Charles Schriber


Image10.gif (45144 bytes)


Charles Schriber’s Civil War, version 1.0

Harold Henderson 9/4/2000

[The following is an attempt -- much longer than expected! -- to merge what we know about our most obscure great-grandparent with the overall history of the Civil War and the Army of the Potomac, in which he served for 46 months. Perhaps, even in its current fragmentary form, this story explains why, according to his youngest child, Elizabeth S. Thrall, "Mother said he very seldom would say anything about the war -- evidently too horrible to think back to." In a few places I write from the point of view of the eleven-member generation born in the 1940s and 1950s, for whom she is Grandma. Additions and corrections are welcome.]

When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, many Northerners thought it would be a quick and decisive contest. Volunteers accordingly signed up for three months; by then they figured it would all be over. After the Union lost the Battle of Bull Run, it was obvious that more soldiers and more time would be needed. It was also obvious that the Union had few mounted soldiers who could match the aggressive and mobile Confederate cavalry.

There was no draft at this time. President Abraham Lincoln needed volunteers, and he needed people who could bring them in -- people like his old friend, Chicago attorney, devoted abolitionist, and former Republican Congressman (1856-1860) John F. Farnsworth. Farnsworth asked the President for permission to raise a cavalry regiment and got the OK on August 11, 1861.

Already by the 20th, the first company of what became the Eighth Cavalry Regiment Illinois Volunteers had been formed under company captain William H. Medill, brother of *Chicago Tribune* editor Joseph Medill (for whom the Northwestern University school of journalism is named today). At least twenty members of the initial company were Tribune employees. {iii} Ultimately the regiment consisted of 1,164 men divided into 12 companies, A through I and K through M. So on average each company would have numbered just under 100 men. Unlike the South, where cavalrymen had to furnish their own horses and therefore had to have some wealth, the government furnished the horses.

Medill was captain of Company G, according to the roster of officers in Abner Hard’s 1868 *History of the Eighth Cavalry Regiment Illinois Volunteers.* (All quotations and page citations are to this book unless otherwise noted.) Sometime in late August or early September, we don’t know just how or when, a 31-year-old German Swiss baker named Charles Schriber joined Company G. Born in Aarau, Switzerland, Schriber had not been in this country long. According to his youngest daughter, Elizabeth S. Thrall, he emigrated from Switzerland perhaps in the late 1850s. Another daughter, Cora Schriber, on a visit to Switzerland in 1910, met his cousin Oscar (a teacher) and younger sister who had walked with him 16 miles to the boat when he left home.

(There are several questions and points of conflicting evidence here. 1. Most probably he was born in 1830, which agrees with the age of 64 given on his death certificate October 5, 1894. Other official papers suggest he could have been born as late as 1836. 2. His original given name was Carl Matthew or Matthew Carl. 3. Where in Switzerland can one walk 16 miles to a boat going to America? 4. His army papers identify him as a baker; his 1883 application for an invalid pension identifies him as a "soda water manufacturer" at the time of enrollment. 5. According to some records he was "enrolled" on September 14, 1861. Others give September 18, the date when the men were formally mustered in. I don’t know if these were two separate processes that could have occurred on different days. If they were, then he was a relatively late arrival to a company formed early.)

The recruits began gathering in early September in Farnsworth’s home town of St. Charles. On September 18, 1861, they were formally mustered into the Union Army. "The mustering officer [Captain Webb of the regular army] and surgeon [Abner Hard, M.D.] took their positions a few feet apart, and, as the names were called, the men were required to pass between them. If any defect was noticed, they were stopped and examined." {36}

This walk-through is just about the only point at which we can be absolutely sure where Charles Schriber was during the next four years. Pinning down anything he did in the war -- at Gettysburg, for instance -- is a bit like locating an individual electron. We can only say with some degree of probability. Aside from his two spells in the hospital, it is likely that where the Eighth Illinois went, he went; what they saw, he saw; what they did, he did. Since sometimes different companies went different directions, it is even more likely that he went, saw, and did as his Company G did. I have selected the following episodes as being those he most probably participated in or witnessed.


The newly mustered regiment waited almost a month at "Camp Kane." It was not too long. Farnsworth, not himself a military man, made sure to sign up some experienced soldiers. They had their hands full turning raw recruits into soldiers, let alone cavalrymen.

Added to their problems was the (legal) sale of liquor in the town. At one point a "detachment" of the cavalry marched down Main Street in St. Charles to "the principal offending establishment, and demanded admission; this being refused, they walked in through doors and windows, and, in less time than it takes to relate the story, turned the offending liquor into the street." One man got a bad cut on his hand and became the regiment’s first surgical case; other liquor dealers took the hint. {37}

Finally, on October 14, 1861, still without weapons, the regiment marched to Geneva and "took the cars," i.e. the railroad, to Chicago. From there they took the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne & Chicago to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From Pittsburgh they took the Pennsylvania Central to Baltimore, Maryland. "Our special trains went much slower than the express, so slow that frequently the men would jump to the ground, run along the road and gather chestnuts, and get on again while the cars were in motion and going at their usual speed." {40}

From Baltimore they took the only railroad that connected Washington, D.C., with the rest of the country, riding in "very uncomfortable box or freight cars, into which we were stowed more like cattle than men," arriving in the nation’s capital October 18, 1861. They marched up Pennsylvania Avenue and were reviewed by Lincoln, who called them "Farnsworth’s Big Abolition Regiment."

But they still didn’t know much about soldiering -- they posted twice as many guards as necessary, and they learned that stoves were not allowed in tents because of the danger of fire. How to keep warm -- especially in hospital tents? Other soldiers had already found a way: "A hole about two feet square and one foot deep, was dug in the ground in the center of the hospital, from which a trench about one foot broad and six inches deep was dug to the outside of the tent, where a barrel, with both heads knocked out, was placed for a chimney. The trench was covered with boards and dirt, and near the center hole with a stone. A fire was now built in the center hole, the smoke made its way through the trench and out of the barrel, and this was found sufficient to make the hospital quite comfortable, when the wind did not blow in the wrong direction." {43}

The regiment spent the fall drilling, drilling, getting sick, and visiting the sights of Washington. Through some process I don’t understand, they became part of the Army of the Potomac under General George McClellan. Being from Illinois, they were distinctively and defiantly "westerners" in a predominantly "eastern" army.

They didn’t get arms enough to leave camp until December 13, 1861. When they did set out, they needed 81 "heavy army wagons" to transport all their gear. "Before the close of the war we found that we did not employ more than a dozen to transport what we really needed." {50, 53}

The typical cavalrymen carried a pistol, a sabre, and a single-shot carbine (rifle). But the pistols issued to the Eighth Cavalry were defective: "Many of them would snap several times before discharging, and some could not be shot at all." E.J. Farnsworth, nephew of the regiment’s organizer, went to see General Sumner, who had already told them several times to quit complaining. Farnsworth brought along several of the worst pistols, quickly loaded them, and started pulling the triggers, aiming into the General’s fireplace. "Hold! Hold!" commanded the General. "You must not shoot here." Farnsworth replied coolly, "No danger. Not the least danger. I assure you they are perfectly harmless," as he continued pulling the trigger. The Eighth got their new pistols. {56, 57}


Pistols were no good against the main danger. As it grew cold and rainy, the regiment’s camp grew muddy and unhealthy. In January more than 500 men (almost half the regiment!) were on the sick list, suffering from what Hard describes as "typho-malarial fever" as well as "genuine typhoid fever." {59}

On January 18, 1862, companies G and H under captains Medill and Hooker and Major Beveridge, were called out for a one-day reconnaissance mission with General Howard, the largest force yet called out from the regiment. It was foggy and pouring rain. Once they passed the farthest forward outposts of the Union Army, they proceeded at a walking pace, silently, single file or two abreast, along the narrow, crooked roads hedged close around with dripping evergreens -- great ambush country. They stopped and investigated a couple of large farmhouses. They saw no Confederates, mostly just apprehensive slaves with whom they talked and prayed. "At last we paused for dinner. Not a hotel nor private house, nor even unhorsed but, reins loose, each in his saddle, drew out his bread and meat and ‘fell to eating.’"

It would seem that the local Virginians’ status was ambiguous. Some of the mansions and farmhouses had orders of protection from Union generals, including one that the Eighth Illinois decided it needed for a hospital building. It was occupied by a secessionist ("secesh") family who had induced one of their Union protectors to desert from the army. The regiment got an OK from its general to dispossess the occupants, a family named Slaymaker, and gave them 24 hours’ notice. Instead of moving, they used the 24 hours to get a countermanding order from another general. The Eighth then went straight to General McClellan. "It was then morning and we gave them until noon to leave the premises," writes regimental surgeon Hard. "At noon, loading an ambulance with convalescents, I went with a squad of men under charge of Corporal Cassady, of Company G, to the house and found the doors bolted." They broke in and politely offered to assist the women of the house in moving everything out. They refused point-blank. Dr. Hard then called to the men to "bring in those typhoid fever patients," and suddenly they were more than willing and promptly moved to their town home in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. {65-7}

Shortly thereafter the regiment itself was able to leave their camp -- where "there seemed to be no bottom to the mud, and "at morning sick call the men would come wet and shivering to the dispensary" -- for Alexandria. There Company G was quartered in a foundry building on Wolf Street, where its horses and those of Company K occupied the ground floor. {68-9}

The regiment had yet to see much action, and its members contented themselves with symbolic gestures. Along with the irrepressible E. J. Farnsworth, at least one officer from Company G was involved in turning the Episcopalian Rev. Stewart out of his pulpit at St. Paul’s Church. In a dramatic Sunday-morning confrontation (probably February 16, 1862), Stewart refused to read the prescribed prayer for the President and Congress of the United States. Earlier, he had allegedly declined to read a prayer for Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy, because he said he would be arrested for doing so, but hoped that his congregation would pray for them privately. {74-6}

On March 10, 1862 the regiment left Alexandria for another miserable wet sojourn in the Virginia countryside, but Schriber may not have been with them. According to the regiment’s roll he was sick in the hospital in March and April. (The Adjutant General’s Office implies that roll was taken once a month.) According to his own testimony he "contracted malarial fever caused by exposure & bad climate" on or about April 9, 1862 in "Warrington," Virginia, and spent three weeks in hospital in Yorktown that June. This was the same fever and ague that plagued him the rest of his life.

It’s not difficult to believe that he caught something. Abner Hard records that "April 9th broke upon a suffering camp, and I fear I shall fail to portray the condition of the men, with nothing but their blankets to protect them from the tempest which was again raging. Weary and with scanty rations, surrounded by rivers that could not be forded . . . ." Dr. Stull wrote in his diary, "There stand the poor horses shivering as though they would fall to pieces, and the poor men, on scanty rations, must lie down in the wet and slop, with the covering of blankets only. . . . We already have a sick list which is awful to contemplate." {101}

According to Hard, the regiment passed through Warrenton on April 10, 1862 on its way back to Alexandria, which they had left a month and a day before "with high spirits and buoyant hopes; in good health and well equipped. During that time we had marched hundreds of miles and endured untold hardships, and now returned jaded and worn, with about two hundred less in number." {102}

On May 1, 1862, the regiment was "mustered for pay," and Private Schriber evidently was present for that event. They had just spent four days sailing down the river to join in the Peninsular Campaign in which the army tried and failed to take Richmond. By Sunday, May 4, 1862, they were at Williamsburg, in their first real battle, or on the fringes of it.

On Monday, May 5, 1862, it rained all day. "Our men had ‘stood to horse’ all night; only relieving each other for short intervals, and the animals had not been unsaddled or fed." Intense firing began about 10 am and continued, as did the rain. In this wooded country, the cavalry was little use until it was called out to clear the roads blocked by army wagons. Foot soldiers bore the brunt of this fighting; in the afternoon the Eighth was advanced to support artillery batteries on the right. "Although not actively engaged, we were under fire, and the cannon balls from Fort Magruder came tearing up the soil about us." But it was nothing like the battlefield itself, over which they passed the next day: "Judging by the marks of shot and shell, it would seem that no man could have survived who was in range of the fire, as every tree and shrub was battle-scarred." {110-4}

The regiment was actively involved in the battle at Mechanicsville May 24, 1862. From a group of raw recruits it was evidently already gaining a reputation. General Sumner ordered a lieutenant from New York to go to the front and if possible ascertain the position of the enemy. "How far shall we go?" the lieutenant asked. "As far as you dare go," replied the general, "and you will find the Eighth Illinois miles ahead stealing horses." {131}

Please note that this was meant as a compliment and was taken as such. "Most cavalrymen were notorious foragers, not to say thieves," writes Bruce Catton in *Glory Road,* "if only because the possession of a horse enabled them to carry more booty and make a quicker getaway than were possible for a foot soldier. . . . The cavalry tradition stipulated that a good trooper was a good provider, having forage for his horse even when government issue failed and, for the matter of that, having occasionally a new horse as well." {246} They were, after all, fighting traitors on the traitors’ own ground. "These simple people," Hard wrote, "seemed to think that they could send their sons into the rebel army to destroy our country and murder our soldiers, and that we would not only protect them, but spend our time in guarding their chicken-roosts, pig pens and bee-hives. But they soon learned that western soldiers came for other purposes." {202-3}

On June 26, 1862, and for the following week of the Seven Days’ Fight and retreat from Richmond, the Eighth Illinois stood picket duty and watched and guarded the retreat. On the 27th, at Gaines’ Mill Creek, when fresh Confederates began to overwhelm the Union infantry, the Eighth Regiment was drawn up to stop the stragglers. "With drawn sabres, we demanded a ‘halt’ to all but the bleeding; and several times were officers and men ordered to halt and form into line, when they would open their shirt-bosoms and exhibit a ghastly wound, or lift the lid of an empty cartridge-box, or show a shattered gun; and some were coming with an arm or finger dangling." The cavalry expected an order to charge, but it never came. {146} Exactly when Schriber returned from his three weeks’ June stay in hospital in Yorktown, we do not know.

Late in the afternoon of Sunday, June 29, 1862, the Eighth Illinois was ordered to conduct seventy ambulances and several hundred wagons to the James River. Squads were formed in front and on both flanks of this immense convoy, to deter the rebel cavalry from attacking and to find the best roads. "The ambulances were all loaded to their utmost capacity, yet thousands of sick and wounded men were on foot, begging earnestly that they might be permitted to ride. The night became very dark; vivid lightning flashed athwart the sky, peals of thunder rent the air, which, mingled with the roar of cannon in our rear, made the night hideous in the extreme." No lanterns were allowed as they might provide targets for the rebels. "Many times did we dismount and pull the weary or wounded footman out of the road and from under the horses hoofs, where they had sunk down, too much exhausted to go farther or even crawl from beneath the wheels of the train, which would have crushed them to death. The women, too, were almost frantic with fear, and no wonder, when the stout-hearted soldiers, who had faced the leaden hail- storm of the recent battles, were ready to faint and give up in despair. The horrors of that march will never be revealed until those terrible swamps give up the dead who sank that night, to rise no more." The convoy reached the river at 3 a.m. Monday morning. {151}

According to a November 3, 1883, form from the Adjutant General’s Office, Charles Schriber was on the rolls starting September 1862 as "Co. Comy. Sergt.," which I interpret to mean Company Commissary Sergeant.

On September 13, 1862, a detachment under the command of Major Medill chased some rebels towards Harper’s Ferry, only to be drawn into a fight with a superior force and suffered several casualties. One F. B. Wakefield of Company G was taken prisoner by the rebels, slashed about the head with sabres, and left for dead, only to get back to Union lines and swear vengeance. {176}

On September 17, 1862, the Eighth Illinois joined in the battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single battle of the war. "At first we were held in reserve, but were soon ordered to the front to support a battery near the center of the union line. We had to cross the stone bridge over Antietam Creek, on the turnpike leading from Boonsboro to Sharpsburg, in direct range with the enemy’s cannon, where but a few moments before several of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry had been killed while crossing, among whom was the Colonel of the regiment; none of our brigade were injured although the fire was terrific and almost incessant." They were posted under cover of a hill, with cannons from both sides firing directly overhead. {184-5}

Two weeks later, the Eighth Illinois was in a group making reconnaissance toward Martinsburg to see where the enemy was. After gradually driving Confederate cavalry back toward the town, "our troops were ordered to make a dash into it, which they did, capturing a number of the enemy, releasing some of our men held as prisoners of war, securing a quantity of plunder and driving a large force of them out of the place." But now they had to get out. "This move called for more military skill, caution and courage than it had required to advance. We were twelve miles from Shepherdstown, the nearest ford, with a force not to exceed eight hundred men . . . and with an opposition of five or six times our number on all sides, well acquainted with the country, of which we were comparatively ignorant." They were in grave danger of being surrounded and destroyed.

The Eighth Illinois guarded the rear of this retreat under Major Medill’s command. The rebel cavalry "filled and completely blockaded" the streets behind. Artillery didn’t help much -- it was "like firing against a tornado. The enemy by passing on either side of the road were enabled to rush madly on, seemingly determined to surround us at all hazards. Our artillery were obliged to fall back to prevent being captured.

"Major Medill ordered his squadron commanders to form their men on the side of the road facing the rear ‘as quick as ever God would let them.’" They just had time to do so when the rebels were upon them. Firing at short range, they stood firm and were able to give the artillery time to get into a new position and drive the rebels off. Official reports showed enemy losses of 150, the Eighth Illinois 16. "The rebel commander was very much chagrined at not having captured the regiment, and is said to have remarked that ‘he could never give any satisfactory reason for not having done so.’ The reason was, we are happy to inform him, our men would not let him accomplish his object." The next day, October 2, 1862, four men returned on parole from being captured by the rebels. "They reported that they were well treated by General Stuart, who led the rebel charge [the day before]. The General said ‘he knew it was the Eighth Illinois Cavalry he was fighting, by the way they withstood his charges.’" {191-5} On October 3, the troops were ordered out to be reviewed by President Lincoln and General McClellan. {196}

Early in the morning of October 11, 1862, "The Orderly’s call was sounded, and shortly after ‘boots and saddles.’ The orders were, to be prepared to march ‘light,’ with three days rations." Only about half the regiment’s horses were properly shod, however. Confederate General Stuart was once again encircling the army, raiding its stores and supplies. The shod portion of the Eighth Illinois rode 86 miles in 26 hours pursuing and not finding him. "It is doubtful if better or more rapid marching was made by any command during the war. The mistake, if any existed, was in our being sent round *after* the enemy instead of anticipating his course and intercepting him." {197-9}

Beginning November 1, 1862, the Eighth Illinois led the southerly advance of the army along the eastern base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. En route (November 4), "the regiment was delayed a few hours, waiting for the teams to arrive with rations, which came before noon. The hard tack marked ‘B.C.,’ which the boys interpreted ‘Before the Christian Era,’ was distributed." {204-5}

On November 7, 1862, the regiment crossed the Rappahannock and passed through Amisville. One part of the Eighth Illinois reconnoitered in the direction of Sperryville. "Companies A and G, in a reconnoisance in another direction, captured a Lieutenant and ten men with their horses and equipments. There was a considerable snow-storm at the time, and with their clothes covered and the flakes falling thick and fast, the rebels did not recognize our men until it was too late to retreat." {203-5, 211}

At the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, the Eighth Illinois took "no important part, . . . although one-third of them had been under fire during the progress of the fight." {219} Christmas found the regiment on picket duty in King George County. "The remainder of the year 1862 was passed on picket duty and scouting. No winter quarters were built, worthy of the name. A few tents were erected and huts built, but the men were on duty most of the time -- in fact they preferred to stand picket in King George County, where they could forage freely, to remaining in camp and living on hard-tack and pork." {220}


On February 16, 1863, the cavalry was ordered to change bases and move to Hope Landing on Acquia Creek. "The Eighth Illinois, and, in fact, the entire division, broke camp on the 17th and began to march in a snow-storm. As the day wore on the storm increased, but by dint of swearing and whipping, most of the wagons were brought through, and at dark we found ourselves in a pine forest on Acquia Creek, with six inches of snow for a bed. Pine boughs thrown on the snow raised us a little above it, and rolled up in blankets we slept, or tried to sleep; and arose in the morning from under a covering of three or four inches of snow which had fallen during the night. Such suffering and hardship as this the soldiers were becoming used to." {223}

During March, "the principle duties performed by the cavalry, besides building roads and providing forage, consisted in picketing the country between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, above Falmouth, a distance of twenty miles, and patrolling from thence to the Ocoquan, where they connected with cavalry from Alexandria. By this it will be seen that there were no idle hands." {225}

On May 17, 1863, the regiment received orders to reconnoiter up to King George and the "northern Neck" between the Rappahannock and Potomac, a notorious refuge of guerrillas and smugglers. "Nothing could have pleased our men better, for from their experience in picketing that country, they knew where to find good living. The regiment left camp with five hundred men, and four days’ rations." At King George Court House, the regiment split into three groups, each taking a separate road and "capturing and destroying rebel property without limit. The entire country was searched, and every nook along the banks of the two rivers explored. One hundred sloops, yawls, ferry-boats, &c., were burned with their contents; consisting of salt, oil, whisky, leather, stationery, wool cards, percussion caps, boots, shoes, clothing and many other articles of especial value to the rebels. About twenty thousand pounds of bacon and a large quantity of flour was also destroyed." Official reports gave more than $1 million dollars’ worth of property destroyed.

That was not the end of it. As the regiment returned from this raid, "The negroes belonging to the plantations along the line of march, joined the emancipating column, coming in squads of from five to twenty, until there were finally accumulated fifteen hundred men, women and children of the contraband persuasion." {238-40}

On June 9, 1863, the Eighth Illinois was in the thick of the battle of Borstly Ford or Brandy Station. The ford was deep and steep-banked. As each company officer came through he received the order to "draw sabers." Past the river, the Eighth New York led the way across an open space toward a woods. At woods’ edge the Confederates had built a barricade of rails to delay them, and at once delivered deadly fire. Undaunted, the New Yorkers "rushed upon the rebels with drawn sabres, and drove them for a considerable distance into the woods" until they met rebel reinforcements who in turn drove them back in confusion. The Eighth Illinois came next. "On reaching the woods the Eighth Illinois returned their sabres, and drew their revolvers" -- they had already learned which weapon would serve them best-- "and hastening forward a part of the regiment received the enemy, who were pressing hard upon the Eighth New York, with a yell accompanied by volleys of lead, so well directed as to turn the tide of battle, driving the enemy through the woods into the open fields beyond, where they had a battery encamped which barely escaped falling into our hands." The Confederates tried to outflank the regiment on the left and in the rear, giving all parts of the Eighth Illinois experience of fierce combat. In another part of the battle a detachment of the regiment tried to outflank the rebels on the right, gave up that task, and settled down as sharpshooters, exhausting their ammunition and in a couple of cases bursting their carbines from the rapid firing. "After being under fire twelve hours, the troops re- crossed the river, with the Eighth Illinois bringing up the rear. This, without doubt, was the hardest fought cavalry battle of the war, up to that time." {243-5} Six men from Company G were wounded.

"A desperate battle had been fought, the loss on both sides very heavy, the position and intention of the enemy ascertained, and yet we were compelled to encamp at night upon our old ground," laments Dr. Hard. {247} In the larger view, though, it was a victory. The Union cavalry "had at last stood up to the Rebel cavalry in open combat," writes Bruce Catton in *Glory Road,* "and the men were immensely pleased with themselves. A Confederate critic remarked ruefully of this battle that ‘it *made* the Federal cavalry.’" {245}

On June 17, 1863, the Eighth Illinois set out for Pennsylvania as the Army of the Potomac strove to harass Lee’s army and keep between it and Washington, D.C. On June 21 they met the enemy at Middleburg. "Near night the rebels were pressed back to the mountains. . . . There must have been six thousand of them. Our force was but a handful in comparison. The gap through the mountain was directly in their rear, and the mountain protected both flanks from being turned.

"As soon as General Buford saw the rebels he ordered the Eighth Illinois to charge them. The Third Indiana was acting as skirmishers to our brigade. The enemy were massed in column of regiments in our front . . . their artillery was advantageously posted . . . . The bugle sounded the charge and away we went, Lieutenant-Colonel Clendennin leading the Eighth Illinois at the outset. At the first fire of the rebels, Colonel Gamble’s horse was killed under him, pitching the colonel headlong to the ground. Lieutenant-Colonel Clendennin was also unhorsed, and Major Medill then took command. Forward was the word, and the gallant Eighth that never yet quailed before the rebels, were soon within a short distance of the front line of the enemy, carrying their carbines at the ‘aim.’ ‘Fire,’ shouted the Major, and seven hundred pieces blazed away, and scores were rendered helpless by that one volley. In an instant our men were upon them with their revolvers, cracking at them right and left. They broke and fled from the first field." Later, a Confederate prisoner asked the name of the officer wearing a red cap who had charged them so recklessly. "He referred to Lieutenant Warner, of Company G. During the battle the Lieutenant had lost his hat, and, fighting in his bare head, his read hair was mistaken for a red cap." {251-3}

The early morning of July 1, 1863, found the Eighth Illinois on the hinge of history. They were posted as pickets west of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. "Here, as in many other of the great battles, the Eighth Illinois received the first fire and shed the first blood" as the Confederate infantry advanced toward the strategically placed town. {256} Actually there has been endless debate about who fired the first shot at Gettysburg. More important is how the Eighth Illinois followed up. "Unsupported cavalry was not expected to stand off infantry, and for a couple of hours or more Buford’s two brigades would be entirely unsupported, but Buford liked to fight and he did not propose to leave until somebody made him leave. He dismounted his regiments and spread them out along the ridge, one man in every four standing fifty yards in the rear holding horses, the rest squatting behind fences, bushes, trees, or what not and peering at the Rebel skirmishers over their stubby carbines." {Catton 269}

Had they not held, Gettysburg might have been overrun by Confederates and Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North continued. "The battle raged with great fury," writes Hard, "our division of cavalry being all there was to impede the progress of the overpowering numbers of the enemy, for several hours. About eleven o’clock A.M., [Union] General Reynolds and staff arrived on the ground, and soon after, the advance of his corps. As they came upon Seminary Ridge and deployed in line the cavalry was withdrawn." {257} (For those with a taste for coincidence, the leader of the infantry column was General James Wadsworth, of the patrician farmer family of Geneseo, New York.) Thus the Eighth Illinois played a crucial role in the Battle of Gettysburg, which was itself a turning point and ended Confederate hopes of invading the North.

In the aftermath of Gettysburg, the Eighth Illinois followed Lee’s army back south in hopes of intercepting him. On July 6, 1863, near Williamsport, they met instead General Imboden’s rebel infantry. "Our batteries were brought forward to match those of the enemy that were opened upon us. The Eighth Illinois was sent forward as dismounted skirmishers, and steadily pressed the enemy, who were in a corn-field beyond and behind barns and out-buildings. Major Medill being on the picket line, in the most exposed condition, was shot in the abdomen and mortally wounded. Gale Carter, of Company G, was killed." On July 7 enough more rebels appeared that the regiment was ordered to fall back to Boonsboro. "The men carried Major Medill on a litter the entire distance as the roads were too rough to admit of his riding in an ambulance." He survived nine more days of "extreme suffering," but his comrades in arms had no time to mourn. For the next few days the Eighth Illinois was fighting almost continually, and doing picket duty at night. {261-2}

On September 13, 1863, the Eighth Illinois crossed the Rappahanock and drove the enemy to Culpepper and beyond to Pony Mountain, thickly wooded and several hundred feet high. "Here the enemy thought they had an impregnable position, and had on its top a signal station, from which they were able to note all our movements. This must be taken; so up the mountain our line of dismounted cavalry advanced, each member of the Eighth Illinois seeming to vie with the other in reaching the summit. The enemy stoutly resisted but it was of no use -- our men were resolved to take the mountain, and they did take it, causing the ‘graybacks’ to leave on double-quick." {271}

Beginning October 10, 1863, as the army retreated from the Rapidan to Manassas and advanced again, the Eighth Illinois took an important part. At one point October 11, the rebel cavalry was found to be crossing the river just upstream from where the Union men had forded it. "The Eighth Illinois dismounted and went out to meet them, but the rebels advanced with great boldness in consequence of their superior numbers. They seemed determined to ride down our men, who held their fire until the head of the rebel column was almost upon them, when they opened a fire and the column seemed to melt away before them." {278} Eventually the Eighth Illinois was outnumbered and had to retreat.

As 1863 dwindled away, the soldiers debated the subject of re-enlisting. Charles Schriber did so on November 29, 1863, at Ely’s Ford, Virginia. (Some records say November 30.) If two-thirds of the regiment re-enlisted for three years, they would each get a $300 bounty, a 30-day furlough, and free transportation to Illinois and back.


By January 6, 1864, three-quarters of the Eighth Illinois had agreed to do re- enlist. They arrived in Chicago on furlough January 18 and left to return to Washington, D.C. on February 25. By April 30 the entire regiment was on duty in Washington. "At night they patroled the city and entered every suspicious place, to arrest every hapless soldier who should be found without a pass. This duty revealed the fact that in the great city of Washington -- the capitol of the American Union -- there was over one hundred houses of prostitution," where all ranks of soldiers might be found, some without passes. "But this work, although it amused the men for a time, and was arduous to perform, did not satisfy those who longed for more active service." {292-3}

The members of the Eighth Illinois were unaccustomed onlookers "while the bloody battles of the Wilderness were in progress," but not for long. By May 15, 1864, the regiment was split four ways, with "one company [D] on duty at Alexandria, two [C, F] at Acquia Creek, five at Belle Plain [to prevent guerrillas from cutting off Grant’s army from the river or interfering with his supplies] and four in Washington." Six companies of the regiment, not including G, were sent to oppose Mosby’s guerrillas on July 4, 1864. Various other companies were involved in action, but as far as I can tell from its not being mentioned, Company G seems to have remained on duty in Washington. Evidently when the rebels fell back from Washington, the entire Eighth Illinois, reunited at last, helped chase them away beginning July 13, 1864. On July 22 Company G got lost in the dark and had to march nearly all night, all returning to Washington the next day. {307}

From August 5 to 22, 1864, the Eighth Illinois remained at Muddy Branch, guarding the river and the fords. They went raiding on August 22-23 and again August 30, when they crossed the Potomac, killing one of Mosby’s men and wounding four. "They captured thirty-two guerrillas dressed in farmers’ garb, fifty- six horses and mules, destroyed four wagons and brought two into camp loaded with cotton yarn, said to be worth five thousand dollars in cash. They burned a cotton factory together with about five thousand dollars worth of wool and cotton; marched one hundred and twenty miles in thirty-two hours," and returned to camp September 2, 1864, with one man wounded.

On Saturday, October 30, 1864, six companies including Company G went on a scouting mission towards Upperville, where they met the enemy’s skirmishers on all sides. "About one hundred and ten [rebels] charged the advance in impetuous style, but the gallant and steady bearing of Captain Wing’s squadron of Companies G and H saved our men from any damage. Captain Wing and Lieutenant DeLancy of Company H, both reserved the fire of their commands until the enemy came up and then poured in a well concentrated volley." {315}

According to a November 3, 1883, form from the Adjutant General’s Office, Charles Schriber was on the rolls starting November 1864 as first sergeant.

Winter quarters for the Eighth Illinois at Fairfax Court House, Virginia, were more comfortable than before. "The finest houses in Fairfax were used as headquarters; the men built excellent huts for their protection and barracks were erected for the horses. When building their huts some soldiers asked permission of General Gamble to take bricks from an elegant mansion, the ‘Love House,’ to construct their chimneys. The General gave permission to take none but loose bricks. In forty-eight hours that fine building was a heap of ruins. When questioned as to exceeding their permit the soldiers replied that they brought away ‘none but loose bricks.’" Those stationed in outlying towns were "occasionally annoyed by Mosby’s men." {316-7}


On April 10, 1865, the same day that Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomatox, "Captain Warner in command of Companies G and H, attacked one hundred and fifty rebels at Brinston Hill and drove them ten miles, capturing a Lieutenant, four men and nine horses. The rebels had come to capture a mule train which was drawing wood to the Railroad, but were sorely defeated." {320}

The brigade of which the Eighth Illinois then formed a part had laid plans for a party at headquarters April 15. "Among those who had accepted an invitation to be present and enjoy the festivities of the occasion was the young and gifted tragedian, J. Wilkes Booth." Needless to say, Booth was otherwise engaged the evening before, shooting President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, and the brigade was searching for him in the early hours of April 15, even before the President Lincoln died of his wounds.

On April 17, 1865, the Eighth Illinois was sent down the Maryland side of the Potomac, "in the vicinity of Port Tobacco, which country was thoroughly searched, leaving no nook or corner in which the assassin could be secreted. The well known rebel sentiment of this part of Maryland made the duty extremely arduous, for no information would the citizens give which they could possibly withhold." {321} Booth meanwhile had escaped into Virginia. In an 1883 pension declaration, Charles Schriber stated that his ague again "came on at Port Tobacco, Md. May 20, 1865, & resulted from the fever." There is no mention of the regiment being there at that time, so it is possible that he meant to say April.

On May 19, 1865, in a bit of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, Charles Schriber was "discharged by reason of promotion to 2nd Lieutenant." His rank was effective May 8 and he was mustered in as lieutenant May 20. From here on, it appears that the regiment mainly waited. Their first orders to report to St. Louis (May 28) were revoked. On June 11, 1865, when two monuments were erected at the Bull Run battlefields, Eighth Illinois soldiers "interred more than two thousand four hundred human skulls" that had lain bleaching on the ground during most of the war. {323- 4}

On June 16, 1865, the Eighth Illinois was ordered to St. Louis again. They marched from Fairfax to Washington and took the Baltimore and Ohio railroad to Parkersburg, West Virginia. From there they embarked on steamboats. Four companies got off the water early and took the train to St. Louis from stops along the Ohio River, but most of the regiment came by boat all the way down the Ohio and then up the Mississippi.

Almost home -- but their troubles were not over. On its way up the Mississippi, one boat hit a snag June 28, 1865, and sank. Five men from Company L were drowned, along with 104 horses. Two men had to swim three miles downriver before they got out. {324}

On July 1, 1865, at Benton Barracks in St. Louis, the regiment received orders to proceed to Fort Riley, Kansas, "which gave great dissatisfaction. The men claimed that they re-enlisted for three years or during the war; that now the war was over and having fulfilled their part of the contract they should be mustered out. A petition embodying these views was signed by all the officers present belonging to the regiment." Forwarded to Washington, the petition got them an order July 4 to turn over government property and be mustered out. This process took some time, and in the interim the officers of the Eighth Illinois held meetings July 10 and 11, 1865, at which they adopted a constitution for the Eighth Illinois Veteran Cavalry Association. They pledged to meet on September 18 of every year "so long as two members are living." {325-8}

On July 17, 1865, Charles Schriber and his comrades in arms were mustered out of the army. They left St. Louis the following day, evidently by train, and arrived in Chicago July 19, six and a half hours late (some things never change). On arrival they marched to the Soldiers’ Rest, ate dinner, and heard remarks from John Farnsworth, who had brought them together, and Brevet Brigadier-General Gamble, who had trained and led them. The next morning they moved out to Camp Douglas, where their final payments and discharge were completed July 21, 1865. {328-9}

Bruce Catton writes of the Civil War veterans he knew as a youngster: "Once, ages ago, they had been everywhere and had seen everything, and nothing that happened to them thereafter meant anything much. All that was real had taken place when they were young." {xi} I am not sure that that’s true of Charles Schriber, but from July 1865 forward we know very little about him.

Family legend has it that he helped hang the first electric sign in the city of Chicago. We have two letters (in old German script, not yet translated) that he wrote to a fellow German Swiss immigrant, Elizabeth Joss, dated August 20 and October 20, 1867. They were married December 10, 1867, by Rev. Joseph Hartmann at St. Pauls Church at LaSalle and Ohio streets in Chicago. They had seven children (dates courtesy of Jim Thrall): Charles (1869-1930), Rose (1871-1950), Ida (1874-1958), Cora (1876-1949), Frank (1879-1887), Clara (1882-1958), and Elizabeth (1884-1979).

In 1873, they moved from Chicago to Franklin Grove, Illinois. Schriber’s occupation was listed as "Laborer" on the birth certificates of their two youngest children, Clara (born April 8, 1882) and Elizabeth ("Lizzie," born November 12, 1884), our grandmother. She recalled how he would tease her when he was shaving in the morning, putting a dot of shaving cream on her nose. She also described him as "a good man when sober, but I rarely saw him sober."

Schriber’s neighbor and fellow worker from 1868 to 1874, Leonhard Lendy, swore in an 1889 affidavit that Schriber "each year had been a sufferer from several complaints and a general debility which is believed to be the result of a sickness in the service. I know that the claimant has attacks of chills and fever at almost any time. The most severe attack he had when we were living neighbors when he had to employ a doctor for quite a long time. I think he has been disabled about one half the time for manual labor." At some point he received a pension of $8 (probably per month) for "malarial poisoning" (Ctf. 492310) under what was described as the "old law" in 1894.

At some point the family moved back to Chicago, 344 W. North Avenue, where Charles Schriber died October 5, 1894, of "chronic nephritis" from which he had suffered for two years. He was buried in the cemetery at Franklin Grove. His widow eventually was able to receive a pension, last paid at the rate of $36 per month until her death January 18, 1934.

For further study:

Bruce Catton’s trilogy on the Army of the Potomac: *Mr. Lincoln’s Army,* *Glory Road,* and *A Stillness at Appomattox.*

*The Captain: William Cross Hazelton, of the Eighth Illinois Cavalry,*
by Winfield Scott Hall.

Chicago Tribune microfilms for September 26, 1861 and nearby dates.


Return to Home Page