By Daniel Carroll Toomey
Following the French revolution and the age of Napoleon, a desire for political reform spread throughout Central Europe. In early 1848, a rebellion led by a rising middle class, students and liberals sought to unify German states and form a centralized government similar to England and France.
German monarchs took swift action to crush the uprisings.
Some of the rebels survived the royal crackdown. Fearful of prison or unhappy with the continuation of a near-feudal existence, they fled to the United States. Known as “Forty-Eighters,” this condensed wave of German immigrants settled predominately in the Northern and Border states in the 1850s. They soon emerged as a political force to be courted. They also became a powerful military force after the Civil War began in 1861, swelling the ranks of the Union Army in defense of their newfound homes and freedoms.
Back in Prussia, King Frederick Wilhelm IV benefitted from the failed revolution. He had dispatched his army to the principality of Hohenzollern and defeated the rebels. He also forced the heads of state to abdicate and made the conquered territory part of Prussia. To reward his loyal soldiers who participated in the fighting, Wilhelm issued the Prussian-Hohenzollern Medal on Aug. 23, 1851.
One of the veterans who received this medal was Earnest Barth. In 1854, at about age 26, he immigrated to the U.S. via Liverpool, England, on the Southampton. Barth arrived in New York City on May 20—joining those Prussians he had only recently vanquished.
By 1860, Barth was married with one child and working as a machinist in New York City.
After the Civil War began, Barth volunteered to fight for his adopted country. In August 1861, he enlisted as a corporal in Company C of the Second German Rifles. The regiment mustered for federal service as the 68th New York Infantry.
Barth’s prior military training and combat experience must have impressed the younger men in the regiment venturing away from home for the first time, as evidenced by his promotion to sergeant on New Year’s Day 1862. By this time, the 68th was stationed in the defenses of Washington, D.C.
A few months after he earned his sergeant’s stripes, military authorities transferred the regiment to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where his service took an unpredictable turn—from combat soldier to caregiver.
It started in May 1862 when he fell ill. This began an odyssey through the army’s hospital system in western Virginia and Maryland. From the camp hospital in Petersburg, Va., he was sent to another facility in New Creek, Va. Due to overcrowding, he received a transfer to Kelly Army Hospital in Cumberland, Md., then to Clarysville Hospital in Allegany County, Md., and then back to Cumberland.
Barth also suffered from a rupture caused by a forced march during a roughly 70-mile movement across the Shenandoah Valley from Winchester to Petersburg. Deemed unfit for active duty, he served the remainder of his enlistment as a nurse in the army’s general hospital in Cumberland. His duties as a nurse caused himself further harm when he helped move a cook stove. The physical exertion resulted in a double hernia that plagued him for the rest of his life.
Despite his physical issues, Barth remained in uniform until the conclusion of his 3-year enlistment in July 1864. Evidence suggests Barth’s wife and daughter joined him in Cumberland prior to the expiration of his service. Before the end of the year, they welcomed a Maryland-born son into their family.
Tragedy struck Barth with the death of his wife in 1870. He soon married his second wife, Sophia Herbst. Unable to work as a machinist due to his medical condition, he labored as a janitor, and received a modest army pension to supplement his income.
At some point, Barth became active in the Grand Army of the Republic. Akin to today’s American Legion, the G.A.R. was organized in 1866 and functioned on a national, state and local level. In 1868, the commander-in-chief of the G.A.R., Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, called for a nationwide Decoration Day to remember veterans who died in the performance of their duties—today’s Memorial Day.
This same year, The G.A.R.’s Department of Maryland formed with 13 posts throughout the state. This number eventually grew to over 80.
G.A.R. posts received numbers from their departments, but the choice of a name was strictly a local matter. A post could be named after a national or local hero, no matter if he were a private or a general. Cumberland Post No. 5 was named for Brevet Maj. Gen. Erastus B. Tyler, who commanded a brigade in the defenses of Baltimore, and fought with distinction at the Battle of Monocacy.
Barth served for a time as the junior-vice commander of Tyler Post. He was instrumental in forming the Tyler Post Drum Corps. In later years, this organization became the Second Battalion Drum Corps of the Maryland National Guard.
It is difficult today to appreciate the importance of G.A.R. posts in the social fabric of America before the advent of Monday Night Football and e-mail. In small towns across the country, alternatives to work and family were limited to church, a Masonic Lodge or another civic organization. Membership in the G.A.R. provided Barth and other veterans with a chance to gather one or more times a month with old army buddies. Citizens of Cumberland and other cities, small and large, gave considerable respect to their local posts. The sight of graying veterans marching in Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades remained constant well into the 20th century.
Barth, a solid citizen in his new country and state, numbered among those who participated in G.A.R. annual events. By 1907, his children and second wife, Sophia, had passed, leaving him alone. He lived for a few years at the Soldiers’ Home in Dayton, Ohio, before returning to Cumberland. He lived until age 81, dying in 1908. Dressed in his beloved G.A.R. uniform, he was laid to rest with full honors in the German Lutheran Cemetery.
Origin of this project
Everitt Bowles, a good friend of mine in the badges and medals business, purchased a group of photographs and related items at a yard sale in Dalton, Ga. One of the photographs pictured a Union veteran and a ribbon marked Cumberland, Md. Knowing that I collected Maryland veterans’ items, Everitt offered me the group and I accepted.
The group consisted of a medal, badge, ribbon, two photo albums and other items. One large album contained post-Civil War photos. Only one of these images had a name written on the back: Emmett Barth, a boy no more than 10. The second album, carte de visite size, contained images from Cumberland and Prussia. Though none of the images were identified, a plate on the cover was inscribed with the initials “E.B.”
At a lecture one night, I told Tilden Moore about my recent acquisition. Tilden had just completed compiling reprints of the 1890 Special Census of Civil War Veterans in Maryland. He suggested I contact Harriet Ann Moore at the Genealogical Society of Allegany County in Cumberland. He said she enjoyed census research and was very good at it. He was right. I sent her the information I deduced from the collection and copies of the pertinent photos. She identified five veterans from the Cumberland area by date and place of birth and eliminated all but one: Earnest Barth.
The next question I determined to answer was how Barth got from Prussia to New York to Cumberland. My friend Steve Hammond, who worked in Washington, D.C., at the time, helped. He went to the National Archives during lunch breaks and copied Barth’s military and pension records. I passed the relevant pages to Harriet. She sent me another batch of information about Barth’s life in Cumberland after the war and his association with the G.A.R. Vince Vaise with the National Park Service translated the inscription on the medal. I am in debt to them all.
References: Wikipedia; Faust, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War; Moore, 1890 Special Census of the Civil War Veterans of the State of Maryland; 1870, 1880, 1890 U.S. Census; Earnest Barth military service and pension record, National Archives; Dyer, Compendium of the War of the Rebellion; Soderberg, A Guide to Civil War Sites in Maryland; Toomey, Union Civil War Veterans’ Organizations in Maryland; Warner, Generals in Blue; Cumberland Evening Times, Cumberland, Md., Feb. 24, 1908, and Oct. 14, 1905.
Daniel Carroll Toomey is an authority on the Civil War in Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland and the author of 14 books on the subject. Dan has received numerous awards for his research, and has lectured at The Johns Hopkins University, the Smithsonian Institution and elsewhere.
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