Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Charles Houbel

Charles Houbel was born on February 9, 1823 in Hanover, Germany.

Charles immigrated to the United States, eventually settling in western Michigan by the time the war broke out.

He stood 5’10” with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion and was a 38-year-old wood-turner possibly living in Kent County when he enlisted as Seventh Corporal in Company C on May 13, 1861. (Company C was made up largely of German and Dutch immigrants, many of whom lived on the west side of the Grand River in Grand Rapids. This company was the descendant of the old Grand Rapids Rifles, also known as the “German Rifles,” a prewar local militia company composed solely of German troopers.)

According to a statement he made in 1889 he had enlisted as a private in April of 1861 “and was made Sergeant after six months.” Indeed, by the summer of 1862 he was reported as a Sergeant and sick in the hospital from July through September of 1862. Charles allegedly deserted in October; although he later claimed that he had in fact been wounded.

“I had never been sick until July 1, 1862,” he wrote to the Pension Bureau in 1889, “when in the morning our Regiment supported a battery and Captain [Israel] Geer ordered me to go back to the road and search for comrades of my company (there were several missing), tell them where to find our Regiment or chaperon them back, I brought some back including myself, my Regiment was released; some time afterwards Lieutenant [Theodore] Hetz addressed me to go once more, but I said I could not go without a written pass, Captain Geer himself came, gave me permission and said I should search the same road we had come from in the morning. By now it was afternoon and I did so. I came under fire by artillery twice, ‘in front Confederates’ and to my left our boats. I saw several men fall and was wounded myself at my leg and was bruised on my left side.”

Former Company F member Benjamin Tracy said in May of 1879 that while he had “some recollections of [Houbel’s] being sent to the hospital from Harrison’s Landing” he had entirely forgotten the nature of Houbel’s wound. He added that he had “seen some of the members of that company [C], among them the Orderly Sergeant [Theodore Castor] who says he [Houbel] was wounded at Malvern Hill while we were laying in support of a battery. I well remember it being a very hot place and think it quite possible that he may have been wounded there.”

However, several months later Tracy testified that he “was well and intimately acquainted with Charles Houbel” and in fact during the battle of Malvern Hill “on or about the 1st day of July, 1862 a shell exploded near [Houbel] and one piece of said shell struck him in the left side carrying away his cartridge belt and injuring his side and another piece of said shell struck [Houbel] in the left leg below the knee shattering the bone . . . just above the ankle joint.” Tracy added the observation that “Houbel was a good soldier and a man of good habits.” The injury was confirmed by the testimony of another former member of Company C, Theodore Castor.

After he was wounded, Houbel claimed, he was sent to “the ‘Field Hospital’ (for how long I do not know),” subsequently transferred from Harrison’s Landing, Virginia to Finley hospital in Washington, DC, and from there sent to New York, where he was discharged for “general debility” on October 31, 1862, at David’s Island in New York harbor.

It is not known if Charles ever returned to Michigan. Sometime after his discharge he settled in northern Ohio, and by May of 1889 was living in Toledo at 1721 Locust Street when he applied for an increase in his pension (no. 728756, dated 1886).

On May 28, 1889, he sent a letter to the Pension Bureau seeking assistance regarding application for an increase in his pension.

Dear Sir. Assuming I will not disturb you, I take my pen to write to you; you may forgive me that liberty.

Several months ago I wrote to comrades in Michigan who had been with me [in the war], but have not received any answers until today. They won’t be there anymore, I thought, or dead -- I don’t know. I have done everything in order to get even more affidavits to be sent to Washington (also the enclosed letter by a doctor who saw me lying on the ground on one side, I wanted to life my chest in order to show him my leg. He might have seen though, that I could not do it since I was too weak, the doctor said: ‘lay still, this man most be send to the General Hospital’) but I don’t get there [to the comrades in Michigan] through writing nor can I go there personally since I lack the means, also I do not know whether they are still alive; I am now 66 years of age (born Feb. 9, 1823), sick and poor, I cannot do anymore what my boss at work wants me to do, which you could also read in the accounts . . . [sentenced not finished properly], I was examined three times ‘by the Board of Examining Surgeons’.

Two days before he died, I also heard from Marcus Weber that letters had been written (anonymously) to Washington, by Schmeltz and Dumhoff and Storck, Schmeltz and Dumhoff were dead but Storck was still alive, so I questioned him. He swore and denied the charge, now I would like to ask Mr. Bussey [obviously the person to whom this letter is addressed] to hand my claim to a ‘Special Examiner’ who will find out that injustice has been done to me ‘so help me God’, I do not want anything else but the truth, also in my affidavits the word GUNSHOT appears quite often -- when it is read to me [Houbel was probably not fluent in English and had someone translate letters for him], and I said ‘a piece of shell’, but I only got the answer ‘is all reid’ [?].

Houbel then went on to say that in 1872 or perhaps 1873 he “received a bounty of $100, no more.” He also noted that the bruise on his wounded leg had never properly healed and “causes much more pain than my leg; for the time being I cannot lie on my left side during the night, I hope it will be better soon -- I have experienced that often before.”

His problems were further compounded some “Fifteen or sixteen years after I had been discharged, I was unlucky once more, carrying something heavy while at work, I slipped and broke my leg. Two years ago my wife suffered a stroke on her right side, she is still alive but paralyzed and cannot use her limbs anymore, nor can she get up and walk around anymore.” He closed by saying “I do not want to bother you any further, but have only one request: would you please, Mr. Bussey, go through my affidavits and see whether there is anything missing?”

In May of 1891 Charles was living at 625 Cherry Street in Toledo.

He may have died in Toledo.

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