US GenWeb

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

Corporal Philip Van Denburg
of Guilderland

Philip Van Denburg, son of Teunis and Maria Van Denburg, was born in the town of New Scotland, Albany county, March 13, 1841. His early life was not marked with anything of more than ordinary interest. As a son and brother, he was very affectionate, kind and self-denying. He was modest in his deportment, and loved retirement.

In childhood, he had no fondness for books, but at the age of fifteen, through the efforts of an excellent teacher, he became interested in his studies, and soon loved them. Early in the morning and late at night he was found devoting himself with enthusiasm to the work of obtaining a thorough and complete education, and very soon he surpassed some who had been his superiors in study.

At the age of seventeen, through the influence of his elder brother, he was converted to Christ, in the town of Knox, and soon after united with the M. E. Church, of which his parents and three sisters were members.

As a Christian, he was devoted to his Master, and patient and forbearing under severe trials. Living in a neighborhood where true Christians were few, his only counselors were his parents, his brother and sisters; and his Bible, which was his daily companion. Often would he be found in his room, upon his knees, reading the words of life. Once he remarked to his sister: "The word to me is made plainer when I read it thus."

After his conversion, his desire for knowledge increased, and during the winter months he devoted all his leisure hours to study. During the other seasons he was obliged to labor on his father's farm.

He taught one year, when his health failed, and he could neither study nor labor. In a letter to his brother at that time he says:

"I dare not study much now, yet nothing would suit me better than to be with my books all day. I have thought strongly of enlisting in the army, but mother and father will not hear of it in my present state of health; but I think it would be for my good. I am certainly not good for much here, and in the army I might be useful. If I am killed, I shall only go home to Jesus. I should not think of going to the war if I had no hope in God, for without religion I should make a poor soldier. But I believe I am ready to face death for our country, and who should be ready to go if not Christians. I shudder when I think of men going to battle without a hope of Heaven. I can scarcely keep easy when I think of it, so great is my desire to go. If it were not for mother's entreaties, I believe I should in spite of all other obstacles. For this I am thankful, that I can pray for my country if I may not fight for her, and perhaps I can do more by prayer than with a gun or sword. I mean to try, anyway."

This was at the time of the first call for volunteers. Soon after he spoke to his physician about enlisting in the army, and being told that a soldier's life might benefit him, he could be detained no longer, and he immediately joined a company which was being raised in the town of New Scotland, by his uncle, Capt. Crounse. This was in July, 1861. Before enlisting, he wrote to his parents, asking their consent and advice. And as if fearing opposition, he says, " you ought not to oppose me, when ministers are bidding their sons 'God speed.' I feel it to be my duty, and I know that I am prepared for all that may come; even for death. It will, indeed, be hard to part with you all, but that time must come sooner or later. It will be less painful as we know that we shall meet in Heaven, if never again on this earth."

On one occasion, while in conversation with his mother, who was trying to prepare his mind for the realities of the battle-field, and said it was a dreadful place in which to die, he said, " I will not mind it at all if I only have an opportunity to pray before entering battle; "and to his sister he said, "there is nothing in this so hard, as for me to say, good-bye to mother." Yet when the hour came he said it bravely as a soldier, and spoke encouragingly of coming home again. But his fond home where he was greatly beloved, he was never permitted to see again. Just before entering the army he sent his mother the following lines:

Dear mother, now the time has come
For me to go to war,
To part with dearest friends and home,
Perhaps to meet no more.
But when I've left you all so dear,
And I am far away
Exposed to wiles of wicked men,
Then, mother, for me pray.
And when upon the battle field
'Mid cannon's deafening roar,
And bullets flying thick and fast
The earth with dead strewn o'er;
When those dread sights shall daunt my heart
And my arm begins to stay
From striking for my country's flag,
Oh, mother, for me pray.
I would nerve my soul for greater deeds,
And drive my fears away,
To know my mother ceased to mourn,
But never ceased to pray.
And should I live, we'll meet again,
When war has passed away,
Oh! then you'll know that God doth hear,
and answer those who pray.
But if we never meet again,
While in this house of clay,
We'll surely meet when Jesus comes
To take His own, who pray.

He was sworn in the service of the United States on the 30th of September, 1861, as Corporal of Company D, Ninety-first Regiment. He never was in battle, although he desired to be, and seemed impatient because his company was not sent forward into action. In a letter to his sister he says, "I am tired of this lying still, and long for action; I hope we shall soon be removed where we will have some fighting to do, for I am fully well drilled now, and believe I could do my part in a skirmish with the rebels; yet I would rather they would see their mistake, and lay down their arms. But that they do not seem inclined to do, therefore we must fight, and I am anxious to do my share." He never uttered a complaint in any way, but rather presented the bright side of everything, especially when writing to his parents or sisters.

After faithfully serving his country, he was taken sick with typhoid fever. So rapid was his disease that in six days he died at Key West, Florida, April 29, 1862. He was buried there, having a soldier's funeral. A comrade, who lived to return home, told his sister that he never knew a person so universally esteemed as Philip was, and that there was scarcely a dry eye in the regiment, when he was buried.

Another member of the regiment but not of his company, was speaking of him to his aunt, not knowing she was his relative, and said, "There was one young man died at Key West whose loss was deeply felt. He was beloved by all. A truer, braver, soldier never entered the ranks, and a better Christian never lived. He was always on duty, and ever ready to do his part at all times and in every place. A more patriotic young man I never saw."

Another, in writing to a friend speaks thus of Philip, "We have been called to-day to the painful task of laying beneath the sod one of our very best men. He was sick but a few days, and I was with him when he died. He was delirious, until a few hours before he died; when he seemed to be communing with his God. He sang a hymn through with a beautiful clear voice. A smile then lighted up his face, and a few moments after he expired. I believe he has gone to his better home.

"We all feel his loss deeply, and shall miss him much. He was one who conversed but little, and never burdened others with his troubles; but kept them within his own breast; so that few knew what he suffered."

Captain Crounse writes thus in apprising bis friends of his decease:

Key West, Florida, May 1, 1862.

Teunis Van Denburg and family:

Dear Friends—I take this opportunity to give you the sad news, that Corporal Philip Vandenburg is no more. He died on the 29th of April, in the hospital. He was taken with the typhoid fever, and died in six days from the time he was taken. He was first put in the regimental hospital, and soon after removed to the general hospital, which is one mile distant.

I did not see him from the time he was taken until he died I was very busy and could not go to see him. Nor did I suppose him to be dangerously ill. I sent one of his comrades to see him two days before he died. He said he was pretty sick, but did not think him dangerous. I had him buried with funeral honors, covering his coffin with the flag of his country; and services were held at the grave.

When we first came to this place, he was sick for near three weeks, but recovered, and seemed to be healthy again. I never saw him apparently so well as before he was taken sick. Dear friends, you have my sympathy, knowing this will be sad news to you all. Philip was loved by all in the company, and I never have heard any ill of him since he has been with us.

Yours in sympathy,

Send comments or suggestions to:
Debby Masterson

Go Back to Albany County Biographies
Go Back to Home Page