Alternate Spellings of Surname: Arsenheimer, Arsonheimer, Assenheimer, Assenhimer, Asunheimer, Osenheimer, Ossenheimer. Alternate Spellings of Given Name: Godfrey, Gottfeit, Gottfried.
The story of Godfrey Assenheimer is the quintessential saga of the American immigrant. Born sometime around 1826 in Württemburg, Germany, he arrived in the United States sometime before his adopted homeland descended into the full-blown madness of its darkest time in history – the U.S. Civil War.
Civil War Military Service
In 1864, at the age of 35, Godfrey Assenheimer enlisted for military service at Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 1 March, he then mustered in at Philadelphia the next day as a Private with Company B of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He was joining just in time to make history. That Spring, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers became the only regiment from the Keystone State to fight in the Union’s Red River Campaign across Louisiana as part of the U.S. Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps.
* Note: Godfrey Assenheimer also performed prior service with Company B of the 38th Pennsylvania Infantry. This service was documented in pension materials filed by his widow, “Margareth” Assenheimer, who was ultimately awarded a U.S. Civil War Widow’s Pension on 4 June 1901.
On 8 April, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield), losing 60 of their friends to fierce gun and cannon fire.
The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.
On that day, now known as the Battle of Pleasant Hill, 68-year-old Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls of Company C was wounded, as was Sergeant William Pyers of the same company, who had prevented the American flag from being captured by the enemy when Walls fell. The 47th also nearly lost its second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, who had been severely wounded in both legs.
In B Company, John Fries and Tilghman H. Reinsmith were wounded; Edward Fink was killed. Others were captured, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war (POWs) by Confederate forces until released during a prisoner exchange 22 July or in later exchanges in August and November. At least two members of the 47th died while in captivity there while still others remain missing to this day, possibly having been hastily interred on or between battlefields – or in unmarked prison graves.
Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore, where they resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. Retreating further to Alexandria, they and their fellow Union soldiers scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.
On 23 April, the 47th engaged in combat again – at Monett’s Ferry (also known as the Battle of Cane River), and assumed responsibility for building a dam across the Red River from 30 April through 10 May.
Beginning 13 May, the regiment moved to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Undaunted by their travails in Bayou country, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued their fight to preserve the union during the summer of 1864. After receiving orders on the 4th of July to return to the East Coast, they did so in two stages.
Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed for the Washington, D.C. area beginning 7 July while Private Godfrey Assenheimer and his Company B comrades, as well as the men from G and K companies remained behind on detached duty and to await transportation. Led by F Company Captain Henry S. Harte, they finally sailed away at the end of the month aboard the Blackstone, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.
Due to the delay, the boys from B Company missed out on a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, and also missed the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864, it was here at this time and this place that the now full-strength 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would engage in their greatest moments of valor.
Regimental records confirm that the 47th Pennsylvanians were assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia in early August 1864, and engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a “mimic war” being waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early.
From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in the Battle of Berryville, and engaged in related post-battle skirmishes with the enemy over subsequent days.
Inflicting heavy casualties during the Battle of Opequan (also known as “Third Winchester”) on 19 September, Sheridan’s gallant men forced a stunning retreat of Jubal Early’s Confederates – first to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September) and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack. Their victories helped Abraham Lincoln win a second term as President.
On 23-24 September 1864, Colonel Tilghman Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander mustered out upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately for the 47th, they were replaced by others equally beloved for their temperament and front line experience.
Sheridan’s army also began the first Union “scorched earth” campaign during this period, starving Confederate forces and their supporters into submission by destroying Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed by many today as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the turning of the war further in favor of the Union. Early’s men, successful in many prior engagements but now weakened by hunger, strayed from battlefields in increasing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864.
From a military standpoint, it was an impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to Bates:
When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – “Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’”
The Union’s counterattack pounded Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:
When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.
By the end of combat that day, more than 170 members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers – nearly two full companies of the regiment – had been declared as killed, wounded, missing, or captured.
Given a slight respite after Cedar Creek, the men of the 47th were quartered at the Union’s Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December before receiving orders to assume outpost duty at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia just five days before Christmas.
By February of 1865, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah.
By 19 April, the regiment was back in Washington, D.C., ordered there to defend the nation’s capital again following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. While serving in the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps (Dwight’s Division), the 47th also participated in the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May. Captain Levi Stuber of Company I was also promoted to the rank of Major with the regimental command staff during this time.
Letters home during this period and interviews conducted in later years with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania confirm that at least one member of the 47th was given the honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while still others were assigned to guard duties at the prison where Mary Surratt and the other alleged Lincoln assassination conspirators were held and tried.
Taking one final swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June as part of the Department of the South’s 3rd Brigade (Dwight’s Division) and at Charleston, South Carolina beginning in June.
Duties during this time were Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including rebuilding railroads and other key aspects of the region’s infrastructure that had been damaged or destroyed during the long war. Sadly, the 47th Pennsylvanians would be called upon during the opening days of September to investigate, arrest and prosecute one of their own.
According to a Supplement to the Charleston Daily News, which was published on 11 October 1865, Corporal Lewis Seip of the 47th Pennsylvania was charged with theft from fellow B Company soldier Private Godfrey Assenheimer. The newspaper presented the details of Seip’s court martial case as follows:
SPECIFICATION:– In this, that he, LEWIS H. SEIP Corporal Co. ‘B,’ 47th Penna. Vet. Vols., one gold watch, valued at $40.00 (forty dollars) and $23.00 (twenty-three) in bills.
All this at Charleston, S.C., on or about the 5th day of September, 1865.
To which Charge and Specification the accused pleaded, ‘Not Guilty.’
The Court, having maturely considered the evidence adduced, find the prisoner, Corporal Lewis H. Seip, Co. ‘B,’ 47th Penna. Vet. Vols., as follows:
Of the Specification – ‘Guilty.’
Of the Charge – ‘Guilty.’
And the Court do, therefore, sentence him, the said Corporal Lewis H. Seip, Co. ‘B,’ 47th Penna. Vet. Vols., to be publicly deprived of his insignia of his rank, to be ignominiously discharged and drummed out of the service of the United States, and to be imprisoned at hard labor for the period of two years, at such place as the Commanding General may direct.
Finally, on Christmas Day in 1865, the majority of the 47th Pennsylvania’s Company B – including Private Godfrey Assenheimer – began to muster out from military life, a process which continued through early January 1866.
Following a stormy voyage home and a train trip to Philadelphia, the now very experienced 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers received their Honorable Discharge papers at Camp Cadwalader, and were then sent home to their loved ones and neighbors.
Return to Civilian Life
Following his honorable discharge from the military, Godfrey Assenheimer returned to Pennsylvania; in fairly short order, however, he opted for a dramatic change of life. Relocating to Michigan sometime between 1866 and 1868, he then wed Margaretha Baker (alternate surname: Bendle) in Marshall, Calhoun County, Michigan on 26 November 1868. Both were residents of Marshall at the time of their marriage. Those records also documented that Margaretha (Baker) Bentley (c. 1831-1909) was a 36-year-old widow who was a native of Bavaria, Germany, and that Godfrey, a farmer, had been born in the Kingdom of Württemburg (now the German state of Baden- Württemburg).
* Note: Margaretha Assenheimer’s maiden name was “Baker.” Her married surname (from her first marriage) was spelled on various records as “Bendle” or “Bentley.”
A son, William (1869-1886), was born in Michigan 1869, and was followed (respectively on 10 April 1872 and 1 May 1874) in Fredonia Township, Calhoun County, Michigan, by daughter Matilda Margaret (1872-1946) and son Herman (1874-1951).
According to the federal census of 1880, Godfrey Assenheimer continued to reside in Fredonia Township, Calhoun County, Michigan with his wife, Margaret, and their children, William (aged 10), Matilda (aged 8), and Herman (aged 6). Tragically, just six years later, their eldest son William was gone, having passed away on 3 October 1886 in Fredonia Township. Michigan death records noted that he had been employed as a farmer at the time. He was then laid to rest at the Lyon Lake Cemetery in Wrights Corners, Calhoun County.
The 1890 U.S. Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War provided an even finer level of detail, noting that Godfrey Assenheimer was a resident of the community of Ellis in Fredonia Township, and that he had sustained an injury to his eyes at some point during his Civil War service. That same year, on 17 May, his wife Margaret celebrated her 55th birthday. The Marshall Statesman documented the occasion a week later in its 23 May 1890 edition:
Last Saturday, May 17th, was the 55th anniversary of the birthday of Mrs. Godfrey Assenheimer, and the day was made memorable to her by a surprise visit from her sons George and John Bentley, of Jackson, and Joseph Bentley, of Marshall, who brought with them a beautiful couch and rocking chair and presented them to her. They were accompanied, by their wives, and all remained until Monday.
Three years later, 21-year-old daughter Tillie married 25-year-old Gottlieb Fousel on 2 March 1893 in Calhoun County. A farmer and resident of Tekonsha in Calhoun County, he was a son of Christian and Louise Fousel. Then, on 29 September 1897, 23-year-old son Herman, a farmer, also wed in Calhoun County, taking as his bride Nettie M. Hatfield, a 23-year-old resident of Ludington, Michigan and daughter of R. Hatfield.
By the turn of the century 1900, Herman’s surname was being shown on various records as “Ossenheimer.” A fireman, he resided in the Jackson County’s City of Jackson with wife Nettie and their children, Donald (born August 1898) and Marguerite (born September 1899).
Death and Interment
A farmer for much of his adult life, Godfrey Assenheimer lived a life of courageous moments worthy of celebration. From the time of his emigration from Germany to the United States, to his fight to help preserve America’s union during the U.S. Civil War – to the pioneering spirit he showed in relocating from Pennsylvania to Michigan in order to grow both a family and a successful future in farming. A witness to America’s Industrial Revolution and the turn of the century, he passed away in Fredonia Township, Calhoun County, Michigan on 5 May 1901, and was buried in the same cemetery where his eldest son, William, had been laid to rest 15 years earlier – Lyon Lake Cemetery in Wrights Corners, Calhoun County.
Nearly eight years later to the day, his widow Margaret followed him in death, passing away in Calhoun County, Michigan on 15 May 1909. She was laid to rest beside her husband and their son William at the Lyon Lake Cemetery in Wrights Corners, Calhoun County.
Their surviving children then both passed away in Tekonsha, Calhoun County mid-century. Daughter Matilda Margaret (Assenheimer) Fousel, who had wed and was widowed by Gottlieb Fousel, died on 22 November 1946 while son Herman Ossenheimer died on 20 January 1951. He was buried at the Riverside Cemetery in Tekonsha – the same cemetery where Tillie’s husband Gottlieb had been laid to rest in 1937.
1. Assenheimer, Godfrey, in Michigan Deaths and Burials, 1800-1995 (Fredonia, Calhoun Michigan, 5 May 1901; FHL microfilm 1,009,293). Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch.
2. Assenheimer, Gottfried and Margaretha Bendel; Assenheimer, Tillie, Gottlob Fousel, Christian Fousel, and Godfrey Assenheimer; and Assenheimer, Herman, Nettie M. Hatfield, R. Hatfield, and Godfrey Assenheimer, in Michigan County Marriages, 1820-1940 (Calhoun County, 28 November 1868; 2 March 1893; and 29 September 1897). Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch.
3. Asunheimer, William, Godfrey Asunheimer and Margaret Asunheimer; and Assenhimer, in Michigan Deaths and Burials, 1800-1995 (Fredonia, Calhoun County, 3 Oct 1886 and 5 May 1901; FHL microfilm 1,009,292 and 1,009,293). Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch.
4. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
5. Birthday Announcement (Mrs. Godfrey Assenheimer). Marshall, Michigan: The Marshall Statesman, 23 May 1890.
6. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1861-1865.
7. Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.
8. Ossenheimer, Herman and Fousel, Matilda, Godfrey Ossenheimer and Margaret Baker, in Death Records (Tekonsha, Calhoun County). Lansing, Michigan: State of Michigan, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, 22 November 1946 and 20 January 1951.
9. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
10. U.S. Census and U.S. Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War (1890). Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Michigan: 1880, 1890, 1900.