A Civil War Love Story
by Barbara Paris
His pension says he volunteered in 1864 to serve the Union as a Private during the Civil War. He was a saddler with the Pennsylvania Cavalry, Co. C., 181st Regiment, 20th Cav. in 1865. His pension says he died in 1868of "Apoplexy" --medical terminology of the time for contacting pneumonia from sleeping in the snow without a shelter.
That was my great grandfather, Gustavus Schmidt, who emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1851.
I know little of my great-grandparents--just snippets from a copy of a letter to my mother which her sister had written in January of 1976. I never met Gustavus and Josephine, nor my maternal grandparents. My mother had a photograph of her parents sitting on a park bench, smiling. I believe it was taken at Willow Grove Park in Willow Grove, PA, in the early 1900's. There is a building in the background which resembles the Music Pavilion, and I imagined John Philip Sousa playing there. Mother spoke of going to hear his concerts when she was a young woman. But I knew my grandparents, Clara (Schmidt) and Wm. Thomas (at left), had died, and for many years I thought the photograph had been taken in Heaven.
Who were these people? What was their history? What was their lineage? There had to be a story, and I wanted to know what it was. Over the years, with a lot of luck in running across a "cuzzie," I have picked up some information on Gustavus and Josephine Schmidt--grandparents of my mother. It is a love story. A love story with a sad beginning and a sad ending.
Josephine De La Tour (later changed to Latour) was my great-grandmother's name. Her father and grandfather escaped from France during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution in the late 1700s. I do not have the given names of those two Latours, but it is believed they were of the Aristocracy of France. They fled to Mecklenburg-Schwerin in northern Germany, near the Baltic Sea, and stayed with the Grand Duke there. After peace was restored, the elder Latour started to return to France, taking with him the deeds to his property, hoping to reclaim it. He was murdered while spending the night in an Inn, and his papers were stolen.
His son secured a position in the Grand Duke's household as tutor to his children, and later married the daughter of a Lutheran clergyman. (I found a "Latur" in Altstadt Parish in Schwerin, but no information about him or his family, and I am not sure this Latur is the Latour I seek.)
They had five sons and one daughter--Josephine. Josephine was well-educated and well-traveled and she fell in love with a man named Gustav Schmidt, but her father objected to her marrying a man in trade (his father owned a tannery).
Josephine was 18 in 1851 when she and Gustav decided to elope, and they took passage on a sailing vessel to America. Oral history reports that they were married on board by the Captain, although I can find no records, in any source, to verify that or their arrival (probably in New York). Could they have worked their passage and therefore did not appear on the manifest? Or did they need to adopt pseudonyms? Perhaps their names appeared on the records of German emigrations which were destroyed by fire. She was disinherited by her father and never heard from him again; she did stay in touch with her mother.
Although Josephine vowed that she and Gustav were married in New York City in September of 1851 at the German Universal Church, Josephine could not find a record of this event among her papers. And, alas, most of the Pension file is filled with documented letters from friends and neighbors who swore to the fact that Josephine and Gustav "lived together as man and wife" for many years. and none had reason to suspect they were not legally married--information vital to her Pension application.
And I had such high hopes for vital statistics and a bit of lineage when that Manila envelope from NARA arrived.
Josephine supported her children by opening a dressmaking shop, and she is said to have designed and made costumes for Jenny Lind (The Swedish Nightingale) during her tour of the United States.
Some time after Gustav (Gustavus) died in 1868, Josephine married a man names O'Byrne. It was he, apparently, who demanded that Josephine file for her Pension. He also demanded that she place the youngest of the five children, Walter Carl, in Girard College in Philadelphia, an orphanage of sorts at that time, where Walter lived until he was eighteen years old. The Archivist at Girard College has no record of Walter after he left there.
Another son, Theodore (Schmidt) Smith won the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery during he Indian Wars against the Comanche Indians in Arizona. Theodore had a seat of honor beside President Wilson during Armistice Day services at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery after World War I. He had to change his name to Smith because of President Wilson's deep hatred of the Germans.
What enormous sacrifices after so many hardships. And thus my Story ends. Two people so in love that they defied their parents and fled to a country they knew nothing of. So short a time together. Gustav's widow and five children were left in a still-strange country after he served in a Civil War for his "new country." Josephine's second husband, O'Byrne, was very cruel to her children, and he apparently abandoned her in a few short years.
I have no idea where either Gustav or Josephine are buried.
I wish I knew more about them. I wish I had known them.
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