Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
John Schroeder Papers, 1857-1862

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, October 1996

Summary Information
Title: John Schroeder papers
Creator: Schroeder, James
Inclusive dates: 1857-1862
Extent: 36 items
Abstract:
During the secession crisis of 1861, the support of German immigrants was a key factor in consolidating Unionism in Missouri, and when war broke out, Germans throughout the west enlisted in large numbers. The 35 letters written by John Schroeder to his brother, James, between 1857 and 1862 provide a unique glimpse into the life of a German-American soldier during the Civil War.

Language: The material is in German.
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1996. M-3292.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

John Schroeder papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Arrangement

Materials are arranged chronologically.


Biography

Schroeder, John, d. 1862

Rank : Sergeant, Lieutenant (1861 November)

Regiment : 3rd Iowa Infantry Regiment. Co. C (1861-1865)

Service : 1861 June 8-1862 July 8

During the secession crisis of 1861, the support of German immigrants was a key factor in consolidating Unionism in Missouri, and when war broke out, Germans throughout the west enlisted in large numbers, contributing disproportionately to the Union war effort. By reputation, if not always in reality, these immigrants were perceived as highly educated, experienced in military affairs, and radical in their political beliefs. John Schroeder comes remarkably close to fulfilling this stereotype.

Schroeder and his brother James arrived in America in 1856, a day he recalled fondly a year later: "ich ne[h]me diesen Tag bedeutend für uns Alle," he wrote to James, "Noch nicht zwei Jahre auf diesem freien Boden und wieviel schon geleret, erfarene und gesehen!" (1857 June 11-14). The Schroeders settled in Guttenberg, Iowa, a small farming community on the Mississippi River, north of the Turkey River Valley, but within a year, John headed north to Blue Earth County, Minnesota, to work near the auspiciously-named town of Liberty. The six months he passed in Liberty were exciting months for Minnesota. As Schroeder labored on an isolated potato farm, Minnesota was in the throes of organizing for statehood, with fiercely partisan political battles dividing the populace over the shape of the future government. In such a hothouse atmosphere, Schroeder's eye never strayed far from politics, and he was avid follower of the growth of Minnesota cities, the building of roads, the development of a speculative market in land and the opening of farm lands to settlers.

As early as 1857, Schroeder was firmly seated in the Republican Party, holding views that were at least generically abolitionist. A Lutheran, he was also vehemently anti-Catholic, blaming Catholicism for many of the evils he saw in American society, including slavery. In a letter to his brother, Schroeder lambasted the Catholic priesthood for the evil they wrought:

"Ein guter Schulmeister ist mehr werth als hundert Priester; denn das Leben derselben ist im besten Falle ein Leben der Trägheit; der Priester vergebliche Ehelosigkeit veranlasst sie Unzunft und eheliche Untreue in jeder Familie einzuführen, worin sie Zutritt finden; und ihre gotteslästerliche Anmassung der Vergebung von Sünden ermuntert zur Begehung derselben. Die katolischen Pfaffen erkennen ja die Sclaverei für Recht an und ihnen allein haben wir es nur zu verdanken dass so mancher Staat in der Union noch für Sclaverei geht; wenn Minnesota demokratisch geht hängt es allein von den deutschen und besonderes Irrländlischen katoliken ab...

"Ich glaube dass die Guttenberger noch glauben die Neger seien das Teufelsbrüder dass sie so hart gegen die neue Constitution gestimmt haben; ich habe die Sache gut betrachtet und überlegt hier und anderswo und gefinden dass alle die Leute welche die Scalverei noch unterstützen helfen Alle hartherzigen, gefühllose, tyrannische Leute sind; fragen doch deine halzstaarige [sic] Nachbaren ob sie denn kein Gefühl mehr in Leibe haben? Von katoliken brauch man sich doch nicht zu verwundere, da sie noch härtere Sachen glauben; glauben sie nich dass ein Mensch wenn er nicht durch die Hand eines Gaukelers genutzt wurde was sie dann Taufe nennen, vom dem Schöpfer ewig dafür bestraft werde nach seinen Tode? Welche Härte?" (1857 September 13)

In September, 1857, Schroeder appears to have returned to Guttenberg, and for the next four years his activities are uncertain. At some point, he apparently joined a militia unit composed largely of German immigrants, the Steuben Guard, becoming Captain. It is unclear whether he had had any prior military experience. When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Schroeder was not reticent in tendering his services, refusing even to wait for the promised organization of a German regiment. However, much to his disappointment, when commissions were dispensed for the new regiment, the 3rd Iowa Infantry, Schroeder was made only a sergeant. He complained bitterly that the staff officers in the regiment were ill equipped as leaders and knew little or nothing about military affairs -- they were political appointees -- and he felt the lingering pall of anti-German discrimination. Upon reading that an American had been named major of the 16th Infantry over a more qualified German candidate, he concluded "eine Sache die leicht möglich ist, da in diesen Zeiten noch krümere Sachen geschen, als ein Amerikaner über deutschen zu setzen" (1861 December 21).

Schroeder aside, it is safe to say that the 3rd Iowa was unusually filled with dissention from the start caused by rivalries among the officers and animosity between them and the enlisted men. Further, the regiment faced more than its share of organizational and supply problems caused by the necessity of rushing the unit into action in Missouri. For over two weeks after they were mustered into the service, the regiment made do without uniforms, tents, or equipment, and when their gear and weapons finally began to trickle in, it was soon found that they were outdated and barely adequate. These logistical problems, combined with the turmoil among the officers, soon colored the way Schroeder felt, though he never wavered in his sense of duty:

"Ich zweifele stark daran dass es möglich ist eine gut disciplinirte Armee in Amerika aufzubringen, die deutschen sind auch von der Seuche der Ungehorsams angestarkt, und das ist es eben was Allen den dienst so verleidet nirgens herrscht Ordnung, die Schuldigen werden nicht bestraft, die Guten werden nicht belohnt, die Offizieren sind voller Liebungstreuhe, es ist kein Esprit de corps unter Ihnen, sie wetteifere mit den Soldaten, die huren Hauser aufgefinden. Ich spreche hier nicht von unsere Compagnie Offizieren denn das sind Ehren männer, wenn auch keine grossse Militairs... In einem Republikanischen Staat den Muth sogleich verlieren, beweist nur dass man kein Republikaner ist, da muss man sich viel gefallen lassen, aber die Pflicht des Bürgers muss einem über Alles gehen... in diesem Lande gibt es noch immer eine Partei welche sich noch Republikaner nennen wollen, jedoch von Anfang dieses Krieg es der Regierung opponierten weil dieselben den Krieg nicht ihnen Launen nach führten, keinen Vertilgungskrieg predigte, welche wollten dass man die weisse Bevölkerung des Südens ausrotten sollte um die Schwarzen frei zu machen, oh! die Mensenfreunde wie zärtlich, wie gefühlvoll..." (1862 January 30-31)

Less than a month after mustering in at Keokuk, still lacking some of the necessary equipment for life in the field, the 3rd Iowa was sent to northern Missouri to guard the Grand River Bridge and consolidate the region for the Union. Along with the 16th Illinois Infantry, the regiment experienced their first taste of civil war, thrown into an uncertain and confusing conflict, surrounded by civilians of unclear loyalty. After two weeks that featured a couple of minor forays and false alarms, and a few acts of sabotage, the regiment was ordered to Chillicothe, Ohio, to guard a supposedly vulnerable rail line, but in reality, to stagnate under the authoritarian, but ineffective command of their colonel, Nelson Williams. In August, once again in Missouri, resentment of the continuing poor conditions, Williams' authoritarianism, and the incompetence of the other officers nearly led to a mutiny among the men. Schroeder understood the causes of the unrest, though he felt many of the complaints were exaggerated, but was one of the men who helped to defuse the crisis. A few days later, he led a detachment of 70 men accompanying recruits to Fort Leavenworth, where he encountered some old German friends, now veterans, and hoisted a few beers to comrades fallen at Wilson's Creek.

Late in the summer, the situation in Missouri began to heat up. Schroeder approved of Frémont's controversial declaration of martial law and emancipation in the state. "Gut für Freemont," he wrote, "lasst euch nicht zu viel mit der Neger frage verführen, ich habe heute zu viele gesehen. Den Neger Trumpf spielen wir zuletzt aus wenn es nicht anders geht und dann gewinnen wir das Spiel doch" (1861 September 1). Over the next three weeks he had his taste of the trump card, as his regiment locked horns repeatedly with Confederate forces under Martin Green. Late in August, accompanied by remnants of the 2nd Kansas Infantry and a company of Missouri Home Guards, the 3rd Iowa took part in a skirmish near Kirksville, but continued their foray. Advancing to Paris on September 1, they ran into a superior force led by Green and were forced to withdraw to nearby Shelbina, where they hastily erected fortifications. After a bold initial attempt at resistance, however, they withdrew in panic and confusion, using a rail car as both transport and cover. At Blue Mills Landing on September 17, the small force was again defeated, once again through the ineptitude of inexperienced officers. Like many of his comrades, Schroeder fell into despair after Blue Mills Landing: "die Wahrheit zu sagen," he wrote, "bin ich genug müde in diesen Regimente, und wenn Niemand Anstalten macht dass ich heraus kommen, so werde ich mir selbst zu helfen suchen, denn solche Anordnung kann ich nicht über mein Herz bringen" (1861 September 26).

After this month of action, Schroeder and several officers were sent to Iowa to recruit the regiment back to full strength, and when they returned, they were ordered to Benton Barracks in St. Louis, for the winter. With Lieutenant Call taking a commission in a Missouri Cavalry Regiment, Schroeder was promoted to first Lieutenant in December, much to the glee of his company. He appears to have been well respected and genuinely liked by the men who served under him, and the staff officers above him indicated that they felt he, rather than the current captain, should even have led the company. During the late fall, though, this streak of good fortune ended as Schroeder fell ill with an unspecified complaint. While he said that he might be able to obtain a discharge as a result, his sense of duty would not allow him; "die Pflicht des Bürgers muss einem über Alles gehen," he insisted (1862 January 30-31). In March, the regiment was attached to the 1st Brigade of the 4th Division, Army of the Tennessee, under Stephen Hurlbut and was ordered to Pittsburg Landing, Tenn. Schroeder went along, but was apparently ill enough that he had to remain aboard ship during the Battle of Shiloh, where his regiment suffered nearly 190 casualties -- including their Colonel, who was disabled.

Schroeder accompanied his regiment as they pursued Confederate forces southward to Corinth, where they encamped under miserably wet and muddy conditions. What effect this exposure had on his condition is uncertain, but Schroeder died in late May or early June, 1862.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The 35 letters written by John Schroeder to his brother, James, between 1857 and 1862 provide a unique glimpse into the life of a German-American soldier during the Civil War. Never shy about speaking his mind, quick and opinionated, Schoeder's letters are an outstanding resource for understanding one man's motivations and attitudes, and provide some excellent accounts of the early months of the war in northern Missouri. As a series, they constitute a mini-regimental history of the 3rd Iowa Infantry from its origin in June, 1861, through the Battle of Shiloh in April, 1862. Every letter in the collection is written in old script German, however Schroeder's handwriting is excellent and easily legible. Neither transliterations nor translations are available.

Chronologically and topically, Schroeder's letters fall into two discrete clusters. Seven letters, written between May 22 and September 13, 1857, describe Schroeder's sojourn in Minnesota, working on a potato farm in Liberty, Blue Earth County. These letters include excellent, lengthy descriptions of the territory while it was organizing for statehood. A staunch Republican, Schroeder kept a close eye on the struggle for political control of the state, but he was also keenly interested in the development of the state in terms of building roads, markets, and cities, opening lands, and combatting and expelling Indians.

The remainder of the letters in the collection comprise a nearly complete run of correspondencefor the period of Schroeder's enlistment in the 3rd Iowa Infantry Regiment. These letters document the utter confusion and occasional turmoil surrounding the first regiments raised in the west, and the logistical problems caused by the stumbling rush into war-time production and the appointment of political cronies to leadership positions in the military. Having been a Captain in the Steuben Guard, apparently a militia unit in eastern Iowa, Schroeder was particularly resentful of being passed over for a commission in favor of less qualified -- ignorant -- Americans. The sting of discrimination irritated him, but never detered him.

Though nearly all of the letters are good, Schroeder was at his best during the months of July through September, when the 3rd Iowa were stationed in northern Missouri. His letters from this period include descriptions of engagements near Kirksville, Shelbina and Paris, and Blue Mills Landing, but of greater interest is the sense they give of the shifts in the morale of the regiment as they first enter "enemy" territory, as they taste battle for the first time, and as they first experience defeat. Throughout his correspondence, Schroeder is concerned with the abilities of his fellow soldiers -- both German and American, with the officers in his regiment, and with higher officers, including Frémont, Sigel, and Hurlbut.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • United States. Army. Iowa Infantry Regiment, 3rd (1861-1864)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, German American.
    • German American soldiers.
    • Iowa--Militia.
    • Minnesota--Politics and government--To 1858.
    • Shiloh, Battle of, Tenn., 1862.
    • United States. Army--Officers.
    • United States. Army--Pay, allowances, etc.
    • United States. Army--Recruiting, enlistment, etc.
    • United States. Army--Supplies and stores.
    Contributors:
    • Schroeder, John, d. 1862.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   66 Schoff Civil War Soldiers' Letters  
    John Schroeder papers,  1857 May 22-1862 July 08 [series]:
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Bibliography

    S. D. Thompson. Recollections with the Third Iowa Regiment (Cincinnati, 1864).

    Partial Subject Index
    African-Americans--Social conditions.
    • 1857 September 13
    Benton Barracks (St. Louis, Mo.)
    • 1861 December 1
    Blue Mills Landing, Battle of, 1861.
    • 1861 September 26
    Camps (Military)--Iowa.
    • 1861 June 8
    • 1861 June 13
    • 1861 June 23-25
    Camps (Military)--Missouri.
    • 1861 July 4
    • 1861 August 3
    Catholic Church--Minnesota.
    • 1857 September 13
    Catholics--Minnesota.
    • 1857 June 11-14
    Chillicothe (Ohio)--Description and travel.
    • 1861 July 22
    Clergy--Minnesota.
    • 1857 June 11-14
    Copperhead (Nickname)--Iowa.
    • 1862 January 30-31
    Corinth Campaign, 1862.
    • 1862 May 8
    Curtis, Samuel Ryan, 1817-1866.
    • 1861 June 13
    • 1861 June 28-29
    Death.
    • 1857 June 11-14
    • 1862 July 8
    Democratic Party--Minnesota.
    • 1857 June 11-14
    Duty.
    • 1862 January 30-31
    Elections--Iowa--1861.
    • 1861 July 22
    Food.
    • 1861 July 4
    Fort Leavenworth (Kans.)
    • 1861 August 11
    Fourth of July celebrations.
    • 1857 July 4
    • 1861 July 4
    Frémont, John Charles, 1813-1880.
    • 1861 September 1
    • 1861 December 1
    German-American soldiers.
    • 1861 June 13
    • 1861 August 11
    • 1861 August 21
    • 1861 September 26
    • 1861 November 4
    • 1861 December 21
    • 1862 January 30-31
    Green, Martin E., 1825-1863.
    • 1861 September 10
    Guard duty--Missouri.
    • 1861 July 4
    Herron, Francis Jay, 1837-1902.
    • 1861 June 28-29
    Hotels, taverns, etc.--Minnesota.
    • 1857 July 19
    Hurlbut, Stephen Augustus, 1815-1882.
    • 1861 September 10
    Indians of North America--Minnesota.
    • 1857 May 22
    • 1857 July 19
    Iowa--Politics and government--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1861 July 22
    Iowa. Militia.
    • 1861 July 4
    • 1861 August 1
    • 1861 August 21
    • 1861 September 26
    Kirksville (Mo.), Skirmish at, 1861.
    • 1861 September 1
    Lane, James Henry, 1814-1866.
    • 1861 August 11
    Laundry.
    • 1861 August 1
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
    • 1862 January 30-31
    Martial law--Missouri.
    • 1861 September 1
    Military discipline.
    • 1862 January 30-31
    Minnesota--Description and travel.
    • 1857 May 22
    • 1857 July 4
    Minnesota--Politics and government--To 1858.
    • 1857 June 11-14
    • 1857 July 19
    • 1857 September 13
    Missouri--Description and travel.
    • 1861 July 4
    Missouri--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1861 July 15
    Morale.
    • 1861 August 21
    • 1861 September 26
    • 1861 November 4
    Mothers--Death.
    • 1857 June 11-14
    Mud.
    • 1862 May 8
    Mutiny.
    • 1861 August 11
    Paris (Mo.)--Description and travel.
    • 1861 September 10
    Prisoners of War--Confederate States of America.
    • 1861 September 1
    Prostitutes.
    • 1862 January 30-31
    Radical Republicans.
    • 1861 December 1
    Railroads--Minnesota.
    • 1857 July 4
    Republican Party--Minnesota.
    • 1857 June 11-14
    Saint Paul (Minn.)--Description and travel.
    • 1857 July 19
    Schroeder, John, d. 1862--Death.
    • 1862 July 8
    Shelbina (Mo.), Skirmish at, 1861.
    • 1861 September 10
    Shiloh, Battle of, 1862.
    • 1862 April 8
    • 1862 April 22
    Sigel, Franz, 1824-1902.
    • 1862 April 27
    Slavery.
    • 1857 September 13
    Slavery and the church.
    • 1857 September 13
    Slavery--Emancipation--Missouri.
    • 1861 September 1
    Southern sympathizers--Missouri.
    • 1861 July 15
    Speculation--Minnesota.
    • 1857 May 22
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Health aspects.
    • 1862 January 30-31
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, German.
    • passim
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Women.
    • 1861 August 1
    United States. Army--Barracks and quarters.
    • 1861 December 1
    United States. Army--Non-commissioned officers.
    • 1861 June 13
    United States. Army--Officers.
    • 1861 June 23-25
    • 1861 June 28-29
    • 1861 July 4
    • 1861 July 22
    • 1861 August 11
    • 1861 August 21
    • 1861 September 26
    • 1861 December 9
    • 1862 January 30-31
    United States. Army--Pay, allowances, etc.
    • 1861 June 23-25
    • 1861 June 28-29
    • 1861 August 3
    United States. Army--Promotions.
    • 1861 August 21
    • 1861 December 1
    United States. Army--Recruiting, enlistment, etc.
    • 1861 June 8
    • 1861 June 23-25
    • 1861 October 30
    United States. Army--Supplies and stores.
    • 1861 June 13
    • 1861 June 23-25
    • 1861 June 28-29
    • 1861 July 22
    • 1861 August 1
    United States. Army--Uniforms.
    • 1861 July 22
    • 1861 December 1
    Williams, Nelson G., b. 1823.
    • 1861 August 11
    • 1861 August 21
    • 1861 December 9