Oh, those exceptional Nevins!
John Williamson, second president of Franklin & Marshall College, and his wife, Martha Jenkins Nevin, had eight children between 1836 and 1846. The first four who lived to maturity left a legacy of considerable accomplishment.
Wilberforce Nevin served as a captain in the Civil War and edited the Philadelphia Press. He was the assistant engineer on the Denver-Rio Grande Railroad construction project.
Alice Nevin was a founder and first president of Lancaster’s Iris Club. She initiated the town’s first well-baby clinic and first kindergarten. She was the first president of the local Red Cross chapter and a founding member of the Visiting Nurse Association.
Robert Nevin also was a captain in the Civil War. Before the war, he taught Greek at F&M. After the war, he became a minister. He traveled to Italy and organized the first Protestant church in Rome, more familiarly known as “St. Paul’s Within the Walls.”
Blanche Nevin was a sculptress (the lion in Reservoir Park is among her creations), poet and artist.
Alice and Blanche Nevin are well-known for their works in Lancaster. Wilberforce and Robert Nevin are not so well-known for their military careers and achievements outside Lancaster. In Robert’s case, a new book should help revive his recognition here.
Robert Jenkins Nevin, born in 1839, is the primary character in “Damn the Fates! A History of Independent Battery I, Pennsylvania Light Artillery, in the Civil War,” a self-published book by Patrick McSherry.
McSherry, who lives in Manheim Township, is a quality manager for a local manufacturer as well as a military historian. He has published numerous magazine articles and advised a number of television documentaries.
Nevin formed the only Civil War artillery unit organized in Lancaster from a group of his students and other soldiers. They were nicknamed “Nevin’s Infants.”
The battery served during the defense of Columbia and Harrisburg before the Battle of Gettysburg in the summer of 1863. It later helped tamp down draft riots in Philadelphia. Then it went to Harpers Ferry and finally to several forts defending Washington, D.C.
Discussions of the battery’s various campaigns, how cannons operate, the varied relationships between Nevin and his officers, and other military matters will be interesting to Civil War buffs. The Scribbler finds what McSherry calls Nevin’s “aftermath” even more arresting.
“He left the war for the Union behind him and took up the war for the souls of men,” McSherry writes. He attended the Divinity School of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and the Theological Seminary in New York City.
Ordained an Episcopal deacon in 1867, he went to Rome in 1869 as pastor of what would become known as “St. Paul’s Within the Walls.” That designation distinguishes the church from the Catholic Basilica of St. Paul, which is located outside the walls of the city. The church was consecrated in 1876.
“In his position with the Episcopalians’ American Church in Europe,” McSherry asserts, “Robert Nevin became one of the most well-known Americans in Europe.” Nevin befriended Emperor Wilhelm of Germany, Prime Minister William Gladstone of England and Henry James, the author, who described Nevin as “an old friend.”
Nevin often returned to the United States, the last time after his death in 1906. Funeral services were held at Lancaster’s St. James Episcopal Church and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. McSherry says his artistic sister, Blanche, “possibly” decorated his stone with ornate lilies.
An appendix contains minibiographies of many of the men who served in Independent Battery I.
McSherry’s book is available at Amazon.com.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes "The Scribbler'' column every Wednesday. He welcomes comments and contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.