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This biography is from HEROES OF ALBANY, by Rufus W. Clark, D. D.

Gerrit H. Van Denburg
of Guilderland

Gerrit H. Van Denburg, son of Teunis and Maria Van Denburg, was born in the town of New Scotland, Albany county, June 21, 1837. From a child he was thoughtful and mature and, when quite young, he was looked to for advice and counsel, by his brother and sisters. As a son he was very obedient, dutiful and affectionate. Study was a rare enjoyment for him, though he longed to store his mind with knowledge. Being the oldest living son, he was kept much from school to labor on the farm. His taste for reading was very great, and his favorite books, when young, were the histories of nations and the biographies of distinguished men. He was converted in the month of August, 1857. Soon after this important event, he wrote thus to his mother:

"Dear Mother—I shall now reveal to you the great joy of my heart. For more than a week I have been praying, in secret, that my sins might be forgiven. Last Friday night, the Lord gave the blest assurance that they were, and I have been happy ever since. I am now determined to give up this world and prepare for that which is to come. I am impressed with the thought that I am called to preach the gospel. Pray for me, my dear mother, that I may be faithful unto death."

Gerrit immediately united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was, ever afterward, an active useful Christian. He was not satisfied to enjoy God's love alone, but besought many of his associates to turn to Christ and live. Feeling it to be his duty to preach the gospel, he consulted with several eminent ministers, who gave him encouragement; and he commenced teaching in the spring of 1858, as a means of gaining funds to educate himself. He taught one year, during which time he was the means of bringing several of his scholars and friends to Christ. He then attended school at the New York Conference Seminary until his funds were exhausted, when he again resorted to teaching. In this way he taught and attended school alternately, until the month of August, 1862, when he enlisted in the Eleventh New York Battery, known as the Havelock Battery. He had thought of enlisting from the very first, but was prevented by the feeling that he ought to pursue his studies for the ministry. In writing to his brother, who thought of enlisting, he said:

"I say Amen; only feel yourself prepared to die, and able and willing to endure hardships. Do not go unless your heart is in the cause, and you feel it to be your duty. Had I not felt that my duty was in a different direction, I should have been in the field ere to-day."

When urged to stay at home, by those who thought he ought to pursue his studies for the ministry, he said: "I can better go than some man with a family. I have no appointment for preaching yet, and perhaps I can do more good in the army than anywhere else. I have made it a subject of prayer, and if God leads me that way, I'll go."

He entered the field August the 14th, 1862, a short time before the battle at Manassas; in which he did his part as a true soldier. He was also in the battles of Gettysburg and Spottsylvania, and the great fight at Fredericksburg.

After the battle of Manassas he writes: "I felt quite composed during the fight; though the balls flew close to my head many times. I felt God was with me even then. Our boys are brave and true, but boast not, I could give some different news than what you saw in the papers. When you see the word victory, be not sure; but hope and pray that it is true. Tell mother not to weep for me; but rejoice that if I live or die, my character is blameless, and my affections set fervently to love God and man."

Soon after he writes: "Some of the battery desire me to preach. I am living and talking Christianity among them, and they need it much; I never was more stimulated to live a faithful Christian; and God gives me grace according to my day."

Toward the latter part of September, he was taken ill with bilious fever, and was conveyed to Fairfax Seminary hospital, where he remained until that building was vacated for the wounded of Burnside's army. He was then sent to Fort Schuyler, and remained until April 20th, 1863. Being scarcely able to again do a soldier's duty, yet very anxious to be active, he persuaded his physician to allow him to return to Virginia. He was very patient while in the hospital, although he suffered very much, as his diary abundantly shows.

While there he wrote thus to his younger brothers:

"Dear Brothers—You cannot tell how I feel, when I write you this letter. Every word of advice that I give you, I think may be the last. You may die, or I may die. Philip was our brother, and we loved him; yet he died. You think he went to Heaven, don't you? He was good, and tried to do right; are you both trying to do the same? Do you want to go where he is when you die? I think you do. But you can not go there, unless you are good and love God. I was young once, and thoughtless. I thought I knew as much as father and mother. But I have learned better since. Mother is the dearest friend you have on earth. She has watched and prayed over you many long weary nights. Do you try to please her? She will leave us by and by. God will call her home to Heaven. Then, if you provoke her now, you will be sorry all your life. O, brothers, I can't keep back the tears as I write these words to you. Beware of bad boys, whose influence is so destructive. How many nights have I prayed to God that you might be kept from the wrongs of other boys. I hope the day may come when I shall be with you at home again. But if I should never come home again, try to meet me in Heaven."

He left the hospital voluntarily, and says, after entering the army again:

"I feel quite content, having volunteered a second time to come to old Virginia. I pray that my health may remain good, for I fear sickness more than the fight. I trust Heaven will still be my protection, for thus far I have been wonderfully preserved. I have become strengthened by stemming the tide of wickedness."

Soon after his return to the field, he, with the battery, engaged in a battle near Fredericksburg, after which he writes:

"We have been in the fight, and lost a few men. It is hard to see our brothers fall around us. We were in the front line twenty-four hours, and all did their duty nobly. The fight continued one week. Our whole army did nobly. But, oh! what a contest!"

Mr. Van Denburg held prayer meetings most of the time while in the field, in which he seemed deeply interested. He had several converts, of which he speaks in his diary. At one time he says: "Had a happy meeting last night. All the converts prayed. We have fourteen in all now." Afterwards he speaks of A., or H., or B.'s conversion; so we feel assured that the fourteen were not all that he was the instrument of bringing to Christ. In speaking of the meetings, his expressions were like these: "Blessed meeting last night! The Lord filled all our hearts. Was greatly rejoiced to hear the converts speak," "It is surprising how our meetings prosper. We have a new convert almost every night. Praise God for his goodness. He is in the army as well as at home." "Heard a discouraging word about a couple of converts. I feel as though I was a pastor over them, and yet how unworthy I am." Again he says: "Glorious meeting! Another convert! Glory be to God for such a meeting!"

He seemed very much to regret Sabbath labor, and any disturbance in the army on the Lord's day, and speaks of it frequently in his diary, as well as in letters to friends.

He always wrote home immediately after a battle, if nothing more than to say, "I am safe." After the battle at Gettysburg, he says:

"We have been in the fight, and were in the front line forty-eight hours. When we were called up, the line was vacant where we went in, it having been temporarily broken by the horrid fire of the enemy. But in the mean time they were more severely injured than we were, for the field is strewed with their dead, and our hospitals are filled with their wounded. I had several close calls, and one shell came for me, but seeing it, I jumped aside, and it fell exactly where I had stood. Our men and officers fought nobly; we lost a noble man in Sickles, and another in Reynolds. I was quite composed on the field, and endured all well. I rejoice to say I can look up to God, even in the hottest of the fight."

Again he writes:

"Dear Friends at Home—I am again talking with you, although at long range. And I must first tell you some good news. The good Lord has blessed us greatly in our prayer meetings, and some have been converted. I believe they have often started meetings in the battery before, but always failed. But now, praise the Lord, I believe they are established. I feel unworthy to take charge of the meetings, but they unanimously voted me in again the other night. I pray God to help me, for I want to do his will. There is one thing binds me very much to our winter camp, and that is the frequent sacred communings with our Heavenly Father. How dear it must also be to those who date their conversion here. Thank Heaven, the Havelock Battery is somewhat redeemed. Take courage and pray for us. Oh, if you could attend a soldier's prayer meeting! We hold them twice a week, and we are really blessed and happy in them."

Our hero was as remarkable for his industry as his piety. One of his comrades remarked, that he never knew a person who used his moments up so closely. He seemed to consider every hour and every moment, as lent him from the Lord. He was very fond of writing, and composed with great facility. We regret that our limits will not allow us to give some extracts from his poems and prose writings. For some weeks previous to his death, he seemed to be impressed with the idea that he would not live through the campaign, and expressed the same to friends who were with him, and also in his letters to friends at home.

The following are the two last letters that he ever wrote:

Near Coal Harbor, June 4, 1864.
Dear Friends at Home—In haste, I write a few words, just to let you know that all is well with me and the rest of our battery. We are now in line of battle, and have just fired several rounds. Two rebel shells came very near our piece. But we are a praying band, (many of us) and we have such a trust in God, as removes all fear. We have been on the Peninsula for some time, and things move on steadily. But Richmond will not be taken without a struggle. I hope none of you will give yourselves any apprehensions about me, for all will be well any way. This has been a very active campaign so far, and the soldiers have been called to endure a great deal. But, as long as we make progress, all say, so be it. But I must close. With hopes for you all, and myself, in the same Saviour,
I am, as ever, yours,
G. H. V.

The last letter was dated June 9th, in which he says:

"I am hearty and well. We lie strongly entrenched within six hundred yards of the rebel batteries. We seem to be enough for them on artillery. I was hit, yesterday, by a spherical case shot from the rebel battery. But it only hurt for a moment. I take this as a warning to be ready. All goes well so far. Two non-commissioned officers, on my piece, have been wounded, and we have lost a few horses. I am now standing at my post, fearless; and if I fall, it will be as a soldier; so do not be alarmed about me. If need be, I am ready for the worst.
With much love to all,

The last entries made in his diary were as follows:

"June 11th—Pleasant morning; all quiet; heart goes out in praise to God. Had good sleep and feel refreshed. Rumored capture of Fort Darling. P. M.—Been very quiet all day, only some sharpshooting. We fired two rounds. The enemy's sunken mortar fired to-night. We got range of it and shut it up. W. Robertson was hit with a bullet slightly.
"June 12th—Pleasant morning. I feel like meditating. After we were through firing last night, W. R. and I had a pleasant talk on religious experience. We are ordered to be ready at noon to move with muffled carriage wheels."

Our hero obeyed the order to move, and at three o'clock on that beautiful Sabbath afternoon, his pure and bright spirit moved from earth to heaven. While performing his duty, a Minnie ball from a sharpshooter passed through his head and killed him instantly.

Brave, noble, patriotic, Christian soldier, rest from thy toils! Thy work on earth is done! A grateful people will forever cherish thy memory and applaud thy virtues.

On examining Mr. Van Denburg's diary, after his death, there was found a piece of paper, attached to a leaf, with these words written upon it: "To be kept concealed until my death.—G. H. V." Within were found the following messages addressed to his relatives and friends:

"To Father.—I may at some time have wronged you; if I have, I ask your forgiveness. I am younger than you, yet may I not give advice? Your days will soon be numbered. Will you not turn your thoughts heavenward, and spend much time in prayer? * * * *
"To Mother.—Your kindness has had great influence over me. Would that I could comfort your declining years. One favor I ask: Weep not for me; you know it was my desire to go home. You are my nearest friend. Put your trust in God. * * * *
"To Libby.—Your kindness I shall never forget, even in Heaven. Oh! that I could repay you. Lift up your head, and press on till you meet me.
"To John (a brother-in-law).—You have been a brother to me, always true. I pray to God that you may be rewarded. * * * *
"To Rebecca.—You were the favorite sister of my youth. Your gentle words have often changed my course. Whatever comes, trust in Jesus.
"To Stephen (a brother-in-law).—You, too, are my brother. So live on earth that you may meet me in Heaven. * * * *
"To Mary.—You have a good heart; never take it from Christ, and you will be fit to speak the language of Heaven. This world may fail to give you your due, but Heaven will make it up. * * * *
"To Alida.—Though young, you have been a cherished sister to me. Look well to your feet, that they slide not. If I could do you good, I would stay with you; but it is better for me to go. * * * *
"To Katie.—I have a true brother's love for you. Mark well your footsteps. I have realized your interest for me. I hope you will see me up yonder. * * * *
"To Isabella.—You have been very dear to me, and given me a sister's love. Remember, you have had a brother's prayers. Give your heart to Jesus, and you will meet me again. * * * *
"To Peter and David.—My brothers, I cannot tell my interest for you. I have prayed many times for you. Keep good company, and try to do right, that you may meet your two brothers who have gone before you. * * * *
"To Myron, Martha and Anna (a sister's children).—I shall go to be an angel. Be good, and come and meet me, by and by. I loved you as though you were my own. * * * *

"Do you ask why I write thus. It seems suggested to my mind that I may have no opportunity of uttering my last words. It is evident to me to-night that I shall never see home again, and that ere long I shall go where Hattie and Philip are. This may be a mistake, but time will show. This world is dark, but there is light beyond the river. I love my country, and am willing to die upon her altar. Good night, all. G. H. V."

Yes, dear, sweet, loving youth, good night. The angels have bid you good morning. You live now where "there is no night." You have joined the glorified spirits in the city of our God. May your fervent prayers for your father and mother, brothers and sisters, all be answered, and may the dear ones meet you on the shining shore, never more to part.

The friends of the departed received many letters from those who were associated with Mr. Van Denburg, that were filled with consoling words. We give a few of them to our readers. The following was from Capt. Burton to S. Larchar, Esq., the uncle of the deceased:

11th N. Y. Battery, Camp on
James River, June 14, 1864.
Dear Friend Larchar—It is with sorrow I take my pen to write this letter, that shall convey the sad news of death to many, very many dear ones. Gerrit H. Van Denburg, a member of this battery, was killed instantly by a sharpshooter's ball, on Sunday afternoon, June 12.

Our battery had been in front the line, and within four hundred yards of the enemy, for one week. Having received orders on the 12th to move at night, we were fixing a road to move the artillery over quietly, when a rifle ball passed through Gerrit's brain, entering at the left temple and coming out over the right eye. The same ball slightly wounded another member of the battery, Edmund D. Willard, of Albany. Gerrit sank down dead, without speaking a word or uttering a groan. He died at his post, where he was always found, both in the service of his country and of his Saviour. At about four o'clock on that quiet, beautiful Sabbath day, we buried him beneath a cedar tree on Gaines' Hill, Va.

I have written to you, thinking you might break the news to his family more tenderly than I could. A diary, and some trifles, I will send to Teunis Van Denburg, Hamiltonville, as soon as I get a chance to do so, as directed in the diary. The loss of Gerrit from the battery is a great one, for he was one of the best men in it; but I know that his loss at home will be much greater than ours.

If the bullet that takes life in the army would only give pain here, how much sorrow would be saved. But no; it flies on to our northern homes, and strikes and tears many, many a heart there. May God, who tempers the wind and storm to the shorn lamb, protect the dear ones at home in their great affliction. Send to them my heartfelt sympathy, and also that of every member of the battery. What is our loss is his eternal gain, for he rests quietly, where wars and tumults never trouble, where pain and death never come.

It was impossible for me to have sent his body home, or we should have done so. The depot at the White House was broken up, and on Sunday night we commenced a march of thirty miles, which ended at four p. m. Yesterday we arrived at James river, about three miles below Harrison Landing.

Believe me ever, truly yours,

The next is a letter from his tent-mate to his father:

Camp of the 11th N. Y. Battery, June 14, 1864.
Mr. Teunis Van Denburg:
Dear Sir—Being a particular friend of your son, and in accordance with his request when living, I, with a sad heart, write to inform you of his misfortune.

On Sunday afternoon, at three o'clock, June 12, 1864, he was shot by a sharpshooter through the temple, the ball passing out the opposite side of his head, killing him instantly. Those say who saw him fall, that they think he never knew what hurt him. He did not speak a word nor move a muscle, but eased himself down on his shovel, which he had in his hand at the time.

As I came out at the same time he did, and have always tented with him, he seemed to me more like a brother than a friend. But we trust he is better off than he was while living here; for I believe he was a true Christian, and is now at rest.

I was conversing with him about an hour before his death, and he seemed quite lively, and said he was ready for a hard march, that we heard, we had to make. We made it on Sunday night and Monday, and this morning we find ourselves on the bank of the James river.

If there is anything you wish to know that I can inform you of, or anything I can do for you, I will gladly do it. I have his diary and wallet, and other little articles, that I will send to you as soon as the mail gets to running regularly.

Yours, in much sympathy,

This next letter is from a comrade, with whom Gerrit was very intimate, and of whom he frequently speaks in letters to friends at home.

Encamped on the James River,
Near Charles City, C. H., Va,
June 14, 1864.
Mr. Teunis Van Denburg, and Family:
My pen almost refuses its office, and my hands seem palsied, in attempting the task that I have undertaken. Being, as I believe, the most intimate friend of your son, I feel bound to acquaint you with the mournful tidings, that on the afternoon of the 12th instant, we consigned to the grave the mortal remains of your beloved son Gerrit.

In his death I experienced the loss of my dearest and most tried friend; else I would not have intruded upon your grief, which is too sacred for the gaze of mere acquaintances. It will be a great consolation to you to know that death to him was but an entrance into glory, and the realization of the ardent desires which he often expressed. Like the Apostle Paul, he longed "to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." He died instantly, and without a groan or sigh. He had sometimes expressed the wish to me that if he had his choice, it would be in this manner he would like to be called home.

I first became acquainted with Gerrit in the fall of 1862, when I came into the battery. Being quite intimate with Mr. and Mrs. Larchar, of Albany (his uncle and aunt) they gave me his name, and asked me to find him out, and become acquainted with him. This was the basis of an acquaintance which ripened into an intimate friendship; and many a time have I blessed Mr. Larchar as having been the means of enabling me to form so valuable a friendship. He was a man of deep and fervent piety, which pervaded his whole life, and toned his entire conversation. Kind, affable and benevolent, he was much beloved and highly respected by the men of our company. In our prayer meetings he was leader, and often would these meetings have died out if it had not been for his energy and perseverance.

When I lirst became acquainted with him, there seemed to be a deep depression resting on his sprits, the cause of which he afterwards told me. His chief delight then used to be to wander out alone in some woods or field, and there by singing hymns and prayer, to hold communion with his Redeemer. "Sweet hour of Prayer," and hymns of a similar character, were great favorites of his. He often expressed to me his desire at that time, to die rather than to live, as he had no ambition for this world; but looked forward to the bright land where there is neither sorrow nor sighing, but where God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. What a blessed thought that he has realized his hopes and aspirations; that he is now bowing in adoration before the great white throne, or praising God, as he walks the streets of the new Jerusalem with one to whom his whole heart was bound by the tenderest ties.

Previous to his sickness at our camp near Arlington Heights, in September, 1862, the sadness to which I have referred cast a gloom over his whole conduct. But after he returned again to the battery, in May, 1863, I noticed quite a change for the better in his feelings. He was much more lively, and sometimes indulged in hearty merriment, which surprised me, as I knew of his previous sadness. One day I spoke to him, asking him the reason of this change, and he replied, that while at Fort Schuyler, his feelings had undergone a change, which led him to look on life and worldly prospects with a brighter eye, and even to lay plans for future usefulness. He said he desired now to live for the sake of his friends, and the good he might do in the world; but that his heart was not and could never be here.

My earnest prayer has been, and will be, that God may give you and all his relatives grace to enable you to bear the trial. The promise is, "As thy day is, so shall thy strength be."

With the most sincere sympathy and regard, I remain

Yours truly,
Wm. G. Patterson.

The gloom and sadness referred to in this letter were caused partly by the death of a very excellent young lady, to whom Gerrit was on the eve of being married. She died a few weeks before he entered the army. The subsequent change in his feelings he speaks of in a letter written home, while he was at Fort Schuyler. He says:

"I am convinced, by reflection, that I have been nearly deranged, with hard study and much trouble, I have felt discouraged in regard to life. But I now have a greater desire to live. I feel, at times, as though I was younger, and my hopes much brighter than formerly. It is not strange that I was sad, for, while laboring to obtain an education, I studied almost night and day, and Sunday preaching made that a hard day for me. The last year I was in school my health was more injured by study than I was then aware of. My affliction, also, was very severe."

Thus closes the earthly career of one whose patriotism, bravery, and devotion to Christ and humanity, have never been surpassed. Among the hosts of American Patriots and Christians, he stands in the front rank; and with Mitchel, Rice, Pruyn, Wilson, Pohlman, and others, he will wear an everlasting crown.

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