Nearly 200 years ago, on 9 May 1822, Johann Saam was born in Hesse-Cassel (Germany) in the Saam family home. The Saam family had lived in that home for over 300 years (1).
Sometime between 1847 and 1857 Johann’s brother Bernard went to the US and settled in Eagle River, Michigan (1). We do not know if Bernard and Johann were close or corresponded, but it was not long before Johann also went to the USA.
At that time in that part of Europe, people had little opportunity to improve their lot in life. John was a farmer who probably did not own land. Land was hard to obtain, religious freedom was restricted, and military conscription was possible. The exact reasons that Johann Saam and his wife took their four children and moved to the United States are lost in time, but we know that like thousands of other immigrants they came to America seeking freedoms and opportunities that were not possible anywhere else.
On 8 Sep 1857 Johann arrived in New York from Bremerhaven on the ship Meta (6, 7) with his wife and 4 children after 57 days on the ocean. They traveled from New York City to Sheboygan, Wisconsin via railroad, canals, and lakes. They lived there on rented land until after the Civil War started (1).
After the Civil War began, Wisconsin Governor Randall called upon Col Fredrick Salomon (3, 11), a highly respected German immigrant, to organize the 9th Wisconsin Regiment (13). In 1861 the Wisconsin Ninth Infantry “…was organized at Camp Sigel, Milwaukee, and was recruited among the German population of the State.” (11)
On 10 Sept 1861 Johann enlisted in Company A, Ninth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. At the time he and his family were living in Herman, WI (3, 4). He served until the close of the conflict (1, 3, 4). He was a Corporal from time of enrollment (4).
We do not know why Johann enlisted. German immigrants joined the Union army for many reasons. We do know that many Germans left Europe to live in a republic, and that they felt strongly about preserving the Union (15).
We also do not know exactly what Johann did during the war, but we can follow the movements of his Company:
- From 29 Aug to 31 Dec 1861: Per Company Muster Roll, Johann was “present” (11). (We do not know why he would have been shown as present before he joined, but perhaps that was normal, or an error.)
- 22 January 1862: The Ninth “…left the State to report at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.” (11)
- 28 January 1862: The Ninth was “…assigned to take part in the ” Southwestern Expedition,” projected by General Jim Lane, the troops for which were to concentrate at Fort Scott (Kansas).” (11)
- 26 Feb 1862: Per Co. Muster-out Roll, Johann was reduced to the ranks. The Co. Muster-out Roll of 3 Dec 1864 recorded this information. His commanding officer was Col Salomon (4). (No reason was listed for the reduction in rank.)
- 30 April 1862: Per Company Muster Roll, Johann’s Present or absent status was, “not stated” (4).
- 27 May 1862: The Ninth left Fort Scott and “…marched by way of Humbolt, Kansas, and Indian Mission, to Spring River (probably still in Kansas), and encamped (11).
- 13 June 1862: The Ninth “…moved to the vicinity of Baxter’s Springs. While stationed here, frequent expeditions were sent out against the rebels, two of whose camps, at Cowskin Prairie (probably near Grove, Oklahoma), were attacked and destroyed.” (11)
- 28 June 1862: The Ninth “…commenced its march to Fort Gibson (Oklahoma)…” (11)
- 30 June 1862: Per Company Muster Roll, Johann was “Absent sick at the Fort Scott Hospital” (4). Johann’s illness is unknown. The length of time he was sick at Fort Scott is unknown. Perhaps he was at Fort Scott from 27 May to 11 August.
- 3 July 1862: “…a force of rebel Indians was routed and dispersed. Several skirmishes with other predatory bands took place, resulting in success to the Union arms.” (11)
- 9 July 1862: “The expedition arrived at Flat Rock Creek (Oklahoma), fifteen miles from Fort Gibson…” (11)
- 11 August 1862: The Ninth arrived at Fort Scott (11).
- 22 September 1862: The Ninth arrived in Sarcoxie in Jasper County, Missouri having marched from Fort Scott (11).
- 29 September 1862: Some elements of the Ninth were sent to reconnoiter Newtonia (Missouri), fifteen miles from Sarcoxie. (Johann”s company, A, was not involved in the resulting battle.) The balance of the Ninth attempted to get to the battle but did not receive reinforcements and returned to Sarcoxie (11). (This First Battle of Newtonia resulted in a Union retreat.)
- 3 October 1862: The command made another advance on Newtonia, which was evacuated by the rebels (11).
- 7 December 1862: The Ninth was apparently under General Blunt, at Cane Hill (Arkansas). “Here it was found the enemy had gained the rear, and was advancing on Rheas’ Mills (Arkansas), when the Ninth was ordered back to protect the trains.” (11)
- 10 December 1862: “…the Ninth returned to Rheas’ Mills, and resumed its former occupation of making flour and supplying bread. A raid was made to Van Buren, Ark., the regiment marching 60 miles in two days, and returning to Rheas’ Mills. From this time till the 20th of February, the regiment was engaged in marching to various points, performing a sort of patrol duty, when they went into winter quarters at Stahl’s Creek (Missouri), 36 miles west of Springfield, Mo.” (11)
- 8 July 1863: “…they moved, by railroad, to St. Louis (Missouri), where they were engaged in guard duty until the 12th of September, 1863” (11).
- 10 October 1863: “They then marched to Little Rock (Arkansas), and went into winter quarters, about the 1st of November.” (11)
- 1 Jan 1864: Transferred to Co. C (3). Voluntary Enlistment states, “Mustered in as Veteran Volunteer…” and that he had grey eyes, dark hair, dark complexion, and was 6 feet 1 inch tall.” He enlisted for 3 more years for $2 per month (4).
- 22 Jan 1864: Per M. and D. Roll of Veteran Volunteers, Mustered in in Little Rock, Ark with effective date of 1 Jan. (4).
- January, 1864: “…two hundred and thirty members of the regiment reenlisted, two companies of which, C and K, returned to Wisconsin on furlough, early in February.” (11) Since Johann had transferred to Company C, he must have been one of the soldiers included in the furlough.
- 1864: His wife and family moved to Hancock, Michigan while Johann was still in the army (1). We do not know why they made the move. It could be because his brother (Bernard Saam) was in the Upper Peninsula.
- 30 Jan 1866: Mustered out (3) in Little Rock, Ark (4) and joined his family in Hancock where he had various employment but could not do hard labor due to poor health (1).
At some point Johann became known as John. He apparently worked on the digging of the Portage Canal (near Hancock, Michigan) and may have died as a result of that work (10).
When he died in 1870 he was about 48 years old. That seems young to us today, but life expectancy in 1870 was 39 years. He had lived a much harder life than we can imagine. John Saam’s grave can be found at: Forest Hill Cemetery Park Addition Houghton, MI 49931, Section 7, Lot 5, Grave D, Block 8 (5). John’s descendants now are scattered all across the United States. All of them were born with opportunities than John did not have at his birth. All of them have these opportunities because of John and his fellow Union soldiers.
Each time that I hear people say that America is racist, or that the USA should pay reparations to descendants of former slaves, I think of the thousands of men like John who sacrificed so much to defeat the Confederacy, and preserve the Union. Men like John paid a heavy price to come to this country, save the Union, and end slavery. They fought, suffered, and died for liberty and freedom. They killed nearly an entire generation of men who wanted to preserve the institution of slavery. If there was a balance sheet, it would show that the price for freedom was fully paid. If you doubt it go to the Civil War cemeteries. Count the graves. Multiply that by the suffering and nightmares of the survivors, multiply that by the sadness, despair, and poverty of their mothers, wives and children. Add to that the devastation of the southern states. Those insisting on further reparations are double billing for hard fought freedom, and, more to the point of this biography, are shamelessly ignoring the nearly incomprehensible price already paid. Go back in time, look John and his comrades in the eye and tell them that they did not do enough.
Thanks Johannes “John” Saam, originally of Hesse-Cassel (Germany), we are eternally in your debt.
J. S. Kline
Third Great Grandson of John Saam
- (1) A History of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan and Its People, Its Mining, Lumber and Agricultural Industries, Alvah Littlefield Sawyer, https://play.google.com/books/reader?printsec=frontcover&output=reader&id=ghXiAAAAMAAJ&pg=GBS.PA781
- (2) Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, page 865, http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/quiner/id/48983/show/48709/rec/1
- (3) Wisconsin Historical Society, Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Volume I, pages 607, 613, 636, http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/tp/id/35700
- (4) Johann Saam Military Service Records obtained from U.S. National Archives.
- (5) Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 22 May 2019), memorial page for Johann Saam (9 May 1822–1870), Find A Grave Memorial no. 58900356, citing Forest Hill Cemetery, Houghton, Houghton County, Michigan, USA ; Maintained by Kent Salomon (contributor 901) .
- (6) Johann Saam, United States Germans to America Index, 1850-1897, Family Search, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KDWQ-XHN
- (7) Johann Saam, New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891, Family Search, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:27RP-3RG
- (8) https://www.geni.com/people/Johannes-Saam/6000000002637969411
- (9) RootsWeb, Saam–Kaiser Family Tree, Entries: 125, Updated: Sat Jan 4 21:19:59 2003, Owner: Brian Saam, http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=:2363996&id=I511747175
- (10) Memories of author as told to him by his father.
- (11) E.B. Quiner’s Military History of Wisconsin (Chicago, 1866), 9th Infantry, chapter 17, http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/quiner/id/16416
- (12) Wisconsin Genealogy Trails, Sheboygan County Wisconsin History, THE CIVIL WAR, CHAPTER X, [Source: History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, past and present, Volume 1; By Carl Zillier, S.J. Clarke Publishing Company; Publ. 1912; Transcribed and donated by Andrea Stawski Pack.] http://genealogytrails.com/wis/sheboygan/history_civilwar.html
- (13) Background info on Fredrick Soloman: http://www.28thwisconsin.com/salomon.html
- (14) Saam, John, Soldier Details, The Civil War, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-soldiers-detail.htm?soldierId=398660CC-DC7A-DF11-BF36-B8AC6F5D926A
- (15) Immigrants in the Union Army, Ryan W. Keating, ESSENTIAL CIVIL WAR CURRICULUM, Copyright 2010-2020, Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech https://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/immigrants-in-the-union-army.html