The Story of Thomas Dornblaser

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Mary “Sabrina” Dornblaser stayed home and raised her children while her husband Thomas was in service to his country during the American Civil War. Thomas was devoted to his family but believed that he had to help save the Union. Reluctantly he left his wife and daughter, Ida, and sons, Osborn and Oliver and aligned himself with the 7th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Cavalry.

The 7th Regiment was organized at Harrisburg between September and December 1861.  On December 19th the unit moved from its first residency at Camp Cameron, near Harrisburg to Louisville, Kentucky, where they were ordered to carry on to Jeffersonville, Indiana. While in Indiana they served unattached until February 1862. In March the action came fast, first in Ohio, then in Tennessee, a return to Ohio, then Mississippi, and then Georgia.

Dornblaser was a dedicated soldier; he entered service as a private but found himself in a leadership role early in his service and achieved the rank of sergeant by the summer of 1863. Before the war Thomas had worked as a “braker boss” in a Schuylkill County coal mine near his hometown of Tamaqua. He knew how to “handle” a crew of workers and how to achieve the most from them.

In May 1863 and through the next four months, the 7th Regiment was involved in repelling a Confederate campaign known as Morgan’s Raid through Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. One year later the Pennsylvanians had move further south into northwest Georgia. A  fierce battle came in mid-October at a landing known as Lay’s Ferry. At the battle of Resaca, Georgia, two of the best commanders of the war were the principals: General William Sherman [Union] was going head-to-head with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Johnston [Confederate States].

From the history books we know that Colonel Johnson had withdrawn his forces from the Rocky Face Ridge – a stronghold in the northwest – to the hills around Resaca. On the 13th, General Sherman ordered the Union troops to test the rebel lines to pinpoint their whereabouts. The next day full scale fighting occurred, and the Union troops were generally repulsed except on the Confederate right flank where Sherman did not fully exploit his advantage. On the 15th, the battle continued with no advantage to either side until Sherman sent a force across the Oostanula River, at Lay’s Ferry, towards Johnston’s railroad supply line. Unable to halt this Union movement, Johnston was forced to retire. There were 5,547 casualties – equally divided – in a skirmish that at best was described as, indecisive.

And that was the way it was for everyone except Thomas F. Dornblaser, who was one of the thousands who were part of that event. On the second day of battle, Thomas killed a man; a man he got to know by shaking his hand and making him a promise after he shot him and waited with him until he died.

The following story was gathered by Clarke Stallworth in 1983 and published in the Birmingham News on April 19, 1983, under the title “Yankee Wrote Widow of Confederate He Killed.”

[Editor’s note: the following is quoted from the original. It is abridged and edited for clarity.]

 It was a battle to the death, and both men knew it.

The Yankee cavalryman, crouched behind his wounded horse. He had one bullet left and waited for the Confederate officer to come from behind a fence only ten feet away.

The Confederate captain, William H. Lawrence, Jr. of Tuscaloosa, fired again. There was no answer from the Yankee soldier. Lawrence stood up and raised his revolver, aiming at the man behind the horse.

Thomas F. Dornblaser, trooper of E Company, 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, aimed his pistol across his horse’s back. Surrender! he told the Confederate officer, but Laurence kept coming, aiming his pistol.

Dornblaser fired his last bullet and Laurence fell back over the fence. “I am a dead man.” he said.


When the rider clopped into the yard of the farmhouse, Elvira Lawrence came to the door. She was wearing widow’s black — she had received word that her husband had been killed in the war. The letter the horseman brought her was a bulky one. She unwrapped it slowly, wondering what it could be.

She uncovered a small diary, with notations in her husband’s handwriting. And there was a letter from the Yankee who had killed him. Tears rolled down her face as she read:

To Mrs. Lawrence, wife of Capt. Wm. H. Lawrence. Tuscaloosa, Alabama

You may not understand the meaning of this communication, and it is with feelings of regret that the writer informs you that it is intended to convey the earnest request of your husband.

Unavoidable circumstances have made it obligatory upon me to forward this little diary to you, and at the request of Captain Lawrence, I send with it a brief narrative of the incidents connected therewith. The rehearsal of them is unpleasant to me, and full of sadness to you and the writer hopes that this is not the first intelligence that has reached you of the sad affair.

To present the narrative to you I shall first tell you how I came in contact with the subject of this manuscript.

When Confederate General John Bell Hood’s army was destroying the railroad between Resaca and Dalton, two brigades of Confederate Cavalry were making a feint at Rome, Georgia, and when they came in sight of the town, they presented a bold front.

On the 12th of October 1864, our division and the 2nd Cavalry Division, commenced a skirmish. We drove them about two miles and camped for the night. The next morning we attacked them again. They opened on us with two pieces of artillery, but fired over us, consequently no one was hurt.

Their artillery was captured and about 200 prisoners. I went out to the right of the road, into the woods, which was full of rebels trying to escape. A number of them surrendered without firing a shot. I went on to an open field and was about to cross a fence, when I spied a rebel officer a short distance to my right.

With pistol in one hand and saber in the other, he was trying to make his escape. It was my duty to halt him, which I did. I told him to throw down his arms, which he did immediately, but when he saw me alone, he seized his weapons again, exclaiming in a firm and audible voice, “I’ll fight you.”

He did not act the part of a stealthy coward, but he acted the part of a brave man: he acted nobly: he let me know what I had to do. As he reached for his arms, he jumped to a tree twenty paces from me and fired two shots with his pistol.

Having made up my mind to hold the point at all hazards, I dismounted and prepared to fight on foot. He took advantage of this by coming at least ten yards in advance of his first position.

This diminished the distance between us to at least ten paces. And seeing him take deliberate aim from the fence which hid him almost entirely from my view, leaving me a poor sight to aim at, discretion the better part of valor, suggested a change of base and that pretty quick, too.

In changing my base, I took an about-face to ground two paces to the rear, on left side of my horse. At the same time, my antagonist fired two shots more, one of which wounded my horse so as to unfit him for military service

This was the most trying moment of the contest. I still had confidence in the cartridge that remained in my gun. Had that failed, I would be a dead man.

The apparently victorious combatant mistook my maneuvers for a retreat, and at the same time shouting, “Surrender,” he came to where the fence was thrown down just opposite to me, not over ten feet from me.

He was in the act of stepping across when I ordered him the second time to halt. He was about to raise his pistol when my faithful cartridge performed its work.

Even after the fatal shot was fired, he vainly attempted to raise his pistol once more. In the attempt, the weapon fell out of his hand, and he let himself down, saying. “I am a dead man.”

Seeing this, I dropped my gun and offered him my hand. He gave it a friendly shake and said, “You have killed a good man.” I told him I was sorry, but he knew it was my duty to my country and that I was forced to do it in self-defense.

He justified me in doing as I did, but he thought I should have surrendered to him. He said his object was to get away.

I then asked him his name. He gave his name, viz: ‘‘William H. Lawrence. Captain, Company K, 8th Alabama Cavalry.”

He then told me to send this diary to you, and he further requested of me to tell you all the particulars of his death. His wound pained him much, but he bore it like a hero.


The correspondence between Dornblaser and Mrs. Lawrence continued even after the war. In one letter he wrote to offer the return of the captain’s sword and revolver. In her reply she wrote, “My son, Willie, would appreciate it very much, and we would all be thankful  if you would be so kind as to return them to us.”

As for the diary, it was passed down from relative to relative, and finally was lost in the 1930s. Dornblaser’s account of the battle came from his book, “My Life Story for Young and Old,” published in 1930.)


When Thomas F. Dornblaser returned to his Pennsylvania home in the late Spring of 1865, he returned to the quiet life he had been living with his wife Sabrina since 1852. The Dornblasers had five more children: Milton, a Philadelphia fireman; John, a mineralogist working in the coal industry; Amanda, Susan, and Paul.

Elvira Lawrence lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to age 75. She died on November 5, 1910.

Thomas Dornblaser lived to age 86, he died on October 24, 1906, and rests in the Zion Lutheran Cemetery, Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, probably with no one left who remembers this story.

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I was very interested in this article. Thomas Franklin Dornblaser was my Grandmother’s cousin. There are several errors here. He died 21 Dec 1941 at the age of 100 at Chicago, Illinois andis buried at Montrose Cemetery there. There are also issued with the names of his wife and children.


The battlefield card is lovely. Even more than that is the humanity displayed by Thomas Dornblaser. Thank you for this article.

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