There have been numerous relatives who have fought in America's wars; too many to list here in this Veterans' Day post (some you have already met in prior posts and more to come in subsequent ones). I am going to highlight one who joined the fight for freedom. As a result, this young man suffered harsh conditions and sacrifices to liberate the colonies from the oppression of the British Empire.
Starting with the Sugar Act in 1764, England began to tighten control over the colonies. The treasury was near empty after the expensive Seven Years' War with France and the government needed to find ways to raise funds. The Stamp Act imposed a tax directly on the colonists. The colonies, also experiencing economic hardship, resisted the tax. It was also viewed as a gradual plot to deprive the colonists of their freedoms and enslave them under a tyrannical regime. England eventually repealed it in 1766, but the British government remained adamant that they had the authority to pass any laws it saw fit, regardless of the colonists' sentiments. The issues started here continued to fester for the next ten years.
In April 1775, hostilities finally broke out and the American Revolution began. In May, a small force led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga. Arnold then led a raid against Fort Saint-Jean, not far from Montreal.
Heinrich "Henry" Schoener (Shaner) was born 7 December 1757 in Berks County, PA. At the age of 18, he joined the colonial army as a Private in the Third Pennsylvania Regiment of the Second Pennsylvania Battalion commanded by Colonel Joseph Wood. It was organized between 2 January and 17 February 1776 at Philadelphia to consist of 8 companies.
His regiment fought in the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September 1777 when General George Washington moved to prevent the British from capturing Philadelphia, the seat of the Continental Congress. The Americans took up positions along Brandywine Creek to block all the crossings. General Sir William Howe, with a force of 15,500 British Regulars and Hessians, advanced under a heavy fog against the 14,600 men under Washington. A portion of the British forces attacked the middle of the American forces, engaging them while Howe crossed further upstream. Surprised by the flanking maneuver, Howe's men overran the Americans from the right while the center collapsed as well. General Nathaniel Greene was ordered to protect the retreat. His men counter-attacked and gave the Continental army time to fall back, led by a wounded Marquis de Lafayette. This defeat allowed the British to occupy Philadelphia.
With the American capital occupied, General Howe sent 9,000 troops to the village of Germantown. Washington, convinced that he could destroy the enemy forces, split his army of 11,000 men to attack the British from multiple positions at dawn on 4 October 1777. Unfortunately, a heavy fog slowed the advance and cost Washington the element of surprise. General Sullivan was the first to engage the British and pushed to the center. The fog also caused General Anthony Wayne and his men to become separated from Sullivan's. Other columns failed to communicate and coordinate effectively. Ultimately, it was bad luck and bad timing that doomed the attack and the Americans retreated.
As winter began to set in, Washington decided to move his weary and ill-supplied army to Valley Forge, twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia. Although they had lost two battles, the inexperienced troops had performed well against their professional counterparts. Henry was one of those soldiers.
When one thinks of Valley Forge, they think of the sacrifices made by the starving, ragged men. This is a romanticized view, although they did endure hardships while at their winter encampment; hardships were a daily part of a Continental soldier's life.
The troops who wintered at Valley Forge were not idle. They located supplies to offset the meager provisions. About 2,000 huts were built in parallel lines with military avenues. They also built 5 earthen work forts (redoubts), an abatis, miles of trenches and a bridge over the Schuylkill River.
Although many had a full uniform, clothing shortages did exist and cause issues, causing them to tailor makeshift clothing to help supplement it. Provisions were available, but never plentiful and the men would often cook subsistence meals. It was not starvation, however, that was the biggest concern, but diseases like influenza, typhus, typhoid, and dysentery. Fortunately, the camp had capable surgeons and nurses, a smallpox inoculation program, and camp sanitation regulations to limit the death tolls.
Despite the suffering and sacrifice by the soldiers at Valley Forge, it marked a turning point in the war. In February 1778 Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben, a former Prussian army officer arrived in camp to train the men. He taught them essential military skills necessary to combat the British and Hessian troops that awaited them in the coming conflicts. They had a new sense of purpose to see them through to the end goal of independence.
On 6 May 1778, France officially recognized the United States as a sovereign nation and agreed to alliance. This announcement caused Britain to change their plans and they evacuated Philadelphia in June to consolidate their forces. Washington, eager to put his newly trained troops into action, Henry included, moved them out of Valley Forge to shadow the British withdrawal across New Jersey to Sandy Hook, where they would cross safely into New York City.
Washington had sent about a third of his men to General Charles Lee to initially engage the British before they could make the crossing. On a hot and humid 28 June 1778, the Battle of Monmouth started when Lee attacked the British rearguard. He had the advantage of two-to-one, but he did not press his advantage, allowing the troops under General Charles Lord Cornwallis to counter. If it had not been for the approach of Washington and his additional troops, the battle could have been a disaster for the Americans. Encountering fleeing soldiers, Washington became enraged, galloping to the front to rally his men and relieve Lee, whose command was turned over to Lafayette. As Washington's full force came to bear with artillery enfilading the British forces, the battle went back and forth under a blazing June sun until about 6 P.M. when the British had had enough. Despite a request from General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to press the attack, Washington responded that he believed his men were “beat out and with heat and fatigue.” The British slipped across the river to New York City under the cover of darkness.
While the battle was considered a draw, it marked a "coming of age" for the American troops. With the new training, the men successfully demonstrated the tactics they learned as well as effectively using artillery. They could now stand toe to toe with the enemy.
Although the fight for independence was not yet over, that was the last major battle recorded for Henry's regiment. After the war, he married Mary Magdalene Sterner (Starner) in the Spring of 1798 at Millerstown (now Macungie) in Lehigh County. They were parents of 8 children.
He bought a farm and 83 acres of land at a sheriff's sale on 6 September 1820 for $1,494, the highest bid. Henry paid for it in full that day. The land was located in Upper Milford Township, Lehigh County, PA, approximately ten miles form Allentown, the county seat.
Henry died on 6 Jan 1832, at the age of 74. It was just one year and three days after making an agreement with his son-in-law, Charles P. Shaffer, on 3 January 1831 to take over the farm with "certain reservations" for $1,722.
Not long after his death and sometime in the 1830's, all of his children, accompanied by their mother, migrated to western Pennsylvania, stopping in Westmoreland County for a while, then north to Mercer County, and finally to Venango and Clarion Counties. Mary would apply for a widow's pension after she had moved to Clarion County. She would die on 6 March 1864.
I want to close this special Veterans' Day post with a "thank you" to all the service men and women who have fought for our country's values and freedom, making tremendous sacrifices to ensure our way of life.