Peter Walters, a member of the Green Hill Cemetery board and a retired Army officer, said the board plans to recognize Bonebrake in a graveside ceremony at noon July 27.

Plans call for laying a wreath at Bonebrake's grave. Civil War re-enactors, local and state officials and veterans groups are expected to participate, Walters said.

"It's still early in the planning, but we wanted to do something to honor him," he said.

According to Bonebrake's diary, which Stoops bought at an auction, Bonebrake was one of 51 Union soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor for capturing Rebel flags during the war. He and the other 50 personally handed their flags to then Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Bonebrake received his medal on May 5, 1865. The first was made of bronze. He was given a silver replacement in 1905, according to local historical records.

He was born in the Roadside section near Waynesboro in 1838 and spent his early life working on the family farm. According to an Evening Herald story noting Bonebrake's death from a stroke Oct. 26, 1912, he was educated in Washington Township schools and became a teacher before the war. He enlisted in Waynesboro on Sept. 12, 1862, and saw action throughout the war with the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

On three occasion,s he had his horse shot out from under him during battle, the newspaper article said.

He returned to teaching after the war, then farming before he went into the grocery business in a store on East Main Street. In 1898, he became an assistant postmaster.

He was married twice. His first wife, Cora Walters, died in 1899. He married Clara Palm in 1909. She survived him.

The Medal of Honor was first issued in the Civil War.

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, 1,520 were given out in the Civil War. There were 124 recipients in World War I, 440 in World War II, 131 in the Korean War and 239 in Vietnam, according to the society.

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