Imagine discovering that both of your sons had died prisoners-of-war in one the worst prisons operated within the Confederate States during the Civil War. While researching the pension records of members of the 2d Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery “Provisionals,” I discovered two soldiers with the last name Rathfon who came from the same location in Pennsylvania — Perry Township, Snyder County — that died within weeks, maybe days, of each other while imprisoned at Andersonville.
Digging further, I learned from on-line genealogical records that these two soldiers were indeed, brothers and the sons of Jacob and Susanna (Gelnett) Rathfon of Snyder County, Pennsylvania. Enlistment records show that both John Rathfon, age 36, and his younger brother Jacob, age 34, enlisted on 27 February 1864, in Company F, 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for three-year service. Both brothers were reassigned into the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery “Provisionals” in time for the spring campaign that began with the Battle of the Wilderness, followed shortly thereafter by the battles at Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. It appears that with the reassignment, John was placed in Battery F while Jacob was placed in Battery K. John, it seems, was captured during the battle at Cold Harbor and was last seen on 2 June 1864. Jacob’s date of capture isn’t recorded but they both ended up in Andersonville. The parents probably did not know that their sons were at Andersonville until sometime after the war. In fact, a history of Snyder County reported years later that both men died at Libby Prison in Richmond. But records at Andersonville later substantiate their imprisonment there and their subsequent deaths from malnutrition and chronic diarrhea. Though thousands of prisoners were held within the stockade, the two brothers undoubtedly found each other even as their lives slipped away. Jacob’s death is placed sometime in August, 1864; John’s is placed on 7 September 1864.
Can’t you picture John Rathfon cradling his younger brother in his arms under a makeshift shelter as the two slowly starved to death? In a final gesture of brotherly love, John made certain that his brother’s body was well-marked with his name and unit before the burial wagon carted it away with the other dead soldiers to the makeshift graveyard outside of the stockade. Jacob’s body lies buried at Anderson National Cemetery under the identifying number 4940. Unfortunately for John, who was taken from the stockade into the nearby hospital on 7 September where he died later that day, apparently his body was inadequately marked and so he lies buried under one of the “Unknown” gravestones at Andersonville. In any event, it’s time to set the record straight about these two brothers.
The Family Jacob Rathfon and (1812-1889) and his wife, Susanna Gelnett (1803-1895), of Union County (later Snyder County), Pennsylvania had several children but only three sons; John Rathfon (1827-1864), Jacob Rathfon (1829-1864), and Cyrus Rathfon (1839-1925). When the Civil War broke out in 1861, John was 34 years old, Jacob, Jr. 32, and Cyrus 22. John was married to Mary Ann Hovis (b. 1832) on 1 July 1855 by Rev. C. G. Erlenmeyer in Snyder County, PA. They had two children — Oliver Rathfon (b. 24 May 1858) and Amanda Rathfon (4 December 1862). After his marriage, John continued to live in Snyder County where he made a living as a carpenter. Jacob, Jr., was married to Mary Ann Snyder (1832-1918) on 2 January 1853 in Snyder County, PA. They had four children — Emeline Rathfon (b. 29 February 1856), Calvin Rathfon (b. 31 August 1858), Allen Rathfon (b. 20 October 1860), and Clara Rathfon (b. 24 May 1863). After his marriage, Jacob, Jr. continued to live in Snyder Counter, building a residence next to his parents and took up farming with his father. Cyrus Rathfon learned the carpenters trade from his brother John and lived with him until joining the 150th, and later the 172nd Pennsylvania Volunteers.