September/October – The Hofsteater Brothers at War

Charles and Matlida Hofsteater (I1411 and I1412) of Putnam County, Ohio died shortly before the Civil War began. All four of their sons fought with the Union army in Ohio infantry regiments; Cyrus (14th and 183rd), James (49th), Rolla (99th and 50th), and David (99th). Cyrus and Rolla returned to Ohio after the war, James and David died in service and are buried in national cemeteries. The Huffstutter Famiily website is indebted to Janiza Hofsteater for recently sharing two letters with us; one from James (I1423) to his sister Elva ( I1424) and Rolla I1425) to his sister Elizabeth (I1421). Copies of the letters and my transcriptions of them appear on the website, linked to their profiles.

James Hofsteater , 49th Ohio, Company I , wrote a letter dated April 15, 1863 to his sister Elva Ann Hofsteater from Camp Drake, Tennessee ( Murfressboro, just east of Nashville). He said his health had been good for the last three months except for “one shake of the ague.” Ague (pronounced ay-gyu) is a fever with chills and sweating, also known as Swamp Fever. He talks of how copperhead “serpents” are becoming “spontaneous” at home; “ I would rather fight the Rebels in the south than to hear of them in the north.” He talks a skirmish in which a man from Company H was wounded. He mentions seeing his brother Rolla two or three months ago (“He is as fat as a pig”) and that his brother David “is yet at Nashville.” He closes by stating, “ I would be glad to receive a letter from anyone who thinks me worth writing to.”

Corporal James Hofsteater was killed in action at the battle of Picketts Mill, Georgia on Friday, May 27, 1864, during the early phase of the Atlanta campaign. The dead of the battle were hastily buried onsite and later reburied at the national cemetery in Marietta, Georgia. James is buried with the unknowns.

At Picketts Mill, General Sherman ordered Major General O.O. Howard to attack Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s seemingly exposed right flank. The battle on Benjamin and Malachi Pickett’s farm began about 4:30 P.M. that afternoon when Brigadier General William Hazen began his advance on the Confederate line. The Confederates repulsed the attack with high Union casualties. At 6 P.M., a 2nd Union attack was ordered by General Thomas Woods. The brigade under the command of Colonel William Gibson was routed.

W. S. Franklin, Co. H, 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, had this to say of the battle:

“When the battle-line got within a few feet of the rebel breastworks the enemy arose and opened a terrific fire of musketry into our ranks. Our men replied with great fury, and for an hour at least death and destruction reigned supreme. Those of us who lived through that struggle cannot forget what surrounded us. The regiments of our brigade, like most all others, had been greeatly reduced in numbers, yet our loss in the division was 1,600 men. Our regiment went into the charge with 414, and it came out with 207 men. Fifty per cent of our men were thus numbered among the killed, wounded and missing.

When our men were leaving the slaughter-pen in the darkness, those of our comrades who were severely wounded raised dismal cries and appeled to us to take them along to the rear, but we could not, for we were nearly helpless ourselves. The rebels soon charged over the ground after us (At 10 PM , Colonel Hiram Granbury asked and received permission to advance to sweep the area in front of him for Union soldiers-RFH) and our dear comrades fell into their cruel hands. A few days afterwards the enemy were forced to leave our front. Then we went in search of the missing ones, but those brave fellows who fell on that fatal evening have never been heard from again. They had been buried in large ditches, like tens of thousands of other soldiers, and a few inches of earch is all that hid those dead heroes from view.” (From : National Tribune May 27, 1898).

Rolla Hofsteater, age 26, enlisted with the 99th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on Aug 7, 1862. His brother David joined the next day. On December 31, 1864, the 99th was consolidated with the 50th Ohio. Records of the 50th Ohio show that Rolla Hufstutter of K Company, mustered out June 25, 1865. His brother David died Jan. 7, 1864 in “General Hospital at Chattanooga.” He is buried at Chattanooga National Cemetery.

Rolla wrote his sister Elizabeth a letter from Raleigh, North Carolina on April 14, 1865. This was the day after Sherman’s army reached Raleigh. Robert E. Lee had surrendered on April 9th, which Rolla mentions in his letter. The evening of April 14th, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and died the next morning. Word of this did not reach Raleigh until April 17th. Sherman’s army departed for Richmond , April 29nd and 30th.

Rolla makes some interesting statements about the war. “ I think before two weeks Johnson will surrender his army.” The formal surrender occurred less than two weeks later on April 26th though Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston signed an armistice with Sherman on April 18th. Sherman’s terms were more liberal than Grant’s to Lee, hence the delay to reconcile the two agreements. In the three weeks prior to arriving in Raleigh, Rolla says their army has driven the Rebs over two hundred miles. “We have had several hard fights but what does that amount to when we whip them every time.” He also mentions a speech Sherman made to the army. “General Sherman made us a speech when wee was (at) Golesford (Goldsboro, NC) and he sayd that inside of three months he was going to have to muster out the best army in the world. I think this war is about over. You can just begin to look for Rolla Hofsteater home in about two months…” (Sherman’s army of 120,000 advanced on Goldsboro, March 6th-21st. He occupied the city on March 24th and remained there until April 10th-RFH).

Rolla’s thoughts have clearly turned to home. He mentions receiving a letter from Hannah Ellsworth and says “I am going out to Wayne County if I live.” (Hannah Ellsworth was born 19 May 1838 in Wayne County, Ohio. She married Elijah Messer and died 3 October 1911 in Grand Rapids, Michigan). He also mentions a man named Hiram Rop. I found a Hiram Rop in Ohio, an older man. Perhaps, Rolla’s intent was job-related. Rolla married Margaret Hines in 1873, became an invalid in 1889 and died in 1894 in Indiana.

James and Rolla Hofsteater were ordinary infantry soldiers. They wrote of home, family members, the excitement of getting paid (James- “ we have to go up to the Paymasters in a short time to get our Green Backs”) , food and their health. There was excitement too about the war ( Rolla-“Sherman comes high thunder now”). Reading these two hand written letters by young men in their 20s, helps James and Rolla Hofsteater, great grandsons of Ulrich Huffstutter, come alive more than any photo, document or census record can.

Thanks, Janiza!