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My great-grandfather emigrated from Hanover, Germany in 1859 on his 19th birthday at the behest of his parents to avoid being conscripted by the Prussian Army. He made his way by himself via Ellis Island to Chicago which had a large German community where a number of his uncles, aunts, and cousins lived. Two years later he enlisted in the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War after being paid by a rich merchant to take the place of his son who had been drafted (which was legal at the time). Below the fold is more of this story about my great-grandfather, the irony of my great-grandfather fleeing the military at home only to end up fighting here as part of the bloodiest war in American history, my own musings about my great-grandfather and that unknown rich merchant's son whose father managed to buy out (legally) his son from having to serve in the Civil War, and how that part of my family history negatively colors any personal respect or admiration I might have for Mitt Romney (and others like him in the 1%).

In 1840 my great-grandfather was born to a farming family near Hanover in the northern part of Germany. He worked on his father's farm, attended school, and at the age of 14 became a baker's apprentice. As he turned 19, he and his family received word that he was about to be conscripted into the Prussian Army. I don't know much about the history between that part of Germany and Prussia, but apparently his family was part of a group of Germans from that region who disliked the Prussians greatly (maybe "hated" is a better word). So on his 19th birthday, his parents arranged for him to emigrate to the United States to avoid serving in the Prussian Army. This was apparently a fairly common practice for that region where sons who were called for conscription by the Prussians were aided by their families to leave Germany for the United States. This would be similar to fleeing to Canada to avoid being drafted by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. But for my great-grandfather and his family this would be a one-way trip. My great-grandfather never returned to Germany or saw his parents (or they him) ever again, although they surely corresponded regularly. I often wonder what it was like for my great-grandfather to travel all by himself to a strange new land which spoke a language he couldn't fully comprehend. I wonder what it must have been like for his parents to say goodbye to him, forever. I wonder how a child of today (or even myself) would survive on a similar journey at that age like my great-grandfather was forced to undertake. I wonder about many things.

(Now allow me to digress a moment. I have a neighbor who was born in Munich and became a German war bride right after WWII. Several years ago, my wife and I made our first trip to Germany, particularly to visit Munich and the opening day of Oktoberfest. I asked my neighbor whether I should take a side trip to Hanover to visit the region of my ancestors. She said don't bother because that's "the bad part of Germany"—according to her the south and west of Germany were "the good parts", and the north and east were "the bad parts" (with a few exceptions like Berlin and Dresden). Of course I think she might have a slight bias since Munich is in "the good part" of Germany, but after consulting several guide books that didn't exactly describe Hanover very glowingly either, we skipped Hanover and spent the extra time in Munich and Oktoberfest, which I can only describe as 10,000 amazed Americans watching 200,000 drunk Germans. It was a lot of fun which I highly recommend. Maybe Hanover will be on the next trip. We now return to the story in progress.)

After landing at Ellis Island, my great-grandfather made his way to Chicago which had a large German community with instructions from his parents on how to find various uncles, aunts and cousins there who would help him find housing and a job and become familiar with life in America in the late 1850's. We're not sure what he did for the first two years in Chicago. But we know he did learn English because the next thing we know about my great-grandfather is that he enlisted in the Union Army in 1861. We also know that he was paid some unknown amount of money by a rich Chicago merchant to enlist in the place of the merchant's son who was drafted to fight in the Civil War. This also was a perfectly legal and fairly common practice at the time to those who had enough money and could find someone who would be willing to be paid to take the draftee's place. And apparently there were those poor enough (like my great-grandfather) and those rich enough (like the merchant) that finding takers wasn't all that difficult. Again during this time the Civil War draft was quite unpopular in many cities in the North and there were many Draft Riots in various places in the North—think of the war protests and draft card burnings during the Vietnam War. We don't know the name of the merchant or the name of the merchant's son or the profession of the merchant (although some in my family speculate he might have owned some bakeries). This unknown merchant and unknown merchant's son and their relationship and history with my great-grandfather enters my meditative and nostalgic thoughts and has definitely colored my opinion of people like them, including Mitt Romney. But I shall return to this later.

So in 1861 my great-grandfather enlists in Company H, 3rd Illinois Cavalry and joins the Civil War on the Union side in what will become the bloodiest war in U.S. history. My family and I often comment about the astounding and perplexing irony of my great-grandfather leaving his native country to avoid serving in the Prussian Army only to join the Union Army two years later in a war that will be worse than anything going on in Germany or Prussia at the same time. Fate sure has one twisted sense of humor. It's one of the ironies of life that keeps me scratching my head and wondering what are the odds of that. I also wonder what my great-grandfather's parents thought when they undoubtedly received word from him that he had joined the Union Army as the Civil War was just getting underway. Did they think, better the Union Army than the Prussian Army? Or that my great-grandfather must be touched in the head after all that trouble we went through to get him out of the country and away from the Prussian Army and now this! All I know is that life can be amazingly strange and unpredictable.

So my great-grandfather joins the 3rd Illinois Calvary in 1861. We also know that he brought his own horse with him (valued at $115) and that he had to buy his cavalry saddle from the Army (for $32). We suspect he used some of the money the merchant paid him to buy that horse since my great-grandfather never had a lot of money. We also think that he planned to use that horse on the farm that he hoped to buy after the war ended (if he made it out alive, which he obviously did since I'm around telling his story here). My great-grandfather fought until the end of the Civil War and achieved a rank of Sergeant. He fought in numerous engagements including the battle of Pea Ridge (Arkansas), the battle of Nashville, and with Gen. U.S. Grant at the Siege of Vicksburg. (I've actually visited the national battlefield park at Vicksburg and found the commemorative monument for Illinois and for the 3rd Illinois Cavalry within.) During these battles he had two horses shot out from under him (his own and a replacement provided by the Army), so he definitely was in the midst of some pitched and bloody battles.

When my great-grandfather was finally mustered out of the Army in 1865, he had saved most of his 4 years of Army pay and received his final salary and severance pay, an Army pension, and $115 for the horse that he had brought with him that was killed in action. He returned briefly to Chicago where he met and married my great-grandmother, who interestingly was also from Hanover but who my great-grandfather never knew until they met and married in Chicago—another amazing and ironic twist of fate. My great-grandfather's life just seems to attract irony. Together with the money that the merchant had paid him to serve for his son, my great-grandfather and his new wife headed west from Chicago and they eventually bought 200 acres of rolling black fecund land in southwest Iowa (for $12.50 an acre) which became the farm that is still in my family today (though now considerably expanded from the 200 acres he originally purchased).  My brother and his son now farm that same land that has been in the family for 5 generations, and my brother's son and his wife have two young boys with expectations that the farm will continue at least through the 6th generation. The typical large white Victorian-style Iowa farmhouse that my great-grandfather built in 1884 for $2,000 (after living previously in an adjacent two-room structure that is now used as a granary) is now occupied by my brother, and will be occupied by his son after him. The original barn that my great-grandfather built is still standing and in use, and his old cavalry saddle still hangs in that barn. There are other out-buildings and sheds that my great-grandfather built still standing (although some other buildings have disappeared) as well as a tornado shelter/potato cellar my great-grandfather dug below ground that my brother and his family still use when the weather turns dark and foreboding as it does at this time of year. My great-grandparents also had 10 children (2 of whom died in childhood), lots of grandchildren, and a horde of great-grandchildren such that I'm directly related to least one-third of the residents of my small German-Swedish hometown and community of 5,000 near our family farm.

Now most of this information about my great-grandfather was compiled by an aunt of mine who was very interested in (or some in my family say crazy about) genealogy.  She collected old family pictures, newspaper clippings, got copies of many of my great-grandfather's Army records including his Volunteer Enlistment form, Company Muster Rolls from the 3rd Ill. Cav., and Army discharge and pension records. She talked to many family members about their memories and experiences and made family trees. And then she methodically organized all this information and produced a wonderful book about our family history starting with my great-grandfather and great-grandmother that she Xeroxed and made copies of for every member she could find of my great extended family. The work she put into it was immense, but the value is immeasurable. Those Xeroxed pages bound into a simple binder are a family treasure to me.

So now we fast-forward around 110 years later to 1971. I'm in my Senior year at Iowa State University. Of course this was during the time of another bloody war, the Vietnam War. For those whippersnappers out there (and get off my lawn), we had a draft at that time and the way you found out if you were going to be drafted was via a "draft lottery". Each year, all the dates were put into a big drum, and dates were randomly selected in sequence like in Bingo (but the prize was not a $5 transistor radio, but an "invitation" to serve in the U.S. Army—slight difference). The earlier the date selected that matched your birthday the more likely you were to be conscripted, and the later the date selected the less likely (with date #1 matching your birthday being 100% likely, and date #366 being 0% likely). So when my birthday got picked in the #13 slot, my heart went into my throat because that made it dead certain that if I didn't do something, I would be conscripted into the Army the day after I graduated and then most likely sent to fight on the ground in Vietnam. In fact, my father contacted my local draft board and found out that's exactly what they were planning to do—they were going to send me my draft papers the day after I graduated. That was the only lottery I have ever "won" in my life—and the only one I didn't want to win. Now I definitely did not want to serve in the Army, so what to do. I could go to Canada like many others did (and guided by the example of my great-grandfather). But that was not for me—I couldn't do that. The other way out was to sign up for some other branch of service before graduation, and that's what I did. With degree close at hand, I signed up to become an officer in the U.S. Navy.

So in the fall of 1971 I was at the Navy's Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport, RI and six months later was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy. I then went to Navy Supply Corps school in Athens, GA, and from there became a supply officer on the commissioning crew of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, which was being built at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company right across Hampton Roads from the largest Navy base in the world, Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. I remained on the USS Nimitz through its building and was a member of its illustrious crew when it was finally commissioned in 1975. Also in 1975, with the commissioning of the USS Nimitz I had completed my required service and was released from active duty and went on to graduate school at Cornell University to begin the next chapter in my life.

Although I never served in combat, my four years in the U.S. Navy were a very influential period in my life. I have written previous diaries here about some of my Navy experiences, so you can read those to learn more details. I feel honored to have served my country in the military (and especially the U.S. Navy—sorry Army, no offense—but there's something about the Navy for some of us growing up far from oceans, like for Chester W. Nimitz from Fredericksburg, TX). And I take pride in my service now even though I was actually coerced into it at the time, kind of like how I think my great-grandfather possibly felt about his service with the 3rd Ill. Cav. in 1861-65. In fact, looking back if I had gotten a draft number in the 300s so that I wouldn't have been drafted, I know that back then I would not have signed up for military service voluntarily. And I know today that I would not be the same man I am today. I'd be less of a man, I'd be less rich (in the emotional sense), less disciplined, and less brave (the military is a place for learning to face and overcome fear, with varying degrees of success). My time in the U.S. Navy is now something I rely on and treasure—something that's now an intrinsic part of me. Everyone who knows me knows I've always got a Navy story to apply to almost any situation. Some of you certainly have fathers or brothers or uncles like that too—and feel awed and fortunate by that (and occasionally embarrassed too—we tend to have an expanded vocabulary).

So now I come to how this history of my great-grandfather and my own experience in the U.S. Navy has affected negatively my opinion of Mitt Romney (and others like him in the 1%). And for those who have stayed with me this far, I say Thank You—just hang on for a little bit more, I'm nearly done. When I think about Mitt Romney, I think about the rich merchant's son. This son who was called to serve his country, but whose rich father just bought out someone else to serve in his son's stead. And that seems to me to be a metaphor for Mitt Romney's whole life (and that of the 1%). I think about how strong my great-grandfather had to be and how his Civil War experience changed him and probably made him even stronger, disciplined, brave, and determined. And I think about how Mitt Romney might be different if he had some of the traits that those of us who have served seem to have. Now I'm not saying that military service should be required for everyone, or even for those who seek public office. And military service is not a panacea either, just look at George W. Bush, Joseph McCarthy, or Allen West. But I'm talking about Mitt Romney in particular. Mitt Romney seems to have no backbone whatsoever. He'll say anything he thinks people want to hear. And to me that's bullshit—and the military is a place where bullshit is not tolerated and is quickly sniffed out (at least in the ranks) and the bullshitter exposed and straightened out. So I think military service would have done Mitt Romney personally a world of good. But in his 1% world, wealthy people don't join the military, and unfortunately that's as true today as it was in my great-grandfather's time (though WWII might be a partial exception). How many of the CEOs in Mitt Romney's 1% world of friends have served in the military? Undoubtedly the Harvard Business or Law School is a very good place, but you can also learn important things from Camp Lejune, or the USS Nimitz, or Fort Leonard Wood that you won't learn from Harvard. Why can't it be both Camp Lejune and Harvard—there's no law against that. And maybe you'll learn something in both places that will double the respect and esteem you will earn from the world.

Perhaps another way to say what I'm feeling is that undergoing a time of difficulty and tribulation can make you a stronger, better, more determined person if you'll let it (and if it doesn't kill you, a la Nietzsche). Now military service is certainly difficult and trying, but it can also strengthen your character. But the military isn't the only way to do this. Those who suffered through the Great Depression built enough character to last a lifetime. Those raised in trying circumstances can overcome those circumstances and thrive (or can also be overwhelmed and lost). That's one reason (of many) that I respect and admire President Obama even though he didn't serve in the military. He was raised with an absent father by a mother who died young and then by his grandmother—that wouldn't be easy for anyone. After President Obama graduated from Harvard Law and went to the University of Chicago to teach for a while, he left all that to become a community organizer, not the most lucrative or power-laden of professions. But President Obama has a strength of character forged from facing and overcoming trying circumstances. President Obama had the credentials to join a large lucrative law firm or a big business and make millions with board room wheeling and dealing, or by finding, writing, or exploiting various legal loopholes. But he didn't do that.

And that brings me (surprise) to Mitt Romney. When I look at Mitt Romney I don't see anything there. And what little I can see, I don't like. I don't see strength of character, I don't see the will to do what is right regardless of cost, I just see...emptiness. Mitt Romney spent even more time at Harvard Law (and Business) School than President Obama, and followed a completely different business path post-Harvard that is now well known (at least to the non-fact-averse). I don't think Mitt Romney has ever had a truly difficult, dangerous, or trying moment in his whole existence (also like George W. Bush in my opinion). And if he ever did face a situation he might consider difficult or trying, I think his first response would be, how do I buy my way out of this problem. Kind of like the rich merchant and his son facing the Civil War draft. That money can solve a difficult situation. That if it's legal it must be right. And I don't respect that philosophy one bit.

Ultimately, when I see Mitt Romney I see that rich merchant's son that my great-grandfather replaced when push came to shove—rich, privileged, pampered, protected. Someone who hasn't been forced to travel up the river of tribulation and peer into his own heart of darkness. And no, learning French to evangelize from a manse in France doesn't cut it with me—ooh, l'horreur, l'horreur. Where is Mitt Romney's hero with a thousand faces? When I see Mitt Romney, I see T. S. Eliot's hollow man:

"We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;"
When I see Mitt Romney, I see Shakespeare's (and Faulkner's) "... a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". That is what I see when I see Mitt Romney. I'd rather see my great-grandfather.

So in conclusion I contemplate the situation of the unknown merchant and his son purchased from harm's way. I wonder more about the son than the merchant—the merchant is trying to protect his son which any father would try to do. But what did the son feel about his father buying his safety? Did they ever meet my great-grandfather in Chicago after the Civil War? I would think that had to have happened at least one time. Did the son notice how my great-grandfather had changed (and he had to have changed after facing the red heat of Civil War battles, having horses shot out from under him and realizing how close to death he came). Did the son think about how he himself had changed over the same course of the preceding 4 years? Did the son ever think about how he different he would be if it had been him in the 3rd Ill. Cav. instead of my great-grandfather? Did he have any regrets; and if so, how long did they haunt him, or not at all? And I think the same thing about Mitt Romney and myself, especially since we're similar ages. If he had undergone what I did, how different would Mitt Romney be from how he is now (like I know how different I myself became)? Would he be more understanding of those facing difficulty themselves? But he hasn't of course, and I don't think he has fared as well because of that, in my humble opinion. That's the main reason I don't feel inspired by or in admiration of Mitt Romney—in fact about Mitt Romney, I see nothing and feel nothing but maybe a little sorrow.

I've often thought that my great-grandfather and the rich merchant's son could make for an interesting and metaphor-rich story, either short, novella, or even novel. I keep thinking things through and developing more ideas (though they're usually more in the form of questions at this point). Hopefully some day I'll have enough in my mind to sit down and start writing this out for real. I think my aunt (RIP) would enjoy that. Maybe this is the beginning. Thank you again for persevering with me to the bitter end, such as it is.

Originally posted to dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 07:34 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Genealogy and Family History Community, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Excellent diary! (23+ / 0-)

    Really well presented!  I'm glad you made lemonade out of your lottery number -- mine was #220, so I just waited (nervously for the last three months of 1971) and when nothing happened I went on with my life too.

    tipped, recced and republished to History for Kossacks, and I can use this story in my US to 1865 course, because some years "hiring a substitute" doesn't register correctly.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:07:18 AM PDT

    •  Be my guest. (6+ / 0-)

      My great-grandfather had an interesting life. Too bad I never got a chance to meet him in person, he was gone before I was born. Plus I would never have known all this about him if it wasn't for my aunt, please her heart.

      Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

      by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:30:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Just one little thing dewtx (16+ / 0-)

        I thought you might want to know, that your Great Grandfather came in through Castle Gardens Immigration Center in 1859.

        I knew this because my Father's parents immigrated late 1800's and my Mother told me about Castle Garden(s).

        Castle Garden From August 1, 1855 through April 18, 1890, immigrants arriving in the state of New York came through Castle Garden.

        America's first official immigrant examining and processing center, Castle Garden welcomed approximately 8 million immigrants - most from Germany, Ireland, England, Scotland, Sweden, Italy, Russia and Denmark.

        Ellis Island

        Ellis Island is an island in New York Harbor and was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States as the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954.

        I just thought you might want to know. Great diary btw.

        Brought To You By That Crazed Sociologist/Media Fanatic rebel ga Be The Change You Want To See In The World! Gandhi

        by rebel ga on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:49:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks, I didn't know that. (9+ / 0-)

          The thing we know for sure is that he left Germany by ship for New York in 1859 and ended up in Chicago some time later. So Ellis Island was the assumption, but never thought about the fact (new to me) that the Ellis Island facility didn't even exist in 1859. Thank you ever so much for this valuable piece of new information. This is exciting and I will also let my family know. I'll be checking the passenger lists there to find my great-grandfather--maybe my aunt knew, but I didn't pick up on that.

          Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

          by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 09:06:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Your great grandfather's story and mine (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            rebel ga, dewtx, raster44, flowerfarmer

            are so very similar. Left Germany the same year - probably of a similar age, too - to avoid the Prussian draft.

            Our last name got changed by the good folks either at Castle Garden or some other port....

            "I can't do it by myself. No president can. Remember: Change doesn't happen from the top. It happens because of you." B Obama, 2008

            by nzanne on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 11:15:55 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Us too nzanne. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              dewtx, raster44

              My Mother always said she thought that they changed my Grandfather's last name too.

              They did that a lot. Whatever it sounded like, they wrote down.

              Brought To You By That Crazed Sociologist/Media Fanatic rebel ga Be The Change You Want To See In The World! Gandhi

              by rebel ga on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 11:58:16 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  They changed my great-grandfather's first name (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              rebel ga

              to the English equivalent, but left the last name alone since it was very common and simple (although it is spelled in different common variations among the documents in my aunt's volume).

              Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

              by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 12:53:14 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Your Welcome dewtx. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            dewtx, raster44

            Glad to be able to help. I wouldn't have known either except my Mother told me about it.

            Brought To You By That Crazed Sociologist/Media Fanatic rebel ga Be The Change You Want To See In The World! Gandhi

            by rebel ga on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 11:55:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Castle Gardens (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dewtx, rebel ga

          Not all Prussians came through NY.  My Pomeranian (Prussian) ancestors came through Canada to Detroit and on to Wisconsin in 1856.  The huge number of immigrants came through many American and Canadian ports.

          Like yours and mine, many families' oral histories state that they fled to avoid being forced to serve in the Prussian military, but scholars have shown that to be rarely the case. Most mid-century immigrants came for economic reasons.  A number of 'Old Lutherans' also came for religious reasons.  

          Prussia was a feudal society until the 19th century, and many inhabitants were little more than serfs, so military service could be a way of improving their life.  But, during the 19th century, the area suffered climate and political upheaval, making their lives even more miserable.

          Three of my great great-grandmother's immigrant brothers served in the Civil War, because they, too, received what was called 'bounty' money.   Wisconsin fielded many German-language Civil War units.  

          Yours is a good story, and makes a great point about our rich White-boy presidential hopefuls (and presidents), whether or not your ancestor was evading service in the Prussian army.

          •  Some Who Immigrated To America (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            were recruited (or drafted, not sure) for the Civil War right on the docks off the ships as they arrived.

            Yes many immigrants came in from Canada and other ports too.

            But if they came in at New York when dewtx's Great Grandfather did. They had to come through Castle Garden.

            Brought To You By That Crazed Sociologist/Media Fanatic rebel ga Be The Change You Want To See In The World! Gandhi

            by rebel ga on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 06:12:19 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  My draft number was 52 in 1971- but I was (5+ / 0-)

      fortunate that, through incredible blind luck, I failed my draft physical.

      Curiously, at the time of the draft, unbeknownst to me, I was eligible for Canadian citizenship as one set of my Grandparents were born in Quebec (though their parents were born in the US!), but I was unaware of my rights to a Canadian passport at the time. I wonder what I would have done had I known at the time? Anyway I escaped the draft because a military physician agreed that I had asthma bad enough to preclude me from service.

      "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens," -Friedrich Schiller "Against Stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in Vain"

      by pengiep on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 10:39:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I had a 2-S deferment for the first 2 years of (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dewtx, ladybug53

        college. The draft lottery came in during my junior year. My number was above #200, so I wrote my local draft board and renounced my 2-S. Why did I give up my coveted draft deferment? Because I always thought the student deferment was unfair. I could afford to give it up because, in my view, I had "won" the lottery.

        I spent the year 1971 1-A, but since my number never came up, I became 1-H at the start of 1972. A 1-H could only be called up in the event of a grave national emergency.

        I was one of the lucky ones, although I agree that military service might have been good for me too. Until recent years I've been terribly disorganized. About a decade ago I discovered an obvious solution: assign a place for everything and put it there. Also I use my smart phone to keep appointments. I would have mastered personal organization much sooner in life if I'd been in military service. But I have no regrets. It just doesn't pay to look back.

        "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here:

        by Kimball Cross on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 12:47:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  great diary, and (13+ / 0-)

    excellent story of how the past and and your own personal stories relate. Republished to the genealogy & family history group.

    My paternal grandfather had his high draft number purchased by a rich man's son ... this would have been in the early 1890s Netherlands when it was a matter of not so much fear of going to war but just not wanting to be bothered ... while for my grandfather the money was survival (no jobs).

    I like your idea of developing the story of your g-grandfather's story into something longer ... the story of real people is great material.

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by klompendanser on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:22:37 AM PDT

    •  Thank you. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      klompendanser, JeffW, raster44

      I've been thinking about him for a while now, but only recently have ideas and themes started to coalesce in my mind (as you can see here). It takes a bit of time for a seed to germinate, so I'm going to keep it growing and see where it goes.

      Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

      by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:34:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice story and a great slice of US history. (11+ / 0-)

    My husband's draft number was 361. He used to joke that they took women and children before him. On the other hand, he was all set to enlist but his father, who was a career army colonel, strongly urged him not to. He had served through WW2 and Korea and retired rather than serve through the Vietnam War. He somehow saw the writing on the wall that it was not going to go well (I guess he knew a lot of the top brass and was not convinced they knew what they were getting into).

    A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. - Greek proverb

    by marleycat on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:32:08 AM PDT

  •  Thinking and wondering, in the right hands, is a (8+ / 0-)

    wonderful thing, as demonstrated by you.  It is unlikely (I believe) that the merchant's son had the ability to introspect to the degree that you wish.  Honest introspection usually develops as a result of difficult life experiences.  He didn't experience those as far as you know.  Pampered and protected indeed.

    Cats are better than therapy, and I'm a therapist.

    by Smoh on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:43:40 AM PDT

  •  great diary.... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dewtx, raster44, ladybug53

    Very interesting and beautifully written.
    My grandfather also left Germany (Worms) after being orphaned, to live with relatives in New York.
    The interesting part of his emigration/immigration was that his father came to the US during the gold rush years (he worked in a general mercantile store as well as panned for gold) and became a citizen. My great-grandfather never found gold and went home to Germany to marry his sweetheart.  But he was a US citizen.  And his son (my grandfather) had a choice of citizenship and he chose to be a US citizen (and from all I ever heard about him (he died well before I was born), he was extraordinarily proud of his US citizenship and very patriotic to his adopted land).

    I think, therefore I am........................... Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose AKA Engine Nighthawk - don't even ask!

    by Lilyvt on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 11:16:00 AM PDT

  •  Why conscription into the Prussian army? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dewtx, raster44

    Hanover wasn't annexed by Prussia until 1866.

    •  I don't know. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      That's what has come down through my family history. Maybe it was some other entity conscripting young men around Hanover at that time that my family didn't like. Now you've gotten me even more curious. What we do know for sure is that my great-grandfather beat a hasty departure from Germany with the help of his family in 1859. All this was written down by my aunt in the volume she compiled, but was most likely based on oral history from older relatives.

      I'll try to pursue this further, but everyone who contributed that part of the history to my aunt's volume are now long gone (including my aunt). Maybe I'll have to treat this now as legend rather than fact. And a sincere thank you for this information, it's always helpful to separate fact from fiction. And family histories can be rife with both.

      Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

      by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 11:49:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oral traditions (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dewtx, raster44

      Oral traditions tend to acquire minor wrinkles like that over a century and a half. My guess is that it was after 1866. It would make sense to leave the country to avoid being drafted into the army of the people who had just annexed your country (if the Kingdom of Hannover really counts as a 'country').

      •  This is definitely true. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        But my aunt had copies of actual U.S. Army records showing my great-grandfather joined the 3rd Ill. Cav. on Aug. 13, 1861. My best guess would be that he hurriedly left Germany because of some other "enemy" that then morphed into the Prussians in the family history. No doubt my family had no love for the Prussians after 1866, which perhaps colored later (and earlier) recollected events.

        Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

        by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 12:21:02 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh yeah, Civil War... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          When I made my "guess", I forgot about the Civil War component...

          The Kingdom of Hannover in was bordered on either side by Prussian lands (see this map, for example), so "near Hannover" could easily have been Prussian land. It could also have been in a smaller state like the Duchy of Braunschweig, which as a small Prussian ally could easily have forced its citizens to enlist in the Prussian army (the Duke at the time had actually served in the Prussian army before inheriting his title). So yeah, if you think about it, the story is actually entirely plausible.

          •  Yeah, a farm "near" Hanover could leave some (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RLF, ladybug53

            wiggle room. All I know is that he was raised on a farm and that the farm was "near" Hanover (meaning that Hanover was probably the largest nearby city). The actual location of that farm is now unknown, and how "near" it was to Hanover is also unknown.

            By the way, my great-grandfather's documents use the spelling "Hannover" which was the German spelling at the time. "Hanover" is what it's called now on the English-based maps that I've looked at recently. Like "München" in German, and "Munich" in English. When we visited Munich, I noticed a lot the signs that had Bayern for the local football (i.e. soccer) club and asked what Bayern meant, and was told it's what we call Bavaria in English. Boy did I feel like a dolt especially coming from a German family, but they were very kind about it. Isn't comparing place names in different languages a lot of fun!

            Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

            by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:21:14 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  In the 1850s, Hanover had a very unpopular (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dewtx, ladybug53

          king who was constantly feuding with his parliament and was constantly trying to undermine its authority. His name was George V of Hanover. I suspect your ancestor's refusal to be drafted into the Hanoverian Army, commanded by an unpopular king, was the reason he left, but that's only a guess.

          After Prussia annexed Hanover, the tale got altered retroactively to put Hanover in Prussia before 1859.

          It doesn't take many generations for a family tradition to get distorted. President Obama's maternal grandfather took part in the liberation of Oraduhr, one of the satellite camps of the notorious Buchenwald, but in only two generations, it was altered to the even more notorious Auschwitz. Since it was known what division the grandfather served in, it was quickly corrected in the media.

          "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here:

          by Kimball Cross on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:04:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Wow! Thank you. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            That could be it. That's one reason I love DailyKos, it's filled with so many knowledgeable and intelligent members. I'm learning so much more that I didn't know by reading all these insightful comments on this diary...and I wrote this diary! Thanks all.

            Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

            by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:32:04 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  good diary but your (6+ / 0-)

    saying that George W Bush served is off the mark. He did a variation of what the merchant's son did with your great grandfather. He used political pull to get into a unit that had no chance of going to Vietnam. Serving on weekends is not the same as active duty and certainly not the same as serving in a combat zone. Todays reserves are in no way the same as 40 years ago. They get to repeatedly serve combat tours.
       GW used political pull to get out of going to a war he publicly supported and someone had to go in his place. This makes him more venal than the merchants son in your story if the son was against the war

    Join the War on Thinking. Watch Fox News- John Lucas

    by Jlukes on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 11:29:51 AM PDT

  •  My German great-grandfather (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dewtx, raster44

    was born in Odessa, Russia.  He and his brothers and sisters (and the brothers-in-law) came to this country to avoid being conscripted into the army.

    My great-grandmother was his first wife.  She died shortly after giving birth when she was (I think) 36.  One family story that makes me proud is that her father founded the Immanuel Lutheran Church.

    The widower my great-grandfather shortly became a scandal and a hissing to the neighbors - though he did marry two (and possibly three) of the subsequent women.  He also won the custody battle over the baby that was born just before my great-grandmother died.  My Aunt Gladys ended up being sent to relatives in New Orleans, rather than being raised by the local relatives who didn't think a white baby could survive the climate in New Orleans.  Family history in the early 1900s was quite interesting.

    Strength and dignity are her clothing, she rejoices at the days to come; She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue.

    by loggersbrat on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 12:07:54 PM PDT

    •  That's the same name of the Lutheran Church (0+ / 0-)

      that my family attended for generations in Iowa. What a coincidence. And aren't family histories interesting! I haven't run into any real black sheep in my family history, but certainly lots of "interesting characters". Now my grandmother on my father's side, she was a real corker!

      Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

      by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 12:28:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have an ancestor who, according to family (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dewtx, ladybug53

        tradition, was a Hessian who "changed sides" during the Revolution. I did some research on the "Hessian mercenaries" of the American Revolution a few years ago, and found that since most were drafted (more precisely "press-ganged") from ne'er-do-wells and ex-convicts, the Hessians decided to just strand them in the new world at the end of the war.

        The latter story may be true, but the side-switching version is preferred because it gives more credit to my ancestor.

        "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here:

        by Kimball Cross on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:07:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I may have one of those Hessian (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dewtx, ladybug53

          deserters in my tree who eventually joined the American side ... I obtained an excerpt from this work, and transcripts of the German parish records of a man with the same age and a slightly different spelling of the name of the ancestor in question, who suddenly just shows up in American records a couple of years after the war started:

          "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

          by klompendanser on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:26:39 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  A tale of two world views (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dewtx, flowerfarmer, ladybug53, melo

    the draft lottery. My brother, 18 months older, had a very low number. Mine was 311. He also volunteered for the Navy to avoid the jungles of 'Nam. He had incredible experiences, went to the Mediterranean, and since he spoke good french, and some Italian, he was quite popular with his shipmates.

    However, he nurses a great resentment about the 6 years he "lost" and is to this day judgmental and harsh in his dealings, and pretty short on compassion. (and don't mention minorities or gays in his presence)

    They wouldn't have sent me to fight. Bad eyesight and a tendency to get lost would have kept me physically safe, but they didn't ask, and I didn't volunteer, but then, i was a hippy guitar player, so it wasn't really an option.

    Perhaps the discipline would have done me good, and certainly I would be hard pressed to come up with a less lucrative life than I have had. But I don't carry a lot of hate or resentment, and I've learned a lot about being human here on the poor side of, well, every town I've lived in.

    My point if I must have one, is that I respect everyone's path, and hope that we all can glean what we need from where we've been. And thanks for an interesting story. BTW, my Grandpa and his 4 brothers did come thru Ellis island, from the Marche in Italy. And I didn't realize until many years later what courage it took to uproot and start over, but I think I'm glad they did.

    •  When I was released from active duty in 1975, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I was definitely very pissed-off for a few years after about those "wasted" years from 1971-75. That might have been one of the contributing factors (of many) to my first divorce.

      But after a few years of anger, I realized that I had learned and gained something of value from that experience in spite of (and maybe partly due to) all the pain and tribulation of military service. Mainly the people I worked with there were wonderful, no better people anywhere, and that is what really made it worthwhile.

      Plus I realized that no matter how angry you get, the past is over and done with and you can't ever change it, so it's better to just accept the past as the past, and take the best that you can from it and just get on with life. Maybe that's called "maturity". I have definitely become more live-and-let-live as the years have flown by, and I now look back on my military years with more gratitude than rancor.

      Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

      by dewtx on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 02:30:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Your story (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I loved your story! My 84 year old Dad has done a lot of family history in the US and Austria to find out what the life was like back then. I find this fascinating.

    My paternal grandmother was born in Humboldt County, CA in 1898, but her parents were from Austria. She never really lost the Germanic roots, even though she was born here and lived in San Jose, CA most of her adult life.  I remember her combing our her hair, braiding it and putting in a circle on her head. It was an "ice box" and "kettle" not refrigerator or pot. The difference in just a couple of generations was truly stunning.

    She looked like the mother from the Katzenjammer Kids, complete with rolling pin, but she had a heart of gold. She was embarrassed by the following story, but she got whipped by her uncles for going to the victory parade in Eureka, CA in 1918. "The wrong side won", according to the Austrian uncles.

    She made it until 1995, which allowed my daughter (her great grand daughter) to get to know her before she kind of lost it. I still miss her even today, she'd be 114 if she was still alive.

    Thank you for your contribution!

    •  You're welcome. (0+ / 0-)

      I so glad you enjoyed my story. Every extended family needs someone like my aunt who found, collected, organized, and distributed all this interesting information. Best wishes to your Dad.

      Liberals think the glass is half-full. Conservatives think the glass is theirs.

      by dewtx on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 07:15:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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