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~ Military Biography ~

Dubuque County Civil War Soldiers
 of the
Twenty-first Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry

Historical information, notes & comments, in some cases correcting the record
Soldier biographies written by Carl Ingwalson

Carl will do look-ups in his extensive records of the 21st Iowa and he is always willing to share what he has.


Charles Roehl, born in the Mecklenburg area of northern Germany, was the son of Carl Frederick Roehl and Frederica (Roth) Roehl. Charles had two sisters and a brother who have not been identified.

On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to augment the country’s regulars. Two days later Governor Kirkwood called upon the citizens of Iowa for one regiment composed of ten companies with a minimum of seventy-eight men each. Volunteers came quickly and among them was Dubuque resident Charles Roehl who enlisted on April 23rd in what would be Company H of the 1st Regiment of Iowa infantry, a “90 days regiment.” The regiment was mustered in at Keokuk and, on June 21st, left for war. While serving in Missouri, it participated in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, the first major battle west of the Mississippi. The regiment was mustered out of service on August 21, 1861, and Charles returned to his home.
One friend said Charles’s mother was blind; another said she was deaf. His father was suffering from rheumatism and general debility and, according to Lambert Kniest who had known the family for many years, Charles “considered it a duty to aid and assist his father to as great an extent as lay in his power.” He gave his parents money, groceries, fuel, clothing and other necessaries of life but eventually, with the war in its second year, he answered another call for volunteers and was enrolled as a 7th Corporal in Jacob Swivel’s Company E.

They were mustered into service as the state’s 21st Infantry at Camp Franklin in Dubuque on September 9, 1862, and left for war a week later. Early service was in Missouri - Rolla, Salem, Houston, Hartville and back to Houston. On January 27, 1863, they started another long march, one that would take them to West Plains, Eminence, Ironton, Iron Mountain, Pilot Knob and, on March 11th, into the town of Ste. Genevieve. From there, they were transported down-river to Milliken’s Bend where General Grant was organizing a large three-corps army to capture the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg.

The initial plan was to move south along the west side of the river and then cross to Grand Gulf after its batteries were weakened by gunboats. When Grand Gulf proved to be too strong and too well defended, they moved farther south and, on April 30th, crossed from Disharoon’s plantation on the west bank to the Buinsburg landing on the east bank. From there the army started a slow movement inland with the 21st Iowa in the lead.

About midnight, near the Abram Shaifer house, a small advance patrol under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius Dunlap drew first fire from Confederate pickets. Others rushed forward and, for several hours, the two sides exchanged fire that, due to darkness and the unfamiliar terrain, was largely ineffective. Men on both sides then rested in line of battle knowing they would soon face each other in battle.

The May 1, 1863, Battle of Port Gibson, also known as the Battle of Magnolia Hills, began with gunfire, both muskets and artillery, about 6:30 a.m. More and more men rushed to the front and fired as rapidly as possible. By the time the morning's fighting ended hundreds of prisoners had been taken, but the dead and wounded "lay thickly scattered over the ground.” Confederates withdrew and abandoned Grand Gulf which was soon occupied by the federals while the bulk of the army continued its march inland.

The 21st Iowa had seventeen men wounded in the battle. Some wounds were severe and others slight. For three, the wounds would prove fatal. Dubuque’s Andrew McDonald had served with Charles in the 1st Infantry more than a year earlier. Now he was a 2nd Lieutenant and Charles was a 3rd Corporal, both in Company E. According to Andrew, Charles was “wounded severely in both legs by a fragment of a shell rendering the amputation of one of his legs necessary.” The amputation was performed in the field where Charles was treated for several days before being admitted to the Mary Ann Hospital in Grand Gulf. James Bryan, surgeon in charge of the hospital, said it had been “organized by introduction of patients from the field after the battles at Grand Gulf, Port Gibson, and the vicinity from the first to the fifteenth of May, 1863. It was almost entirely a field hospital, located on the slope of a prominent bluff occupied as a peach orchard.” The best drinking water - “very muddy, and sometimes fetid” - came from the Mississippi. Nurses “were partly enlisted men, and partly female contrabands.” In July, Dr. Bryan wrote an article describing the treatment provided to Charles, a comrade from Manchester and fourteen other soldiers, hoping, he said, “that the facts, as presented, will tend to improve our practice in ‘amputations.’”

Case XVI. - Amputation Middle Left Leg - Primary Double Flap. Charles Rehl, corporal, Co. E, 21st Iowa. This patient was admitted on the tenth, having been wounded on the first; he was treated meanwhile, but of the treatment no record could be obtained. When admitted, the soft parts were in a sloughing condition, with no signs of reunion; suppuration profuse and exceeding unhealthy; the wound was also infested with almost innumerable larvae; debility very considerable. The wounds was carefully cleansed, and a weak solution of cupri sulph. injected; gentle compression was made by rollers, and cold tar-water applied. Tonics, milk punch, and anodynes administered. This case progressed without improvement or anything peculiar, until the 20th, when the patient died.”

Frederick Meyer, a Dubuque doctor, while serving as an assistant surgeon with the 11th Iowa Infantry, had visited with Charles and said, “I found him in Grand Gulf Hospital with one leg amputated that he received his injury in the line of duty and died in said Hospital of Pyaemia.” The place of Charles’s burial is unknown.

Charles had regularly sent money home to his parents and they received his final pay and the $75.00 balance of his enlistment bounty, but eventually their resources ran out and Carl hired Samuel Burns, a Dubuque attorney, to pursue a pension claim. On September 8, 1866, signing by mark, Carl applied for a dependent’s pension. A month later, Frederica died. Carl continued to pursue his claim, hired another attorney and secured supportive affidavits from Andrew McDonald, Dr. Meyer and numerous friends.

Unfortunately, despite the large German population in Dubuque and more than fifty German natives in Company E, the handwritten military records often misspelled his name. Carl’s claim moved slowly as the Pension Office tried to verify his son’s identity and service. According to the Adjutant General, “the name of Charles Roehl is not born on Rolls of Co. ‘E’ 21st Iowa Vols, but that of Charles Ruehl appears.” The Surgeon General, relying on Dr. Bryant’s report, had neither spelling but did have “Rehl.” Two witnesses said, “the proper way to spell the name being Roehl.”

Witness after witness testified to the support Charles had provided to his parents. George Hess who had served in Company E was now living in Dubuque. For five months he had made out the company allotment rolls and knew Charles had sent his father “the sum of ten dolls per month.” Charles “took an interest in the welfare and comfort of his father,” said another witness. He paid rent and supplied other provisions. Eventually on April 12, 1869, a certificate was issued entitling Carl to $8.00 monthly retroactive to when Frederica had died. When a new pension act was adopted, Carl asked that the pension be made retroactive to the date of his son’s death.

Unfortunately, pension records reflect nothing else and the date of Carl’s death and place of his burial are not known.




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