Our Nation's Capital's Historic German-American Cemetery
Prospect Hill Cemetery opened just a couple of years before the outbreak of the Civil War. Before the War's end, nearly 180,000 German immigrants nationwide enlisted and fought as soldiers, almost totally on the Union side.
Some saw the war to save the Union as their second fight for freedom, a continuation of the German Revolution of 1848-49, especially since some of their leaders —Carl Schurz, Friedrich Hecker, Franz Sigel—were the same men under whom they served in Germany. They knew they were fighting not only for the preservation of the Union and democracy, but also for human rights—for the liberation of the slaves, and for themselves.
Although over the years little has been written about these German immigrant soldiers, their presence was very important in the outcome of the War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee is known to have said that if he could take the Dutch (Deutsche) out of the Union Army, the South could easily win the war. Their contributions were also recognized by Abraham Lincoln, who, in a letter to one of his generals, stated that "the Germans are true and patriotic."
The Union army allowed immigrants to form their own units, elect their own officers, and speak their native language. In Washington, DC, this was the 8th Battalion, especially Company A, of the DC Volunteers or Infantry. President Lincoln referred to them as his "faithful Germans" and selected them to be his guards at his inauguration on March 4, 1861.
Known as "Gerhardt's Company" (under the leadership of Joseph Gerhardt), or the "Turner Rifles," these young men were initially assigned to perform guard duty at Washington's public buildings and at the roads and bridges which gave means of entrance into the city. Once the city became secure with the arrival of about 75,000 soldiers from the north, the 8th Battalion became the advance guard in the first movement into Virginia. They followed General Stone up the Potomac River as far as Harper's Ferry. Later they were stationed at Great Falls to protect the waterworks which supplied Washington with water.
We know of nearly 200 Civil War veterans who now rest at Prospect Hill. One hundred thirteen lived in Washington and served in its 8th Battalion. Others enlisted elsewhere, came to Washington, and remained here after the war. And most certainly there are others buried here in unmarked graves whose military status is unknown to us. We owe our deepest gratitude to all of them for their role in keeping their - and our - homeland united.
Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, on January 14, 1834, Edward Abner immigrated to the United States in 1855. By the early years of the Civil War he had married Louise Mueden and was living in Virginia, most likely in Alexandria. In his own words, he tells his story:
"At the opening of the civil war I left New York and came to Washington under a contract to take charge of the catering for Gen. Franklin's headquarters, then located on Suters Hill, south of Alexandria, from which point the army of the Potomac was operating against the Confederates. It was there that I saw President Lincoln, Gen. Grant, Gen. McClellan, Gen. Sheridan, and Gen. Sherman and other Union officers and the members of the President's cabinet.
"I remember well that 'Old Abe,' as he was affectionately called by the rank and file, had the plainest of tastes. He preferred plain pork and beans, boiled cabbage garnished with fat bacon, and potatoes, to the fancy dishes offered. Gen. Grant was a good eater, and like his great commander-in-chief of the army and navy, seldom, if ever, ate anything like lobster salad, pate de fois gras, and kindred dishes.
"Gen. McClellan, while not particularly fond of specially prepared menus, would eat all and everything placed before him and enjoy all of it. Gen. Sheridan's favorite was black coffee, strong as lye, without either sugar or cream. Gen. Sherman drank tea and chocolate and ate sparingly."
Several years after the end of the War, Abner opened his summer and winter gardens in Washington, giving pleasure to many DC German immigrants for many years.
John Angermann was born in Prussia around 1820, coming to the United States in 1842. He entered through the port of Baltimore and immediately came to Washington, DC, eventually becoming established here as a designer and maker of boots.
When the Civil War began, Angermann was among the first to join Company A, Washington Rifles (German Jaegers), DC Infantry. After completing his term of service, he obtained a contract to make boots for the Union Army. His shop and home were on 7th Street between D and E.
Breveted Brigadier General Joseph Gerhardt
The son of Johann Gerhardt and Barbara Lohr Gerhardt, Joseph Gerhardt was born on May 25, 1817, in Oberdallendorf, Prussia. He attended the University of Bonn Polytechnikum and by 1842 was employed as a merchant and innkeeper in that city. Around that time Gerhardt married 19-year-old Ernestine Leonard. Together they had 4 children.
During the 1848 revolution in Baden Gerhardt took a prominent part with Carl Schurz, G. Kenkel and H. Rasler, commanding a battalion of volunteers in the Bodisk insurrection. Imprisoned in the Rastatt fortress, he managed to escape, fleeing to Switzerland, and in 1850 immigrating without his family to the United States. After a brief stay in New York City, he came to Washington, DC. In 1853, in Baltimore, Maryland, he married German immigrant Dorothea Wolff. Between that time and 1871, the couple had nine children.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Gerhardt organized a Turner Company, leadership of which gave him the rank of captain. Some of his descendants recall being told that early in the war, Gerhardt was in charge of protecting the old Union Station.
In summer 1861 he was asked to go to New York to lead the 46th New York Volunteers. Beginning there as a major, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in September 1861, and to full colonel in January 1863. He participated in military operations in Cincinnati, Vicksburg and Petersburg, and was wounded several times.
In Vicksburg, Gerhardt contracted malarial fever; he also had asthma and complications from his war wounds. On August 15, 1863, he resigned from the Union Army because of ill health, and returned to his hotel and restaurant business in Washington. He was breveted Brigadier General by Lincoln for gallant and meritorious service during the Civil War.
Gerhardt’s descendants believe that a friendship developed between Joseph Gerhardt and President Lincoln. Oral legend indicates Gerhardt may have visited the dying President at Petersen House (quite close to the Gerhardt Hotel), although this legend has not been proven. It is known that Gerhardt named one of his sons Abraham Lincoln Gerhardt following a formal request to President Lincoln to do so, as was the custom at that time.
General “Joe” Gerhardt died at his home, 1626 14th Street, NW, on August 19, 1881. He was 66 years old.
It was in Stulzenau Province, Hanover, on August 9, 1840, that Louis Kettler was born. In 1856, when he was 16 years old, he left his native land and immigrated to the United States.
By the time he reached manhood, his new homeland was becoming enmeshed in its great Civil War. Louis promptly enlisted in the 8th Battalion of the DC Volunteers, protecting Lincoln at his inauguration in 1861, and immediately afterwards guarding the US Treasury Building for seven days. Kettler recalled, "I remember that one night during the period of seven dark days…while we were on duty, the President himself came to see us and brought a plate of sandwiches. He wore his old beaver hat, and to this day I remember his exact appearance."
Kettler was present in row four at Ford's Theater on the night when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. He was also in the line of soldiers at the funeral. Thus, "I was present at the inauguration, the assassination and funeral of one of our greatest Presidents."
After the war, Kettler returned to being a merchant tailor. He married around 1870 and eventually had eleven children.
Born in Hesse-Darmstadt April 13, 1834, Werner Koch immigrated to the United States in 1853. During the Civil War, he served as a second lieutenant in Co. K, 53rd New York Infantry.
Prior to the war, Koch had already established himself as a German-language newspaper publisher in Washington, DC. His first paper, the "Intelligenzblatt," appeared in April 1859; his last, the "Washington Journal," until recently still existed, the oldest newspaper in the Nation's capital.
It was during the Civil War that he married Adolphine Balauf at Concordia. Their wedding date was February 8, 1863.
George A. Parkhurst
Parkhurst was born in DC on May 18, 1841 and died in New York City July 2, 1890. Although he was working full-time for the US Postal Service, on 4-14-1865 he was an actor (Rasper, a groom) at Ford’s Theater when Abraham Lincoln was shot.
Descendant Steven Strack tells us:
“George’s background is incomplete at this time, but he must have come to DC from New York in the early 1860s. By 1865 he had a wife and 2 children, and was a member of a stock company of actors performing at Ford’s.
“When Laura Keene brought her production of "Our American Cousin" to Washington she relied on the local stock company to fill the roles of the supporting parts of the play. George had one of those roles.
“His obituary notices in the Washington Post and the NY Times indicated that he was the last surviving cast member of the production of "Our American Cousin" that performed on April 14, 1865 at Ford’s and that he was on stage when Lincoln was shot and saw him fall.
“His New York Times obit mentions the roles he played in New York and that he was a pupil of Edwin Forrest. George knew John Wilkes Booth and was to meet him that evening and pick up some odds and ends of wardrobe and properties that Booth wanted to give to him.
“His first wife died in 1881. He remarried in DC in 1885, moved to New York, had a daughter, Agnes, established himself as a journeyman actor and dropped dead at 50 at 1:00 p.m. on July 2, 1890.”
William A. Petersen William Petersen was born in Hanover on August 16, 1816. Nothing is known of his life before the 1840s, when he and his wife, Anna Kloman Petersen, born in Darmstadt on June 21, 1819, appear in the records of Concordia Church. They were the parents of at least nine children, most of whom are recorded in Concordia’s baptismal registry. Also, it is unknown how many survived childhood; several who were baptized do not appear in subsequent censuses. It is known, however, that the couple had the terrible experience of losing two daughters, Annie, 5, and Augusta, 2, within one day of each other on January 13 and 14, 1863. (Since death records were not kept in Washington during the Civil War, the cause of their deaths was never recorded.)
In 1849, Petersen constructed a red brick three-story-with-basement townhouse on 10th Street, opposite Ford Theater. A merchant tailor, he had his shop around the corner at 11th and Pennsylvania Avenue and, as did many 19th-century Washingtonians, he also rented out rooms in his home to transients and new immigrants. It was to Petersen’s house that Abraham Lincoln was taken after being shot on April 14, 1865, and where he died early the next morning. Julius Ulke, a German-American photographer who was boarding with William at the time, took the historic photograph showing the room a few minutes after President Lincoln’s body was removed from the bedroom.
Petersen died on June 18, 1871, at age 58 years. His wife died exactly 4 months later, on October 18.
George P. Plitt
Born in Germany in 1849, George P. Plitt came to the United States when he was 13 years old, traveling with a relative who was a Baltimore businessman. Upon arriving at the mouth of the Chesapeake on Sunday, March 9, 1862, the boy and his relative found themselves eye witnesses to one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War, that of the Monitor and the Merrimac. After the battle was over, George and his relative were allowed to disembark in Baltimore.
Although he was too young to fight in the Civil War, George was once allowed to help Union troops. When General Jubal Early raided Maryland in 1864, orders came to Baltimore to seize all horses and move them to the Union lines. Hearing commotion, George, apprenticed to a Baltimore confectioner, ran into the street to see what was happening. There he met a policeman holding eight horses by their leads. Seeing George, he told him to take the horses to Owings Mills, Maryland. George, who had never been on a horse in his life, mounted one of the animals and joined the caravan of people moving horses. He was gone on this mission two days.
George heard Lincoln's address at Gettysburg and also remembered twelve schoolgirls, dressed in white, who sang "Dropping From the Ranks One by One," part of that occasion that is rarely remembered.
Born in Berlin, Germany, on April 4, 1829, Louis Schade was the son of Friedrich Schade and Wilhelmina von Sydow Schade.
When the 1848 revolution began, Schade was a law student at the University of Berlin. Along with other students, he became involved and was condemned to death as penalty for helping erect barriers in the streets of Berlin against government troops. He escaped and came to the US in 1851. After a few months in New Jersey, he came to Washington.
Schade could speak four languages and translate with ease five others. Initially he secured a position at the Smithsonian Institution as assistant librarian. In 1854, he transferred to the Census Bureau.
A year later Schade became a translator and statistician for the State Department. There he was noticed by Senator Stephen Douglas, who in 1856 induced Schade to go to Chicago as editor of Douglas’s German-language “National Demokrat,” and English “National Union.” Thus Schade became involved with the Democratic Party as a supporter of Douglas, whom he helped campaign against Lincoln in 1860.
When Douglas was defeated, Schade returned to Washington and opened his own law practice. At the end of the Civil War, he undertook the extremely unpopular position of becoming the defending attorney for Swiss-born doctor Capt. Henry Wirz, superintendent of the Anderson, Georgia, military prison, who had been accused of killing Northern soldiers. Believing that justice demanded that all citizens be given a fair trial, and coming to believe that Wirz was being unjustly accused in order to implicate Jefferson Davis, with his career at stake Schade represented Wirz before a military commission. Wirz was convicted and executed November 10, 1865, and was carelessly buried in the Washington prison courtyard next to Mrs. Surratt. When Schade was finally allowed to give Wirz a Christian burial, he moved the remains to Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
Schade later let it be known that Wirz had been offered a stay of execution if he would but implicate Jefferson Davis as a conspirator. Wirz replied that he knew nothing about Jefferson Davis and would say nothing against him, even to save his own life. Schade spent the rest of his life trying to clear Wirz’ name.
In 1867, after publishing his now-famous letter to the American public in which he told his version of the real happenings at Andersonville, Schade returned to Europe to check on the welfare of Wirz’s family. While in Stettin, Prussia, on September 18, he married Anna Krieger, who returned with him to the United States. Together they had 6 children. The family were members of Concordia Church.
In 1870, with the help of prominent Washington citizen W. W. Corcoran, Schade established The Washington Sentinel, which he published for 30 years.
When Schade learned, in 1879, that speculators wanted to buy the house in which Lincoln died, Schade purchased it himself, living there and publishing his newspaper until 1896, when he sold his home to the DC Memorial Association to be used as a memorial to the assassinated Lincoln.
Schade died February 27, 1903, at age 73. His wife, 69, died on April 22, 1912.
Born in Prussia on August 25, 1839, Charles Shambaugh immigrated to the United States in 1847, when he was about eight years old. Nothing is known about his life here until the time of the Civil War.
On June 10, 1861, he enlisted in the Pennsylvania Reserves, where he served as a corporal in the infantry. On August 30, 1862, he was wounded; six weeks later, on October 13, 1862, he left the service on a disability discharge.
Four years later, on July 17, 1866, he was awarded a Medal of Honor for his meritorious actions at Charles City Crossroads, Virginia, June 30, 1862. The citation was “capture of flag.”
It appears that Shambaugh returned to Pennsylvania after his discharge, for it is known that a daughter, Jennie, was born to him there in 1873. Another daughter, Lizzie, was born in Kansas in 1877.
By 1890 he had come to the District of Columbia and was living at 612 I Street, NE. In 1890 he was employed as a watchman; in 1891 he worked as an elevator operator. He died October 12, 1913, in Hyattsville, Maryland, at age 73.
W. Henry Walther
August William Henry von Walt Herr was born October 7,1828, in Xiontz, Russia, of a German father and Russian mother. Required as a young man to enter military service, in battle he was knocked off his horse and slashed from one shoulder diagonally across his body to his toes on the opposite side. Left to bleed to death, he managed to pull himself into a nearby haystack. A local farmer fed him and without any medical treatment he managed to survive.
With the help of the underground, he managed to escape, eventually coming to America and Washington, DC, in 1854. Once he became settled here he quickly changed his name to Henry Walther. Taking any job he could get, he finally saved enough to build a small frame house. Wanting to become totally American, he burned his coat of arms in the yard of this house.
When the Civil War broke out, Henry joined the 8th Battalion, DC Volunteers. Eventually he fought with and helped guard General Grant. One cold, snowing morning he was guarding the General's tent when the General took a slug of whiskey to warm himself. Walther said, "I could do with a bit of that myself, General." Grant granted his wish.
The night Lincoln was assassinated, Walther was on guard duty on the aqueduct bridge in Georgetown.
After the war Walther opened a paint store. He also did fresco art work in the Capitol with Bromedi; the flowers in the dome are examples of his work.
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