The Civil War: Grandfather, Great-Grandfather Served in Union Army

Grandfather's bad luck while in Union Army proves to be good luck; fate of great-grandfather unknown.

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Things were different in the days of the Civil War; they also were much the same. My husband's grandfather and great-grandfather served with the Union Army. My husband's grandfather was born in 1842 in Prussia, migrated to America in 1854 with his parents and a brother. At the age of 19, in 1861, he joined the Union Army. He had only been in the states seven years when he enlisted for a period of three years and stated farming as his occupation. He joined for duty at Burlington, Iowa, Co. K, 5th Regiment, Iowa Infantry. Grandfather seemed to have "bad luck" in the army because he was sick so much. Bad luck is sometimes good luck. Because of his hospitalization, he was spared being taken prisoner and being sent to a "Rebel prison."

In May of 1863, he was wounded at Champion Hills on the march to or during the siege of Vicksburg and sent to the hospital. Shortly thereafter he contracted rheumatism and dysentery from exposure and the army diet. He was sent to the hospital about the first of August but was back with his regiment by the end of the month. His health continued to fail, and he was sent home to recover. He spent from October to spring at his home. Among his papers was an affidavit from his company commander that he was a very sick man.

He was promoted to the Color Guard on his return to his company, which was located at Mission Ridge, Tennessee. When he returned in the spring, he again took ill at Huntsville, Alabama, in June of 1864.

On July 30, 1864, he was mustered out of service as his "tour of duty" was up. He received an honorable discharge.

An interesting side note is that during his last illness, the company was captured and sent to a Rebel prison where the water was contaminated with human waste, food was almost nonexistent, and men died by the hundreds.

Grandfather returned home and lived to have a large family, farm and serve in the state legislature.

In 1864, at the age of 38, my husband's great-grandfather was drafted into the Army, reporting to Fort Snelling, Minnesota. The next May he was sent to the hospital at City Point and there the mystery begins. What happened to Great-Grandfather, we will never know. City Point was the place where North and South held their prisoner exchange, and reports were that Great-Grandfather died on one of the ships taking exchange prisoners from City Point to Washington. There is no evidence that he left the hospital or got on the boat, or what happened to his body. It can only be surmised that he either wandered away from the hospital, or died on the boat and his body thrown overboard.

Great-Grandmother, in an attempt to receive a widow's pension as she was very poor, had much communication from the Pension Office and the Adjutant Office. One office claimed there was no man by Great-Grandfather's name in the army, while the other claimed he had died.

The two offices continued until June 1881 to voice their different opinions and ask for proof of his service. After this time there is no record of any further communication on the subject. Several men who served with him in the service had come forth on his behalf to state they knew him and had visited with him when he was in the camp hospital at City Point.

How like the modern-day prisoners of war where our soldiers serving and missing in Vietnam cannot be accounted for.

Delores Utecht
Wayne, Nebraska

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.