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The Hawk-Eye

War-torn brothers

FORT MADISON -- Everyone has heard the old Civil War cliché, "brother-against-brother."

For Fort Madison Union solider Augustus Hoffmeister and his brother Herman Henry Hoffmeister, who fought for the Confederacy, that cliché was a reality. And Augustus's body, if not his story, continues to lie in the Fort Madison earth.

Augustus, who went on to become a doctor and one of Fort Madison's most prominent citizens, is buried at the Hoffmeister cemetery off U.S. 61. The cemetery holds 10 known graves belonging to Hoffmeister and his family, and sits in the back yard of Fort Madison resident Carol Vradenburg.

"I always come back here and make sure everything is nice," she said.

When she first bought the property 25 years ago, the cemetery was so overgrown that it was practically invisible. Vradenburg did her best to keep up the tiny cemetery and the path leading to it, but found that the job was just too big for one person. She was more than relived when the Lee County Pioneer Cemetery Association offered to clean up the graveyard in 2004.

"This is a neat little cemetery," said Terry Altheide, president of the Lee County group. "This is one of my favorites around the area."

For Altheide and the other 25 members of the Lee County Pioneer Cemetery Association (which formed in 2002), their continuing goal is to "clean, maintain and promote" more than 60 nearly forgotten cemeteries in Lee County. Altheide estimated there are more than 130 total cemeteries in the county.

"There are a lot more out here than other parts of the country because this in one of the first areas pioneers settled," he said.

It was through the graveyard cleaning that Altheide learned the story of Augustus and his brother Herman, who is buried in Louisiana. The history was compiled through research by one of the brother's descendants, Texas resident Kathy Marie Cagle Baker.

Altheide's favorite story about the brothers concerns the time they actually met at the Battle of Shiloh. The two didn't face each other in battle, though. Augustus was assistant surgeon of the Iowa Eighth Volunteer infantry, and Herman was a sergeant with the Confederate Army.

Herman lost three fingers from his right hand during the battle and was taken prisoner by the Union Army shortly after being discharged from Confederate Army for his injury. Before he was taken prisoner, Herman received a gunshot to the lung. Augustus took care of his brother and made sure he was comfortable, even though he was a prisoner war.

"After that they never saw each other again," Altheide said. "But they did correspond with each other."

Although the brothers were on opposite sides of the war, they started out as inseparable. The boys were born in the small mining village of Altenau, Germany. Augustus was born in 1827, and Herman was born in 1832.

Augustus graduated from Clausthal College in Germany with highest honors and spent more than two years studying chemistry and medicine.

When Herman was 16 years old and Augustus was 21, the brothers voyaged to America by ship and arrived at the Port of New Orleans in 1848. Since no records of their passage have been found, they likely were stowaways. It is believed the brothers may have left Germany due to a growing rift with their father.

It is also believed the brothers stowed away on the ship with someone else and were put to work as bootblacks by the ship's authorities once they were found. The brothers jumped ship once the boat docked in New Orleans and decided to go their separate ways. They wouldn't meet again until the Battle of Shiloh.

While Herman stayed and worked for a man (presumably in New Orleans), Augustus accompanied another man to St. Louis, Mo., where he eventually married Bertha Gartner on Nov. 2, 1852.

Augustus set out on a short stint to California during the gold rush, but returned to St. Louis two years later with little gold. He graduated from St. Louis Medical School in 1854, and began his medical career after moving to Fort Madison around 1855. Herman continued to live in Louisiana during his brother's travels.

The Civil War left permanent scars on both brothers. Besides suffering from an extreme nervous condition due to overwork, Augustus was subject to dysentery, which resulted in permanent hemorrhoids. He also contracted rheumatism in the service and was discharged for disability. He resigned in 1864.

It is believed the gunshot to the lung is what eventually killed Herman on Jan. 21, 1899, according to his widow's pension application. But he went on to lead a successful life after the war, marrying Julia Ann Munnerlyn in 1873 at the age of 40. He was elected a justice of the peace for Caddo Parish, La., in 1878.

Herman is buried in the Munnerlyn Chapel Cemetery near Mira, La.

In addition to his medical practice in Fort Madison, Augustus was active in fostering education wherever possible. His chief hobby was entomology, and it was said his collection of insects was one of the best in the country.

The earliest known grave in the Hoffmeister Cemetery is Augustus's 2-year-old child Minna, who died in 1860. Augustus died on May 16, 1896, and his wife died Aug. 30, 1895. Both are buried in the Hoffmeister Cemetery.

The loss of Augustus was a blow to the Fort Madison community, as mentioned in his obituary. The following is an excerpt from that obituary, which appeared in the May 18, 1896, edition of the Ft. Madison Evening Democrat.

"After three years of intense suffering, Dr. A.W. Hoffmeister died at his home on Bluff Street at 4 o'clock Saturday afternoon, May 16, and scores of near friends are, with his family, deeply mourning his demise," the obituary reads.

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Page Last Updated: 2008-03-10 20:11:49
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