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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Using Civil War Pension Files, Part I : The case of Ernst C. Reif - Part I

Recently I received the full pension files for two Civil War soldiers, and I have never been so 
excited to read the information that has been revealed to me.  Outstanding!

The pension files belong to a great great uncle of my husband who served as a volunteer in the 
Union Army, and an African American Civil War Veteran who served one year in the USCT.  
These were both obtained from the company Twisted Twigs on Gnarled 

US Flag of 1861, public domain photo,

19 April 1908 c. 147 35 Stat. 64

An Act To increase the pension of widows, minor children, and so forth, of deceased soldiers and sailors of the late civil war, the war with Mexico, the various Indian wars, and so forth, and to grant a pension to certain widows of the deceased soldiers and sailors of the late civil war.

In the days of the Civil War, the Pension Office was overseen and part of the Department of the Interior (now oversees the National Parks Service), and the Veterans Administration of today was not formed until much later.

This is the story of veteran Ernst (Ernest) C. Reif of Forreston, Ogle County, Illinois.

Ernst Christian Reif arrived in the United States in 1854, along with his father, stepmother, and some younger siblings.  Being the oldest of the brood, I suspect he had to help his father with the support of this Reif family.  They settled in northern Illinois, the county of Ogle, later moving to Stephenson. Ernst was a carpenter by trade, as well as his father, George Reif.

Ernst enlisted into the Union ranks in 1861 upon the opening of the Civil War.  He served in the 34th Illinois Infantry, where he was wounded at the Battle of Stone River, near Nashville, Tennessee, on 31 December 1862.  He was shot through the thigh and had become so lame that he could not walk without a crutch.  Having been taken prisoner, and later recuperating in a Union hospital, he was discharged in June of 1863. He returned back to Forreston, Illinois and his betrothed, Catherine Foy.

This is where the story of the pension begins for Ernst Reif.  According to his pension papers, he was wounded and taken prisoner.  Having been exchanged with other prisoners, he was able to be tended to and then sent home upon his discharge.  The Examining Surgeon's Report states that he was discharged from Louisville, Kentucky. Later, in August of 1867, he would die from the effects of this permanent damage from the gunshot wound to his leg. One document from the surgeon states that he was subsequently promoted to 1st Lient. This is the only reference to this promotion.

He was admitted to General Hospital 21 in Nashville, Tennessee, (most likely Cumberland hospital, but not proven yet) 13 Feb, 1863. His wound was described as : "gunshot of left thigh, ball entered anterior inner face of thigh, 2 inches below groin, just internal of sartorious, part directly backwards and outwards, behind and internal to femur, and out  on posterior face of thigh, below gluteus maximus, through belly of biceps. Some contraction and adhesion of parts injured.  Cannot straighten the limb at knee, Walks on toes of injured limb."
Signed by the examining surgeon, 12 June 1863, Louisville, Kentucky. Many Union soldiers, sick and wounded, were treated at one of the several Nashville military hospitals, before being transferred to Louisville for further treatment.

Ernst was transferred to Louisville from Nashville in April of 1863, to General Hospital 7.  This is where he was cared for until June of that year, and was sent home with a certificate of disability and eligible for an invalid pension. Hospital 7, also known as Brown  General Hospital, built by the Union Army in Louisville, the largest of six general military hospitals in Louisville.

To be continued.....