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.