Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Saga of Johannes Reiter Part II

Martinshagen (to the left) is still surrounded by forests and is about 8.5 miles from Kassel, Hesse, Germany.  One of the Louis Reiter genealogists had decided that Carkert (on Louis Reiter's Civil War records) was probably Korbach---it was near Kassel and had mining (Louis Reiter was a miner).  Please note on the map above the name of the street that goes through Martinhagen.  Korbach is maybe another 10 miles down that road. (Double click on the photo to enlarge)

Continuing "The Saga of Johannes Reiter"...I am repeating this story because it also indicates why Louis Reiter came to the USA.   According to Louis Reiter's great-grandson David Long, "He came so he didn't have to fight German wars and then he fought in the American Civil War."  This is a well-written commentary that reflects why Johannes and, later, Louis Reiter emigrated.
When Johannes (b.1780) reached the age of 18, he was called into the military service, as were all the youth of Hesse at this time.  He served for two years entirely without pay.  Doubtless, this was no surprise to him.  He knew that the Swiss people of his village of Martinshaagen had been promised immunity from military service:  but he also knew of how little worth was the promise of a prince.  From his earliest childhood, he had heard the story of how the Prince of Hesse had sold 15,000 of his young men at thirty-six dollars each to the British, to be sent off to fight against the American colonists.  He had also been told how the officers had come at midnight to the village of Martinshaagen and taken away all the young men and they had never come back.  He could expect nothing less than the two years of enforced military service for himself.  But these two years were only the beginning.

The first ten years of the 19th century were troublous years in Europe.  The Corsican Freeooter (sic), Napoleon Bonaparte, was on the rampage and all Europe was a battlefield.  However much he may have wished to marry and settle down to his peacetime trade as a blacksmith, in his home town of Martinshaagen, Johannes could not do so until 1810 when he was about thirty years old.  He married Magdalena Koch, the daughter of Louis Koch, and a baby daughter came to gladden their home.  But the peace was only a brief interlude.  In 1812 Napoleon undertook to put into practice the maxim of his life---"divide and rule."  He would cut Europe in two by leading a vast army straight across Europe to the heart of Russia.  In the execution of this plan, he forced into his army every able-bodied man of France and also of every country through which his army marched.  Among those so impressed into war were Johannes Reiter and his father-in-law, Louis Koch.
They marched and fought for many months until they saw, rising above the horizon, the smoke of burning Moscow.  They received no pay, and very little food.  They were fighting for a country and a flag, not their own.  So, when panic broke out in the French army, they lost no time in getting away.  For three weeks, while they were still in a region patrolled by French soldiers, they lay hidden by day, and travelled westward, guided only by the stars at night.  They had no food except a few potatoes that the diggers had missed in the field, and these were frozen.  They dared not kindle a fire to warm themselves or roast their potatoes.  But somehow they lived and struggled on, arriving in Martinshaagen, more dead than alive, but buoyed up with the hope that Napoleon had failed and they could now live in peace.  But how short-lived that hope---All the world knows how Napoleon escaped from Elba in 1814, and returning to France, again attempted the conquest of Europe.  Again, Johannes Reiter and Louis Koch were called upon to fight.  This time, under Blucher and against Napoleon.  On the bloody field of Waterloo, we are told that Napoleon prayed for "Grouchy or darkness" while Wellington strained his eyes all through the forenoon looking for some sign of the coming of Blucher and the German army.  It was Blucher who won the race over Grouchy and Napoleon's star went down, never to rise again.  And these two ancestors of ours had some part, however small, in the great decisive battle of Waterloo.  Tradition has it that Louis Koch had an ear sliced off by a a sabre in the hands of a French cavalryman that day.

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