Monday, January 29, 2018

Finding Michael Kistler. . .

Thanks to my friend Brian Downey--the owner/administrator of the Antietam On The Web website, a great and vast trove of information on that incredibly important battle and its participants--I got to see yet another face of the 48th Pennsylvania for the very first time, that of Michael Kistler, a lieutenant in Company I. 

Lt. Michael Kistler and wife Catherine
[Unknown Attribution, ancestry.com] 


For me, the discovery began just this past Friday, when I published a post seeking help in identifying the image of an unidentified lieutenant in Company I, 48th Pennsylvania. As noted in that post, there were seven officers who served at different times throughout the war in that rank and capacity in Company I. I have images of five of those seven, leaving only two--George Gressang and Michael Kistler--neither of whom I had ever before seen a photograph of. Gressang drowned in August 1862, with the sinking of the West Point. Kistler was badly wounded one month later, during the battle of Antietam. Because of this Antietam connection, Brian Downey, in his research for his website, had already done some prior work researching Kistler. Along the way, Downey happened upon a wartime image of Michael Kistler and his wife, Catherine, posted at ancestry.com. There were other, post-war images of Kistler posted there as well. Unfortunately, that particular page had last been updated in 2012 and is no longer active, meaning Downey could not get the name nor the contact information of the individual who posted the images. But he did discover am engraving of Kistler, later in life, in the 1886 book History of Wayne, Pike, and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania by Alfred Mathews. That engraving matches the images of Kistler that were posted on ancestry, thus verifying the identity. And now, because of Downey's research I finally got to see, or discover, another fact of the 48th. Also, because these images of Kistler have been located, by process of elimination and because the unidentified officer in the image I posted about last Friday more closely matches the physical description of George Gressang in the regimental muster rolls, there is a very good chance that that officer is, indeed, Gressang...though I still cannot state with 100% certainty.  At least one other respondent to that post thinks the unidentified officer is Francis Koch, another image of whom can be found in that same post. 

One thing that is for certain, however, is that, finally, after all these years of studying the regiment, I at last have seen an image of Lieutenant Kistler. Much more important than this though is that I have been to discover so much more about his life. I had known Kistler primarily because of the savage, grievous nature of the wound he received at Antietam. The wound was so serious that his recovery seemed impossible; it was quite remarkable that he did survive. So remarkable, in fact, that a story about it was published in a number of newspapers, including the Boston Herald, which, on March 16, 1864, told the story of Kistler's injury and his recovery in an article entitled Remarkable Tenacity of Life.

That story, is posted here in its entirety: 

Remarkable Tenacity of Life: Lieut. M.M. Kistler, formerly of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers, who still survives, and is commanding a company in the Invalid Corps, was pronounced by the surgeons who examined him after the battle [of Antietam], as he lay among the dead--himself almost as dead apparently as they--mortally wounded, and he was passed by at the time, and the attention of the surgeons was devoted to others, for whom it was thought there might be a chance of recovery. The fortunes of the day seemed to vacillate in the balance as the massive columns surged back and forth, and for a time the field was in possession of the rebels; again our brave fellows drove back the rebel columns, and took the ground where our wounded were lying, weltering in their gore, and in the evening the brave and undaunted Lieutenant was carried from the field by our own men, and laid down in an old barn without blanket or overcoat. His clothes on his right side, from his shoulder down to his boot, being saturated with blood from his wound, were cold and stiff. It was at Antietam he was wounded, by a ball entering his right shoulder in a way to carry his epaulatte into the wound, and part of it with the ball entered the right lobe of the lungs. The wound was probed by no less than eight or nine surgeons, three or four at a time. They exceeded in extracting from the wound the wire, four or five inches in length, belonging to the shoulder strap, and all agreed there were fractured pieces of bone necessary to be extracted, but they neither removed them nor dressed the wound, considering the case a hopeless one. The Lieutenant alone believed his recovery a possible case. Thus he laid suffering in his gore until the sixth day when he received a change of clothing, and on the seventh day, with the assistance of his servant, he started, both feeble and faint, and reached his home. On the thirteenth day after receiving the wound, it was for the first time thoroughly dressed, by Dr. J.C. Schirner, of Tamaqua, Penn. Suppuration had by this time taken place, and he spit up a portion of the shoulder strap with the body matter. The ball still remains in the lungs too heavy to be raised by the efforts made in coughing, where an abscess is formed by the wound in the lung, and suppuration takes place, as it frequently does. He now usually enjoys a reasonable degree of health, with the exception of a few days each time that these inward gatherings take place.

This we regard as one of the most remarkable cases of recovery, from what would be regarded by all surgeons as a hopeless case, on record. When we contemplate a man with such a wound, lying for thirteen days without any efficient surgical or medical aid, and without any change of clothing for six days, and in the main cold and damp, without food or attention, we cannot but be struck with amazement at the wonderful recuperative powers of the system, in the case of the indomitable Lieut. Kistler. We would naturally suppose he must have suffered untold misery during those thirteen days, but he says he suffered but little, comparatively speaking. His sensibilities must have been instantly stunned. He is a living miracle to all who know his case. While a slight wound hurries many a strong man to an untimely grave, a strong constitution, a determined and indomitable spirit, and, may we not add, a kind Providence had lengthened out his days for further service in the cause of his country."



A strong constitution and a determined, indomitable spirit, indeed. 

I knew Kistler survived this horrific wound and that he later served in the Veterans Reserve Corps, or the so-called Invalid Corps. But that was it. I did not know anything further. I had assumed, quite naturally, that his life might have ended early, as a result of the Antietam wound but, as I just discovered, it turns out Kistler still had many, many years remaining after the Civil War. 


According to Mathews's History, Michael Kistler was born on April 14, 1833, though the year of his birth may be incorrectly stated here, since the regimental records note that he was 32 years of age when he enlisted in the summer of 1861, which would put the year of his birth at 1829. Year of birth aside, Kistler was born and raised in Lynn Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and was the son of Michael and Magdalena Brobst Kistler. He removed to Ringtown, Schuylkill County, in 1848 and at age 15 in order to learn the tanner's trade with his older brother, Joel. While at Ringtown, he met and fell in love with Catherine Rumbel and the two were later married. The couple had a number of children. By the outset of the Civil War, Michael was operating his own small tannery business in Ringtown, though left that life behind with the opening salvos at Fort Sumter. He enlisted on August 15, 1861, and at the time of his enlistment was 32 years of age. He stood among the tallest soldiers in the regiment at 5'11" and was described as having a light complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair. Although a tanner, he recorded that he was also a farmer by occupation. Kistler served well as a lieutenant in Company I, 48th, accompanying the regiment in its journeys first from Harrisburg, PA, to Fortress Monroe, VA, and from there to Hatteras and New Bern, North Carolina, before returning to Virginia in the summer of 1862. At 2nd Bull Run, a bullet tore through Kistler's coat collar while another round struck his scabbard. He emerged from this fight unscathed, though was not nearly as fortunate three weeks later at Antietam. Of course, it was there where he was so severely wounded by that bullet which tore through his shoulder, through his right lung, before lodging in his back that he was essentially given up for dead. As related above, however, through his indomitable spirit, he survived. After a four month convalescence, Kistler returned to the 48th Pennsylvania, which, by that time was recovering from its assaults against Lee's position at Fredericksburg. Kistler traveled westward with the regiment to Lexington, Kentucky, in the spring of 1863. It was there and it was then, however, that Kistler resigned from the regiment upon the advice of the superintendent of hospitals in the Department of the Ohio. But Kistler would continue to serve his country. He became the commanding officer of the First Company, Second Battalion, in the Ohio Department of the Veteran Reserve Corps and remained in this position performing various administrative and military duties until June 1866, when he was mustered out of service.
Kistler returned home to his wife Catherine and his loving family. He later relocated to Monroe County, entering into various business ventures with his brother Stephen, first in Bartonsville and then in Tannersville. The Kistler Brothers manufactured shoe-pegs, clothes-pins, and chair stock for more than ten years before Stephen Kistler's death in 1880. At that time, Michael retired from active business pursuits to focus on his farm in Tunkhannock Township. It does appear, though, that he served for a time during his "retirement" as postmaster of East Stroudsburg. "Lieutenant Kistler's life has been an active one," noted Alfred Mathews in his History of Wayne, Pike, and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania, "and withal his integrity of purpose in life's work, and his accumulation of a competency, his pride still lingers in the great honor of fighting for the preservation of the Union, and in his sacrifice for his country when in its greatest peril."

Michael Kistler passed away on July 6, 1907, at either age 74 or 78, and presumably with that bullet received at Antietam still lodged somewhere beneath his shoulder blade. His remains were laid to rest in the Stroudsburg Cemetery and there they continue their silent repose, next to the remains of his wife Catherine, who passed away in 1915 at age 83. 

In all my years studying and researching the 48th Pennsylvania, there are few times more satisfying than discovering not only a new face but in learning more about the life of one of its soldiers. 

My thanks go out to Brian Downey for all his work in finding Michael Kistler. 


Michael Kistler as Postmaster, Stroudsburg, PA
[Unknown attribution, ancestry.com] 


Michael Kistler, with son Stephen and Grandson Kirstel, ca. 1902
[Unknown attribution, ancestry.com] 

Michael Kistler and Granddaughter Lillian Irene Kistler, ca. 1905
[Unknown attribution, ancestry.com] 



[Biographical information from Mathews, Alfred. History of Wayne, Pike, and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania.  Philadelphia: R.T. Peck & Company, 1886. Pgs. 1028-1030]



1 comment:

M. K. Grant said...

Thank you for your fine piece on Michael Kistler.

I have the handwritten family history notes of my grandmother, Pearl H. Kistler Frankenberry, which include a few lines written in the 1950s about her grandfather Joel Kistler's brother Michael in which she states the following: "My grandfather's brother Michael was a handsome lieutenant wounded at the Battle of Antietam, hid in a barn and was tho't to be dead...the only food was grapes brought by a black boy...had lung and leg wounds. Lived 30 years with bullet in his lung."

Please accept my compliments on your professionally-presented site.

Marshall K. Grant, Frisco, TX