Saturday, September 20, 2008

Christian Fosler

Christian Fosler, also known as “Fosloe” and “Vosseler,” was born March 18, 1832, in Tuningen, W├╝rttemberg, Germany, the son of Phillip and Marie (Vosseler).

Phillip and Marie were married in October of 1832. In any case, Christian probably immigrated to Switzerland sometime in the early 1850s (perhaps to avoid military service when he turned 18 in 1850); and in fact Tuningen is just 15 miles north of the Swiss border and 50 miles from St. Gallen, Switzerland.

However, “To legally emigrate,” writes Fosler family historian Carl Fosler, “Germans had to pay their debts and apply for permission (and pay a fee for that). Many people left without permission, but this could be a problem if you left family behind (the family could be fined and taxed if found out).” Indeed, it was noted in the 1858 family register in Tuningen that Christian was in America but was not listed in the emigration records. Moreover, by 1860 Christian was giving his name as “Fosleer” or “Foslier,” quite possibly trying to hide the fact that he left W├╝rttemberg without permission and hoping to protect his parents from being fined by the government.

In any event, Christian eventually settled in St. Gallen, Switzerland and in 1852 he immigrated to the United States. He traveled from St. Gallen to Le Havre, France where he boarded the Caspian en route to New York City where he arrived on May 15, 1852.

He married Sarah Kuhn (1832-1902), on December 15, 1856, and they had at least five children: Carl (or Charles) Hermann (b. 1857), Josephine (b. 1859), Gustave Albert (b. 1860), Edward Anton (b. 1863) and Isabelle (b. 1866). By 1857 Christian was residing in Port Huron, St. Clair County, and in Detroit by 1859.

In 1860 Christian was living in Wayne County when he declared his intention to become an American citizen. Indeed he was working as a cook in Detroit, Fourth Ward where he was living with his wife Sarah and two children; the same year he was also recorded as working as a “confectioner” in Shiawassee County. Either he moved his family to Shiawassee County just before the war broke out or his wife moved to Owosso, Shiawassee County soon after Christian joined the Third Michigan.

Christian stood 5’7” with brown eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion, and was 29 years old when he enlisted in Company C on June 10, 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.)

On June 24, 1861, shortly after the Regiment left Michigan for Washington, a village official from Owosso, Shiawassee County, wrote a letter to General John Robertson, Adjutant General for the state of Michigan, seeking aid for Fosler’s family. “Will you have the kindness,” wrote J. F. Laubengayer, “to inform me if you have the name of a private in Comp C in [the] Third Regiment of Mich. Militia by the name of Christian Fossler lately from Owosso where his family resides. The reason is, to get a certificate to show our County Officer to get relief for the family. Please inform me by return of mail as the family needs help.” Laubengayer added in a postscript that “He went with the intention to serve as cook whether he got the opportunity or not I have not learned.” The same day, Supervisor B. Williams of the first judicial district of Owosso also wrote to Robertson, asking “Will you please inform me, if Christian Fosler, late of this place, was mustered into the service of the State Volunteers at Grand Rapids. He is said to be in Company C 3 Regiment Mich Infantry. His family reside here and need the assistance contemplated by the late law in case he is in the service as represented.” It is not known what action was taken to provide assistance to Christian's family.

Christian was injured in late 1861. He testified in 1863 that on December 25, 1861, “about seven miles southwest of Alexandria . . . while crossing a creek upon a log in connection with other soldiers, he was accidentally pushed off, which caused a rupture in the lower part of the abdomen, . . .” He apparently recovered and was returned to duty. He was again disabled during the Seven Days’ battles near Richmond, Virginia, in the summer of 1862, “having something like fits” from which he never recovered.

Nevertheless, Christian was reported as a company cook (which had been his occupation in Detroit) in July of 1862, but by August and September was absent sick in the hospital. He was admitted to Chesapeake Hospital in Washington, DC, on August 12, 1862, suffering from lumbago. Christian was reported as having deserted as of October 23, 1862, at Edward’s Ferry, Maryland, but in fact was discharged for epilepsy on October 14, 1862, at Chesapeake hospital, Fortress Monroe, Virginia.

Although he listed Owosso as his mailing address on his discharge paper, by May of 1863 Christian was residing in Grand Rapids (where his fourth child was born in July of 1863), and he had resumed his prewar occupation of confectioner. That same year he applied for pension (no. 25176), but the claim was soon afterwards abandoned.

It appears that Christian reentered the Third Michigan in early 1864. (He was the only man to have done this, as far as is known.)

According to the military service record of one “Christian Foster,” he was in fact the same man as Christian Fosler (or Fosloe) of the Third Michigan. “Christian Foster” enlisted in Company C on January 4, 1864, at Grand Rapids for 3 years, crediting Wyoming, Kent County, was mustered on January 12, and he joined the Regiment on February 18 at Camp Bullock, Virginia. In March he was at Brigade headquarters where he remained through May. He was transferred to Company I, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864, and was on detached service in July. From September through November he was a nurse at City Point hospital, Virginia, and was in the Quartermaster department from December of 1864 through January of 1865. He was a Brigade pioneer from February through May, in June he was a provost guard at Division headquarters and he was mustered out on July 5, 1865, at Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Christian Fosler (or Foster) probably returned to Grand Rapids after the war but he and his wife separated sometime before his daughter Isabelle was born in that city in June of 1866. According to one source, the marriage began to dissolve when Sarah discovered that Christian had been having affairs with other women. Although Christian apparently filed for a pension in the mid-1860s, the claim was stamped as both abandoned and rejected sometime in the late 1860s and it appears that he may have died around 1868. In any case, by 1870 Sarah was working as a dressmaker and living with her children in Grand Rapids’ First Ward. (Although curiously, Sarah herself never applied for a widow's pension.)

By 1880 Sarah and her children (except Charles) were living at 81 Almy Street in Grand Rapids. Sarah and her daughter Josephine became dressmakers in Grand Rapids and by 1880 was also taking in boarders. By 1884 Sarah had moved to Chicago and in 1900 she and her oldest daughter were living with Isabelle and her husband, Charles B. Jones, in Chicago. Sarah died in 1902 in Chicago, and was buried in St. Maria cemetery, Chicago.

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