Among the numerous soldiers wounded in the deadly assault on the Confederate earthworks outside of Peterburg, Virginia on 17 June 1864 was Pvt. George Probst of Co. C, 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery “Provisionals.” Pvt. Probst was mustered into the Regiment on 26 March 1864, just weeks before Grant’s overland campaign that would relentlessly carry the war to the doorstep of Richmond and Petersburg. For Grant’s Army, there would be no turning back despite mounting casualty lists. For the men in the ranks, it was no longer possible to even make an adequate distinction between the string of engagements between May and July.
Case in point; the reported death of Pvt. George Probst — the 52 year-old husband and father of three from Montour County, Pennsylvania. To prove her pension, Rebecca (Watts) Probst had to provide evidence of her marriage to George and of his death while serving with the 2d Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. She was not helped by the fact that company records and official documents provided by the War Department were inaccurate, as well as the memory of the comrades who served with him. Neither was she helped by the fact that her husband understated his age by at least five years on his enlistment in order to be accepted into the service.
History does not record how Rebecca learned of her husband’s death but the following letter from Pvt. Probst’s non-commissioned officer written over a month after the engagement in which he was wounded must have provided some hope to the loved ones at home that he was still alive:
July 23, 1864
Camp Near Petersburg
Wife: As I received your letter this morning you asking me the results of your husband and I will give you all the satisfaction I can. He was in the engagement on the 17th of June where he was wounded and taken to the Hospital and cared for but what place or Hospital he was taken I am not able to inform you at present. As I have received no Certificate yet, he must still be living or I would of had a note reporting. So you may rest assured she is wounded and in some hospital in some of the citys. This is all the news I can give you at present. If I get a notice of him from Hospital I will report to you immediately. Truly Yours, — Sergt. Abraham S. Oyer, Commanding Batt. C., Prov. 2 Heavy Artillery
In her pension application of December 1864, the 48 year-old widow Rebecca Probst stated:
…that she is the widow of George Probst who was a Private in Battery “C” Provisional 2nd Heavy Artillery commanded by [blank] of Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of 1861, who was killed on the 17th day June A. D. 1864 at or near Petersburg in Virginia, that his death was caused by a ball shot by the Rebels. She further declares that she was married to the said George Probst on the Twenty-fourth of January A. D. 1850 at Jerseytown in the County of Columbia in the State of Pennsylvania by one Samuel Kisner, a Justice of the Peace in and for Madison Township in said county of Columbia, that her husband the aforesaid George Probst died as she verily believes on the seventeenth day of June as above mentioned, and that she has remained a widow ever since that period… She further states that she believes there is no Public Record of her said marriage and there is no private or family record and the best evidence she is able to procure of her marriage is the evidence of her neighbors and those who have known her and her husband from the day of their marriage…That the names and ages of her children under sixteen years of age at her husband’s decease, and the place of residence is as follows: Mary Elizabeth Probst, born July 2nd 1850, James Probst, born January 23, 1854, and Sarah Probst, born January 25, 1855, and that they all reside in Anthony Township, Montour County, and State of Pennsylvania. — Rebecca Probst (her mark)
As further evidence of her entitlement to a “Widow’s Pension” though possibly muddying the waters was the following affidavit filed in December 1866 by William Kuhns — a resident of Montour County who declared:
…that he was well acquainted with George Probst who was a Private in Battery “C” 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery who was shot in the Battle of Coal [Cold] Harbor in Virginia on the 17th day of June 1864 from which wound he died soon after. That said George Probst was in battle with his company at the time he was shot through the left shoulder. That I saw him after he was wounded lying on the field of battle, and heard frequently after that he was dead and have never heard it doubted , and that I was a member of the same company with the said George Probst, and that we were well acquainted before we went into the service of the United States… — William Kuhns
Why Kuhns was requested to file a second affidavit is unclear, for in February 1866, Kuhns had earlier stated, under oath, before the local magistrate that he:
…was a private in Company C, Provision Regiment attached to the ninth army corps under General Burnside, Col. Wilhelm, Lieutenant Colonel Barney, Major’s name forgotten, Capt. [Samuel H.] Davis, 1st Lieut. Miller, 2nd Lieut. [Thomas C.] Sharpe, and that I was acquainted with George Probst and that he was a private in the above Company and under the above officers and that some time after the Battle of the Seventeenth when said George Probst was killed, the papers of the Company were lost and the above Company and the whole Regiment was consolidated into the Second Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, and I never saw any of the above officers in the Consolidated Regiment afterwards. And that Capt. Davis was killed and I was present when he was buried and it was reported that all of the commissioned officers of said company were killed or wounded and I never saw them after the consolidation… — William Kuhns [Note: Capt. Samuel H. Davis was killed at Cold Harbor and Lt. Thomas C. Sharpe was killed in the charge upon Petersburg on 17 June].
Though Kuhns is confused as to the engagement, believing that Probst was killed in the Battle of Cold Harbor May 31-June 12, 1864) rather than in the charge on Petersburg, he did recall (probably with the widow’s prompting) that Probst was shot on June 17th.
But in October 1866, the Adjutant General’s Office in Washington D. C. issued its official record reporting the death of Pvt. Probst. It states that Probst “died June 20, 1864 at 9 A. C. [Ninth Army Corps] Hospital of wound of left foot.” Say what?! Furthermore, when the History of the Regiment was published years later, George Probst was reported “wounded on June 25, 1864.”
It appears that Rebecca Probst eventually received her Widow’s Pension but the Washington Bureau in charge of pensions continued to stonewall the descendants of Pvt. Probst. In 1929, writing from her residence in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Mrs. W. G. Stratton submitted the following to the “Widow’s Division” of the Bureau:
…I cannot find where my grandfather enlisted. My father knew, but he is dead and we cannot find a thing. Only my mother knew this much: George Probst enlisted at age 52 years. He lived on a farm in Anthony Township. Killed near close of was but don’t know what battle this was. Three minor children as follows. Their mother Mrs. Rebecca Probst and she got pension until she died…August 29, 1896. I like record you have of them was killed. If there is any charge, let me know.
In response, the Bureau wrote Mrs. Stratton the following:
…your letter does not contain sufficient information…but it is believed that he enrolled March 25, 1864 at Harrisburg and died June 20, 1864 of wound of left foot.
Three months later, Mrs. Stratton wrote another letter to the same bureau asking basically the same questions and received a response that merely added the names of Pvt. Probt’s children and stating that Probst died of wounds received “at the Battle of Coal Harbor” and died on 20 June 1864 at the 9th Army Corps Hospital. It is curious that no mention was ever made of the statements by Private Kuhns or Sgt. Oyer.
George Probst (1812-1864 was the son of Phillip Probst (1788-1857) and Elizabeth Mosser (1787-1870). He married Rebecca Watts (1816-1896) on 24 January 1850 and was a farmer in Anthony Township, Montour County, Pennsylvania. The couple had three children: Mary Elizabeth Probst (1850-1930) who married Samuel Elliott; James Probst (1854-1922) who married Annie Elizabeth Plotts; and Sarah Probst (1855-1921) who married William Asbury Plotts.