The photo below is my 2nd great-grandfather, Johann Mathias Bruder, in his Civil War uniform. You met him in The Old Homestead, married to Elizabeth Jost, and the father Anna. I obtained this print from relatives in Wisconsin while in my teens. As you can see from the printing on the right edge (inverted), it was printed in July 1977. Technology at that time required you to take a photo of the image to get a negative, then prints could be made from that. Unfortunately, this one looks a little blurry, plus the negative was inadvertently placed upside down during printing. But I figured I’d get grief from everyone if the belt buckle was backwards, so I flipped the image. It’s really hard for me to look at him with the gun in his left hand, though! Perhaps some day I’ll cross paths with the original and can get a clearer scan.
His records (including military) use a lot of variant names, which I won’t discuss, now. Some other blog post! I’ll simply refer to him as “John M.” to be consistent.
He and his parents emigrated from Bavaria before 1847 (sister’s birth in Wisconsin), and his father died some time between 1855 (Wisconsin State Census) and the 1860 Federal Census. John M. served two terms as a volunteer:
- 5 February 1863 – 8 September 1863, Company I, 34th Wisconsin Infantry
- 30 September 1864 – 6 June 1865, Iron Brigade, Company D, 6th Wisconsin¹
If you looked at the sources, I can hear you saying, “Hold on! different names; different guys!” Not so. Fortunately, despite the 1890 census being almost completely consumed by fire, the 1890 veteran’s census survived.² While it lists his 2nd service date in the top portion, the lower section documents the earlier stint, too. He also applied for a pension. That paperwork lists both enlistments. More on that, later.
Tracking military activity of a unit is not terribly difficult. Based on his service dates, in 1863 he primarily served in the “west.” The 34th moved to Fort Halleck, Columbus, Kentucky. His Company then moved to Cairo, Illinois, at the end of April. It appears he stayed there until he mustered out in September, returning home. None of the information I found gave me the impression that area of the country saw much action.
In 1864 he was drafted and sent further from home. He was involved with parts of the Petersburg seige (June 1864-April 1865). The 6th Wisconsin was at Hatcher’s Run (Boydton Road and Dabney’s Mills), then continued on with the Appomattox Campaign, 28 March – 9 April 1865. They fought near Gravelly Run, Five Forks, and then pursued Lee to Appomattox Court House. After Lee’s surrender, the unit took part in the Grand Review on May 23rd, then moved to Louisville, Kentucky, finally mustering out in July.
You’re wondering about the pension, aren’t you? I’d read articles about the wonderful “finds” in pension packets: birth/baptismal certificates, marriage certificates, family Bible pages, photos. In 2000, before the cost to request it increased, I sent away for his. I heard back a year later, and sent my $10.
It was a little disheartening when the envelope arrived. The photocopies contained none of those precious treasures. Even the application was uninspiring: “Are you married? Yes but dead.”³ No name, marriage date, nothing. Apparently he figured she wouldn’t be entitled to anything, so didn’t waste his time. Same thing with the section for children: “All over 16 years of age.” No names or birth dates. Nothing to confirm what I thought I knew.
But then I delved deeper. He began the pension process in 1887, and it continued until 1912. Initially he was rejected, but finally was granted a $12/month pension (just shy of $300, today) “for loss of left arm above the Ellbow . . . said Arm he lost on August 23, 1884 while sitting on a Grain Reaper intending to cut his Wheat, and while he was unable to notice and see an obstruction in his way . . . was thrown from the Reaper and in the cutting part of said Reaper.”³ He received payments until he died, 8 March 1915. I don’t know if he received “back pay.”
The pages detailed his claim, in his words and those of neighbors and fellow soldiers, giving us a glimpse of their military experience. “While . . . in the line of duty at near Petersburg . . . while on a heavy marching . . . crossing and wading through a River and swamps up to their breast, and thereafter marching all day in their wet clothes, and it being at the time cold and inclement weather, he contracted a cold, wich caused a Rheumatism, of wich he then and thereafter eversince is suffering and affecting and weakening his Eyes . . . that sometimes he cannot see any person or object if only 10 feet before him”³ No wonder he couldn’t see the obstruction!
Joseph Wetor’s affidavit describes “6th and 7th day of february 1865 before during the battle of Hatchers run . . . disagreable wether of wich we was exposed them times, without tents and blankets, wich we had to leave in camp lasted for some weeks after.”³ John Entringer’s relates a similar experience, adding, “in the mourning being sometimes being covered with Snow or wet allthrough from heavy rain.”³ General Sherman knew what he was talking about!
Filmmaker Ken Burns has spent the last forty years teaching us to observe history from a personal perspective. The pension packet may not have given me the “vital facts” I initially looked for, but I found something far more important. I saw a partial picture of John M. Bruder’s war experience; one I wouldn’t have, otherwise. I also have his signature. Thank goodness he was initially denied, or the additional descriptions from his comrades in arms wouldn’t have been needed! As far as I know, he didn’t keep a diary, so this paperwork is all we have of that period of his life.
When we visited Appomattox Court House with our kids in December, 1999, I had no idea my 2nd great grandfather had been there before me. I realize he was a lowly private, and not in the parlor with Lee signing the surrender to Grant. But knowing that he was one of many participants to a pivotal day in history makes that day hit closer to home.
Best $10 I ever spent.
¹Wisconsin. Adjutant General’s Office, Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Volume II, https://books.google.com, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, p. 544. 34th Regiment Infantry, Company I; name: Brüder, Mathias. and Wisconsin. Adjutant General’s Office, Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Volume I, https://books.google.com, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, p. 509. 6th Regiment Infantry, Company D; name: Bruder, John M.
²”United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, 1890,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939V-R3SC-MZ?cc=1877095&wc=M628-XJQ%3A174322201%2C174474101%2C174320903 : 22 May 2014), Wisconsin > Manitowoc > All > image 15 of 58; citing NARA microfilm publication M123 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
³John M. Bruder (Pvt., Co. D, 6th Wis. Inf., Civil War), pension no. S.C. 859,952, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications …, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D.C.