George Schwegler was born on January 28, 1840, in Mellingen or Erlinger, Wurtemberg, Germany, the son of Christian or Johann Jacob.
George immigrated to America, probably with his family and came to Manistee County, Michigan, in 1849 or 1852. He then moved to Muskegon County in 1856 or possibly 1858 or 1859, and, except for his military service, reportedly lived in Muskegon the rest of his life.
He stood 5’8’ with blue eyes, light hair and a light complexion and was a 21-year-old laborer living in Muskegon County when he enlisted 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.)
George was reportedly wounded in July of 1861, but this cannot be confirmed. He was taken prisoner on June 30 or July 1, 1862, at Malvern Hill, Virginia, and confined at Libby and Belle Isle prisons in Richmond, Virginia, and was held for six weeks but soon exchanged. On August 6 the Richmond Dispatch reported that at
About 1 o’clock yesterday three thousand of the Federal prisoners on Belle Island left the city for “Varina,” (the farm of Albert Aiken, Esq., twelve miles from Richmond,) a guide having been procured from Capt. Alexander’s detective force to pilot them thither. They went under flag of truce to be exchanged, and were to be met by officers of the United States Army, empowered to effect that object. The party consisted wholly of soldiers, no commissioned officers being in the party. The guard attending the party was composed of a portion of the 42d Mississippi regiment, under Col. Miller. The prisoners were permitted to go by the C. S. Military Prison, and while in front of the building they cheered their imprisoned compatriots, (Generals and other officers,) and otherwise testified their respect for them. They appeared elated at the prospect of going home. The day was intensely hot, and it was intimated, after they had been gone for some hours, that many of them broke down, and had to be left on the way-side, while two or three died. There are 1,700 Yankees yet to go.
George may have been with that very detachment.
He rejoined the Regiment and was shot in the right hip and thigh on August 29, 1862, at Second Bull Run. On August 31 he was admitted to the First Division hospital at Alexandria, Virginia, and by the second week of September he was reported to be in the Mansion House hospital in Alexandria and “doing well.” He was discharged on November 24, 1862, at Alexandria, for “gunshot wound -- ball entering at neck of right femur, opening into and injuring the hip joint and was cut out at anterior lower third of thigh.”
George returned home to Muskegon and worked for a while as a raftsman, probably on the Muskegon River, and was drafted in September of 1863, but claimed exemption because of his alien status.
He married his first wife Norwegian native Tolerice (1845-1914) on November 3, 1864, and they had three children: George (d. 1867), Lucy (d. 1873, and a second daughter Lucy (with whom Tolerice was living in 1914; they may have had as many as nine children in all. (Tolerice immigrated to the US in 1850.) In any case they were subsequently divorced.
Notwithstanding his refusal to be drafted in 1863, George reentered the service in Company I, Fifth Michigan infantry on March 4, 1865, at Grand Rapids for 1 year, crediting Muskegon, and was mustered the same day. He joined the Regiment in April at Burkville, Virginia, and was mustered out on July 5, 1865, at Jeffersonville, Indiana.
After the war George returned to Muskegon where he operated a hotel from 1868-72, served as city marshal for three years, and was deputy sheriff for four years. (He was probably working on the boom and living in Muskegon’s Second Ward in 1870.) It was also reported that he was a member of the city police orce for nine years and city marshal for three years. In any case, he returned to the hotel business from 1878 to 1882, and by 1880 he was operating a hotel on Ottawa street in Muskegon’s First Ward and living with his (second?) wife, Wisconsin native Bena (b. 1848). He may have opened a saloon in 1882.
He married his second wife Bavarian native Anna Bodendorfer (1850-1911) on September 8, 1885. She was the widow of one of George’s friends, William Bodendorfer, who had also served in the Old Third during the war. (Anna immigrated to the US in 1868.)
In 1890 he was living in Muskegon city. From about 1895 until his death in 1899 he ran a saloon at 1 Catharine street in Muskegon. He was also a liquor dealer.
George was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association, the Grand Army of the Republic Kearny post no. 7 in Muskegon, the Germania Society and he received pension no. 126,694 (dated May 1875), drawing $6.00 per month by 1883.
George died of apoplexy at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, April 29, 1899, at his home at 1 Catharine street, and the funeral was held at the residence at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
“The largest man in Muskegon,” wrote the Detroit Journal, “if not the state is George Schwegler, proprietor of a sample room” in Muskegon. He is 5’10” and weighs 350 pounds stripped. His waist measures 70 [inches]. Known as ‘Little George’ it was while acting as patrolman that he began to grow fleshy.” The Herald wrote that near the end of his life Schwegler had the reputation of being the heaviest man in the state. In 1895 “his weight reached the 400-pound mark, and it was about that time that he began to diet. His weight steadily decreased, until at the time of his death he only weighed 340 pounds. He was about 5 feet seven inches in height. Owing to his extraordinary size, 8 pall bearers will be utilized for his funeral and a special order was placed for the casket.”
George was buried in Oakwood cemetery in Muskegon: 2-21-8.
In September of 1899 his widow applied for and received a pension (no. 528422). She was still living at 1 Catherine street in Muskegon when she died in 1911; she was buried alongside George in Oakwood cemetery.