Civil War Saturday – Immigrant Responds with Courage

Casper Biecker, Co. K 4th OVC (Photo provided by family to 4th OVVC Descendants Assoc.)

Casper Biecker, Co. K 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry  (Photo provided by family to 4th OVVC Descendants Assoc.)

Germans were the largest ethnic group to immigrate to the United States throughout the 19th century. They were also the largest group of foreign-born men to fight for the Union during the Civil War. Due in part to lack of religious freedom, war and an ongoing bad economy, Germans suffering from a shortage of jobs, crop failures, etc. came to the United States for a chance at a better life.

Several northern states opened their doors to German settlers in the first several decades of the 1800s. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan in particular encouraged migration to their areas. Pennsylvania was already home to many early German settlers who landed in Philadelphia and Ohio became a popular area for Germans to settle in too.

It was during these turbulent times in Germany that Casper Biecker was born on February 9, 1837 in Hessen. He was part of a farming family very familiar with struggling during bad economic times. As an adult, with few outside jobs available and farming producing a meager living, Casper had a decision to make. Should he go to America like many fellow Germans before him or stay? Even as the political fervor in the U.S. increased and war loomed imminent, Biecker decided to take a chance and move to the United States.

On January 29, 1861 at 23 years old, Casper landed at the port of New Orleans. He traveled up the Mississippi River to join a long-time German friend who had already left their home country and settled in Ohio. Casper eventually put down roots in nearby Covington Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. There he began his new life, farming.

Whether Casper was motivated by the fear of a mounting Confederate threat in northern Kentucky or was decidedly against slavery as a way of life, he volunteered with the 4th Ohio Cavalry during the war. Enlisting in Cincinnati on September 3, 1862 Casper served with Co. K for nearly three years as a private, mustering out June 24, 1865 with the rest of the regiment at war’s end.

During his enlistment Biecker proved to be a valuable asset to his unit. From September 1863 through March 1864 his muster roll cards document numerous times he was sent to Nashville for horses. An experienced handler of horses was a must for a cavalry regiment and Casper obviously filled the bill. Fortunately he escaped any type of war-time injuries and was only reported sick once during his military tenure.

After the war Biecker headed home to Northern Kentucky and married the sister of his old friend. The one that had originally prompted him to move to this country to begin with.

Theresa Hoeb and Casper were married in 1866. Certainly life became more like Biecker had anticipated when first moving to the United States years earlier. The Bieckers welcomed eight children into their home while Casper continued to farm. In the years that followed the Civil War both Casper and Theresa were able to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

By 1890 Casper, Theresa and their family had left the farm and were living in town in Covington, Ky. Biecker was working as a day laborer now with five sons living at home.

Health became a problem as Casper and Theresa got older. Theresa developed Parkinson’s disease and two of their son’s remained at home to care for her. Casper whose own health was declining moved to the U.S. National Home for Disabled Soldiers in Dayton Ohio. There Casper was treated for chronic rheumatism, cardiac hypertrophy and arterial sclerosis.

Biecker was in and out of the Old Soldier’s Home a couple of times but failing health finally claimed him on February 16, 1920. He passed away from bronchial pneumonia at the age of 83 while staying at the soldiers home. Casper now rests next to his wife Theresa at St. Stephen cemetery in Hamilton Ohio.

Biecker was a man of integrity. Living in the U.S. less than two years he responded to the need of his new country. Imagine leaving a hard, struggling life behind in Germany, only to move into the greatest conflict ever fought on U.S. soil. Language and customs had to be barriers, yet he put aside any fears or concerns and fought to preserve his new homeland. This demanded courage and dedication and for that Casper Biecker you are remembered.

What Really Happened to the Confederate Treasury?

Civil War, genealogy, research

Photo courtsey of Sammi Babe stock.xchng.com

Late spring of 1865 saw fast-moving, chaotic events for both the Union and the Confederacy. Even though Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to U.S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, the war was not entirely over. Troops for both sides were still in the field fighting.

Days after Lee’s surrender, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s theater, in Washington DC. plunging a jubilant north into a wary panic. Many were convinced of the Confederate government’s involvement in his shooting.

Meanwhile Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Cabinet had fled the South’s capital, Richmond Virginia, as it fell to Union troops, carrying with them the Confederate government’s treasury. Their original plan was to travel to North Carolina where they would store the treasury in the old U.S. Mint in Charlotte. They soon learned the area was policed by U.S. cavalry so their plan changed. The assembly headed into the heart of the south, some say hoping to continue the Confederate struggle, perhaps setting up a new southern capital and continuing the fight in the western theater. Others say the group planned an escape to Mexico, Cuba or even Britain.

By early May 1865 Jefferson Davis and his staff had made their way from Virginia, through both North and South Carolina to Irwinville, Georgia. Just a couple days earlier Davis had been reunited with his wife Varina and their three children. Their journey was cautious and covert since Davis was sought after by all Union soldiers in the area. Not only was he considered a traitor to the United States and an accomplice to Lincoln’s death, there was also a $75,000 bounty for his capture.

While in camp, early the morning of May 10th, the Confederate President, his family and staff were surrounded by the 4th Michigan cavalry. After their capture, without a Confederate shot fired, the group was transported to a local hotel and then Davis was eventually sent to Fort Monroe Virginia where he was a prisoner for two years.

The 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry was part of the brigade involved in the capture of Jefferson Davis. For their assignment, the 4th OVC had the unusual privilege of searching for and finding the Confederate treasury that accompanied Davis. What they found buried near an apple orchard close to Davis’ capture certainly brought whoops of joy!

Boxes, wrapped in oilcloth, were buried in the ground and contained stacks of Confederate money. Easily recognizable by it’s blue color, the men of the 4th OVC were now in possession of a fortune!

The soldiers took the found loot back to camp. With thousands and thousands of dollars in hand they shared their gain throughout the company. The men, who’s monthly salary averaged about $12, went on a wild spending spree. Buying cigars for $100 a box, a ham for $140 and the luxury of a shave and haircut for $30. The men even went to the theater in the local town spending $50 a ticket. One soldier bought a horse offering the seller $1200 for it. When the seller didn’t have change for the $1500 in cash presented to him, the buyer told him to keep the change. Price was no object! That is until the locals refused to accept the Confederate paper money. It was worthless and local vendors began asking for gold, silver or U.S. money for their merchandise.

But paper money wasn’t the only thing contained in the Confederate treasury. Along with government records there were supposedly crate upon crate of gold and silver coins, bullion, jewelry donated by southern women toward the war and more than $450,000 in gold from the Richmond banks reserves. It’s thought that there was close to $1 million in the hands of the fleeing Confederate administration, taken to keep it from being confiscated by the invading Union military.

This vast amount of gold and silver and the bank reserves were not found when Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet were captured. The 4th OVC only found paper money. So what happened to the Confederate treasury? Is it buried in some secret location and has yet to be found? Was it hidden by Confederate leaders? Was it stolen by Union soldiers?

First there’s the legend that Confederate Secretary of War, John C. Breckenridge who was put in charge of the treasury before the group made their way into Georgia sent a substantial amount of gold ahead to Florida. Possibly the Ocala area. It’s also been said another sum of money was sent to Britain to be held in an account for the Confederacy.

Yet the answer could be as simple as there wasn’t that much money left in the Confederate treasury. Some feel the total amount of gold reported in the treasury was blown out of proportion. Then add to that the last two years of the war drained the Confederate treasury means it may have been broke by May 1865.

Davis and his Cabinet also dispersed some gold as payroll to Confederate troops along their route south. Perhaps the Confederacy was flat broke by the end of the war. But an interesting note is that the Richmond banks reserves were entirely separate from the Confederate treasury and reportedly around $450,000 which adds a twist to the story.

Civil War, research, history, genealogy 4th OVC

Photo credit: elkojote at stock.xchng.com

Once in Georgia, the Richmond banks gold was put in a Washington Georgia bank vault for safekeeping. After the capture of Jefferson Davis further south in Irwinville, that gold was soon confiscated by Union forces. The gold, once in possession of Union troops, was loaded on a wagon train to be sent north. On the very first night of the journey, as the wagon train set up camp near Danburg Georgia, they were attacked by locals. It’s said everyone from freed slaves, to paroled Confederate soldiers and bushwhackers took part in the melee where hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold was carried away. Men stashed gold in any available container, from socks to coffee sacks to saddle bags and hauled it home. In fact the legend goes since there was so much gold stolen and it was so heavy to cart off, that large quantities of gold coins were hidden across Wilkes County, Georgia where some of it sits undisturbed to this day.

The remaining gold was put in an Augusta, Georgia bank and sat there for years. The U.S. government claimed ownership as well as the Richmond banks where the gold came from originally. After extensive court proceedings the U.S. government was awarded the remaining gold because the Richmond banks aided the rebellion.

We know the 4th OVC found the Confederate treasury’s paper money but what about the gold? Could there be a cache of Confederate gold in Ocala, Florida? Or is there an account in Britain waiting for the Confederacy to claim it? How about the Richmond bank reserves? Is some of it buried across the countryside in Wilkes County, Georgia? Probably after 150 years we’ll never know but I think my summer vacation may be spent with a metal detector in sunny Wilkes County, Georgia this year.

One last note, you may be wondering what happened to the jewelry donated by the southern women toward the war effort. Supposedly President Davis and his Cabinet stopped at a farm in the vicinity of Washington Georgia. They entrusted the widow who lived there to care for a heavy wooden box they couldn’t continue to carry with them on their journey. The widow agreed and the men left. Curiosity got the best of the woman and she peeked inside to find it full of valuable jewelry. Panicked at being in possession of such costly items she buried the box on her farm. A few days later an officer appeared requesting the box and the widow hastily returned it to him. Whether he was actually an officer sent by Jefferson Davis to retrieve the jewelry, an unscrupulous soldier or just a plain thief will never be known. The donated Confederate jewelry was never seen or mentioned by anyone again.

The 10 Things on My Civil War Bucket List!

National Archives - Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

National Archives – Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

A couple Saturdays ago you may have caught my post on  Ten Things To Do for Your Civil War Ancestor. It was a lot of fun and I’m working through the list myself. If you missed it you can read here.

 

That post got me thinking about the things I’d like to see and do. Those things I’ve made a mental note of ever since I began researching the Civil War. After thinking about it I realized it was turning into a Civil War bucket list.

 

So this is my CW bucket list. A checklist of things I’d like to see and do sometime, some day, all pertaining to the Civil War. They’re in no particular order and don’t necessarily have to do with my ancestors.

 

Here we go:

Bloody Pond - Shiloh National Military Park Credit: NPS Photo

Bloody Pond – Shiloh National Military Park Credit: NPS Photo

 Visit the Shiloh Battlefield. The first Civil War soldier from my area that died during the war was at the battle of Shiloh. I’ve done some research on him so it holds special meaning.

 

 Visit Ford’s Theater in Washington DC. and the Petersen Boarding house across the street where the dying president was taken. I can only imagine the emotional experience to be had there.

 

 Go to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. Not only are there two U.S. Presidents buried there, the only Confederate President is buried there too. Theres also a number of Confederate generals including J.E.B. Stuart and George Pickett at Hollywood. But more than all that 18,000 Confederate soldiers were laid to rest there. Im sure it would be a moving experience.

 

 Tour Carnton Plantation near the Battle of Franklin and see the blood stained floors where doctors worked feverishly on injured Confederate soldiers. Also walk on the back porch (I read Widow of the South by Robert Hicks) and see where several generals bodies lay after the battle.

 

 I’d like to find out what happened to the body of my cousin George S. Vanmeter. He was shot and killed on picket duty April 13, 1864 outside of Florence, Alabama. He was with Co. G 9th OVC. Wherever his remains were left I’d like to go there and honor him.

 

John Hunt Morgan

Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan

 I want to learn more about John Hunt Morgan. (You know how women love a rogue and all I’ve read certainly puts him in that category.) Then I’d travel the 1,000 miles he made famous during Morgan’s raid from Tennessee to Kentucky, across Indiana and Ohio before being captured.

 

 Probably the most important: I’d like to find a photo of my Civil War ancestor, my great-great-grandfather George W. Lowery. He was a private and fought with Co. A 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. In uniform or later in life, it doesn’t matter. I’d just like to have a photo of him.

 

 I’ve never been to Appomattox Courthouse which is an absolute must and is very near the top of my list. I can’t wait to walk in the footsteps of both Lee and Grant and see the parlor when where peace was finally reached.

 

 I’d like to spend a day with Garry Adelman. He’s the Director of History and Education at the Civil War Trust. He’s also a licensed Battlefield Guide for Gettysburg and does tons of neat stuff all pertaining to the Civil War. He was at the Library of Congress awhile back and was able to see actual glass plate negatives taken by Matthew Brady. Also while at the National Civil War Museum he was able to examine Alonzo Cushings belt. Yep, Id like to spend a day with him just like that!

 I’d also like to go to the National Archives and look at the shelves of stored Civil War Compiled Military Service Records, Pension files. Medical Cards, etc.  Then I’d dive right in and look at each individual paper and microfilm!

That’s the condensed version of my Civil War Bucket List. The whole list actually takes a couple of pages. So what’s on your list? I’d love to know what you’d like to see and do. Who knows I may just add some of your ideas to my list!

Ten Things To-Do for your Civil War ancestor

Civil War, 4th OVC, Noel Clayton, Civil War Saturday, genealogy researchSince you stopped by today chances are you love doing genealogy research. You’re a family historian who wants to learn all you can about the people that came before you.

In fact, seeing that you’re here, you’re probably doing some pretty serious research on your Civil War ancestor too. You’re like me. You’ve got to know about his military life. What did he do during the war? Was he injured? Was he a hero? How did it affect his family?

So to add a little spice to your research here’s a Civil War To-Do list. Just a few things you might take the time to do to help you better understand your Civil War ancestor. And it can be a lot of fun too!

Civil War Ancestor To-Do List

1. Research the uniform your ancestor wore. You can start here http://www.historynet.com/civil-war-uniforms or here http://www.memorialhall.mass.edu/activities/dressup/notflash/civil_war_soldier.html Google images for an idea of what your soldier wore. See the layers of clothing these men lived in and marched in. Take a look at the number and weight of items a regimental soldier carried on a daily basis.

Hardtack

2. Eat a little like he ate. Make their old stand-by: Hardtack or Johnnie cakes. Recipes below.

3. Spend some time looking at Civil War photographs, especially the newly colorized versions. Get a feel that these were real men who were lonely, hungry and scared, yet continued on with their duties. The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of Civil War era photos. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cwp/

4. Find a book (check your library, Google) written specifically about a battle your ancestor fought in. Become really familiar with the movements of his regiment. Then:

5. Walk where he walked. Tour the battlefield(s) where your ancestor fought. Take a moment to imagine the sites and sounds he experienced there. The fear, the blood, the destruction. If you can’t do it physically do it virtually through Google maps.

6. Choose a Civil War era song and read the lyrics. Can you hear your ancestor humming it as he marched or set up camp? If he was a Confederate soldier it may have been Goober Peas, Bonnie Blue Flag or Dixie. If he was a Union man maybe it was Battle Hymn of the Republic, When Johnny Comes Marching Home or We Are Coming Father Abraham.

 

Civil War, 4th OVC, Jacob Seib, genealogy research

Civil War Reenactors – Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

 

7. Watch a Civil War movie. Even though movies aren’t exactly historically accurate and produced mainly for entertainment, there are scenes, costumes, firearms and battles portrayed that will help you identify with your Civil War ancestor. Try Glory, Gettysburg, Gone With the Wind or maybe North and South, Red Badge of Courage and most recently Lincoln.

8. Read a newspaper or two from the locale your ancestor was from that was published during the Civil War. Even though it was a week later, I was really surprised at how much coverage the battle at Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh) got in my own hometown newspaper. I should have known since a lot of men from the area fought there. It’s also neat to see the ads and events of the times. A great place to start your newspaper search is here. http://www.theancestorhunt.com/newspapers.html

9. Calculate the number of ancestors, direct and collateral, that fought in the Civil War. Did your family fight for both sides? You’ll be surprised at how the war affected your family with many members leaving home and joining the fight. Doing a little research on these extended family soldiers may produce some interesting and sought Pvt. George W Loweryafter family information.

10. Take a photo of yourself by your ancestor’s headstone or if that’s not possible take a photo of yourself at the nearest Civil War monument paying special attention to the inscription and who the memorial honors.

Now if you’ve done all or most of the items on this Civil War ancestor list there’s one last thing to-do. Write a short narrative about your Civil War ancestors military experience. You’ve “walked” in his steps, “tasted” his food, and “experienced” the sights and sounds of war. Whether you post it on your blog or slip it in his file, by documenting his story with your new awareness, you honor his service and that’s what the list is all about.

Let me know how you did working through the list or any suggestions you might have. Either way have fun with the Civil War Ancestor To-Do list!

 

 

 

Hardtack for the Union soldiers

2 cups of flour

1/2 to 3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon of Crisco or vegetable fat (bacon grease or lard was used in 1860s)

6 pinches of salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix the ingredients together into a stiff dough, knead several times, and spread the dough out flat to a thickness of 1/4 inch on a non-greased cookie sheet.

Using a pizza cutter or a knife, cut dough into 3-inch cracker squares. With a fork or skewer, punch four rows of holes, with about four holes per row, in each cracker.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, turn crackers over on the sheet and return to the oven and bake another 30 minutes or until every bit of moisture is gone.

 

Johnnie Cakes for the Confederate soldier

2 cups of cornmeal

2/3 cup of milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (bacon grease was used in 1860s)

1 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

Butter

Molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix ingredients into a stiff batter and form 8 biscuit-sized dodgers*. Bake on a lightly greased sheet for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Or you can spoon the batter into hot cooking oil in a frying pan over a low flame. Remove the corn dodgers and let cool on a paper towel, spread with a little butter or molasses. (If you were lucky enough to have butter or molasses.)

 

* Corn dodger – a cake of corn bread that is fried, baked, or boiled as a dumpling

Civil War Saturday – Medical Cards

Carver General Hospital, Washington City

Carver General Hospital Photo Credit: Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, (Record Group 111) Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S), National Archives. No known restrictions on publication.

About a month or so ago I saw AncestralFindings.com wrote a blog post about Civil War Medical Cards. These are medical files, for Union Civil War soldiers, and are housed at the National Archives in Washington DC.

These Medical Cards document the health issues of Union Civil War soldiers. If your ancestor was wounded or contracted an illness the details were recorded on a card.

This information is not found in a pension file or in a Compiled Military Service Record. Medical Cards are a file all their own.

The files can contain a lot of information you may not already have, and like all files some cards are may be more detailed than others.

Some of the information you may find on the cards: the injury or illness the soldier suffered, the kind of treatment he received, where he recuperated like a field hospital or a barracks. There’s also the results of his injury or illness such as a surgeons certificate of discharge, return to regiment, or died. There can be a list of the soldiers personal belongings, and even information on the soldiers family or next of kin.

Civil War Medical Cards are available for you to research at the National Archives if you happen to be going there. But even better than that, copies of the files are free upon request.

Let me tell you about my experience.

I went to the National Archives site and emailed, http://www.archives.gov/contact/inquire-form.html – If you scroll down on this link there is an email form further down on the page titled:
I have a question about research and records at NARA” with a text box to fill in your request. I asked for a copy of three of my ancestors Civil War Medical Cards. I included their name, rank, regiment and company in my request.

Pvt. George W Lowery Co. A 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
Pvt. James R Vanmeter Co F 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry
Cpl. George S Vanmeter Co F 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

and then further down on the page was a form for your name, address, etc.

It only took two weeks and I received copies of the Medical Cards of my three ancestors by snail mail. Now their medical cards didn’t contain all the details listed above but I did learn new information on two of the soldiers.

For example my great-great-grandfather, George W Lowery, was wounded in the right chest at the Battle of Cumberland Church on April 7, 1865. That’s all the information I had.

Through his Medical Card I found that his gunshot wound to the right breast received a simple dressing after battle. He went to a field hospital on April 8th in City Point, Virginia. Then on April 15th he was transported on the U.S.A. Hospital Steamer Connecticut to Carver Hospital in Washington DC. He was discharged from the hospital June 7, 1865 and mustered out of the army.

New bits of information on our ancestors is always exciting and this was no exception. I have new leads to follow up.

If your Union Civil War ancestor was ill or injured during the war contact the National Archives for his Medical Cards. This free research information may be just the info you need to tear into a brick wall.

Happy Researching!