The Ellis Family – Survivors in a “World of Truth and Sorrow”

Excerpt of 1912 letter from Pauline Ellis Rummeler, widow of Private William Ellis, Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, to the U.S. Government, requesting restoration of her Civil War Widow’s Pension (p. 2, public domain).


“I am a widow having buried my second husband…. I am 75 years old unable to work and would like to recover my former pension paper if possible as I have no means of living and am dependent on others.”

– Pauline (Halbach) Ellis Rummeler, 1912


With those words, Pauline Ellis Rummeler succinctly, but eloquently illuminated the plight of aging Civil War widows across America more a decade after the nation passed into the 20th century.

Her first husband, William Ellis, an immigrant from Ireland, had been felled not by bullets during the nation’s darkest time, but by fever – as the first member of his regiment to die in South Carolina during the U.S. Civil War. Thrust into the position of deciding whether or not her husband’s body should remain in its South Carolina grave or be exhumed and transported back to Pennsylvania for reburial, she chose to use the money provided by the government to have an undertaker bring his remains home in 1862, according to historian Lewis Schmidt, rather than spending the money on food, clothing and household items as so many other war widows did.

Within this same period, she was then also forced to bury a son who died in early childhood sometime around the same time that she lost her husband. As a widow still raising two young daughters on a limited income, she then chose to secure her surviving family’s future via what seemed to many women of the era to be the most sensible option available – she remarried just over a year after her first husband’s death.

A Hopeful Start

Allentown, c. 1840 (public domain).

The decades before all this had happened had been filled with possibility for Paulina Halbach. A daughter of John F. Halbach (1794-1868), a native of Germany, and Pennsylvania native Susanna (Reese) Halbach (1800-1859), she was born in Philadelphia on 22 March 1839, according to her Pennsylvania death certificate. Alternate spellings of the family’s surname appeared in various records of the time as “Halbeck”, “Hallbach,” and “Hallback” while she came to be more commonly known as “Pauline.”

By 1840, the now one-year-old Pauline Halbach was a resident of Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, living there with her parents and older brothers, Charles John (1827-1913) and Albert (1834-1856). A sister, Josephine Matilda (1841-1937), who was born on 18 October 1841, would later go on to wed John Wolfgang Strobel.

By 1850, the Halbach children were living with their parents and Carolina Halbach (born c. 1836) in East Allentown; their father was a had also become a Justice of the Peace.

It was during this phase of her life that Pauline Halbach crossed paths with a young miner and Allentown resident by the name of William Ellis – the man who would soon become her first husband. A son of John and Mary Ann Ellis, William had been born in Ireland in 1829 in the town of Mayfield, which is now part of the north side of Cork city in the province of Munster in Ireland’s South-West Region. Based on the history of that region, he had most likely emigrated to America in the midst of or just after The Great Famine, which plagued his homeland from 1845-1850.

Excerpt of 1853 Lehigh County, Pennsylvania marriage ledger page documenting the marriage of William Ellis and Pauline Halbach (see right column; public domain).

On 15 November 1853, Pauline Halbach and William Ellis were united in marriage at the German Reformed Church in North Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Their first child, daughter Sarah Matilda Ellis, was born in Lehigh County just two years later, on 2 September 1855, followed by daughter Susanna Isabella (1857-1932), who arrived in Catasauqua, Lehigh County on 15 February 1857, and was then baptized that same year at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

Son Peter Ellis was then born sometime around 1859.

In 1860, as Pauline and her husband made ends meet on his wages as a day laborer, they resided with their three children in Allentown’s First Ward.

* Note: The Ellis’ little boy, Peter, however, was not long for the world; legal paperwork filed several years later by Pauline Ellis stated that, in June 1864, she was the mother of just two children – daughters Sarah Matilda and Susanna Isabella Ellis, indicating that Peter had died sometime between the second half of 1861 and the first half of 1864.

U.S. Civil War

By the Summer of 1861, family patriarch William Ellis had joined the fight to preserve the Union of his adopted homeland as a Private in Company I of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Initially assigned with his regiment to help defend the nation’s capital, he was sent to the Deep South with his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians less than six months later. After four months of garrison duty at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida, his regiment was then ordered north for occupation duty – an assignment the officers and men of the 47th thought would be a relatively safe and uneventful one.

But that happy scenario was not to be. In a letter that August, Captain Coleman A. G. Keck, the commanding officer of Pauline Ellis’ husband, explained how fate had altered their plans:

Excerpt of letter from Capt. Coleman Keck, commanding officer, Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, to Pauline Ellis, notifying her of her husband William’s death on 1 August 1862 (U.S. Civil War Pension files, public domain).

Beaufort South Carolina
August 2nd 1862

Mrs. Ellis

It becomes my painful duty to notify you of your Husband William Ellis’ death he died last night at 12 o’clock of the Congestive Fever. He was only sick 6 days and it was the first time that he was not able to do his duty since he was in my company but such is life in the midst of it we may befall a victim to the cold hand of death.

I shall bury his remains tomorrow with military Honors He was put in the Genl Hospital the second day he was sick where he had all care taken of him.

Nicholas McKeever nursed him like a brother as long as he was in my company quarters. I shall make his final statement next week and send you a copy of it as regards his pay and clothing he has 3 months pay due him.

I hope you will be consoled as well as he is. We must think he is better taken care of than if he was living in this world of truth and sorrow.

I can assure you that I feel as much grief as you do as by his death I lost a good and faithful soldier. I remain very respect [sic]

Your obed [sic] servant –

Coleman Keck Capt.
“Co. I” 47th Regt. P.V.

Excerpt of 1912 letter from Pauline Ellis to the U.S. Government regarding her first husband’s death while in service during the U.S. Civil War from Cholera Glorbus (p. 1, public domain).

While most of the military records pertaining to the enlistment, service and death of Private William Ellis (as well as the U.S. Civil War Pension paperwork filed later by Pauline Ellis) confirms the diagnosis of congestive fever, it is possible that this condition may have developed after he contracted cholera while stationed in South Carolina. In a letter written to the U.S. Pension Office by “Paulina Rummeler” sometime in early September 1912, the 75-year-old, two-time widow wrote an appeal for resumption of her pension, explaining:

… my husband went to war 1861 enlisted in camp and 47th regiment Pennsylvania volunteers died during war in Beauford [sic] S. Carolina of Cholera Glorbus or congestive fever on 1st of August 1862….

A New Life Begins

Forced to choose between trying to raise two young children on the poverty income she was receiving as the widow of a U.S. Civil War soldier or a more hopeful future, Pauline (Halbach) Ellis quickly chose the most practical option available to her for ensuring a better life for herself and her daughters – remarriage. On 29 November 1863, she became the wife of Daniel Rummeler (alternate spelling “Drum”) during a wedding ceremony officiated by the Rev. Joseph Keilan at the Catholic Church in East Allentown.

Excerpt of June 1864 testimony by “Paulina (Halbach) Ellis Drum” to the Prothonotary, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas that she was the widow of Private William Ellis, Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, and mother of two of his daughters, Sarah and Susanna (public domain).

On 4 June 1864,  she then appeared before the Prothonotary of the Lehigh County, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas to begin the long process of securing support from the U.S. Government for her two children. She and her attorney, Theodore McFadden, Esq. of Philadelphia, affirmed before the court that she was the widow of Private William Ellis, formerly of Company I, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, that she and her husband had been married in 1853 and had become the parents of two daughters, Sarah M. and Susan I. Ellis, prior to his enlistment for Civil War military service, that she was now endeavoring to raise those two minor daughters following her husband’s service-related death, and that she had remarried in 1863. Her application for governmental assistance, according to her pension paperwork, was “made in order to obtain the benefit of the provision made by the Act of Congress approved July 14, 1862,” adding that the “declarant refers to the evidence accompanying her application for Pension as widow of the said William Ellis in … support of her claim as guardian” [of her late husband’s children].

Six months later, on 14 December 1864, William Gillen, Sr. and William Gillen, Jr. appeared before the same court to state that they had both been “neighbors and friends” of Private William Ellis and his wife and daughters for four years prior to his death. Confirming the facts of Pauline Ellis Drum’s prior testimony, they also offered their support of her petition for guardianship and pension support of her children. The current pastor of the German Reformed Church where Pauline (Halbech) Ellis Drum had married her first husband then also testified on her behalf before Lehigh County Justice of the Peace J. D. Lawall later that same month, as did the priest who officiated at her second marriage, verifying the dates and other relevant facts of the two marriages, and also confirming the names and birth dates of the two daughters Pauline Ellis Drum had had with her first husband, William Ellis.

Shortly thereafter, she was appointed as the guardian of her own children with the court clerk entering her name on the guardianship documents as “Paulina E. Drum.”

Excerpt of Pauline Ellis Drum’s Civil War Widow’s Pension jacket showing her corrected remarriage surname spelling as “Rummeler” (c. 1912, public domain).

On 16 March 1865, she was then awarded a pension of $8 per month to support her children, who had been confirmed to have been orphaned by their Civil War soldier-father. Slated to last from 29 November 1863 to 15 February 1873, this award was made “Payable to Paulina E. Drum, Guardian.” Four days later, on 20 March 1865, she then applied for an increase in the U.S. Government’s pension support for her children, and was awarded an additional $2 each per child, “commencing the 25th day of July 1866.” On 6 March 1867, she applied again for a pension increase for her children (of $2 per child), for whom she was still guardian, and was subsequently granted additional support via a pension certificate dated 3 June 1867. The spelling of her second husband’s surname was eventually corrected in her pension records to read “Rummeler.”

As the 19th century began to wane, Pauline Rummeler then became a widow yet again – this time with the death of her second husband, Daniel Rummeler, who passed away in 1891. Afterward, she began a new battle to obtain support from the federal government as the widow of a deceased Union Civil War soldier. A resident of Brooklyn in King’s County, New York in 1912, she received a letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Pensions dated 23 September, which noted:

In reply to your letter of the 12th instant, addressed to the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, and by that Bureau referred to this office, where it was received the 16th instant, you are advised that you were formerly pensioned as widow of the above named soldier [William Ellis, Pvt., Co. I, 47th Pennsylvanis Vols.] by certificate no. 8,170.

The letter went on to outline the next series of hurdles she would need to surmount in order to restart her Civil War Widow’s Pension. It seemed that even now, at her advanced age, the Pension Bureau’s bean counters were still not prepared to recognize the sacrifices she was forced to make after her first husband died in service to his nation.

Death and Interment

Philadelphia General Hospital. c. 1910 (Philadelphia General Hospital Photo Collection, courtesy Penn Libraries).

Suffering from heart disease and aging-related dementia, Pauline (Halbach) Ellis Rummeler finally had endured all she could in her “world of truth and sorrow.” After passing away at 7 p.m. at the Philadelphia General Hospital on 18 May 1919,  she was laid to rest at the Oakland Cemetery in Philadelphia on 23 May. Her daughter, Susan (Ellis) Claassen, served as the informant on her death certificate, and William H. Eppley handled the funeral arrangements

What Happened to the Daughters of William and Pauline Ellis?

Like their mother, Sarah and Susan Ellis also grew up to begin their own respective families and live long, full lives.

After initially marrying Charles Krauss (alternate spelling “Krouse”), Susanna Isabella (Ellis) Krauss and her husband greeted the arrival of a son, Joseph, in September 1880. She was then married a second time – in 1890 – to Isaac Claassen (1868-1940). As the new century progressed, she resided at 2130 Rush Street in Philadelphia’s 25th Ward with her new husband and her son from her first marriage. Her second husband, Isaac, who had become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1892 after emigrating from Holland to America in 1885, supported his family on the wages of a junk dealer while her son helped out with the money he brought in through work as a teamster.

* Note: Although federal census records indicated that Isaac Claassen had become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1892, Pennsylvania’s Eastern District Naturalization Indexes present a possible naturalization date of 24 December 1900.

In 1910 and 1920, Susanna (Ellis) Claassen resided alone with her husband, Isaac, at 2745 Coral Street in Philadelphia’s 25th Ward. But by 1930, their circumstances had changed. Isaac (shown on that year’s federal census as “Isaac Classen, Jr.”) had become the proprietor of a confectionary, prompting the couple’s relocation to a new home at 2043 Rush Street in Philadelphia.

Just two years later, Susanna Isabella (Ellis) Krauss Claassen was gone. Having passed away on 29 June 1932, she was then laid to rest at the same cemetery where her mother had been interred – Philadelphia’s Oakland Cemetery.

Meanwhile, her older sister was also tying the knot, marrying Joseph Nicholas Rehr (1853-1906), a native of Pottsville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania who was a son of Nicholas J. and Louisa D. (Sworder, alternate spelling “Schwarderer”) Rehr. Following their 1872 marriage, they then welcomed the arrival of two sons, Nicholas (1873-1961) and William (1876-1931).

Their union, however, would not prove to be a lasting one. After the couple separated sometime between 1890 and 1900, Sarah (Ellis) Rehr was suddenly a single mom. Scrambling to find a viable way of supporting herself and her sons, she secured employment in the hospitality industry, initially operating a boarding house at 920 Green Street in Philadelphia before moving on to manage another at 1110 Spring Garden Street.

On top of this newly precarious living situation, she then suddenly became a widow in 1906. Following the 30 May consumption (tuberculosis) death of her 52-year-old husband, Joseph Rehr, at 442 North Franklin Street in Philadelphia’s 13th Ward, she watched as her husband was laid to rest at that city’s Mount Peace Cemetery on 1 June.

Like her husband, she then took a bold step to secure her future by remarrying in Philadelphia 1908. Her second husband was Thomas R. Wright.

Surving another three decades, Sarah Matilda (Ellis) Rehr then also joined her family in death. Following her passing in 1940, was then laid to rest next to her first husband at the Mount Peace Cemetery in Philadelphia.




1. Baptismal, Marriage and Death Records of the Ellis and Drum/Rummeler Families (St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Allentown, etc.), in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

2. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

3. Cork in the 19th Century, on Cork Past and Present. Cork, Ireland: City Council | Comhairle Cathrach Chorcai, retrieved online 2 March 2016.

4. Ellis, William, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

5. Ellis, William, in Pennsylvania Veterans’ Burial Index Cards. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

6. Ellis, William and Paulina Halbeck, in Record and Indexes of Births, Deaths, and Marriages (Microfilm Rolls 668-673), in Records of the Department of State (Record Group 26, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Series 26.28). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

7. Ellis, William, in Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, in Records of the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1861-1865.

8. Ellis, William, Paulina Ellis Rummeler, Sarah Matilda Ellis, and Susanna Isabella Ellis, in U.S. Civil War Widows’ and Orphans’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1862-1912.

9. Joseph Nicholas Rehr, in Death Certificates. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Health Office, City of Philadelphia, 30 May 1906.

10. Rummler, Pauline, in Death Certificates (File No. 54728, Registered No. 13294). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Health, Department of Vital Statistics.

11. Sarah M. Rehr and Thomas R. Wright, in Philadelphia Marriage Licenses (license no. 229267). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Clerk of the Orphan’s Court, City Hall, 1908.

12. Sarah Ellis, Joseph Rehr and Thomas Wright, in Rehr/Rehrig of Pottsville and Philadelphia. Salt Lake City, Utah:, retrieved online 1 March 2018.

13. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

14. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1860, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.