In 1860, Michael Foerstel, Peggy’s 2nd great grandfather, was a 34-year-old married father of three young children. He had settled in St. Louis, Missouri, after fleeing political upheaval and unrest in the German Confederation territory of Baden around 1849.
Michael worked in local industry as a cooper. Coopering required skill, intelligence and strength. Coopers crafted casks which held flour, gunpowder, tobacco, and other commodities; served as shipping containers; stored liquids from wine to milk.
The 1860 United States Census, taken in early June of that year, records Michael living in St. Louis’s First Ward with wife Theresa, 8-year-old Joseph, 4-year-old Sophia and 1-year-old Henry. Sophia would later become Mrs. Jacob Singler, mother of Peggy’s grandmother, Katherine Singler Reinhardt.
In the spring of 1861, some 850 miles away from Michael’s home in St. Louis, the American civil war began. On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces bombarded the Union controlled Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
Events closer to home were of more concern to Michael and his First Ward neighbors. According to historian Adam Goodheart, St. Louis and the state of Missouri “stood at a crossroads between the cultures of the North and the South, between slavery and freedom, between an older America and a new one.” There was civil warfare in the streets as “German immigrants in St. Louis flocked to the Union cause and in bloody confrontations overthrew the local secessionists.” Goodheart writes:
These men were part of a wave of German and other Central European immigrants that had poured into St. Louis over the previous couple of decades.
Politically, too, the newcomers were a class apart. Many had fled the aftermath of the failed liberal revolutions that had swept across Europe in 1848.
For such men, and even for their less radical compatriots, Missouri’s slaveholding class represented exactly what they had detested in the old country, exactly what they had wanted to escape: a swaggering clique of landed oligarchs.
You can read Goodheart’s essay on the subject in The American Scholar here.
In the National Park Service U.S. Civil War Soldiers database, 1861-1865, Michael is listed as a private in Company M of the 1st United States Reserve Corps (U.S.R.C.) Infantry (film number M390, roll 15). The Wikipedia entry on the unit says it evolved from one of several unofficial pro-Unionist militia units formed semi-secretly in St. Louis in the early months of 1861. Shown here is an image of the registration page for the unit that includes Michael Foerstel’s name and personal information. Records indicate that the unit was formed on May 7, 1861, served for three months, and mustered out on August 20, 1861.
In 1890, around the age of 64, Michael Foerstel applied for his Civil War pension in the state of Missouri. He died of emphysema on September 13, 1899, at the age of 74.