IAGenWeb Project - Clayton co.

Frank Henry Beckmann
Co. D, 27th IA Infantry, Civil War

~researched & written by Carl Inwalson


Frank Henry Beckmann was born in Auglaize County, Ohio, on May 17, 1838, and, like many others, immigrated to Iowa where farmland was plentiful and title could be acquired by homesteading. Anna Katharina Dorothea Dahling (who normally used the name Dorothea) was born on August 31, 1840, in Mecklenberg, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1854. Frank and Dorothea were married in Clayton County on March 6, 1857, while the state was still suffering from “wild and giddy speculation” and the “hard times” that had settled on the county. The soil, however, provided a good living, “the surplus products of the farm could be exchanged for the few simple manufactured articles which the settler was obliged to have” and on January 28, 1861, a son, Franklin W., was born to Frank and Dorothea. It was only two and one-half months later that General Beauregard’s Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter and four days later Iowa was called upon for one regiment of infantry.

By the middle of the following year, the war that few expected had escalated beyond comprehension and, on July 9th, Governor Sam Kirkwood received a telegram asking for five regiments of three-year men. If not raised by August 15th, the shortage would be made up by a draft. By then, “farmers were busy with the harvest, the war was much more serious than had been anticipated, and the first ebullition of military enthusiasm had subsided,” but the Governor was confident the state would meet its quota. “We have,” he said, “scarcely men enough to save our crops, but if need be our women can help."

On August 19, 1862, at Guttenberg, Frank Beckmann signed a Volunteer Enlistment agreeing to serve for three years unless sooner discharged. Enrolled in what would be Company D of the state’s 27th Infantry, he went into quarters at Dubuque’s Camp Franklin where the company was mustered into service on September 13th and the regiment on October 3rd. Frank was described as a 6' 1” farmer with blue eyes, light hair and a light complexion. Charles Hennrich, one Frank’s Company D comrades, said they were furnished with a blanket for every two men, an overcoat, two pairs of underwear, two shirts, one pair of shoes, two pairs of socks, a hat, a cap and a pair of trousers. After brief service in Minnesota they moved to Cairo, Illinois, and from there, on November 20th, left for Memphis where they would serve with General Sherman in Tennessee, moving to Waterford, Jackson, Lexington, Humboldt and Moscow before returning to Memphis.

Frank had been marked “present” on all bi-monthly muster rolls since his enlistment and on September 10, 1863, participated with his regiment in the capture of Little Rock. On March 14, 1864, he was with the regiment at Fort DeRussey, Louisiana, when it fell to Union troops. From there they moved to Alexandria and, on April 7th, General Nathaniel Banks’ “troops took the advance, on the road towards Shreveport.” On the 8th, heavy cannonading was “heard in front; indicating that the troops in advance had become engaged with the enemy.” This Battle of Mansfield (Sabine Crossroads) ended with a Confederate victory.

Up to this time, the regiment “had never participated in a great battle,” but on the 9th it was “called upon to go into action against great odds.” Their brigade moved to the front as ordered but by 3:00 p.m. “the situation was becoming critical.” Reinforcements were promised but didn’t arrive and a “few minutes before 5 o'clock the enemy opened heavily.” Initially, men “held their ground” but they were soon compelled to fall back. Despite another Confederate victory, brigade commander William Shaw would write, “of Colonel Gilbert Twenty-seventh Iowa, and his regiment, I can say they did their whole duty. Although they had never been under fire before, they gave their fire with the coolness and precision of veterans, and fully sustained the reputation of Iowa soldiers.” By day’s end, fourteen commissioned officers were wounded, four enlisted men had been killed and sixty-six wounded, and another fourteen were missing (either killed or taken prisoner). Among the wounded who were left on the field was Frank Beckmann who had a musket ball enter the left side of his abdomen about one inch above the umbilicus and track eight or nine inches through his abdomen before exiting on the right side.

To the west, near Tyler, Texas, Camp Ford was the largest Confederate prison west of the Mississippi. In a wooded area, some prisoners had constructed log cabins and shebangs inside an oak timber stockade eight to ten feet high and supplied with water from Ray's Creek and nearby springs but others had no shelter. Meager rations usually included only beef and cornmeal. Some said conditions were better than elsewhere, and they may have been, but the camp’s population swelled to an estimated 4,900 when Union prisoners from Mansfield and Pleasant Hill arrived and it was described as a "sewer pit," a "hellhole" that was a "sty not fit for pigs." Among its prisoners was Frank Beckmann who had been taken to Camp Ford by his captors and remained there from the time he arrived until October 22, 1864, when he was paroled for exchange at the Red River landing. By then he was suffering not only from the abdominal wound, but also from varicose veins and ulcers on his legs.

From the landing, Frank and other exchanged prisoners were transported south to New Orleans where he reported on October 27th but was then sent north and on November 27th rejoined his regiment at Cairo, Illinois. Near Nashville on December 2, 1864, Assistant Surgeon David Hastings wrote that Frank was still suffering from his wound, was unfit for duty and “a furlough enabling him to visit his family and the consequent change of climate diet & c. will be the surest and most speedy means to restore him to health & duty.” Captain Garber then wrote to an Assistant Adjutant General and requested a furlough that on the 11th was granted for thirty days. Like many receiving disability furloughs, Frank was late returning and on February 14th reported at Davenport’s Camp McClellan as a “straggler” awaiting transportation. On March 15th he was reinstated without penalty when he rejoined the regiment then on Dauphin Island, Alabama, preparing for a campaign to capture Mobile. After crossing the entrance to Mobile Bay, they were part of an army that moved north along the east side of the bay and participated in the siege and capture of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely. Confederates abandoned Mobile on April 12th and by June the regiment was in Vicksburg. On August 8, they were mustered out of service at Clinton, Iowa, received the $75.00 balance of their enlistment bounty and their final monthly pay, and were free to return to their families.

Frank’s furlough the previous year had not been uneventful and, on October 13, 1865, Dorothea gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth aka Lizzie, who was followed by eight more children: Augusta on July 16, 1869; William F. on May 8, 1871; Wilhelmina aka Mina on June 22, 1873; Dorothea Elice Friedricke on April 7, 1875 according to a “family record” or April 7, 1876 according to church records; Frederick Detrick on September 7, 1877; Albert Henrich on February 4, 1881; his twin brother Charles Wilhelm, aka Carl and Charley on February 4, 1881; and Ludwig Franz aka Ludwick and Louis on April 13,1883.

The family made their home in Littleport and there, on April 2, 1866, Frank signed an application for an invalid pension with Woodward & Young of Elkader as his attorneys. As a result of his wound, he said his left hip joint was lame, his left leg was stiff and at times it “pains him severely;” “his occupation has been driving team a very little.” Still optimistic, he told Dr. A. B. Hanna he thought he would “recover his health in due time.” With Dr. Hanna’s report and an affidavit from Alexander Bliedung, an officer in Company D, a certificate for $4.00 monthly, payable quarterly, was issued on December 22, 1866. Over the next twenty years Frank’s condition steadily worsened and he frequently walked with a cane or crutches. In 1873 he said the pain “became acute in or before a storm, in 1874 (signing for the first time as “Beckman”) that he “felt he was entitled to an increase,” in 1875 that it was worse along the track of the musket ball and in 1881 that he was “disabled for nearly half of my time.” Two years later Frank said he had “tenderness on right side” and doctors found a large number of varicose veins on both legs.

By 1884 the monthly amount had been increased to $17.00 when he applied again. His illness, he said, was contracted while in the rebel prison and resulted in “rheumatism and ulcerated sores” on his legs. Military records made no mention of leg problems and this was the first application in which Frank mentioned them, but three of his former comrades signed affidavits saying they had seen the varicose veins, swollen legs and sores while in the army. Charles Schecker said, “poor Frank got seriously wounded in the abdomen, close by me, and that was the last time I saw him in the service. After the war Frank came home a cripple. The time he stayed in prison proved that it had been too much for his strong constitution.” Frank’s claim was still pending when he died on May 22, 1888, at fifty years of age. He is buried in Littleport’s Union Cemetery (then Protestant Littleport Cemetery).

On June 4th Dorothea retained Elkader attorney W. A. Preston and applied for a widow’s pension and an additional $2.00 monthly for each of her six children who were under sixteen years of age when their father died. Witnesses confirmed her marriage, that she and Frank had not been married previously and that she had not remarried, but her claim was difficult since the law at the time required that Frank’s death be service-related. She said “my dear husband died on the 22d day of May 1888,” but proving the death was related to his wound or imprisonment at Camp Ford proved to be impossible despite medical testimony. A Special Examiner deposed Dorothea, hotel keeper and farmer H. L. Gifford, sixty-six-year-old G. L. Gifford, blacksmith Ernst Enders who said he was sometimes helped by Frank, pension surgeon Dr. Hanna and Dr. B. F. Hall who had first seen Frank three weeks before his death and said Frank “conversed quite rationally and intelligently and he was anxious to know if I could do anything to save him.” Some felt the death was due to war-related lung problems, but a pension office Medical Examiner felt any lung disease had no “pathological connection” with the abdominal wound for which he had been pensioned. The wound, “while painful and inconvenient” was not, he said, the cause of death. Similarly, Frank had lived with varicose veins for many years before his death, “nor can it be admitted that he was as a result of said pensioned causes so debilitated as to be unable to resist the fatal attack.”

Fortunately, a new law enacted in 1890 did not require that the veteran’s death be service-related and on August 8, 1893, a certificate was issued providing for a widow’s pension and additional amounts for five of the children. On August 18, 1921, the Elkader Register reported that eighty-year-old “Dorothea K. Beckman died at Littleport Tuesday, August 9, 1921" after “an illness of five years caused by dropsy.” She, like Frank, was buried in Union Cemetery.


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