Sunday, July 26, 2009
The Fighting Seit(h)er Brothers
As I was at the library yesterday, looking up obituaries for various Civil War veterans who are buried nearby and hoping to find something interesting, I made one of the more fascinating finds I ever have. It left me feeling wonderful, yet with more work to do.
The story is about August Seiter (or Seither, and that's one issue) and is from the Kentucky Post of September 1, 1930. It describes how, August, the youngest of 4 brothers at 15 years of age, snuck into a local Civil War camp, passed what the article described as a "meager physical and mental examination" and convinced the recruiters he was 18 years old, allowing him to sign up for service.
He did so because two of his older brothers had just recently enlisted in this unit, the 23rd Kentucky Infantry, including one who left behind a wife and 5 children.
What they did not realize at the time was the oldest brother, Jacob, who had left home previously to go to New Orleans to work on a boat prior to the outbreak of war, was now a part of the Confederate army, after his boat left Cuba and returned to New Orleans following the declaration of war.
Until 2 years after the end of the war, when Jacob returned home to John's Hill in Campbell County, KY, nobody in the family knew what had happened to him, and presumed him to be dead.
It was a surprise to find out he had been fighting against the rest of the family, but this article says that the family compared battles and figured out they had not been on the same battlefield at any time.
Jacob had lost his right arm at the battle of Malvern Hill, and the others suffered as well. George, who had left his wife and kids to enlist, lost his right arm as well, at New Hope Church in Georgia, and Conrad suffered a wound to his right hand at Round Mountain, Tennessee. August, the baby of the bunch, had a bullet pass through both his thighs during the fight at Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga.
Jacob returned to his home to participate in the Grand Army of the Republic's encampment in September 1898, marching in his gray uniform alongside his three brothers in blue.
According to August, "Of course, the spectators could not understand Jacob in the gray, but we brothers did and we were proud of each other despite the fact that Jacob was against us in the war."
The phrase "brother's war" is often thrown around during discussion of the Civil War, and many examples of this exist - in Kentucky, alone, famous families like the Breckenridges and the Crittendens had family members on both sides, and perhaps no better example of this phenomenon exists than the Todd Family, the in-laws of President Lincoln, who had 5 members side with the Union and 9 with the Confederates (according to "All that Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South" by Stephen William Berry.)
I just never expected to find such a clear-cut example so close to home, and this find has excited me as much as anything else I have ever found. I make no pretense of being a professional historian, but I have done research on several projects, and this story is just as fascinating as any of them. (The only one that might be close is the discovery of John Clark as the last Civil War veteran who lived in Campbell County.) When I found all 4 brothers' names in the soldiers and sailors website this morning (the Union men as "Seiter" and the Confederate as "Seither"), it absolutely thrilled me as that struck me as confirmation of the accuracy of the basic story.
I realize I have more work to do - what exactly is the correct spelling of the last name is a big question, and there are a couple of details in the article I question - but I found two more sources this morning to check out the next time I'm at the library, including an article from 1926 and perhaps a "Pieces of the Past" article by Jim Reis in 1987. Seeing that Mr. Reis may have written about this 20 years ago makes mine less of a "discovery" except to myself, but does not dampen my enthusiasm. In fact, his work, which is always most excellent, may answer some of my questions.
I also found August Seiter's obituary (that's how they spelled it, as does his headstone) and it indicated he was the last surviving member of the William Nelson Camp of the Grand Army of the Republic. I know some people in the Nelson-Garfield Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans fo the Civil War and hope this information will interest them.
Finding this story - of which I had never heard anything at all - really thrilled me. I know I have repeated that sentiment, but I could easily do so all day, as it really is a neat story.
Rest in peace, August, Conrad, George and Jacob Seit(h)er.