1837 – Joseph Girthofer


Joseph Girthofer was born on Saturday, January 21, 1837 in the city of Straubing, in Königreich Bayern (the Kingdom of Bavaria) to Joseph Girthofer and Catherina Obermeyer. From 1825 to 1848, the Kingdom of Bavaria was ruled by König (King) Ludwig I. Straubing is a city located on the Danube River in Lower Bavaria.

Geiselhöring, Bavaria

Joseph Girthofer the elder, a farmer, was born in the town of Geiselhöring in Königreich Bayern on December 12, 1806. It is situated about 8.5 miles (14 kilometers) southwest of Straubing. Today, the town lies in the Straubing-Bogen district of Bavaria.

Niederviehbach, Bavaria

Catherina Obermeyer was born on March 17, 1813 in Niederviehbach, Königreich Bayern, about 18.5 miles (30 kilometers) south of Joseph’s birthplace of Geiselhöring. Today, that town is in the Dingolfing-Landau district in Bavaria and is situated along the Isar river.

Frontenhausen, Bavaria

Joseph and Catherina married on November 21, 1832 in the town of Frontenhausen in Königreich Bayern, about 15 kilometers southeast of Niederviehbach. Today Frontenhausen is also a municipality in the Dingolfing-Landau district in Bavaria and it lies about 25 miles south of Straubing. The Straubing-Bogen district is just to the north of Dingolfing-Landau.

Joseph was a locksmith in later records, so as a craftsman he had some mobility.

We know that Joseph and Catherina had at least eight children when Catherina arrived in New York on May 29, 1849:

  • Joseph Girthofer, born January 21, 1837
  • Cresenzis Girthofer, born in 1838
  • Anton (Anthony) Girthofer, born in 1839
  • Franzina (Francis) Girthofer, born in 1841
  • Anna Girthofer, born in 1842
  • Ludwig (Louis) Girthofer, born in 1843
  • Auguste (August) Girthofer, born in 1846
  • Christina Girthofer, born in 1847

Another child was born in St. Louis, Missouri:

  • Sarah Girthofer, born February 24, 1853

The Girthofer name has been spelled and misspelled in records many different ways. The oldest child, Joseph, spelled it Girthofer, but his father, Joseph, adopted the spelling Girthoffer. Other variations include Gurthifer, Gerthaffer, and Gaerthoeffer.


Straubing lies along the Danube River in Lower Bavaria. The area has been continuously settled since the Neolithic period. The conquest by the Romans in 16-14 BC had a dramatic impact on the whole region. Sorviodurum, as the Romans called it, was an important military support base. Even today a lot of traces of the 400-year Roman occupation can be found.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the town became a center of settlement of the Baiuvarii, a Germanic tribe who emerged from local populations north of the Alps. They named it after one of their leaders Strupinga. The name later evolved into Straubing.

In 1218, a new part of the city (called ‘new town’) was founded by Louis I Wittelsbach, the Duke of Bavaria. For a time, Straubing became the capital of Bavaria.

Königreich Bayern

The earliest mention of the Bavarians or Bayuvaren, was in Frankish records of the sixth century. Like other Germanic tribes in the area, they were tribal duchies, ruled by dukes. From about 550 to 788, the house of Agilolfing ruled Herzogtum Bayern (the Duchy of Bavaria), under the dominion of the Frankish kingdom.

Karl der Große

Then, in 772, Karl der Große (Charles the Great, or Charlemagne) conquered and eventually defeated the confederated Saxon tribes to expand his kingdom’s territory, which soon grew to become Heiliges Römisches Reich (the Holy Roman Empire). Charlemagne’s intent was also to convert the Germanic peoples from paganism to Christianity.

Frankish Catholic missionaries attempted to convert the German tribes with armed force, if necessary. In Bavaria, Christianity had partially survived from Roman times, but in the early eighth century, Saint Boniface completed the conversion of the tribe. To this day, Bavaria remains a strongly Roman Catholic region, withstanding the impact of the Protestant Reformation on the rest of Germany.

Ludwig I

In 1806, when Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire, Bavaria became a kingdom—Königreich Bayern. King Ludwig I was the ruler of Bavaria when Joseph Girthofer was born in 1837.

Defeat in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War compelled Bavaria to accept incorporation into the Prussian-dominated German Empire in 1871.

1848 – Katherina Kleen

Katherina Kleen was born on Sunday, September 17, 1848 in the town of Langenhagen in Königreich Hannover (the Kingdom of Hannover). We don’t know much about her parents except that her death certificate lists her father’s name as George. It was most likely Georg or Gottlieb Kleen.


The only clue as to her birthplace was the listing of the town of Langenhausen on the ship’s manifest when she emigrated to the United States in 1865.

Just north of the city of Hannover is a small town usually called Langenhagen, but sometimes referred to as Langenhausen. Langenhagen is the location of the Hannover city airport today.

Königreich Hannover

The town and region of Hannover is generally spelled Hanover in English. Königreich Hannover (the Kingdom of Hannover), had its origin in Fürstentum Calenberg (the Principality of Calenberg), which was created in 1432. Although it was called a principality, it was ruled by a duke, not a prince, and was a subdivision of the larger Herzogtum Braunschweig-Lüneburg (the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg), a state of Heiliges Römisches Reich (the Holy Roman Empire).

In 1636, the capital of the Principality of Calenberg was moved from the town of Pattensen to the town Hannover, and soon the principality also became known informally as Fürstentum Hannover.

In 1692 the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, elevated Duke Ernest Augustus, ruler of the Principality of Calenberg, to the rank of Kurfürst or Elector of the Empire as a reward for military support he had given the emperor. The principality became known as Kurfürstentum Braunschweig-Lüneburg (the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg) or, informally, Kurfürstentum Hannover (the Electorate of Hannover).

In 1714, George, the son of Duke Ernest Augustus and his wife Sophia of Hannover, became King George I of Great Britain, establishing the British House of Hanover. Under the Act of Settlement in 1701, the English throne could only be held by a Protestant. Because Queen Anne, the daughter of James II, was dying, Sophia of Hannover, the nearest such relative, was designated as the next heir by a vote of Parliament. But Sophia died shortly before Anne, and her place was taken by her son, George.

In 1803, the Electorate of Hannover was occupied by France, which ruled over it in some form or another for the next ten years. From 1807 on, the Hanoverian territory became part of the Kingdom of Westfalen (in French, La Royaume de Westphalie), ruled by Jérôme Bonaparte, Napolean’s younger brother. The Hanoverian army was dissolved, but many of the officers and soldiers went to England, where they formed the King’s German Legion.

In 1813, Kurfürstentum Hannover (the Electorate of Hannover) was restored, and in October of 1814 it was elevated to Königreich Hannover (the Kingdom of Hannover) by the Congress of Vienna, in an attempt to balance the power of other German kingdoms. This was the situation in 1853 when Henriette Eleanora Detering was born in the town of Wimmer.

Hannover remained an independent kingdom from 1814 to 1866, when Prussian armies under Bismarck appropriated the territory and its wealth to continue the territorial expansion of Königreich Prueßen (the Kingdom of Prussia). Hannover remained a province of Prussia, Provinz Hannover, from 1866 to 1946.

1848 – the March Revolution

In 1848, when Katerina Kleen was born and Joseph Girthofer was 11, there was no single country called Germany. There was a German language, but the Germanic people lived in a number of different kingdoms, principalities, and duchies. Each of these had its own local rulers and laws; its own customs, records, and particularities.

In 1848, a collection of 38 German states, including Austria, were loosely bound together in the German Confederation.

A strong liberal democratic movement began forming in the 19th century to seek such basic rights as freedom of the press, trial by jury and constitutional systems of government in the states, as well as the unification of Germany into one nation-state.

But living conditions throughout the confederation, and much of the rest of Europe, were not good. Starting in 1832, cholera epidemics raged across Europe causing widespread death in Germany, especially in Prussia.  By the 1840s, a huge population growth, combined with harvest failures in 1846 and 1847, meant many people starved. Large numbers of people moved to the cities for work, but working conditions were generally terrible, with long working days and poor or non-existent rights. An economic crisis spread through Europe, sparking food riots and peasants’ revolts.

Finally, an uprising in Paris in February 1848 sparked similar armed uprisings in Vienna and Berlin; these two cities, as well as Baden and the southwest of Germany, were to form the centers of the revolution. The German rulers were frightened enough to grant concessions: they promised liberal constitutions, appointed liberals to ministries, promised freedom of the press, the freedom to hold meetings and a German national parliament.

In March 1848, a prototype Parliament called for free elections—and the German states agreed. Thus began the “March Revolution.”

In May 1848, the 550 elected delegates to the first National Assembly met in Frankfurt. They had two primary tasks: to draw up a national constitution and to create a centralized government.

They soon formed a temporary Imperial government, but the Assembly was unable to invest this central administration with power and authority. The newly created government had no civil service and no army, and a number of German monarchs refused to swear the allegiance of their troops to the Imperial Administrator. By December they had formulated the “Basic Rights for the German People” which proclaimed equal opportunity and equal rights for all citizens before the law.

The overriding issue in the creation of a national constitution was setting the borders of the German nation-state. Initially, a majority of deputies favored a “greater German solution” that would include the German-speaking areas of Austria and separate them from the rest of the Habsburg Empire. Their plans were thwarted whenthe Austrian Prince introduced a centralized constitution for the entire Austrian Empire.

This marked the beginning of the end for the fledgling German state. The title of Emperor of a Germany without Austria (the “small solution”) was then offered to the Prussian King Frederick William IV. Frederick rejected the offer and spoke out against the 28 states that had already recognized the Imperial constitution.

Turmoil continued into 1849. A large number of liberal delegates left the Assembly, and the republican left became the dominant force. The Assembly was finally forcibly disbanded by the military forces of Württemberg.

emigration of the Forty-Eighters

Disillusioned Germans who believed in free democratic ideals began to emigrate to the United States. Many others left for economic reasons, and as military actions were increasing in the unstable political environment, still others sought to avoid military service. According to Millie Brink Krughoff:

“There was not enough work on the small farm for six boys, and not enough money to send them to college. In those days many young men, yes whole families came to America, where opportunities for business and farming were great. In order to avoid military training, the boys would leave before they were eighteen years.”

The Germans who came to America were looking for land, opportunity, and political freedom. They left their homeland because of crowding due to huge population growth, poverty, and starvation caused by crop failures in 1846 and 1847, a cholera epidemic that raged across Europe, and political unrest caused by the failed 1848 revolution. The reduction of farm size through generational sub-division aggravated things further. Some were political liberals facing reprisals from their efforts in the failed uprising of 1848. The great majority, however, sought to depart from unpromising and circumscribed peasant life in Germany and to become independent farmers of 100 acres or more in the American Midwest.

Such emigrants became known as the Forty-Eighters. Disappointed at the failure of the revolution to bring about the reform of the system of government in Germany, and sometimes on the government’s wanted list because of their involvement in the revolution, they gave up their old lives to try again abroad. Many were respected, rich and well-educated; as such, they were not typical migrants. Unsurprisingly, then, a large number went on to be very successful in their new countries and have become part of U.S. history.

1849 – emigration of Joseph Girthofer

Joseph Girthofer emigrated to the United States at age twelve in 1848 according to the 1900 Census. But the ship’s manifest shows his mother and her children arriving in New York on May 29, 1849 aboard the Lochinvar which sailed from LeHavre in France.

Eight children emigrated with Catherina to the United States:

  • Joseph Girthofer, born January 21, 1837
  • Cresenzis Girthofer, born in 1838
  • Anton (Anthony) Girthofer, born in 1839
  • Franzius (Francis) Girthofer, born in 1841
  • Anna Girthofer, born in 1842
  • Ludwig (Louis) Girthofer, born in 1843
  • Auguste (August) Girthofer, born in 1846
  • Christina Girthofer, born in 1847

When Catherina sailed to the United States with her eight children, she came with only two chests and two sacks of belongings for the family.

Joseph’s father, Joseph (senior), was not listed in the party. He likely emigrated earlier. There is a transcribed record of a Francois Joseph Gerthoffer arriving in New York from France in 1847, but the details are insufficient to determine if this was the same person, because a copy of the manifest is not available on the Internet.

We know nothing about their particular reasons for leaving Bavaria. The Girthofers may have held liberal political views and were opposed to an economic system in Germany that kept farmers in a state just above that of medieval serfs.

Whether they traveled to St. Louis as their destination is not known for sure at this point. But according to the 1860 Federal Census, they had a child born in Missouri in 1853—a girl listed on the census form only by her initial, S. Gurthifer. This turns out to be Sarah Girthoffer, born on February 24, 1853.

St. Louis in 1849

If Joseph Girthofer and his family arrived in St. Louis in 1849, the town would have been a part of the United States for just over two decades. Yet in the decade between 1840 and 1850, Saint Louis had expanded nearly three-fold to a population of over 100,000 people.

Much of this growth was due to a large influx of immigrants, particularly Germans and Irish, who arrived upriver by steamboat. Many Germans were lured to Missouri by romanticized descriptions of the state through the Giessen Emigration Society which described it as the American Rhineland.

The Irish fled the Great Famine in their homeland, caused by a potato fungus that destroyed the island’s primary food source between 1845 and 1849. Under British domination since the early 1600’s, the Irish had lived in a land where they were forbidden to speak their native tongue, to own land, to educate their children, and to openly practice their religion. So, those who stepped off steamboats at the St. Louis landing were hardy and determined, but largely an uneducated and unprepared lot.

The German immigrants, in contrast, were generally well educated and possessed skills such as carpentry and blacksmithing, in addition to agriculture.

In 1850, 43% of the inhabitants of the city of St. Louis were natives of the German states (22,534) or Ireland (9,719). By the early 1850s, city ordinances had to be translated into German for the benefit of the many German-speaking citizens (about 30% of the population). On the eve of the Civil War, St. Louis led the United States in percentage of its population not born in the United States.

In 1849, St. Louis still retained many of the aspects of a frontier town. It was a crowded, dirty place. The western boundary extended only to Eleventh Street, which made the city about three-fourths of a mile in width from east to west, but the riverfront extended for three miles on the city’s north-south axis.

The city had no sewers. Some natural surface drains led to sinkholes around town that had underground outlets to the river. As the city grew, open sewers were dug to drain excess water to these sinkholes. The holes quickly filled with noxious garbage, blocking their underground outlets and creating large stagnant ponds that were “miasmic” (gaseous). The city dug ditches from the sink holes to the Mississippi in order to drain them, but they were too deep to drain completely. A breeding ground for mosquitoes, these sink holes were most likely a major source of the malaria that regularly affected the population.

The first sewer was finally built in 1850. Within five years, thirty-one main sewers had been built that drained four hundred acres in the central part of town.

the 1849 cholera epidemic

The year 1849 was not a good one for St. Louis. First, Asiatic Cholera struck the city with a vengeance. Previous outbreaks had occurred in 1832, 1833, and 1835. But in 1848, German and Dutch immigrants brought the disease to New Orleans from Europe where it was raging. Most of the Germans were bound for St. Louis and Cincinnati. The Hollanders were headed for Iowa. When the immigrants arrived in New Orleans, they transferred directly from the perfect breeding ground of their crowded and unsanitary sailing vessels to the decks of river steamers headed up the Mississippi. On December 28, 1848, 30 cholera-infected passengers and crew arrived in St. Louis on a steamboat. Over the next several months, the disease quickly spread throughout the congested and filthy city.

Eight persons died from cholera in the first week of January 1849. Soon the deaths amounted to nearly 300 a week. Victims of the disease usually died within 24 hours of their diagnosis from severe diarrhea, vomiting and rapid dehydration.

During the week of June 24th, the deaths rose to 601. The epidemic reached a peak in July when 722 people died in one week. From the first of January to the end of July in 1849, 4,557 cholera victims were buried in the city out of a population of 63,000. The deaths were so numerous that the hearses, wagons and carriages in the city were inadequate to the demand, and handcarts had to be used to transport the dead to the cemeteries. The epidemic did not ease until October.

Cholera is a water-borne disease spread by contaminated drinking water, but that was not known at the time. Some St. Louis doctors suspected that the disease might be spread by human feces and they encouraged city leaders to draw up regulations for the building of outhouses—“necessaries”—specifying the depth of the vaults.

Many laymen believed that the consumption of vegetables was to blame for the disease. A civic committee suggested prohibiting citizens from eating watermelon, green corn, cucumbers and cabbages. Because so many Germans died, sauerkraut was also suspected.

In proportion to population, St. Louis was hit harder by the disease than any other city in the nation. Most of the victims were recent immigrants. One-third were children aged five and under. Cholera outbreaks continued every year for the next six years.

the 1849 fire

A second major disaster hit the city in 1849. As cholera was spreading like wildfire, a real fire swept through downtown St. Louis. At nine o’clock on the evening of May 17th, the steamboat White Cloud caught fire while moored at Cherry street at the northern edge of the city. When the fire began, the crew and levee workers pushed the boat into the middle of the river to allow the current to carry it away from other boats. It did not work. A wind from the east held the boat near the Missouri bank, and as it floated down river, the White Cloud set fire to twenty-two other steamers and nine flatboats and barges lying moored to the shore below her, before she reached the foot of Locust Street, about a quarter mile below the starting point.

Soon the roaring fire jumped the levee at Locust Street. It moved along Main Street (First Street) and continued to spread to the southwest, eventually reaching the corner of Market and Second Streets, the block on which the St. Louis Cathedral stood.

The volunteer firefighters of the Missouri Valley Fire Brigade responded with nine hand engines and hose reels. They were unable to do much to slow the blaze because the fire was between them and the river, their primary source of water.

By daylight on May 18th, the firefighters were tired and demoralized. The entire business portion of the city appeared doomed unless something was done. Captain Thomas B. Targee decided bold action was required. He ordered several kegs of gunpowder to blow up a series of warehouses in the path of the fire. Six buildings were destroyed in succession to stop the flames before they reached the cathedral. The plan worked. The cathedral was saved, but Targee lost his life when the final keg of gunpowder blew up in his hands while throwing it into the Philips Music store.

The fire devastated fifteen city blocks along the riverfront, in the area that is today’s Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It took three lives and it did $10 million of property damage. The post-office, several printing offices, three banking houses, and 430 houses were destroyed, along with much of the old French section of town with its narrow streets and antiquated buildings.

These disasters led to political action: old cemeteries were removed to the outskirts of the town; sinkholes were filled and swamps drained; water and sewer public utilities were vastly improved; and a new building code required structures to be built of stone or brick.

rebels, abolitionists, and “Know-Nothings”

Differing political views merged in St. Louis as Southerners from the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky intertwined with Yankees from New England, Ohio, and Indiana. Views on slavery pitted rebels against abolitionists during the Civil War, making it one of the most divided cities in the Union.

Germans arriving after 1850 were usually ardent abolitionists and nationalists. Their political activism made them instrumental in keeping Missouri in the Union during the Civil War.

Irish immigrants in St. Louis congregated in two areas. Some lived in the “Kerry Patch” area on the near north side—a violent, dangerous, and impoverished neighborhood. Others lived around Cheltenham, centered around the intersection of present-day Hampton and Manchester.

Some of the native-born Americans formed the nativist, anti-immigration American Party. Also called the “Know-Nothings,” they supported policies that favored native inhabitants rather than immigrants. Eventually, they ran their own candidates for office on platforms of limiting immigration and restricting the rights of immigrants who already were in the United States.

1850 – 1859

During the decade of the 1850s, we have no record of Joseph Girthofer’s life. We don’t know where he settled or what jobs he found in his late teen years. The first record we have is a decade later when he volunteered for service in the Union Army, or more specifically, the Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

In 1853, Joseph and Catherina Girthofer’s ninth child, Sarah, was born in St. Louis.

Sometime between her birth and the 1860 Census, the family moved to Iowa. Their oldest child, Joseph most likely remained in St. Louis because he was not listed with the family when they relocated. If they moved around the year 1855, Joseph would have been 17. In 1860, he was about 23 years old.

1860 – Iowa

The 1860 Federal Census shows that by that date, most of the Girthofer family (listed as Gurthifer) had relocated to a farm in Ward township, Clarke, Iowa. Today, there are no incorporated communities in the township and the nearest Post Office in 1860 was in Osceola.

The census shows that Joseph (45) and Catherina (48) were living there with their six youngest children: Anton (22), Francis (20), Anna (19), Louis (17), August (14), and their youngest daughter Sarah (7). The second youngest child, Christina, who would have been 13, is not listed and had presumably died, perhaps in the 1849 St. Louis cholera epidemic. Joseph (senior) was listed as a locksmith, while most of his children were listed as farmers.

The two oldest children, Joseph (23) and Creszenzis (22) were not in the household either. Creszenzis may have married. And Joseph may have found work in St. Louis and stayed behind.

1860 – the outbreak of the American Civil War

Scarcely a month after Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina adopted an ordinance of succession. Soon other states in the Deep South followed: Mississippi on January 9, 1861, Florida on January 10, Alabama on January 11, Georgia on January 19, Louisiana on January 26, and Texas on February 1. On February 4, 1861, delegates from all these states met in Montgomery, Alabama where they drafted a constitution for the Confederate States of America.

On April 12, 1861, a Confederate army fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina demanding the surrender of the fort. This action initiated the armed conflict known as the American Civil War.

Three days later, on April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers for three months’ service, for few people supposed that the war would last longer than that.

The Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, immediately sent a letter to state governors, calling on them to support the Union by raising troops:

“I have the honor to request your Excellency to cause to be immediately detached from the militia of your State the quota designated in the table below, to serve as infantry or riflemen for the period of three months, unless sooner discharged.

“Your Excellency will please communicate to me the time at or about which your quota will be expected at its rendezvous, as it will be met as soon as practicable by an officer or officers to muster it into the service and pay of the United States. At the same time the oath of fidelity to the United States will be administered to every officer and man.

“The mustering officer will be instructed to receive no man under the rank of commissioned officer who is in years apparently over forty-five or under eighteen, or who is not in physical strength and vigor.”

The governor of Missouri, Claiborne Fox Jackson, a supporter of the Confederacy, sent a letter of refusal to the Secretary of War.  

“Your dispatch of the 15th instant, making a call on Missouri for four regiments of men for immediate service, has been received. There can be, I apprehend, no doubt but these men are intended to form a part of the President’s army to make war upon the people of the seceded States. Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its objects, inhuman and diabolical, and can not be complied with. Not one man will, of the State of Missouri, furnish or carry on such an unholy crusade.

“C. F. Jackson, Governor of Missouri”

German volunteers for the Union

Rep. Francis Preston Blair

Most Missourians wanted the state to remain neutral in the event of a war. Only in St. Louis was there significant support for the Union cause. Congressman Frank Blair and St. Louis’ Germans began secretly enlisting Missouri Volunteers to fight on behalf of the Union.

Many German immigrants were veterans of the 1848 “Peasant Revolution” in a Germany that was broken up into monarchy-ruled states. They fought a losing war for the idea of a centralized Federal government that would have radically abolished feudal domination and Kleinstaaterei (“small-statism”). 

Serfdom was a form of slavery. Many could see the parallel between the Southern “slave baron” vs. the feudal baron that denied peasants the right to own land in the old fatherland.

Gov. William Dennison, Jr

That is why, ever since the death of pro-immigrant Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, a Democrat, the German majority supported the “Free Soil” and later the Republican Party. Lincoln knew he could count on Missouri Germans when the time came to preserve the Union against breaking it up into “small-statism”.

The governor of Ohio, William Dennison, an anti-slavery Republican, readily accepted the call to raise troops.

“Your dispatch calling on Ohio for thirteen regiments is just received, and will be promptly responded to.

“Adjutant-General Carrington has just issued orders carrying into effect the military laws just enacted by the General Assembly of Ohio, and providing for 6,000 regular militia, besides the militia of reserve of not less than 35,000 men, to be subject to immediate transfer into the regular force. The regular militia has been organized into twenty-five regiments, which, when upon a war basis, would make 25,000 men. On Saturday his office was thronged by persons eagerly inquiring for the news, and offering their services, irrespective of party, to support the General Government.

“William Dennison, Jr., Governor of Ohio”

During governor Dennison’s single term in office from 1860 to 1862, he raised over 100,000 troops and organized 82 regiments for the Union army.

1861 – 1864: Joseph Girthofer’s military service

According to a record left by his grandson, William Gustave Sagner, the younger Joseph Girthofer volunteered for military service in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry on April 22, 1861, just a week after President Abraham Lincoln issued the call for volunteers. He was 25 years old.

Because of Missouri’s refusal to support Lincoln’s effort, Joseph Girthofer traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio and joined a unit there formed from volunteers of German descent. 1,500 German-Americans enlisted in the Ohio Infantry within that first week.

Joseph was mustered into service on May 8, 1861 as a Private in Company D, 9th Regiment of the Ohio Infantry for a period of three months. He re-enlisted on May 22, 1861 for three years. On June 7, 1864, he received an honorable discharge when he mustered out of the Company.

Die Neuner

The 9th Ohio Infantry Regiment was Ohio’s first all-German unit to enter the Union Army during the Civil War. Known as the Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the soldiers referred to it as Die Neuner (the Ninth). The unit served with distinction from 1861 to 1864.

Joseph Girthofer’s service dates correspond exactly to the history of the Ninth Regiment. He was with them from the beginning to the end.

National colors of the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

The 9th Ohio Infantry Regiment was organized in Cincinnati under Col. Robert M. McCook. It was mustered into three months of service on April 22, 1861 at Camp Harrison near Cincinnati and was reorganized into three years of service on May 28, 1861. It served in West Virginia under General George B. McClellan and was transferred to the Army of the Potomac when McClellan formed that unit on July 27, 1861. In December 1861, the 9th Regiment was transferred to the Army of the Ohio under General Don Carlos Buell. For the next three years, they served under the leadership of a string of generals, including Ambrose Burnside and John M. Schofield.

The 9th Regiment did valuable service in Tennessee and participated in the battle of Chickamauga with heavy loss. It took part in the battle of Mission Ridge and was at the battle of Resaca during Sherman’s Atlanta campaign.

The 9th Regiment fought in battles at Rich Mountain and Carnifex Ferry, West Virginia in 1861; at Mill Springs and Perryville, Kentucky in 1862; at Hoover’s Gap and Missionary Ridge, Tennessee in 1863; at Chickamauga, Georgia in 1863; and at Buzzard Roost and Resaca, Georgia in 1864.

His military records show that he spent some time at a military hospital convalescent barracks in Louisville, Kentucky from September 1862 to February 1863. The records simply say that he was sick.

Camp Dennison

The Regiment returned to Camp Dennison near Cincinnati when its service expired and was mustered out on June 7, 1864. In March and April of that year, Joseph was assigned to cattle guard duty.

For some reason, Joseph Girthofer served under the alias Joseph Gerthoff. Both names are listed on his military pension claim form, but his roll call records list his name as Gerthoff or Gerdhoff, or even Guerthoff.

When he left military service, Joseph returned to St. Louis.

At the same time, Joseph’s father had enlisted in the Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Seventh Regiment, H Company. The regiment was organized at Burlington, Iowa and mustered into Federal service between July 24 and August 4, 1861. Joseph Girthofer (senior) died on December 9, 1864 in Annapolis, Maryland and was buried there.

When he died, his widow Catherine still had her daughter Sarah at home. Sarah would have been about 11, while all of the other children were by now over the age of 18.

post-war St. Louis

Militarily, the Civil War barely touched St. Louis; the area saw only a few skirmishes in which Union forces prevailed. But the war shut down trade with the South, devastating the city’s economy. Missouri was nominally a slave state, but its economy did not depend on slavery, and it never seceded from the Union. The arsenal at St. Louis was used during the war to construct ironclad ships for the Union.

Sewer construction had slowed down during the Civil War. Then, in 1866, another cholera epidemic claimed 3,527 lives in the city. This spurred a renewed interest in sanitation. By December of 1868, a total of 101 miles of sewers had been laid, serving all parts of the city.

1865 – emigration of Catherina Kleen

Home and destination on ship's manifest

In 1865, at age 18, Katherina Kleen emigrated to the United States. She arrived in New York on October 2, 1865, sailing from Bremen, Germany on August 16, 1865 and bound for St. Louis. The ship’s manifest has her listed as Cath. Kleen and her home as Langenhausen. She traveled with Marie Wittmann, also 18 and also from Langenhausen. There were 243 passengers on the ship during the seven-week voyage.

Typical three-masted barque

Katherina, or as she was later known—Catherina—arrived on the barque Geestemunde, named after a ship-building town near the port of Bremerhaven. M. Külken was the ship’s master on the voyage. No image is currently available of the Geestemunde.

A barque (sometimes spelled bark) was a three or four masted ship. The drawing shown here illustrates the typical sail configuration of a barque.

marriage and children

In 1867, Joseph Girthofer was working as a porter for the saddlery hardware company of Hayden, Wilsons & Allen. In 1872, the company was located at 512 N. Main in St. Louis.

On September 12, 1868, Joseph Girthofer became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

On December 5, 1868, three years after she arrived in St. Louis, Catharine Kleen married Joseph Girthofer.

The first of their six children was born during this decade:

  • Henry William Girthofer (also known as William H. Girthofer) was born on July 19, 1869

Catherina worked as a midwife and was referred to in a St. Louis City Directory as a “gynaecologist.” Her granddaughter, May Poenack, remembered that as a child that when “we children saw her go out with her black bag, we knew another baby was on the way.”

Joseph was a musician and singer. He played the accordion, and according to his granddaughter May, he was “an entertainer of the first magnitude.” He was constantly in demand to play at parties and weddings.

1870 – 1879

The 1870 Federal Census lists Joseph (Jos. Gaerthoeffer) as a porter in a store. His employment was consistently listed in various records as a porter through 1890.

Four more children were born during this decade:

  • Eleanora Wilhelmina Girthofer, born February 12, 1871
  • Amalia A. Girthofer, born December 21 1872
  • George A. Girthofer, born 1874
  • Anna K. Girthofer, born April 11, 1878

In 1874, a city directory listed Joseph as a porter residing at 2014 N. 16th Street.

1880 – 1889

The 1880 Federal Census lists Joseph as a porter in a hardware store. At the time, the family was living at 3902 Kossouth Avenue. Joseph (42) and Catherina (33) were living with their children William (11), Leonor (9), Amalia (8), George (6), and Anna (2). An 1880 city directory lists Joseph’s address as 3903 Kossuth Avenue.

In 1880, Louis Girthofer (Girthoffer), age 35, was living as a boarder with the Nicholai Boul family at their farm in Saint Claire County, Illinois. He worked on the farm along with another boarder.

In 1882 Joseph and Catherina had their sixth child :

  • Mayme Louise Girthofer, born December 17, 1882

A War Department record shows that Joseph Girthover filed a claim as an invalid on April 7, 1884.

In 1887, Joseph’s and Catherina’s last child was born:

  • Albert Louis Girthofer was born on January 15, 1887 and died the same day.

The 1889 and 1890 St. Louis city directories list Joseph Girthofer as a porter residing at 1502 St. Louis Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri.

In 1887, his son, H. William Girthofer, was listed in a St. Louis City directory as a clerk at Munson and Company, living at 1408 Warren Avenue. According to 1889 and 1890 directories, William worked as a salesman with the Wm. Barr Dry Goods Company, a predecessor of the Famous-Barr department store in St. Louis. He was now living at 1502 St. Louis Avenue.

1890 – 1899

The 1890 St. Louis city directory lists Catherine Girthofer as a midwife residing at 1502 St. Louis Avenue.

Unfortunately, no census record is available for 1890. The Federal Census of 1890 was destroyed by a fire at the Commerce Department in Washington, D.C. on January 10, 1921. The surviving fragments of 1,233 pages list only 6,160 of the 62 million people counted.

Eleanora Wilhelmina Girthofer (often called Leonora or Laura) married Gustave Theodore Sagner on February 3, 1893 in St. Louis. (See Gustave Sagner and Eleanora Girthofer.) Gustave had been born on March 1, 1867 in Meseritz, Germany, the son of Johann Sagner and Auguste Kurtzhan. Gustave and Eleanora Sagner had three sons during this decade:

  • William Gustave Sagner, born January 26, 1894 at home at 4564 North Market, St. Louis, Missouri (C. Girthofer was the informant on the birth record, indicating that Catherine was the midwife at the delivery.)
  • Walter Theodore Sagner, born November 25, 1895
  • Arthur John Sagner, born May 24, 1897

About 1895, H. William Girthofer married Elizabeth C. Brune. She was born May 10, 1873, and died December 31, 1956. William and Elizabeth had two children during this decade:

  • May Antoinette Girthofer, born May 1, 1896
  • Lurella E. Girthofer, born February 17, 1898

On May’s birth record, the informant was Mrs. C. Girthofer, indicating that her grandmother Catherina was the midwife at her birth.

1900 – 1909

William and Elizabeth Girthofer had their third child during this decade:

  • Roy W. C. Girthofer, born June 15, 1901

Eleanora and Gustave Sagner had their fourth son during this decade:

Sometime between 1901 and 1907, Anna K. Girthofer married William Frederick Brune, the brother of Elizabeth C. Brune. They had one child:

  • Alice Elizabeth Brune, born September 22, 1908

By 1908, H. William Girthofer was working as a mail carrier for the U.S. Post Office.

Joseph Girthofer died of a heart attack in his sleep on Tuesday, May 4, 1909 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was 72 years old. He was buried on Thursday, May 6, 1909 at the Deutsch Evangelischen Zions (German Evangelical Zions) Cemetery in Section B, lot 23. Zion Cemetery is located at 7401 Saint Charles Rock Road in St. Louis.

(His grave is currently unmarked, but his great-great-grandson, Kurt Struckmeyer, has begun the process of requesting the Veteran’s Administration for a Civil-War-era marble headstone to be placed at his gravesite. This required obtaining a copy of his military records from the U.S. Archives which have now been received.)

On May 12, 1909, Catharine Girthofer applied for a Civil War widow’s pension.

1910 – 1919

In the 1910 and 1920 census reports, H. William and Elizabeth Girthofer lived at 4415 Green Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri. William worked as a mail carrier through at least 1917, according to city directories. At some point near the end of this decade, he trained as a chiropractor.

Eleanora Girthofer Sagner died on February 3, 1911 at age 39 at the Ellen Osborn Hospital in St. Louis where she had been treated by Dr. Ellen M. Osborn. Eleanor left behind four young sons. William was 17 years old, Walter 15, Arthur 13, and Ernest 9 when their mother died.

Lurella E. Girthofer married George Ellis Messmer sometime near the end of this decade.

Sometime after 1918 and before 1920, May Antoinette Girthofer married William (Wilhelm) Frederick Poenack. He was born on January 8, 1898, and died in January 1984. In September 1918, William’s draft registration card reveals he was a resident of Davenport, Iowa, apparently single, and working as a machinist in at the Rock Island Arsenal.

The Rock Island Arsenal comprises 946 acres, located on Arsenal Island, originally known as Rock Island, on the Mississippi River between the cities of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois.

I believe that H. William Girthofer moved his family to Davenport sometime between 1917 and 1920 to enroll at the Palmer College of Chiropractic. While there, his daughter May met William Poenack and married.

1920 – 1929

On January 12, 1920, William (51) and Elizabeth (46) Girthofer were back in St. Louis living at 4415 Greer Avenue with their son, Roy (18). William was now self-employed as a chiropractor and Roy was a chauffeur for a bakery. A 1920 city directory confirms that this address was both William’s home and chiropractic office. Later, I believe he opened a chiropractic practice at 1351 N. Kingshighway.

In 1920, May and William Poenack remained in Davenport, Iowa, where he was still working as a machinist in the Rock Island Arsenal. Within two years, however, they must have been back in St. Louis, where their children were born:

  • Gladys E. Poenack, born October 5, 1922
  • Harvey A. Poenack, born September 23, 1925

The 1920 Federal Census shows Catherina Girthofer (Gerthufer), age 72, living at 2121 Madison in St. Louis with her daughter Emma (Amalia) Girthofer, age 46, who was working as a seamstress at a shirt factory.

In 1920, Louis Girthofer (Gersthoeffer), age 77, was an inmate at the St. Louis City Infirmary on Easton Avenue.

On April 10, 1920, Roy C. Girthofer joined the Marine Corps and was sent to their training facility at Parris Island, South Carolina. He went AWOL on May 3rd and was confined to the brig for 10 days by his commanding officer.

On July 2, 1920 Private Roy Girthofer was transferred to a supply company in Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic aboard the USS Henderson. On September 20, 1920, he was again transferred to the 32nd Company, 4th Regiment in Santiago. In December, he moved to the town of Monte Christi.

In October of 1920, Roy’s sister Lurella, died at the age of 22 from tuberculosis at the home of her parents William and Elizabeth Girthofer at 4415 Greer Avenue. She and her husband George Messmer lived at 4851A Natural Bridge Road, but her mother Elizabeth must have nursed her in their home in her final days.

On July 22, 1921, Roy C. Girthofer was promoted to Corporal. While in the Dominican Republic, he participated in inter-regimental athletic meets. In November 1921, he was on temporary detail for the entire month to prepare for a Brigade Field Meet.

On February 13, 1922, Corporal Roy Girthofer was transferred from the Dominican Republic to the Marine Barracks at Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia aboard the USS Henderson. By June, he was on assignment to the Post Baseball Team.

Then, on June 17, 1922, Corporal Roy Girthofer was declared a deserter from the U.S. Marine Corps. A fifty dollar reward was offered for his capture. The records then show that on that same date, Roy re-enlisted in the Marines.

After that, I have found no record of Roy C. Girthofer. The family says that Roy later became a lifelong drifter and petty thief who did jail time. He was also known as Eugene Longinett. He died in Pennsylvania in 1970.

Catherina (Kleen) Girthofer died of a heart attack on Friday, May 11, 1923 at 2320 Madison, St. Louis, Missouri. They found her on the kitchen floor, mop still in hand. She was 74 years old. She was buried on Monday, May 14, 1923 in Zion Cemetery, Section B, lot 23 next to Joseph. Her grave is also unmarked.

Around 1927, Alice Elizabeth Brune married William Harold Saeger. They had one child:

  • Eileen Joyce Saeger, born in 1928

1930 – 1939

The 1930 census lists William and Elizabeth Girthofer living at 3807 Fair Avenue in St. Louis. His occupation was a chiropractor.

The 1930 census also shows May and William Poenack back in Davenport, Iowa where he was employed as a foreman in a tank factory. The Rock Island Arsenal produced the Liberty Mark VIII tank from 1918 to 1932.

Sometime after 1930, May and William Poenack moved to Fairhaven, Massachusetts.