Jacob Henry Scheetz, M.D.

Jacob Henry Sheetz, M.D. (public domain image)

Born in Pottstown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania on 15 August 1836, Jacob Henry Scheetz, M.D., was described in the headline of his page one obituary in The Times of Philadelphia (20 April 1891) as “a Montgomery “County Physician with a Fine War Record,” and in the body of the article as “one of the best known physicians and surgeons in this section of the State” and “one of the most popular physicians and surgeons in Montgomery county” socially.

The Allentown Times also reported his passing, describing him as “a surgeon of remarkable skill” whose “surgical operations [during the Civil War had been] mentioned in the Medical Reports to the War Department.”

Formative Years

Jacob Henry Scheetz was the great grandson of Revolutionary War Patriot, General Philip Scheetz, of Berks County; the grandson of War of 1812 soldier and Chester county resident, George Scheetz; and son of Montgomery County native, General John Scheetz, and Berks County native, Anna Catherine (Sands) Scheetz. Jacob’s father, George, was employed as a cooper early in his work life, and later became the landlord of the Red Lion Hotel.

Jacob H. Scheetz was confirmed at the Lutheran Church in New Hanover, Montgomery County on 23 May 1863, and performed his early studies at the Freeland Seminary (now Ursinus College). By the age of 19, he had begun studying medicine under the guidance of Pottstown physician, Dr. William A. Van Buskirk.

In 1856, he enrolled at the Penn Medical College in Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine), and graduated in 1858. He subsequently opened and, for two years, operated a medical practice in Emmaus, Lehigh County before relocating his practice to Hereford Township, Berks County.

Civil War

Fort Jefferson, Dry Torguas, Florida (interior, c. 1934, C.E. Peterson, photographer, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida (interior, c. 1934, C.E. Peterson, photographer, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Jacob Henry Scheetz, M.D. enrolled for Civil War military service at Camp Brightwood near Washington City on 19 July 1861. He then mustered into federal service with the U.S. Army at the age of 25, joining the ranks of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry as an Assistant Surgeon on 24 September 1861. Caring for his fellow members of the 47th who had been cut down by cannon or rifle fire during the intense fighting of the Battle of Pocotaligo (1862) and Red River Campaign across Louisiana (1864), he also treated those who suffered grievously from yellow jack, typhoid and other tropical diseases contracted while serving in the Deep South.

He was also appointed as the Post Surgeon at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida, where half of the 47th Pennsylvania regiment had been stationed throughout most of 1863. His obituary confirms that he served in that position at Fort Jefferson for 14 months.

His diagnostic and surgical talents were tested greatly from March to May 1864 when the 47th Pennsylvania became the only Pennsylvania regiment engaged in the Red River Campaign across Louisiana. Mounted by Union General Nathaniel Banks, the campaign took its toll on the 47th and other Union regiments. The men were expected to battle the elements as well as the Confederates they met along the way in small skirmishes and intense, major engagements such as the Battles of Sabine Cross Roads and Pleasant Hill (8-9 April 1864).

A significant number of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were killed or wounded in action while others were declared missing in action, felled by disease or captured by the Confederate Army and held as prisoners of war at Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas. At least three of the POWs never made it out of that prison alive; many of the “lucky ones” who were eventually released during prisoner exchanges in later months were in need of skilled medical attention.

Image of the victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces. Kurz & Allison, circa 1893. Public domain, courtesy of the Library of Congress: LC-DIG-pga-01855 (digital file from original print) LC-USZC4-1753 (color film copy transparency).

Victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces. Kurz & Allison, circa 1893 (public domain, U.S. Library of Congress).

Finally, after also caring for the 47th Pennsylvania’s fallen during the opening weeks of Union General Philip Sheridan’s tide-turning 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, including during the Battles of Berryville, Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, Dr. Jacob Scheetz mustered out upon expiration of his term of service on 23 September 1864.

Through it all, Dr. Scheetz was often listed on federal army hospital and burial records as “J.H. Scheetz,” the final authority who confirmed the death of his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and other Union soldiers.

Return to Civilian Life

Jacob H. Scheetz, M.D. returned home to Pennsylvania to resume his medical practice, described as an “extensive” one in his obituary. He became renowned regionally for his diagnostic expertise.

He also began an active family life, marrying Sarah Jane Robinson of Mercer County, Kentucky on 1 December 1864. Together, they had five children: Alma Davis Scheetz, Barclay Biddle Scheetz, Claude Melnotte Scheetz, Ella Dunne Scheetz (Mrs. George Hartman), and Guerney Scheetz.

In addition, he became involved in social circles and civic affairs, serving as a Democrat on Pottstown’s city council for three years and also, from 1880-81, as chief burgess. The 16 November 1882 edition of the New York Times reported that, in 1866, “when Hiester Clymer was defeated as the Democratic candidate for Governor,” Dr. Scheetz “made a vow that he would not chew any more tobacco until the Democrats succeeded in electing their candidate.”

On 18 April 1891, after a long life filled with encounters with the best and worst of of humanity, Jacob Henry Scheetz, M.D. died in Pottstown from the kidney and liver diseases he had endured for more than four years. He was interred in the eastern section of the Pottstown Cemetery.

 

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.

2. Bean’s History of Montgomery County, Chapter XXXVIII, Part I: The Medical Profession, 1884.

3. Directory of Deceased American Physicians; New York Times (General Notes). New York: 16 November 1882.

4. Scheetz, J. H., in Returns from U.S. Military Posts (U.S. Army ledgers). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

5. Scheetz, J. H. in U.S. Civil War Pension Index (application no.: 576775, certificate no.: 865700, filed by the veteran, 14 June 1886; application no.: 511963, certificate no.: 319700, filed from Pennsylvania by the veteran’s widow, 30 April 1891). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

6. Scheetz, Jacob H., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.

7. Scheetz, Jacob H., in Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

8. Scheetz, Jacob H. (obituary), in The Allentown Democrat. Allentown: 29 April 1891.

9. Scheetz, Jacob H. (page 1 obituary, in The Times. Philadelphia: 20 April 1891.

10. Scheetz, Jacob H., in Soldiers and Sailors Database. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service.

11. Scheetz, Jacob Henry (burial records), in New Hanover Evangelical Lutheran and Trinity United Church of Christ records, in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

12. U.S. Census: Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1850, 1870.

 

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