Today, we’re pleased to offer the first of a two-part guest post by Tom Schobert. Tom is the president of the Buffalo (NY) Civil War Roundtable. A retired healthcare administrator, Tom is life-long student of the Civl War and has been a reenactor for more than 25 years.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but by the age of 10, the Civil War had become my passion. I devoured McKinlay Kantor’s Gettysburg and Lee and Grant at Appomattox. I amassed a collection of Marx Civil War toy soldiers with which my friends and I replayed the great battles. Eagerly, I anticipated the upcoming Civil War Centennial and began the incessant bugging of my parents to make Gettysburg the destination of our family vacation.
My maternal grandmother took note of all this, and when I turned 11, she presented me with an old, timeworn brown envelope. It revealed contents that left me speechless. The first thing I saw was a tintype image of a soldier casually posing with his blouse unbuttoned, one hand on his hip and a cigar clenched in his teeth. She explained that this was her uncle, who had fought and died in the Civil War.
Other items in the wonderful cache included two letters written in German, with a separate translation someone had thoughtfully done, a “Borough of Erie” two-dollar bill, a State of Georgia five-dollar bill, a certificate from the Pennsylvania Adjutant General’s Office listing this man’s service record showing that he was killed in action at the battle of Spotsylvania Court House, and a 1930’s vintage visitor’s guide to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
My grandmother’s uncle (my great-grand-uncle) was named Frank J. Krug. He had immigrated to the United States in 1853 at the age of 11 with his father and sister. Living at first in New Jersey, his widower father met and married a “Jersey girl” and started a new family. One of Frank’s new siblings was my great-grandmother, Mary, born in 1858.
The family at some point packed up and headed west, getting as far as Coudersport, Pennsylvania. My best guess, based on sketchy genealogical information, is that the move took place around 1860 or 61. They tried their luck as farmers, evidently without much success considering the brief time they spent in the north-central Pennsylvania town. My speculation is that Frank must have felt family pressure to help work the farm, so did not heed the call when the first regiments were being formed to put down the rebellion of the Southern states.
During the winter of 1863-64 when the regiments went home to replenish their ranks, he stepped forward, along with a number of fellow Potter County men, and enlisted in Company G of the 53rd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment (see his enlistment papers, below). The officer who handled his enlistment was Capt. Arch Jones. (Company G would become known as “Jones’ Rifles.”) Uncle Frank was promised a $300 bonus for enlisting, which certainly would have been a tremendous help for his family, and may have been his primary motivation for joining the Army.
In February, the rejuvenated 53rd Pennsylvania went back to the front and was encamped near Stevensburg, VA. While there, Pvt. Krug evidently had time to have his image struck (the tintype that has passed down in our family) and to write home. His letter, dated March 20, 1864, described their life in the Army and encounters with the “Rebbels,” along with the twinges of homesickness that characterize many soldier’s letters.
The 53rd embarked on the Wilderness and Spotsylvania campaigns in May, and it was on May 12th during the assault on the Bloody Angle that Pvt. Krug was felled. His death certificate states that he died from “gunshot in groin.” Gut shot, evidently. A mortal wound.
His death at the hands of the enemy is documented (see his death certificate, below). In the early 1990s when I determined to become a reenactor, I sent to the National Archives for a copy of his official file. The documents added to the family possessions included his Volunteer Enlistment certificate, unit muster rolls, his Death Certificate, issued “In The Field, Va.,” and an Inventory sheet stating that he died leaving no effects. There the official story ends.
My grandmother died in 1964, and there are no other members of my family left to fill in the blanks or answer my questions. It is clear that family members did travel to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, probably in the 1930’s, based on two old photos of monuments erected to honor Pennsylvania soldiers at the Fredericksburg National Military Cemetery and the inclusion of the visitor’s pamphlet in the collection of family documents. I’m sure they were disappointed that they were unable to find his gravesite, but there is no mention of this in any of the papers we have.
I visited Fredericksburg National Cemetery (FNC) in 1994 and inquired as to their records of known burials. An examination of the listing provided by the helpful park staff revealed no names even close to the various spellings of his surname (Krug or Kruk, as it appears on his signature and as he is listed in the official records). The good people there assured me that, given the date and place of his documented death, the probability was that his remains were in one of the mass graves at their cemetery.
Hearing this, I ventured out onto the cemetery grounds and randomly selected one of the graves of unknowns. There, I stood and prayed silently for Uncle Frank, and for his comrades who died with him that day. I then traveled over to the Spotsylvania and stood on the field where the 53rd engaged the enemy on May 12th. There was no one else visiting at that time, so I could pause and reflect on the carnage that took place on this now tranquil and picturesque field. I prayed for Uncle Frank again, and I like to think he somehow knew I was there.
As the years passed, I have wondered how his family must have felt not knowing where his remains ended up. . . .
Tom’s quest to follow in his Uncle Frank’s footsteps will continue.
* * *
Frank Krug’s enlistment papers: