Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Review - "An Immigrant Story" by Kenneth Burchett

[An Immigrant Story by Kenneth E. Burchett (Amity America, 2020). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, index. Pages main/total:x,152/177. ISBN:978-1-7333006-0-5. $9.95]

On October 14, 1861, 37-year-old Henry Schaumann enlisted as a private in what would eventually become Company A of the Second Missouri volunteer artillery regiment. However, only a year into his service and without seeing combat, Schaumann received a medical discharge for a hernia injury incurred while on duty near Rolla, Missouri. Schaumann's story and the struggles of his wife (Margarethe Dorothea Ficke) and son (Friedrich Henry Schaumann) to collect widow and minor pension benefits are the subjects of Kenneth Burchett's An Immigrant Story.

Burchett's research into the origins of both the Schaumann and Ficke families in Hanover (a former kingdom in the northwest part of today's Germany) will probably be of interest mostly to descendants, but the book's summarization of the long journeys of both individuals from the North Sea port of Bremerhaven to St. Louis, Missouri highlights a common German immigrant path from the old world to the new. In addition to documenting the experiences of Henry and Margarethe in their new home, the volume also offers a more general overview of the burgeoning German American population's social and political influence in the rapidly expanding western city of St. Louis. It is unknown exactly why Schaumann immigrated to the United States, but Burchett assumes homeland strife and economics were good possibilities.

Much older than the typical Civil War volunteer, Henry Schaumann entered the army after the dramatic summer events of 1861 had already generally secured Missouri for the Union. Schaumann's battery began its service in the St. Louis fort system before being transferred down the Pacific Railroad to that strategic artery's terminus at Rolla. Near Rolla, Schaumann and his unit were integrated into the town's garrison and performed the heavy manual labor necessary to construct Fort Wyman and its surrounding camp facilities. Around the beginning of October 1862, Schaumann, while carrying a supply of water, suffered a traumatic fall that resulted in a femoral hernia. His disability discharge arrived the following month. This abbreviated Civil War career is addressed in two chapters covering only a handful of pages. While the volume's text coverage of the battery's first year of service, including its time in Rolla, are thus sparse, Burchett does include a number of useful images of wartime Rolla.

Returning to an uncertain future in civilian life, Schaumann received a half-disability veteran pension of $4/month from the government, but he died in St. Louis soon after during the city's terrible cholera epidemic of 1866. Though Margarethe remarried only seven months later (and would be married four times in total), she fought a decades-long losing battle with the U.S. government over eligible payments in arrears for both herself and her son (who, after his mother remarried, would have his father's pension payments transfered to him until age 16). In examining the Schaumann case in depth, Burchett does a fine job of explaining the ins and outs of the Civil War pension system and how it was periodically revised by legislation to provide both expanded eligibility and more generous benefits. Transcribing and chronologically arranging all of the relevant surviving documents related to the case, the author documents at length how clerical errors, mistaken identity, and other confounding bureaucratic acts all combined to drag out the proceedings until they were ultimately abandoned.

In support of the text are a large number of maps, illustrations, and document images. Burchett also extensively annotates each chapter. While the genealogical elements of the book will likely have narrow reader appeal beyond Schaumann and Ficke family descendants, the book should draw a wider audience through its well-presented case study of the federal pension system not working as designed even for those who followed proper procedure.

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