Edward Wiederanders was 11 years old when he came to Round Top, Texas, from Annaberg, Saxony in 1854. He had known since he was five that his family would be emigrating to America. Anticipating a bright future in a land of opportunity, the young boy could not have known that his life would be characterized by a series of misfortunes and unrealized dreams.

Born Carl Eduard Wiederänders on November 30, 1942, Edward was the youngest of seven surviving children in his family. He undoubtedly idolized the three older brothers — Anton, Gustav, and Ernst — who were teenagers when he was a small boy. Closer to his own age were Eleonore (Minel) and Emil. A much older half-brother, Gottlob, had left home when Edward was very small. (For information on his family’s life in Annaberg and their emigration, see Carl Gottlob Wiederänders and Eleonore Wenzel.)

Starting Out in Texas
The long-awaited adventure had a grueling start. After a tedious journey lasting three months, young Edward had to join his parents and brothers in the backbreaking labor required to eke out a living in Texas, clearing dense forest on his sister’s and brother-in-law’s homestead, or filling in for injured brother Anton as a tenant farmer. When an old Pennsylvania Dutchman named Sive rode by and invited Edward to come live at his farm and teach his two sons German, it probably seemed like a sweet offer to the 12-year-old boy.

Edward got on the back of Mr. Sive’s horse and they set off on a two-day journey to his farm. Besides speaking German with the Sive boys, Edward was to work alongside them in the fields and do all the housework, since Mr. Sive had no wife at the farm. After seven weeks of this, the boy started to feel poorly, losing his appetite and zest for work. When Sive returned from one of his frequent trips, he observed, “Eddy, Du bischt heemsick. Ich will Dich heem bringe.” (“Eddy, you’re homesick. I’ll take you home.”) Edward’s appetite returned immediately, and he was soon reunited with his relieved parents at Rabbs Creek. But sad news awaited him: his beloved oldest brother, Anton, had died of malaria while Edward was away. And just weeks after Edward’s return, his father Carl suffered a stroke and died.

By necessity, the family split up so the men could find work, and Edward spent his teenage years doing a man’s share of labor. He contracted himself out to nearby farmers as a tenant or for monthly wages — sometimes along with one of his brothers. For a time he took quarters with the Lutheran pastor in Round Top to receive religious instruction and be confirmed. (Note: He may have learned to play the organ during this period.) In 1858, Edward and his surviving brothers managed to reunite with their mother under one roof. Then tragedy struck again: Ernst died in 1859 of peritonitis, while Edward came down with typhoid fever and almost died himself.

In 1861 the new pastor, Adam Neuthard, founded a seminary; Edward and Emil were his first two students. In exchange for their theological training, the brothers were assigned teaching duties at schools in nearby settlements. That same year, Texas seceded from the Union and the Civil War began. The following year the Confederacy mandated universal conscription. Emil was exempted from service, having received his teaching appointment prior to the declaration of war, but Edward’s teaching deferment was disallowed. As his son Carl related in his memoir:

A rather crude method of conscription was then practiced in Texas....As more men were needed to fill the ranks, a price was offered for men brought into the recruiting office. What came to be known as ‘head hunters,’ operating in pairs, would compel men at gunpoint to accompany them to the recruiting office to be sworn in....On a Sunday in June the congregation at Round Top celebrated a mission festival with morning and afternoon services, and Father served as organist. After the morning service the ‘head-hunters’ were waiting outside the church to take him away, but yielded to the ardent plea of Pastor Neuthard to wait at least until after the second service, as Father was urgently needed at the organ. They lounged in the shade under the trees beside the church until the service was over, then took him away. Thus ended his first attempt to prepare for the Lutheran ministry.

Soldiering for the Confederacy

Click on pictures to enlarge

Edward C. Wiederanders

Immigrant boys helping to clear land in Texas

Smokehouse on a Texas farm

Cattle on a farm near Round Top

Dry goods store and post office in Round Top, built in 1856

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Round Top
At the age of 19, Edward, along with his brother Gustav, 30, were sworn into Captain Alexander’s company in La Grange, Fayette County, Texas. Like many other German immigrants, the brothers found slavery repugnant and felt no loyalty to the Confederate cause. Nevertheless, they reported to Camp Lockridge, near Austin, for basic training on August 1, 1862. In early 1863 they were sent to Brownsville and incorporated into the 3rd Texas Infantry Regiment. Deployed along the Gulf coast — constantly under threat of Union naval attack — they were ordered from place to place and eventually stationed in Galveston.

There, provisions deteriorated to worm-infested cornmeal, sour molasses, and rotting beef. Some men refused to eat, and many others became ill, which meant those still standing had to work double shifts performing guard duty and strenuous drills. Finally, when repeated complaints were not addressed, the entire regiment refused to drill. Accused of mutinous behavior and threatened with death, the soldiers were placed under house arrest for a week — but then began to receive better rations.

Early in 1864, Edward’s regiment was ordered to Louisiana to be incorporated into Walker’s Texas Division, which had joined General Kirby Smith’s army there to thwart the North’s planned invasion of Texas. Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks was moving his army up the Red River from New Orleans to rendezvous with 12,000 troops marching south from Little Rock under Gen. Frederick Steele. Together they expected to capture Shreveport and then move into Texas. (For details on military strategy and movements, see Texas in the Civil War.)

The 3rd Texas Infantry Regiment arrived in Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, on April 10 — a day after Smith’s Confederates had met Banks’s army there and forced a retreat. “Walker’s Greyhounds” — of which Edward was now a member — began a long forced march northward to intercept Steele’s Union army. Steele had advanced as far south as Camden, Arkansas, when he received the news that Banks’s troops were fleeing. Facing the capture or starvation of his own troops, Steele had no choice but to return to Little Rock. The Confederates caught up with him at the Saline River, already swollen from heavy spring rains and rising rapidly. The approach to the crossing was lined with a series of small farm fields separated by dense forests and marshy swamp. The roads were rivers of mud. Against all odds, Steele had managed to get his cavalry, artillery, and most of his wagons across the river in less than 24 hours.

At 8:00 am on April 30, 1964, the Confederates attacked Steele’s rear guard. Walker’s division had just marched 150 miles from Louisiana. The men on both sides had gone for days with little or no rations. The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry was fought entirely with small arms fire. The bloody conflict — a series of violent attacks met by stubborn resistance — raged from field to field, with the infantry often fighting knee-deep in water. A Confederate soldier named R.M. Rogers later related:

Our army had reached a small house about two miles from Jenkins’ Ferry. This is known as the Jiles Farm. We were ordered into a line of battle. This gave an opportunity for reflection. My thoughts went back to my childhood. When these thoughts passed through my mind I then thought of my present condition, a poor soldier worn out by fatigue of hard marching through heavy rain, mud and water without a moment’s rest, suffering from hunger, now standing in battle rank waiting for orders to move into a dreadful battle. Tears came streaming down my cheeks. I could restrain my feelings no longer. Just as we were about to move forward I took a small piece of old bread for my breakfast and marched down into that dreadful conflict.

A private from Edward’s division recalled:

An incessant roar of musketry prevailed for about six hours. During this time the tide of battle ebbed and flowed, now advancing then retreating, but at no time did the ground fought over vary more than about 250 yards. Owing to the dense fog and dense clouds of smoke which hung in the thick woods, many times opposing lines could only be discovered by the flash of their muskets.

Edward’s regiment was sent into battle about noon, attempting to dislodge the same Union troops that had repelled several previous waves of Confederates. It was a hopeless attempt. Eventually the Union forces succeeded in crossing the river, and the battle was over. Casualties were high on both sides, with generals as well as privates slain on the muddy fields. Steele’s army sustained 800 dead and wounded out of the 4,000 men who fought that day. The 3rd Texas Infantry Regiment suffered a 25 percent casualty rate. A Confederate private described the battlefield in the aftermath:

After the battle a detail of men were employed in burying the dead. Armed with shovel, pick ax, and spade they proceeded along the road to complete this mournful task which the enemy was unable to accomplish. The ground was thickly strewn with ghastly, mangled forms. It was almost too horrible for human endurance. No conception of the imagination, no power of human language could do justice to such a horrible scene.

Among the dead was Gustav. Edward was relieved to find he had not suffered long. Gustav had been shot, and a captain and sergeant had dragged him out of the line of fire and laid him behind a tree, where Edward found him just as they had left him. All he could do for his brother was to take a blanket out of his pack and cover him with it. Then he had to march on with his unit. Concerning the ensuing weeks, Edward recalled:

From that time on we were almost constantly on the march. Scarcely had we made camp (not much was needed for that — we had no tents, and anyone who didn’t have a blanket had to make do without) when the order came to march on. At Camden we got a few days rest.

It rained incessantly; cornbread turned to mush in their haversacks. Two days’ rations had to be stretched over four. Edward stole corn out of the pack animals’ cribs to sustain himself. As a result of fatigue, hunger, and being constantly wet, he developed a persistent fever. Eventually the division was broken into small units, which traveled by different routes so the soldiers could more easily forage for provisions.

That fall, Edward’s unit (now Forney’s Brigade) built winter quarters near Minturn, Arkansas, but then were ordered to Shreveport, where they spent the winter camped on a bare hillside, without cover or fuel. In early 1865 the 3rd Infantry was ordered back to Texas. By that time Edward was so ill he could not march. When even traveling by wagon transport became too difficult, he was left behind in a hospital, where he spent the month of April. Eventually he rejoined his command near Houston.

Upon learning that Lee had surrendered, the Texan soldiers of Walker’s Division simply laid down their arms and went home, ignoring the pleas of their generals to make a last stand against the Union. On May 18, 1865, Edward too left camp, covering the 80 miles to Round Top in two long days and arriving late at night. Emil found him the next morning in the hayloft, where Edward had spent the night so as not to disturb anyone. He went to his sister Minel’s farm, where his mother was also living, and immediately took on the yearlong job of restoring it to working order. Minel was now a war widow with four children. When she left the farm to remarry, Edward rented it for a year.

Moving to the Midwest

Confederate soldiers in camp

Confederate soldiers drilling

A Union Army wagon camp

An exhausted soldier

Night march in heavy rain

Civil War pontoon bridge

General Scurry, commander of Edward’s brigade

Pitched battle

Confederate dead

Soldiers in winter

Foraging for corn

Confederate winter quarters

Defeated confederates taking loyalty oath

In 1868 or 1869, Edward decided to move north to resume his training for the ministry. Emil had been assigned his first pastorate in Wisconsin and wanted his mother to come and keep house for him. So Edward, 25, and his mother Eleonore embarked on the four-week journey: first to Galveston by buggy and railroad, then by steamboat to New Orleans, and finally by riverboat up the Mississippi to the town of Prairie du Chien, where Eleonore settled in with Emil.

Edward continued on to Wartburg Seminary in St. Sebald, Iowa. There he plunged eagerly into his theological studies, putting in long days at his books. But the stress of the new endeavor began to affect his health, which deteriorated until he was advised to take up a different career. Once again, he was forced to abandon his dream of becoming a minister. (Note: It is likely that Edward suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his war experiences.)

Already skilled in the use of tools, Edward taught himself cabinetmaking while staying with a kindly pastor in Iowa. He found that working with his hands soothed his nerves — a philosophy that would be embraced much later by his son Carl. After working with a contractor in Iowa City, Edward moved to Prairie du Chien in 1871 to work for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad, fitting out the passenger cars. For the next 40 years, his fortunes would be inextricably linked to those of the railroads.

Edward lived with Emil, now married, and often accompanied his brother when he went to preach in neighboring congregations on the “German Ridge” north of town. It was there that he met and began to court a farm girl named Louise Trautsch. Edward, 29, and Louise, 19, were married on June 2, 1872 (with Emil officiating), and settled in Prairie du Chien. Their first daughter arrived the following year.

After several years the volume of work in the car shop dwindled, and Edward was laid off. He and Louise moved 30 miles to Boscobel, Wisconsin, and bought a house. Edward set himself up in the cabinetmaking trade, at which he worked for the next seven years. But frequent illness plagued him, and his meager earnings could not keep up with his debts. In 1881 the family, now including three small daughters, moved back to Prairie du Chien, where Edward again found work with the railroad. Two more daughters were born before the car shop closed its doors for good in 1884.

Claiming a Homestead

Steamboat docking at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin

Edward as a young man

A Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad train

Prairie du Chien in 1870
The lure of free land beckoned. In 1862 the U.S. had passed the Homestead Act, which declared millions of acres of land taken from Native American tribes on the northern plains to be “public domain,” i.e., open to settlement. Any citizen who met minimal qualifications and was willing to pay the $18 filing fee was entitled to 160 acres of free land. In the decades that followed, the railroad companies — hoping to expand their business through these desolate, largely uninhabited areas — advertised the “free and fertile land” in colorful broadsides. Their efforts were helped by unusually wet weather in the 1870’s and early 1880’s.

In 1884, a year of bumper crops on the plains, Edward filed a claim for a homestead near Gothenburg, Nebraska, where Emil had recently moved to serve a parish. Attempting to research which crops fared best, he was told, “No need to ask — here everything grows well.” In February of 1885, his family of six settled into a flimsy claim shack. By then daughters Lydia, Ottilie, Bertha, and Magdalene ranged in age from 12 to 2 years. (Minna had died recently at age 8.) Three months later, a son, Edward Henry, was born. (For a description of the family’s life on the homestead, see Louise’s story.) That year also brought a good harvest, but Edward’s land had not yet been cultivated. Having used up all his cash moving family and provisions from Wisconsin, he had to borrow to buy a wagon and tools. Meanwhile he paid a neighbor to plow his land while he looked for cabinetry work. He figured his skills would be in demand, with other settlers eager to upgrade their sod huts.

Instead a drought set in, and Edward’s prospects for work withered along with the crops. At first he earned a little money building windmills for people. The family planted crops every year. The drought continued. In the seven years they worked the Gothenburg homestead, they managed to harvest only one partial, hail-damaged crop. Meanwhile little Carl Anton joined the family in 1887. (Carl was named for Edward’s oldest full brother, 14 years his senior, who had died in Texas at the age of 26.)

In 1890, desperate to provide for his family, Edward went to Iowa to find work, while Louise and the six children — seven, with the arrival that same year of Eleanore — remained on the prairie for two more years. (A homestead contract required five years of residency and an additional two years to “prove” the homestead, or gain title to it.) As Edward later wrote:

When I had proved the homestead, I took a loan against the mortgage to pay off my debts, which carried an outrageous rate of interest. For the $600 I withdrew, I had to sign a note for $660, with 7% interest from the moment of withdrawal. During a so-called “boom“ that brought the town of Gothenburg a measure of fame, I had the opportunity to sell my homestead. I moved my family to Grand Island, Nebraska, where I had already found work in the car shop of the Union Pacific Railroad Company. Selling my homestead allowed me to pay off my debts and have a few hundred dollars left over, which I deposited in the bank. At this point I felt lighter — no longer burdened by debt, and able to provide better circumstances for my family.

The Fortunes of the Railroads

Union Pacific Railroad land grant map of Nebraska, 1880

Prospective homesteaders waiting to stake their claims

Plowing virgin prairie

Cutting sod for bricks

A railroad car of the type Edward worked on

Edward’s tool chest with tools
In Grand Island the family enjoyed the comforts of town life again. Edward enrolled his children in the Lutheran parochial school. There the teachers routinely administered brutal whippings and other cruel punishments. Once one small son had to be carried home from school after a beating. Edward, a member of the school board, did not hesitate to confront the teacher on this and other occasions. A gentle man by nature, he could be emphatic when necessary.

The family’s expansive new beginning was cut short by the Financial Panic of 1893. Precipitated by a run on the gold supply and fueled by wild rumors, the panic caused widespread bank failures, corporate bankruptcies, and up to 25 percent unemployment across the nation. The West was hit the hardest. The bank where Edward had deposited his savings failed. Then the Union Pacific Railroad declared bankruptcy. Once again, he was jobless and out of money. He turned to sugar beet farming, putting the entire family to work in the fields. But there was no money to be made. In 1895 Edward’s last child, Minnie, was born. Again Edward struck out for Iowa in search of work.

The Chicago, Great Western Railroad was building a large new car shop in Oelwein, Iowa. With the help of a friend, he secured a position and took out a mortgage on a “passable” home not far from the town:

I always tried to find something outside of town, where the children would not be in danger of falling into bad company and would have useful occupation. In October, 1899, I brought my family from Grand Union and we moved into our own place. Now I was happy! I had good work again and we had a home of our own — even if it was bought on loan — because ever since I had sold the house in Boscobel at a loss, we had had no home of our own except the homestead, and that was a very dubious home indeed....

For almost two years “the roses bloomed,” as Edward put it. Then, in June of 1901, he was almost killed in an accident at the shop: The constant roar of the cannons during the Civil War had severely damaged my hearing One day...while [I was] working on the main floor, a scaffold on the third floor broke loose and plummeted down on me. Everyone else ran to safety when they heard the warning, but I could not hear [it]. Bedridden for months, he made a slow and incomplete recovery. After eight months he was able to do some light work, but his bladder had been damaged and was constantly inflamed. Eventually he had to give up work in the shop altogether.

During the decade that followed, all the children left the nest. Four married, while three unmarried daughters found work in Chicago. Young Carl went off to college and seminary at Wartburg and entered the ministry, fulfilling his father’s unrealized dream. Edward was present at his son’s ordination in Oelwein in 1909.

One Christmas Edward and Louise traveled to Chicago to visit their daughters:

We traveled there in December, 1912, and planned to return in March, 1913. But it didn’t happen that way. It turned out that because of my urinary difficulties, I had to have an operation. This was a disaster! Whereas beforehand I couldn’t pass enough water without the help of an instrument, after the operation I had to wear a device to catch the water that was always leaking out, since I now had no control over it. Because of this I could no longer undertake work or chores, and therefore I had to sell my little home in Oelwein, since [my son] Edward could not take care of it, being busy with his occupation of cabinet making.

They lived with Bertha, Eleonore, and Minnie in Chicago until 1915, when they moved with Minnie to Cedar Falls, Iowa. Carl and his family had recently relocated to that city, where Roland was born the same year. Roland remembered his grandfather as a gentle old fellow who in his later years prayed for the advent of his death. Edward was 83, living with Louise at the home of their youngest daughter in Leavenworth, Kansas, when his request was granted on October 21, 1926. Years later, his son Carl paid Edward this tribute:

Through all these difficult years, despite tribulations and disappointments, Edward never lost hope or became disgruntled. With staunch Christian fortitude he trusted implicitly in the wisdom and mercy of his God, who always showed the way and provided help when most needed. And by his side stood the brave mother of the family to help him bear the burden, unflinching and undismayed. Though often able to provide only the barest necessities of life, they made for their children a truly Christian home, radiant with happiness and contentment.

© Julia Moore, 2007. All rights reserved.


A Part of the History of the Wiederaenders Family,  as written down (in German) by Edward Wiederanders.

Family of Carl Gottlob Wiederaenders, Johanna Zein, & Johanna Dorothea Eleonore Wenzel,  compiled by Roland P. Wiederaenders in 1968.

Carl A. Wiederanders’s memoir titled  Pioneering for Christ and His Church,  ca. 1962.

Lowe, Richard, Walker’s Texas Division, C.S.A., Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi,  Louisiana State University Press, 2004.

Enlisted Man’s Web Site,  search for “The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry,” accessed May, 2007.

Edward’s family ca. 1893

Sugar beets

A parlor organ such as the one Edward’s family enjoyed playing in Oelwein

Edward ca. 1905

Edward in 1919

“Edward,” painting by Julia Moore