The Schilling brothers’ eight letters penned in 1862 evince an extraordinary time in American history as well as a painful part of New Ulm’s past.
The Brown County Historical Society Museum has acquired the documents from descendants of Louis and August Schilling, Union soldiers from New Ulm who sent letters from Civil War battlefields to family members back home who were caught in their own battles with Indians.
The letters, written in archaic German script by the immigrant brothers and yet to be fully translated, show that their concern for the welfare of New Ulm kin appeared to override the peril of having to fight in some of the war’s bloodiest battles.
“I think they might not have wanted to write about the bad things down there because they didn’t want people back home to worry,” said Historical Society research librarian Darla Gebhard.
When the brothers wrote about their day-to-day lives as soldiers, they stuck to minutia.
From Camp Corinth (Mississippi) May 22, 1862: “They have 160,000 troops and approximately 700 cannons. The weather is great, the nights are cool. The peach trees are brimming with fruit.”
June 26: “The camp site is nice, the water quite good ... there are no mosquitoes yet ... Uncle Sam won’t provide beer, which is a shame, because it’s currently warm enough to drink a good portion.”
Later in the letter they express hope that they might be able to return home soon and state that camp conditions were less than ideal:
“The situation is miserable currently but patience overcomes anything.”
Of more concern to the brothers was news that reached them of the Dakota attack on New Ulm, and on Aug. 26 they dashed off a frantic letter to their family.
“The last mail has brought us sad and terrible news,” they wrote. “Our only hope now is that this, like all previous Indian reports, is greatly exaggerated.”
Their optimism wasn’t rewarded. Their mother was wounded and their father and brother died from injuries inflicted by Indians going from cabin to cabin in Milford Township near New Ulm.
“What’s so haunting to me when you read their first two letters is that they don’t know their father is dead,” Gebhard said.
The brothers were with the 1st Minnesota Battery and took part in the battles of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Atlanta, Savannah and many smaller engagements.
After the war August Schilling and his mother moved to Chicago and Louis became the New Ulm city clerk, a post he held until the day he died — on his 71st birthday in 1906.
The letters were given to the Historical Society by former New Ulm resident and Louis Schilling’s great-grandson Craig Duehring, who lives in the state of Virginia. Duehring acquired the letters from a deceased cousin.
Gebhard said the letters will become part of a museum exhibit in 2012 that will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the U.S./Dakota Conflict.