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The Sheriff of Luzerne County

Updated: May 12

John Stephen Oberrender (1829 - 1905), c. 1888

John Stephen Oberrender was born on 4 September 1829 in Ebersdorf in Saxe-Coburg, Germany. He was the oldest child of Johann Nicholaus and Anna Margaretha (née Vollrath) Oberrender. When he was 10 years old, he arrived in New York City with his family on 31 July 1840 aboard the ship Historian which had sailed from Hamburg. At the time, his family consisted of him, his parents, and four siblings.

By 1850 they had settled in Sugarloaf Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Their father, John Nicholaus, worked as a tailor, a skill he had brought with him from Bavaria. His son, John Stephen, also became a tailor.

On 6 October 1852, he married Mary Ann Frailey (also spelled Fraley/Fralich) in Drums, Luzerne County, PA.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, John was mustered in as Company E, 96th Regiment in Pottsville, Pennsylvania on 23 September 1861 as a First Lieutenant. The company was comprised of men from Luzerne and Schuylkill Counties. The regiment participated in the major engagements in the East.

When the regiment joined the Maryland campaign in September 1862, they moved for the crossing of the South Mountain, by Crampton's and Turner's passes. Each was held by strong bodies of the enemy. The regiment arrived in front of Crampton's Gap and about five miles from Maryland Heights, opposite Harper's Ferry, at noon of 14 September. The 96th, in advance of the column, entered Burkettsville early in the morning, driving out the rebel skirmishers, and drew the fire of his artillery upon the mountain developing his line of defense. The pass was held by Major General Lafayette McLaws' Division of the rebel army and the position was an excellent one for defense. The Union brigade was formed on the right of the line, and advanced to within a thousand yards of a stone wall, where the enemy was making a final stand. The 96th, which had been engaged upon the left of the line, now came up, and the other regiments of the brigade, with ammunition exhausted, falling back, advanced upon the concealed foe. The path of the 96th was across open fields, intersected by fences and hedges, where every man presented a fair mark for the keen eyed rebel sharpshooter. But the line dashed forward, pausing at each fence to fire a volley, until it reached a thin strip of corn. As it approached this field the enemy's fire ceased, and while it was passing through it an ominous silence prevailed; but the moment it emerged from this slight cover a perfect sheet of flame was poured upon it, and many of the bravest fell. But unflinching the survivors dashed forward with the bayonet, completely routed the enemy's line, and took many prisoners. The loss in the 96th was twenty killed, seventy-one severely, and fourteen slightly wounded, out of less than four hundred effective men who entered the engagement.

After the fight at Crampton's Gap on 14 September 1862, the regiment's commander, Colonel Henry L. Cake, wrote about John's actions:

The conduct of Lieutenant Byrnes, commanding Company I, and Lieutenant Oberrender, commanding Company E, was most praiseworthy. at the head of their companies their courageous example was most conspicuous.
Officers of the 96th Pennsylvania Regiment

During the Battle of Gettysburg, with only short intervals of rest the regiment arrived upon the field in the afternoon of 2 July. Foot sore and weary, the men were at once formed, and with scarcely a moments rest, were pushed forward upon the right of the road leading out to the Peach Orchard, to a slight elevation, on the right and front of Little Round Top, and took position behind a stone fence which it held with slight loss until the close of the battle.

On 4 May 1864, the 96th broke up winter-quarters and crossing the Rapidan River, joined in the Battle of the Wilderness. It was almost constantly engaged in skirmishing during the five succeeding days. This would be John's last battle. He was severely wounded in his left leg wounded during action in the Wilderness near Salem Church, VA on 6 May 1863.

He was discharged on 20 September 1864 due to his wounds. Based on the photo at the top, he would require the use of a cane for the rest of his life.

After the war, John was an active politician and prominently identified with the old school Democrats in Luzerne County. For many years he served as the tax collector for Butler Township in that county. In 1883 he was elected sheriff on the Democratic ticket and conducted the affairs of the office in a purely business and nonpartisan spirit. He retired to private life in 1887 and although the politicians in both parties tried to induce him to accept nominations for county office, he steadfastly declined by always took an active interest in matters of the local government.

John died on 26 September 1905 after a protracted illness at the age of 76.


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