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Henry Ginger came to Fayette County around 1821 from Tennessee with his wife, Chana, and some of their 15 children.
Henry is one of several Revolutionary War veterans who died in Fayette County. He was paid an annual pension of $80 for his service during the Revolutionary War. Many things were known about Henry, even that he was buried in an unmarked grave near the entrance to Britton Cemetery in Kaskaskia Township.
Henry was 74 years old when he applied for the pension, and to remember with clarity the events of 56 years earlier would be quite a task. He did remember that he enlisted for three years at Philadelphia, as near as he could recollect, in the fall of l776, serving with the Seventh Pennsylvania Regiment.
Henry fought at the Battle of Trenton, in which the colonials were successful and participated in two defeats – Brandywine and Germantown. Along with about 40 other men, Henry was taken prisoner at Doylestown, Pa., and marched to New York City, where they were held captive in a church for three months and three days. He stated that he was released in a prisoner exchange, at which time he returned to his home in Cumberland, Pa., his enlistment being about up.
Just being at the Battle Of Trenton alone makes Henry a hero in my book. It was Dec. 26, 1776, the dead of winter, and most of the men were wearing threadbare summer clothing, with only a few having proper shoes.
A winter storm was underway when Gen. George Washington ordered the 6,000 volunteers divided into three groups – each to cross the ice-choked Delaware River at a different point. Henry Ginger was in the main group of 2,400 who crossed in keel boats with Washington, 9 miles above Trenton at McKonkey's Ferry. The other two commanders, Cadwalader and Ewing, decided that the crossing was too risky and didn't go.
Col. Johann Rall was the commander in charge of the 1,400 Hessians who were holding Trenton. He had been told of the build-up of colonials on the other side of the river, but he scoffed and made the comment, "[the] miserable rabble on the other side [is] nothing but a lot of farmers," and the preparations for the Christmas celebration went ahead as planned.
"The Hessians were having themselves a ball, drinking themselves to stupefaction and weeping maudlin tears to be back home," when Washington's army attacked – the battle lasting one hour. There were 948 enemy prisoners taken, 22 killed and 92 wounded, while the Americans suffered two men killed and two wounded.
The next two engagements that Ginger remembered taking part in, Brandywine (September l777) and Germantown, (the following month), were both losses for the Americans. George Washington, Casimir Pulaski and Lafayette, who was shot in the leg, were all at Brandywine, but we lost anyway.
One year after the success at Trenton, the army, now numbering 9,000, headed to winter quarters at Valley Forge. Adding to the fact that it was mid-December, when they arrived at their new camp, they found that their tents and baggage were 18 miles northwest.
Washington wrote, "You might have tracked the army from White Marsh to Valley Forge by the blood of their feet." Gen. Greene reported that half of the troops were without breeches, shoes and stockings, and some thousands without blankets.
Washington's general orders called for construction of l4-feet by l6-feet log huts, with walls 6 feet 6 inches high, each to hold 12 men.
Some years ago, I visited Valley Forge with my family and was struck by the differences in the construction of the replicated log huts. Each was built in a different manner, depending on which state the men hailed from who put them up.
Their common diet was "fire-cake" – thin cakes made from a flour-and-water paste and baked on hot stones. The men ate this three times a day. Every drop of water was carried from Valley Creek at the bottom of the hill, and as conditions grew steadily worse, 500 horses starved to death and men died daily from disease. As one writer succinctly put it, "There was nothing at Valley Forge but guts."
By spring, Washington's force had been reduced to 6,000 men, due to desertion and death. Half of those 6,000 were fit for duty when Baron vonSteuben came on the scene. With a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, he offered his services to Gen.Washington.
The baron claimed to own estates in Swabia and to have been a lieutenant general in the army of Frederick the Great, as well as aide-de-camp and quartermaster general to Frederick. Well, not only was he not a baron or a general, there weren't any estates in Swabia either.
Historians regard vonSteuben as "one of God's best gifts to America in its struggle for liberty." He whipped the army into shape and taught them how to march. Surely, Henry Ginger drilled before vonSteuben.
For more than 153 years, Henry Ginger rested in an unmarked grave in the Britton Cemetery. A great-grandson, John Ginger, came to me asking what could be done to mark Henry's grave. I completed the paperwork necessary to prove his service and order a veteran's marker, turning them over to the Veteran's Administration, whose offices are in the American Legion. They, in turn, ordered the marker.
The bronze marker contains the dates of Henry's birth, death and the regiment he served with during the Revolutionary War. When I studied the battles in which Henry took part, it seems that just by staying alive Henry was a hero. And marking his grave means he is no longer an unsung hero.