Courtesy of the Boston L. Prang & Co.
This coat of arms of Wisconsin during the American Civil War was part of a book by Henry Mitchell.
Courtesy of the Boston L. Prang & Co.

This coat of arms of Wisconsin during the American Civil War was part of a book by Henry Mitchell.

Descendants have been known to uncover some fascinating family lore about their ancestors when they decide to look into mystery packages in family records that went untouched for years.

David Nowack, a certified public accountant who runs a business in Menominee, was fingering through records at the farmer home of his late father, Walter Jr., on River Road when he discovered documented information about his great-great grandfather who fought in the Civil War more than 150 years ago (1861-1865). He passed on the information to his brother, Mike, a Menominee realtor, who tipped me off.

I’ve known members of the Nowack family far more than 70 years. Walter Sr., Mike and David’s grandfather, was a World War I veteran with more than two years of service in Europe. He was a pillar in Menominee American Legion Past 146 and one of the first wave of members when the past was organized following WWI. He sold my wife and I our first home in the early 1960s. Grandson Mike sold it for us 44 years later. The Nowack family tree has spread its limbs with respect and dignity in business and community service for more than 100 years.

I was intrigued when I first read the material that David had unmasked. His grandfather (Walter Sr.) directed a letter to the adjutant general’s office of the U.S. Army an Dec. 12, 1946, seeking the service record of his grandfather, John Baumgartel who had served with Co. B, 35th Regiment, Wisconsin First Brigade, Third Division, 13th Army Corps, in the Civil War in 1864.

“The above subject was my grandfather and I am simply interested in seeing what campaigns and so forth that he served in,” wrote Walter Nowack Sr. “This information is simply for my own benefit. The writer is a veteran of World War I, having served two years overseas,” he added. The letter was written on Nowack’s business stationery “Walter Nowack Real Estate” which advertised “business opportunities and real estate loans.” His office was located in the historic Spies Building, 105 Ogden Ave., which in present-day life is known as the Lemire Building at the corner of 10th Avenue and 1st Street.

It didn’t take long for a response. Nowack’s letter apparently was referred to the adjutant general’s office, U.S. War Department, in Washington. The reply was dated Jan. 6, 1947. The War Department noted John Baumgartal was 33 years old when discharged from service, was born in Germany, and his occupation was farming. He was enrolled in service during the Civil War Feb. 22, 1864, at Milwaukee and was mustered into military service on the same day at Camp Washburn in Milwaukee. He held the rank of private, Co. K, 35th Wisconsin infantry and was later transferred to Co. B, 35th Wisconsin Infantry, and was honorably discharged on March 15, 1866 at Brownsville, Texas.

“This office cannot state specifically the battles or engagements in which an individual soldier participated, except when wounded or killed in action, therefore, it cannot specifically state those in which the within named, John Baumgartal, participated,” wrote Major General Edward F. Witsell, the adjutant general of the War Department.

Major General Witsell added in his letter that in seeking the history of Private Baumgartal’s activities in the Civil War, Nowack should consult the publication “Official Records, Union and Confederate Armies, Civil War,” copies of which may be found in nearly all large public libraries.

The senior Nowack did just that and what he discovered chronicled the history of the 35th Wisconsin Infantry of which his grandfather (Pvt. John Baumgartal) was a member.

Try to envision how life was 158 years ago for soldiers in the Civil War. Uniforms and equipment were conspicuously deficient in quality and quantity, food and medical aid were meager and living conditions in general were poor. Despite such conditions, soldiers were loyal and brave to the armies they represented. Baumgartal’s regiment left Milwaukee on April 8, 1864, and didn’t return home until March 15, 1866, when they were mustered out of service. Hundreds of soldiers who departed Milwaukee two years earlier didn’t return home, succumbing to the pains of war and the disease and sickness that accompanied it.

When the regiment left Milwaukee it headed for Alexandria, La., where it was assigned to General Steele’s command. They traveled by horseback, foot and boat. They were under different generals from time to time.

The records of the regiment show the faith and courage of one soldier — Millard T. Brown of Co. H — who died of pneumonia at the age of 17. Brown was from East Troy, Wisconsin. “He was a prompt and faithful soldier, who, while surrounded by the influences of the army, remembered the instructions of pious parents, and yielded his heart to Christ,” noted the description in the regiment’s records. “He died a soldier of the Union and of the cross,” it added.

The report described skirmishes in Missouri and Arkansas and other locations along the Mississippi River. The regiment moved constantly, sometimes pulling guard duty, sometimes scouting for other units and sometimes engaged in skirmishes. The log indicates the regiment left West Mississippi on Feb. 7, 1865, for New Orleans to join other units being assembled for an attack on Mobile, Ala. In one of the firefights during this period the unit lost two soldiers in combat and 15 others were wounded.

The soldier of the Civil War was accustomed to long and grueling marches to go from point-to-point. Such movements are well described in the regiment’s book of record.

One of its final assignments was at Brownsville, Texas, where a 25,000-troop force was being assembled, of which 19,000 were African Americans. The regiment remained in the region of the Rio Grande until boarding government steamships for the long journey to Madison, Wis., the final stop for being mustered out of service on April 16, 1866.

Walter Nowack Sr. employed a typewriter, a three-cent postage stamp and unbounded determination in 1946 to trace the service records of his grandfather in the Civil War, something that would be done in present-day life with the electronic marvels researchers put into action. And 73 years after grandpa launched his painstaking mission, one of his grandkids discovers the fruits of his investigation tucked away in the family homestead for future generations to relish.