Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Sad Case of Private Charles Lindenmuth, Co. I, 48th Pennsylvania

Yesterday, I posted an article on the actions of the 48th Pennsylvania during the days preceding the Battle of Fredericksburg and in it, I stated that I would be devoting my next several posts to all things Fredericksburg/48th related. . .but today, I learned of the sad story of Private Charles Lindenmuth and the events surrounding his death, which occurred on this very date, 116 years ago. . .on December 6, 1896. . .in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and thought I must share this story.

Eighteen-Year-Old Charles Lindenmuth
Co. I, 48th Pennsylvania

I have long believed that there are no such things as coincidences; that there are greater and bigger forces at play and I was again reminded of this today. But let's begin at, well, the beginning. . .
Several weeks ago, I was contacted by a gentleman who possessed a collection of 48th Pennsylvania items, including several photographs, and was wondering if I would be interested in purchasing the collection. Of course, I said yes. We agreed that we would meet today--December 6--to complete the transaction. So, we did and we had a great chat about the vagaries of Civil War collecting; I turned over the check, and he an incredible collection of 48th Pennsylvania materials.
Arriving back at home, I very carefully scanned all the photographs and some of the documents into my computer and then began reading more about the soldiers in the photographs, and I could not help but get overcome by sadness while reading about Charles Lindenmuth.
Lindenmuth was born in 1846; a native of Pottsville. He was only fifteen years old, and much to young, when the Civil War broke out in April 1861, but on February 22, 1864, now of eligible fighting age, Lindenmuth very proudly made his way to one of the recruiting offices in Pottsville and enlisted as a private, Company I, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. Many of the 48th's veterans--those who survived the storms at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and out west in Kentucky and Tennessee--were home on a thirty-day furlough, a special incentive they received for re-enlisting to serve another three-year term of service. These seasoned veterans would now be joined by rookie soldiers like Lindenmuth; too young to answer the call in 1861, but more than willing to now. Lindenmuth was eighteen years of age in February 1864, stood 5'3 1/2" in height, with a "Fair" Complexion, Hazel eyes, and Brown hair. He listed his occupation as Moulder.
With the regiment, Lindenmuth made his way to war, arriving first at the Ninth Corps' rendezvous camp at Annapolis. Just a few short weeks later, Lindenmuth got his first taste of combat at the Battle of the Wilderness, on May 5-6. More savage and intense combat followed less than a week later at Spotsylvania where, on May 12, the 48th lost more than 130 men killed or wounded. Among those wounded was Charles Lindenmuth. His pension records indicate that he had sustained a gunshot wound to his "Right Cheek." The wound sidelined Lindenmuth for several months. Recovering, he made his way back to duty with the regiment, then dug in for the siege of Petersburg.
Sometime during the winter of 1864-1865, Lindenmuth fell severely ill, though he remained with the regiment until after Lee's surrender in April 1865. Although the regiment was not mustered out of service until July 17 of that year, Lindenmuth had been discharged by reason of disability on June 27. As is stated in his discharge: "Charles Lindenmuth took a severe cold on [the] picket line, and was unwell for some time, until at length, he lost his speech and has become unfit for duty for the last six months. [Signed] F.D. Koch, Capt., Co. I, 48th Regt. P.V.V.I"
Discharge of Pvt. Chas. Lindenmuth, June 27, 1865
Nineteen-year-old Charles Lindenmuth returned to his native Pottsville and soon married Angeline Fenstermacher though she died in January 1877. Lindenmuth remarried four years later to Priscilla Miller and the couple took up residence at 611 Race Street.  Lindenmuth resumed his work but was aging far too quickly and in November 1893, the forty-seven-year-old veteran applied for a pension, citing naurasthenia--a condition marked by anxiety, general fatigue and weakness, headaches, and depression--the result of his wartime injuries.  The records indicate that he had applied for a pension in 1870 but his application was denied. It was denied again in 1893. Undeterred and in need of assistance, Lindenmuth, in late January 1894, applied once again, this time supplying an affidavit authored by two of his Pottsville neighbors, who wrote that Lindenmuth "became afflicted with rheumatism and nervous disability three years ago and is at present time totally disabled to perform manual labor of any kind owing to being an invalid." At the end of the affidavit, the two elderly neighbors recorded that they based their knowledge "upon the fact being very intimately acquainted with him for a number of years and know for a certainty that his disease was not caused by vicious habits. His character for industry and sobriety has never been questioned."
Still, the War Department was unconvinced that Lindenmuth's debility was war-related and again, he was denied.  With no assistance and unable to work, Lindenmuth fell ever further into depression and he and his wife further into poverty.
Unable to endure the pain and anguish any longer, Lindenmuth, on December 15, 1894, attempted suicide at the local G.A.R. post hall. As reported in the local paper, under the heading "A Veteran Attempts Suicide:" "At noon to-day groans were heard from the loft above the Gowen Post, No. 23, G.A.R. of this place. An investigation was made and a man was found lying on the floor steeped in blood. The man was found to be Charles Lindenmuth, a veteran of the late war. He had cut his throat with a common pocket-knife. The cut is likely to end his life. Lindenmuth's brain has been affected for some time. He was a brave soldier and served all through the war."
Somehow, Lindenmuth recovered, despite the initial prognosis.
Just three days later, A.R. Bartholomew, Pastor of the Trinity Reformed Church, wrote directly to the Pension Commissioner, enclosing the newspaper clipping of Lindenmuth's attempted suicide:
"My Dear Sir: I enclose a clipping which explains itself. This poor fellow is a member of my church, a loyal patriot and a veteran soldier. One year ago he was promised a pension and for some cause, has been denied it. This fact has been preying upon his mind with an almost suicidal death as the result. Will you please examine into his case and tell me the obstruction in the way? . . . .If it is possible, won't you please bring Christmas cheer to a family in destitute circumstances. A pension check will be a God-sent."
Sadly, the next record in Lindenmuth's file is that of a widow's application for a pension. Despite Bartholomew's pleas, there was to be no "Christmas cheer to a family in destitute circumstances." Priscilla Lindenmuth fought for several more years for a pension and by the time of her death in 1921, at last she had been receiving $30.00/month.  
The end for Charles Lindenmuth came, mercifully enough, on December 6, 1896; he was only fifty years of age at the time of his death.
That I received Lindenmuth's wartime photograph--in which he is so young and so proud and so full of life--and learned of his heartbreaking and tragic story on this date--December 6, 2012, 116 years to the day after his death--is too much to be merely coincidental.  For whatever reason, it was meant to tell his story this day; for it is a story that reminds us that for many of these Civil War soldiers, the war continued well after the guns fell silent in 1865. 


Anonymous said...

WOW! Thanks for sharing that incredible story. Thank God our veterans and the disabled in general aren't treated this way today.

Anonymous said...

Great story John, thanks for sharing. Ironically veterans waiting for benefits decisions from the VA is about 420 days on average. Better, but still too long and too difficult.

Jeff said...

Amazing story. It's as if Charles Lindenmuth is saying "remember me."