John Henry Denig, a U.S. Marine active during the Civil War, was buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery.
John Henry Denig, a U.S. Marine active during the Civil War, was buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery. (Submitted Photo)
More than a century ago, a U.S. Marine from York was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds during the Civil War.

On Thursday, exactly 146 years after the naval battle in which he earned the honor, Sgt. John Henry Denig will be remembered at a special ceremony at Prospect Hill Cemetery, 700 N. George St.

Denig, born Sept. 8, 1838, died at age 38 from health complications.

He was 26 and serving on the USS Brooklyn on Aug. 5, 1864, when he and 22 other U.S. Navy sailors and Marines aboard the ship used their "guns, skills and courage" to defend themselves from enemy attacks, according to a citation issued by the Navy Department.

Several of their colleagues aboard the ship were killed in action. All 23 veterans aboard the USS Brooklyn earned the Medal of Honor.

According to Denig's gravesite citation, "despite severe damage to his ship and the loss of several men on board as enemy fire raked the decks, Sgt. Denig fought his gun with skill and courage throughout the furious two-hour battle which resulted in the surrender of the rebel ram Tennessee and in the damaging and destruction of batteries at Fort Morgan."

The battle: All of that occurred during the Battle of Mobile Bay, a significant victory for the Union.

Mobile had been the last important port on the Gulf of Mexico, east of the Mississippi River, in Confederate possession.

Its closure was essential in
completing the Union blockade in that region, said Jack Sommer, director of the cemetery.

The cemetery, which covers areas of North York and Manchester Township, serves as a final resting spot for more than 1,000 veterans from the Civil War, only two whom hold the Medal of Honor, Sommer said.

"Cemeteries ultimately honor soldiers individually or collectively, " Sommer said. "As a community and nation, it's important to remember those who have made a difference, and the supreme sacrifice, for our country."

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the U.S. government and was created during the Civil War.

The ceremony: The First Capitol Detachment of the Marine Corps League in York County will hold the remembrance ceremony for Denig at 7 p.m. at his burial site.

To honor the anniversary of battle involving the USS Brooklyn and Denig's heroism, the Marine Corps League will have their chaplain lead the ceremony in prayer and the Marine Corps hymn will be sung, Sommer said.

Dave Brady, member of the detachment, hopes members of the community come Thursday to honor the veteran. The ceremony should last about 30 minutes, he said.

"The ceremony will be fairly simple. It's not so much what we do (during the ceremony) but more why we do it," he said. "We (Marines) don't forget our own."

Sommer said he and officials at the York County Heritage Trust tried to find living descendents of Denig in York County.

Prospect Hill Cemetery hosts several remembrance services and re-enactments throughout the year to honor fallen soldiers, Sommer said.

Last month, the cemetery's federally owned Soldiers' Circle was cleaned, repaired and renovated, just in time for the special remembrance ceremony, Sommer said. The renovated area is where Union veterans are buried.Sommer said the renovations and special ceremonies should "give comfort to the families of the recently fallen soldiers.

"Hopefully when they see a 125-year-old Civil War memorial being restored and a Medal of Honor veteran being honored for duties 146 years ago, it gives them peace knowing that the nation, and York, is grateful for their service," he said.

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Service

The remembrance ceremony for Marine Sgt. John Henry Denig is open to the public. The service will be held at Denig's burial site at Prospect Hill Cemetery at 7 p.m. Thursday. Attendees are encouraged to park at the cemetery's main office, and signs leading to Denig's gravesite will be posted.
--Reach Lauren Whetzel at 505-5433 or lwhetze l@yorkdispatch.com.