Friedrich Rankes was born in 1844 in Hanover, Germany or the Netherlands.
According to one source, Friedrich was born and raised along the German-Dutch border and immigrated with a number of Dutch settlers to the United States, presumably with his family, and by 1862 had settled in western Michigan, reportedly Polkton, Ottawa County. In 1860 there was Dutch-born Hiram Ranke, age 28, living with his wife and children in Polkton, Ottawa County. Nearby lived a farm laborer named Franklin Tubbs who would also join Company B, Third Michigan.
Friedrich stood 5’4” with gray eyes, light hair and a light complexion and was an 18-year-old farmer possibly living in Grand Rapids or Polkton, Ottawa County when he enlisted in Company B on January 29, 1862, at Grand Rapids for 3 years, and was mustered the same day. (Frank Tubbs who was also from Polkton, Ottawa County had enlisted in Company B the previous year.)
He was sick with consumption in the hospital at Bottom’s Bridge, Virginia in late June of 1862, and reported AWOL from August through September of 1862. In fact, he may have been wounded on August 29, 1862, at Second Bull Run, and was reported as such in early September.
Friedrich was absent sick in the hospital in Alexandria, Virginia from October 10, 1863, through November, and eventually returned to duty.
He was taken prisoner on January 4, 1864, while on picket duty near Eldorado, Virginia, and first confined in Richmond, Virginia on January 6. He was subsequently sent to Andersonville prison on March 10 or 14. He was transferred as a prisoner-of-war to Company E, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864, and on February 27, 1865, he was admitted to the prison hospital suffering from chronic diarrhea. He was returned to his quarters on March 4, and eventually paroled on March 22.
On April 11 Friedrich wrote his father from Camp Fisk, presumably a camp for recently released prisoners-of-war.
Dear Father -- I should mention some details of my improvement but it brings to mind such horrors of human misery that I would rather decline if I could and banish from my memory what I have suffered and seen others suffer while I was in the Confederacy. I arrived in Andersonville, Ga., on the 14th of March, 1864. After being robbed of everything I possessed in the way of money, extra clothing and shelter, we were put into a field covering some twenty acres of ground, without a tree or shrub upon it, with a stockade built around us some twenty feet high. Within this stockade existed, at one time, 35,000 prisoners, with no shelter except the broad canopy of Heaven. I have seen men die and exclaim when dying, “I starve to death!” In the agonies of death I have heard them cry to a comrade for bread or water. Should one, perchance, pause to look into the shrunken eye and view he haggard appearance of a comrade, he would say, ‘He will die anyhow,’ and then pass on; for it required all the ambition a man possessed to take of himself. When a poor comrade died a hundred men would fight over the body to get what little amount of clothing he possessed, and send the corpse in a nude state to our prison gate, where a negro would throw it on top of a car along with 15 or 20 others, and in that manner carry it to a grave or pit and throw it in. We scarcely could ever go to a creek which ran through our camp, to wash, without finding the water crimsoned with the blood of a comrade, shot in cold blood alongside of you, who for a moment, forgetting himself, had leaned against the “dead line” or touched it in some manner.
Thus I have seen 1,200 Union prisoners died, who, I imagine, cry from their silent graves to their living comrades to avenge their death. In September last we moved to Savannah, where we were treated with a little more humanity; but we were not destined to remain there long, as they moved us to Millen, Ga. We remained there until Sherman’s invasion caused us to be removed to Savannah, from there to Blackshire, Ga., then to Thomasville -- traveling four days and nights on one pint of raw corn. Winter has come. Heaven help us! Without clothing or shelter the men are dying in fearful numbers; but we are sent to Albany and from there back to our old prison at Andersonville. We remained there until March 22d, when we left for Selma, Alabama, hence to this camp, where we were paroled. Were one half of the horrors of our prison life pictured to the people of the North they would say it was false, that no civilized people could be so destitute of humanity as to treat prisoners of war in the manner we have been treated. You will ask why we did not endeavor to escape? We knew that of we did we should be caught by the bloodhounds, kept by the rebels for that purpose; for, to use their own phrase, “They could tree a d__d Yankee as quick as a negro.” What do you think our feelings are toward the people of the South?”
Shortly afterwards Friedrich along with hundreds of other former Union prisoners-of-war was sent north. He was the only member of the Third Michigan known to have been aboard the steamer Sultana when it exploded on April 27, 1865, although he was apparently erroneously listed as a Private with Company D, Third Michigan cavalry on the roster of exchanged prisoners who died aboard the ship.
On June 2, 1865, his brother Henry wrote to the provost marshal in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Can you inform me [Henry asked] if my brother Frederick Rankes a paroled prisoner a member of the 3d Mich Infty (‘army of the Potomac’ at the time he was taken prisoner) was shipped for the north on board the steamer Sultana that was burned. I had a letter from him dated the 11th of April and that he expected to be sent home about that time. His letter is dated ‘Camp Fisk’. We are very anxious to hear from him as we [have] not heard anything since the letter referred to above. By answering this you will confer a great favor on his parents and relatives here If you don’t know anything about him will you please hand this to someone that would be likely to know and answer it.
It is not known what, if any, reply the War Department made to Henry’s inquiry.