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Berks County

Berks County, formed on 11 March 1752, was formerly part of Philadelphia County, Lancaster County and Chester County. The county was named after Berkshire in England. Reading, the county seat, was named after Berkshire's county town. Reading was incorporated on September 12, 1783 as a borough and as a city on 16 March 1847.

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Township map of Berks County, Pa.
Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States with township and municipal boundaries is taken from US Census website and modified by Ruhrfisch in April 2006.

History of Berks County

Hundreds of years ago, great forests of very old trees grew in the gentle valleys, on the rolling hills, and on the steep mountains of what is now Berks County. The Schuylkill River and other streams were teeming with fish, and songs of birds filled the air. The American Eagle was, indeed, "king of the air"; these stately birds were as numerous then in this vicinity as hawks are today.

This area lies between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. The Schuylkill flows in a southeasterly direction for one hundred and twenty-five miles until it empties into the Delaware at Philadelphia. Streams flowing into the Schuylkill from the east include the Maiden Creek, Antietam, Monocacy, and Manatawny; from the west — the Tulpehocken, Wyomissing, Allegheny and Hay Creeks. One of the ridges of the Appalachian chain known as the Kittatiny (endless) Mountains by the In­dians, also the North Mountain, and because of its bluish haze most commonly the Blue Mountain, is the northern boundary. A second ridge, South Mountain, is separated from the Blue Mountain by twenty miles at some spots. Mt. Penn and Neversink are high points on it. The county lies in the lower cen­tral portion of the North Temperate zone between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and is intersected by 76 degrees west longitude.

Original inhabitants were Indians, stalking game armed with long bows and five-foot shafts tipped with hand made arrow heads fastened with pieces of wood. The arrows themselves were made of reed, and feathers on the end helped them to fly true. This part of America abounded with wild game; deer and bear were plentiful, yielding not only food but skins for clothing as well; the wild turkey also helped to simplify the food problem.

The Indians in this section were the fierce, warlike Minsi or Wolf tribe. They were one of three tribes, the others being the Unamis or the Turtle, and the Unalachtgo or Turkey, that belonged to the nation known as Lenni Lenape or "the original people." These tribes built dome-shaped lodges or huts made by driving saplings into the ground, arching and binding them securely. Elm bark usually covered the outside instead of buffalo skins used by the Plains Indians for their wigwams. A hole at the top afforded ventilation and allowed smoke from a fire in the center of the lodge to escape. Next to the wall a platform or bench covered with skins served as a bed. Their weapons included the tomahawk, knife, club, bow, and arrow.

Evidences of Indian encampments around Fleetwood are fairly numerous. Besides coming here to hunt and fish, they frequently followed a trail along the top of the mountain from Reading to Flint Hill near Bowers to obtain flint for their arrow heads. In the meadows that bound Willow Creek, near the springs on the former Clarence Shollenberger farm east of the town, and all along the Maidencreek —arrow heads have been unearthed by farmers plowing their fields. When foundations were dug at certain spots in the town, Indian relics were un­covered. (Stones arranged in a circle where a fire may once have burned and a number of arrow heads appeared about two feet from the surface when J. Wallace Luckenbill broke ground at his home, 301 South Richmond Street.) On the Phillip Schaeffer farm, now owned by Harold Schuler, is a cemetery in which some Indians are buried. At the foot of Becker's Hill, an Indian fort once stood. One of the most interesting evidences of Indian life in this area is a large stone with Indian markings in a wooded area above Seidel's Crossing.

Many Berks streams, mountains, and villages have interesting Indian names:
(a) Ontelaunee — "little maiden" — now Maidencreek
(b) Ganshowehanne — "tumbling stream" —Schuylkill
(c) Kau-ta-tin-chunk — "endless" — Blue Mountain
(d) Machksithanne — 'bear's path creek" —Maxatawny
(e) Navesink — "place of fishing" — Neversink
(f) Sinne-hanne — "stony stream" — Stony Creek
(g) Maschilamehanne — "trout stream" — Moselem
(h) Tulpewihaki — "land of the turtles" —Tulpehocken
(I) Wyomissing — "place of flats" — Wyomissing
(j) Olink — "hole or hollow encompassed by hills" —Oley

Early Settlers

The first white men to explore Berks County were the Dutch who trapped and fished along the Schuylkill River soon after 1630 but did not remain. A few years later the Swedes, led by Peter Minuet, a former Dutch governor of New York, bought all the land between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers, including what is now Berks County. In 1701 Andrew Rudman led the first Swedish settlers here. They took land near Douglassville and soon moved into Berks where their descendants live today. A building erected by Mounce Jones in 1716 near Douglassville is still standing, the oldest building in the county. The Swedes were Lutherans and erected a church near Douglassville, later replaced by St. Gabriel's. This church yard contains some of the oldest tombstones in the county. The Reverend John Compannus translated the Swedish catechism into the Indian language and the Swedes lived in peace and amity with the Indians; consequently, the township was named Amity in 1719.

William Penn

Next came the English. King Charles II of England owed Admiral [Sir William] Penn [1621-1670] about [£16,000]. When the elder Penn died, his son William (1644-1718), a Quaker, accepted in payment forty thousand square miles of land in America. His plan was to make a home in the wilderness for the Quakers who were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Penn sent his cousin, William Markham, to take possession of the new lands, which he had decided to name Sylvania (woods; forest); but the king prefixed Penn, in honor of Admiral Penn, and it became Pennsylvania (Penn's Woods). Markham came to Bristol in 1681, and bought the tract of land from the Indians lying along the Delaware River to the Blue Mountains, paying for it in kettles, guns, powder, beer, and beads. Berks County was included in the sale. Penn himself arrived in October 1682, made his first treaty with the Indians, and laid out several counties in the same year: Philadelphia, Chester, and Bucks. Later would come Lancaster, 1729; York, 1749; Cumberland, 1750; Berks, 1752. [The Penn family after 1776, of course, lost ownership of Pennsylvania as a result of the American Revolution.]

According to Montgomery in Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania:

"There are two deeds for lands in Berks county in which we are particularly interested. One is dated Sept. 7, 1732. It is from Sassoonan, alias Allummapis, sachem of the SchuylkIll Indians, alias Joe, on behalf of themselves and all the other Indians of the said nation, unto John Penn, Thomas Penn, and Richard Penn. The territory contained In the grant is described as follows: 'All those tracts of land lying on or near the river Schuylkill, in the said province, or any of the branches, streams, fountains or springs thereof, eastward or westward, and all the lands lying in or near any swamps, marshes, fens or meadows, the waters or streams of which flow into or toward the said river Schuylkill, situate, lying and being between those hills, called Lechay Hills, and those called Keekachtanemin Hills, which cross the said river Schuylkill about thirty miles above the said Lechay Hills, and all land whatsoever lying within the said bounds; and between the branches of Delaware river, on the eastern side of the said land, and the branches or streams running into the river Susquehannah, on the western side of the said land, together with all mines, minerals, quarries, waters, rivers, creeks, woods, timber and trees, with all and every the appurtenances, etc.'" The consideration mentioned in the deed consisted of the following articles: "20 brass kettles, 100 stroudwater matchcoats of two yards each, 100 duffels do., 100 blankets, 100 yards of half tick, 60 linen shirts, 20 hats, 6 made coats, 12 pair of shoes and buckles, 30 pair of stockings, 300 lbs. of gun powder, 600 lbs. of lead, 20 fine guns, 12 gun-locks, 50 tomahawks or hatchets, 50 planting hoes, 120 knives, 60 pair of scissors, 100 tobacco tongs, 24 looking-glasses, 40 tobacco boxes, 1000 flints, 5 lbs. of paint, 24 dozen of gartering, 6 dozen of ribbons, 12 dozen of rings, 200 awl blades, 100 lbs. of tobacco, 400 tobacco pipes, 20 gallons of rum and 50 pounds in money. "The other deed is dated Aug. 22, 1749. It is from nine different tribes of Indians unto Thomas Penn and Richard Penn. The several tribes were represented by their chiefs, who appeared and executed the deed in their behalf. The consideration was L500 lawful money of Pennsylvania. The tract of land conveyed lay north of the Blue Mountain and extended from the Delaware on the east to the Susquehanna on the west. It included the whole of Schuylkill county. Conrad Weiser was the Interpreter for the Indians in this transfer. "The lower section of the county, lying southward of the South Mountain (or 'Lechay Hill'), had been released by the Indians in 1718, it having been included in previous purchases of territory."

English Immigrants

About 1720 English immigrants arrived; some of them settled near Birdsboro and In the Oley Valley. Most of them were Friends or Quakers and they erected meeting houses at once; several are still in use today. Penn firmly believed that the Indians were the owners of the land and deeds of land purchases bearing the Penn name are on record. In one purchase it was agreed that the tract should extend as far as a man could walk In three days. Penn, with Indian chiefs and friends, walked for only one day and a half; arriving at Baker Creek, he marked a tree stating that it was the boundary of the land that he wanted. This arrangement, however, led to difficulties, and the Indians became uneasy as settlements were made beyond Penn's line. In 1737, Governor Gordon sent three fast walkers accompanied by three Indians to establish a new line. Before the end of three days, all men except Edward Marshall, a famous hunter, were exhausted. Marshall had covered sixty miles! The new es­tablished line dissatisfied the Indians who blamed Marshall. In the raids upon the settlers in the dis­puted territory which followed, Marshall's entire family was killed except one little boy who crawled under a bee hive to escape the revengeful Indians.

Germans

William Penn's mother was a German which may account for his trip to Germany with George Fox, founder of the Quaker sect, who preached about the Quaker doctrines there and invited all those who were oppressed to join the "holy experiment" in Pennsylvania. Some persecuted German Mennonites had already founded Germantown. The first German settlers to reach Berks County arrived in Oley in 1712 and chose the Manatawny Creek area. About ten years later, other Germans, including Conrad Weiser, came to western Berks from New York and settled near Tulpehocken in the vicinity of Womelsdorf. By 1752 the Germans were far more numerous than all the other settlers combined. During the days when the Penn's were in power, the Quakers were the leaders, as were all the English before the Revolution. After that, however, the Germans took control.

Many Germans came from the fertile section of the Upper Rhine known as the Palatinate. The Thirty Years' War had made this lovely land of rich fields a battleground. The people were weary of poverty and persecution and eagerly accepted Penn's Invitation. They left their ruined homes by thousands and took passage on crowded, slow vessels, into which they were packed for weeks. Many of them were unable to pay their passage across the ocean so they sold their services for a number of years in exchange for passage to the ship's captain. Agents of sailing companies often contracted to bring them to America where the agent had the right to sell the "redemptioneer's" labor for a certain number of years to pay for his transportation. These "indentured servants" or "redemptioneers" were virtually slaves until the contract expired; they were, quite understandably, the first people in America to protest the slave traffic. Some immigrants served their masters for five years to pay a debt of only $48 and their lot was usually a hard one. Those who came to Berks County cleared the land, planted the fields, erected buildings, laid out roads, and turned the area into a smiling land of plenty. Though somewhat changed, the German language prevailed.

Other Settlers

In addition to the Dutch, Swedes, English, and Germans, came Welsh, French Huguenots, and Scotch-Irish settlers. By 1700 the Welsh had purchased a grant from Penn and paid for it once again to the Indians in 1752; by 1740 they came in large numbers and established three counties — Caernarvon, Cumru, and Bretknock. Driven from France by Louis XIV, the Huguenots, skilled mechanics, settled in the Oley valley. Their language has entirely disappeared. The Scotch-Irish pushed beyond the Blue Mountains and were frontier defendants of Pennsylvania settlers for many years.

Conrad Weiser

Conrad Weiser (1696-1760), one of the early German immigrants to the New World, became one of Berks' most prominent citizens. Coming to America with his parents in 1713, he was adopted at the age of fourteen by the Seneca tribe in New York, with his father's consent, and spent a year with them. The boy learned the Indian language and when he grew older was a valuable interpreter helping to make many treaties with the Indians.

At fifteen, Conrad returned to his father in New York. Eighteen years later, when he was thirty-three, he moved to Berks County with his wife and children. East of Womelsdorf he built a home which is still standing in Conrad Weiser Park. Weiser, his wife, and one child are buried on the grounds. His ser­vices as an interpreter were greatly in demand and he negotiated nearly every treaty with the Indians for the government until his death in 1760 at the age of 63. Weiser built the first store in Reading at 505 Penn Street (Stichter Hardware) which became an impor­tant trading post. He also built the first hotel, was a keen business man, and acquired much land from the Indians. Rumor has it that Chief Shikellamy told him he dreamed that Weiser gave him a gun. Weiser did so. Later Weiser told the Chief that he dreamed the Indians gave him an island in the Schuylkill River. The Chief produced a deed to the island and suggested that they dream no more!

George Washington and Conrad Weiser were close friends. Standing at Weiser's grave, Washington said, "Posterity will not forget his services." Washington's prophecy came true for in 1907 the pupils of Reading and Berks County contributed enough money for a memorial tablet, erected by the POS. of A. [Patriotic Order of Sons of America] at Womelsdorf in 1909. After many years of effort, the Berks County Historical Society raised sufficient funds to purchase Weiser's farm near Womelsdorf which has been laid out as the Conrad Weiser Memorial Park.

The Lincolns

Berks County is the ancestral home of Abraham Lincoln and the birthplace of Daniel Boone, the Kentucky pioneer. The two families lived near each other and were friends. Boone was born in a house still standing in Exeter Township and went to Kentucky when he reached manhood. Three years before Daniel Boone's birth, Mordicai Lincoln, great-great­grandfather of the Emancipator, bought land in Exeter Township and moved there from Chester County. His grandson Abraham was killed by the Indians in 1784. Abraham's youngest son Thomas married Nancy Hanks who many believe was also of Berks County stock. President Abraham Lincoln was their son.

Erection of the County

Lancaster County, erected in 1729, was the center at this time for the transaction of all legal business. The long journey became a hardship to men such as Conrad Weiser; he, along with other petitioners, tried to convince the Assembly from 1738 to 1752 that a new county should be established. On March 11, 1752, the Assembly finally approved the petition and Governor James Hamilton signed the bill. Berks County, carved from parts of Lancaster, Philadelphia, and Chester Counties, had a 12,000 population in 1752. It is bounded on the northwest by Schuylkill (36 miles), on the northeast by Lehigh (24 miles), on the southeast by Montgomery and Chester (28 miles), and on the southwest by Lancaster and Lebanon (29 miles). Twice it was reduced in size by the erection of Northumberland County in 1772 and Schuylkill County in 1811. Today there are 44 townships in this 576,000-acre or 900-square mile area.

Berks is an abbreviation of Berkshire In England, where the Penn family had large estates. Reading, England, was the capital of Berkshire; consequently, the Penn's selected the same name for the county seat of Berks when they laid out the city in 1748. The Anglo-Saxon name for the English city was Readingas meaning "descendants of the Red." Interestingly, Reading is sometimes referred to as the "red-roofed city" because many of the tin roofs are painted red.

Indian Conflicts

The new county was near the fringe of the white settlement and was often attacked, usually at night, by unfriendly Indians from above the Blue Mountains. Many settlers were killed and their houses and barns burned. White women and children were often carried off as slaves. The leader of these raids was Tedyuscung, a Delaware chieftain filled with revenge. Berks County troubles with the Indians dated from the Walking Purchase. While Penn lived, all was peaceful on the surface, but the Indians believed that they had been cheated. The French and English went to war over territorial disputes (French and Indian War, 1754-1763), and the French urged the natives to recover their land by joining the fighting. French Canadians who lived in north of Berks County gave the Indians arms and ammunition and often aided in attacks upon the Pennsylvania settlers. The great uprising of the Indians about 1754 is known as the French and Indian War. Helpless, Berks farmers petitioned Governor Morris to protect their homes. Since the war extended throughout most of the northern colonies, a line of forts, twelve miles apart, was built from the Susquehanna to the Delaware River, some in northern Berks. Benjamin Franklin the Governor's agent, directed the building of the fort at Lehighton which he named Gnadenbutten; then he returned to Philadelphia. Fort Henry in Bethel Township and Fort Northkill, two miles east of Strausstown in Upper Tulpehocken Township, were both within the present limits of Berks. On October 1, 1757, nearby farmers were attacked. Defenders of the fort dispatched a courier to Reading and to Conrad Weiser. Weiser and Captain Oswald rushed two lieutenants and forty soldiers to the scene. After a mad dash through the forest, the soldiers succeeded in routing the Indians and saving the whites. Only four Indians were killed in Berks during the French and Indian War; one hundred and fifty settlers lost their lives, however, and thirty, mostly women, were carried off to slavery.

The Scotch[sic]-Irish and other frontier fighters soon learned the natives' way of fighting. Legend has it that some Indian orphans were housed in an orphanage and the Scotch-Irish, still enraged against their enemies, were restrained with great difficulty from burning the orphanage and killing the children. One of the most poignant stories in all of the history of Berks County concerns Regina Hartman. On a beautiful autumn day, when her mother and young brother were at the grist mill, the Indians came, killing her father and oldest brother. They took with them Regina, her sister Barbara, and another child on a neighboring farm. Barbara's body was found soon after. Regina and her little companion lived in a tribe and the years passed. Peace terms with Indians demanded the return of all captive children. Regina, now nineteen, and Susan, twelve, were sent to Pittsburgh and on to Carlisle where parents were to claim their lost children. Regina's mother was unable to identify her own child in the line, Colonel Bouquet, the officer in charge, suggested that Mrs. Hartman do something that her daughter might recognize. She began to sing the beautiful old German hymn "Alone, Yet Not Alone." Regina sprang from the line, embraced her mother and joined in the hymn. Reunited, the mother and daughter went home taking with them Susan, Regina's companion, whose parents were never found.

Early Industries

The first industries, if they may be called that, were hunting, fishing, trapping, and farming. Each household became the headquarters for the manufacture of clothing and other needs. Blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, and other artisans soon arrived. By 1773, still under British rule, Berks industries had already become diversified, an advantage they still retain. Before the Revolution there were in Berks brick-makers, brewers, butchers, cabinet makers, carpenters, weavers, wheelwrights, gunsmiths, hatters, potters, etc. Hat-making was Reading's first real Industry; Reading hats were shipped to Philadelphia as early as 1783. Sheep wool and the fur from wild animals furnished the material and Reading became the center of America's wool felt hat industry. Large numbers of fur-felt hats were also made here. The clock making industry was also attracted to Reading. Before 1800 there were as many as eleven skilled clock makers creating beautiful clocks with wooden cog wheels. In 1795 four-and-a-half tons of bees wax were shipped from Levan's Wharf to Philadelphia Wharf along with twenty-two hundred barrels of flour, nine tons of butter, three tons of paper, and seventy-nine dozen hats.

The iron industry of America was born in Berks County. Iron from Europe was scarce and the essentials of producing it here were plentiful: ore, fuel, limestone, and power. Coal and coke were unknown so wood was charred to make it burn hotter. Earth-covered piles were slowly burned to charcoal by sturdy woodsmen. When the wood was covered it was lighted and after burning slowly for many days, it was smothered. When it cooled, the earth was removed and the charcoal made ready for use. With plenty of fuel in the form of charcoal, early settlers utilized the natural deposits of Iron ore. Ore was found in lumps of various sizes from boulders to dust. It was loosened with picks, loaded on great wagons, and hauled to the nearest furnace. Iron ore in Berks contained Impurities and it was necessary to separate these before the iron could be used. The first blast furnaces in America were built along Berks streams. They were placed in hillsides so that ore, charcoal and limestone could be dumped in at the open top. Husky men hauled the loads to the mouth; then fuel, ore, and limestone was thrown in so that the whole mass contained proper proportions. When ignited, the blast turned on the limestone and the ore was reduced to a molten mass at the bottom.

Revolutionary War

Soon after the French and Indian War, trouble began with England, the mother country. With the passage of the Stamp Act, General Gage was sent to Boston from England and harassment began. When the news reached Reading, meetings were held on Penn Square to protest the outrages of the British troops. At one of these meetings seven resolutions were adopted attacking the British stand; this action helped to spur other colonies Into action. Residents of Berks have always been very patriotic and in this case were identified with the Revolution by being one of the first groups to offer their services. George Nagel, John Spohn, and Jonathan Jones raised companies in Berks in answer to Washington's call for troops. Captain Jones' Company marched 600 miles to Quebec to join the attack on Canada because it had not rebelled from England. They joined the command of Benedict Arnold who, at that time, was a loyal American general. After suffering greatly from cold and the attempt having failed, they marched south through New York state helping Arnold to prepare for the Battle of Ticonderoga. Later this same company escorted Martha Washington to Philadelphia.

A regiment of Berks County patriots assembled and equipped by Joseph Hiester [1752-1832] arrived in New Jersey only to find that Washington had moved to Long island. Some Reading men were killed and wounded; Hiester was captured and held prisoner on various British ships. He was robbed of all his money and clothes; ill treatment and poor food weakened him until he was forced to crawl about on his hands and knees. He was later exchanged and came back to Reading; recovering his health, he returned to the army. Later he enlisted 650 more men in Berks for General Reed's Army. After the war ended, Joseph Hiester entered political life and served as governor of the state from 1820 to 1823. [Known as "Old German Grey," Hiester, at six-feet tall and 200 pounds, walked with a malacca cane. As governor, he presided over dedicating the first state capitol building, and is credited with expanding education for citizens. He is buried in Charles Evans Cemetery, Reading.

During the struggle with her rebellious colonies, England was short of trained soldiers and hired troops from Germany, paying their prince large sums of money. They came principally from Hesse and were called Hessians. Berks County patriots were in the battles of Saratoga and Trenton where many of the Hessians were captured. A large number of prisoners were brought to Reading and encamped along the south side of Mt. Penn on what is now Hill Road and through the valley to Mineral Springs Park. About 1,000 prisoners were brought to Berks during the war. Some had their wives here so they built small cabins. Many were skilled farmers and were hired out during the war. Later they bought land and became American citizens.

The only blot on Reading's Revolutionary War record is the fact that a little log hut just east of Eighth and Penn Streets was the meeting place of General Mifflin, General Conway, General Lee, and others who conspired to remove Washington from command and replace him with General Gates who had just won the Battle of Saratoga. Washington had been defeated at Brandywine and had retired to Valley Forge. Reading became a gathering place for dissatisfied officers and wealthy families of Philadelphia. The conspirators later met in Philadelphia at Tauntin Inn. Washington learned of the plot through friends. The movement collapsed, and the Conway Cabal, fortunately, never achieved its object.

Washington in Reading

Shortly after his election as President, November 1793, Washington was a guest in Reading on his return from Lebanon where he Inspected construction of the Union Canal. He also stopped at Womelsdorf and was deeply moved by the royal reception of the Berks County Germans.

In 1794, the year of the Whiskey Rebellion, when an army was being gathered at Carlisle, Washington, realizing the seriousness of the situation and wanting to check on it personally, came to Reading along with Alexander Hamilton by way of Trappe. On October 1, he wrote In his Diary:

"Left Trappe early and breakfasted at Pottsgrove, 11 miles. We reached Reading, 19 miles further, where we found several detachments of infantry and cavalry preparing for the march to Carlisle."

From Philadelphia, Washington came by carriage on the Philadelphia Road, through Douglassville, Amityville, Weavertown, Friends' Meeting House, Stonersville, and Black Bear. The party stopped at the Federal Inn (now The American Bank and Trust Company) on Penn Square; its name was later changed to 'Sign of Washington" in honor of its eminent guest.

When Martin Van Buren was president, he visited Reading. James Buchanan spoke at a Democratic rally in the city during his presidential campaign. (Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Richard M. Nixon also spoke in Penn Square). The city also entertained at various times Washington; Hamilton; Franklin; Stephen Douglass, Governor William Bigler; General Scott, the man who conquered Mexico; John Penn, son of William Penn; and Theodore Roosevelt.

Military Contributions

Three military companies, the Reading Artillerists, Washington Grays, and the National Greys, offered their services during the Mexican War. Reading volunteers in that war were in the front lines at the Battle of Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo. They marched into Mexico City under General Scott and helped to plant the Stars and Stripes on the palace of Chapultepec. One Berks soldier was killed in battle; four died from wounds and twenty-two from sickness.

After 1776 able-bodied Berks citizens trained and prepared rigorously for emergencies. In 1856 there were twenty-four companies, men between 18 and 45, who assembled for drill and inspection on Whit-Monday, Battalion Day. Lincoln asked for troops from Pennsylvania during the Civil War to defend the Capitol. The Ringgold Light Artillery Company under Captain James McKnight was the first to respond. The Ringgold Band is the same organization that went to war in this company as the Regimental Band. They left for Washington the same day that Lincoln's call was received. During the Civil War, Berks County sent 93 companies and five regimental bands. Berks has the distinction of sending the first defenders of the Union and also claims the honor of being the home of the first Ladies' Aid Society founded in the United States. The group furnished bandages and medical supplies. A military hospital was established in a building in City Park and there many wounded men were nursed back to health by these devoted women. Berks furnished many Civil War heroes: David Murtrie Gregg and his cavalry had a major role in the victory at Gettysburg; Henry Weidensauk of Morgantown, enlisted at fourteen years of age, and after three years of gallantry on many battlefields found himself a prisoner at Libby Prison when he was only seventeen, the youngest veteran soldier of the Union armies; Herbey Herman, Elsworth E. Zouaves, and William Diehi with his Reading Light Infantry saved the army transport Winfield Scott in a storm off Cape Hatteras after most of the crew had deserted her; Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Brenholtz, a Reading school teacher, died leading three companies in a gallant charge at Vicksburg.

When President McKinley asked for 125,000 volunteers in April 1898, for service in the War with Spain, Reading at once took her traditional position in the vanguard. The Reading Artillerists were soon at Chickamauga Park, Georgia, where many soldiers died during an epidemic including John C. Hintz. Reading troops landed at Guanica, Puerto Rico, under cover of bombardment by the American fleet, but peace was declared before enemy fire began. Company "E" of Hamburg was with the Reading soldiers in a movement on Guayama when the short war ended. A second company formed in Reading at the President's second call, Company "G," had reached Lexington, Kentucky, when peace came.

Large quantities of cannon balls made in Reading foundries made victory possible for Washington's army. During the Civil War, Reading-cast, twenty-inch cannons were used by the Union armies. In 1898 Carpenter Steel shells helped Dewey to sink the Spanish fleet at Manila, and the fourteen-inch batteries of Sampson's fleet hurled tons of Reading-made projectiles into Cerveras' fleeing ships virtually ending the war. When conditions along the Mexican border became threatening in 1915, Reading's two National Guard units, Companies "A" and "I," were mustered into federal service and were sent to the Mexican border. Company "I" sailed to France with the Rainbow Division, the first American soldiers to arrive in Europe following the entry of the United States into World War 1, July, 1917. As a part of a machine gun battalion, they saw service at St. Mihiel, the Argonne, and the Baccarrat Sector. Company "A" arrived in France a few months later as a part of the iron or 28th Division. They were in the thick of fighting at Vesle and in the decisive Argonne Drive.

Loyalty parades marked the beginning of the United States' participation in World War I. Registration days and Draft Board examinations followed. Berks soldiers were sent to Camp Meade and other training camps and soon found themselves on the rosters of the great armies of France and Belgium. When the war ended, great parades and warm receptions for returning heroes demonstrated Berks' loyalty to its citizens and to America. Washington, Madison, Polk, McKinley, and Wilson found Berks patriots ever ready to shoulder arms and to be first in line when invasion, rebellion, or aggression threatened the land.


Source: J. Wallace Luckenbill, Fleetwood Junior High School Lectures, 1938-1945


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