Patriots of ’61 — Private Henry Theodore Bahnson of Forsyth County
“A life filled with untold services, beyond all human reckoning, and one that should prove a lasting inspiration to the living, was that of the late Dr. Henry Theodore Bahnson of Winston-Salem. North Carolina may well take pride in such a character . . . “
Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on 6 March 1845, he was the son of Bishop Frederick and Anna (Conrad) Bahnson. When four years old his father was called to the pastorate of the Moravian Congregation at Salem, North Carolina where he rose to become bishop of his church. Young Henry attended the old Salem Boys’ School, transferred in 1858 to the Moravian Institution of Nazareth Hall in Pennsylvania, then to the Moravian College and Seminary at Bethlehem.
Returning to North Carolina in early 1862, he enlisted in Wayne County on 1 January 1863 and assigned a hospital steward in the Second Battalion, North Carolina Infantry. Captured at Gettysburg on 5 July as he attended wounded North Carolinians, he was imprisoned by the enemy at Point Lookout, then to City Point, Virginia exchange on 24 December. He returned to his unit for service, then on 5 November 1864 transferred to Company B, First Battalion, North Carolina Sharpshooters “in which he became known for his fearless spirit in many a terrible encounter.”
His unit was part of General Jubal Early’s campaign in the Shenandoah Valley and several engagements with the enemy, then transferred to Petersburg where Private Bahnson took part in the battle at Hatcher’s Run in February 1865, then the assault on Fort Stedman in late March.
Private Bahnson’s religious convictions deepened during the war years as he “had read the Greek New Testament cover to cover as he carried it in his knapsack through the weary marches of the long campaigns.” He served in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia through Appomattox, was paroled and joined many in the long walk home to North Carolina where he arrived weak, sick and hungry at his father’s door, though he had given up for dead.
In 1867 he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, travelled abroad for medical studies at the universities of Berlin, Prague and Utrecht, then returned home to Salem in 1869 to begin his own practice of medicine. For fifty years he was known to minister to the sick and suffering, most importantly ailing Confederate veterans and their widows.
About 1890 he was appointed the house physician of the Salem College and Academy where he distinguished himself in caring for all there with his native genius for diagnosis. His last notable service to that institution came in the spring of 1916 when he led a successful effort to ward off a threatening epidemic at the college, and received high commendations from State and federal health specialists for his work.
At the time he entered his final rest on 16 January 1917 at age seventy-one, Dr. Bahnson was serving as surgeon of the Southern Railway System and president of its Board of Surgeons; he was as well chief surgeon of the Winston-Salem Southbound Railway Company. Dr. Bahnson had been president of the North Carolina Medical Society, president of the State Board of Health, secretary of the State Board of Examiners, and member of the Board of Directors of the State Hospital at Morganton.
He had married Adelaide de Schweinitz, daughter of Bishop de Schweinitz, on 3 November 1870, though her untimely death came within a year’s time. He married Emma C. Fries on 14 April 1874, a union which produce six children. He is buried in the Moravian graveyard in Salem.
History of North Carolina, Volume IV, Biography, Lewis Company, 1919, pp. 27-28
North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865, Volume II, Infantry, pp. 77; 266
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial
“Unsurpassed Valor, Courage, and Devotion to Liberty”