Adolph Emil and Charles Birkenstock

Adolph Emil Birkenstock was born October 20, 1821, in Cosel, Prussia.

Adolph immigrated to the United States and by 1850 he had settled in New York and was working as a tanner and living in Buffalo’s Fourth Ward, Erie County, New York; also living with him were two other immigrants from Germany: Fredericka Birkenstock (b. 1822) and Louise Lange (b. 1830).

Adolph eventually settled in western Michigan by about the mid-1850s, but apparently returned to western New York where he married 15- or 16-year-old Canadian-born Laura Eliza Otley (1839-1919) in Lewiston, Niagara County, New York on June 30, 1856, and they had at least four children: Mary (b. 1859), Gertrude (b. 1861), Laura E. (b. 1866) and Martha O. (b. 1869); Adolph’s brother Charles was one of the witnesses at the wedding. (See his biographical sketch below.)

That same year Adolph was reportedly living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and advertising his services as a “professor of music”. In 1857 Adolph became involved with the Musical Association of Grand Rapids and was frequently employed as a pianist for various social functions. In 1859-60 he was working as a music teacher and musician residing on the west side of Lafayette between Bridge and Hastings Streets in Grand Rapids.

Besides his interest in music Adolph showed enthusiasm for political matters as well. He was also a member of the German Democratic Club and he was one of the founding members of a Grand Rapids militia company composed almost entirely of German immigrants living in the west side of the Grand River. In mid-July of 1859 the Grand Rapids Rifles (GRR), also known as the “German Rifles”, was formally organized and Adolph was elected as First Lieutenant. He served with the company until the summer of 1860 when, for reasons unknown, he resigned.

Nevertheless the following year Adolph rejoined his old comrades in the GRR and became the first Captain of Company C, Third Michigan Infantry, also known as the “German” company since more than 60% of its members were German immigrants, mostly from the west side of the Grand River. (Curiously, not one of the three officers of the prewar “German Rifles” enlisted in the Third Michigan in April of 1861, including Captain “Chris” Kusterer, the local brewer, who had led the GRR since its organization in 1859.) Adolph’s wife had apparently returned to New York around 1861 when their daughter Gertrude was born.

Adolph stood 6’2” with brown eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion, was 39 years old and probably still living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted as Captain of Company C on May 13, 1861. (Adolph also enlisted his younger brother Charles into Company C on June 14 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania while the Regiment was en route to Washington.) Less than two weeks after the regiment arrived in Washington, however, Adolph resigned his commission on June 30, 1861, citing disability.

It is not known whether Adolph returned to western Michigan, but he did go to New York where he reentered the service in November of 1861 or on January 12, 1862, as a Private in Company C, One Hundred and Third New York infantry on for 3 years, and was promoted to Second Sergeant, possibly in February. In later years, Adolph claimed that while “in the field near Newbern NC in spring of 1862 I contracted southern malaria,” and that he had been “treated by reg’t surgeon named Kreuter.”

Adolph was discharged as Second Sergeant along with his company by order of General Ambrose Burnside on May 8, 1862, probably at New Berne, North Carolina. According to the War Department, Adjutant General’s office, “Members of this co. [C] were mustered out by way of favor, May 8, 1862, and at their own request, they claiming to have been enlisted under false promises by Capt. Quentin, and showing an unwillingness to serve in their respective grades.” There is no other information on the circumstance of this rather unusual “request”.

Apparently Adolph reentered the service a third time, as Captain on July 25, 1863 in Unassigned, Fourth New York Heavy Artillery, and was mustered in the same day.

After he left the army Adolph eventually settled in Guttenberg, Hudson County, New Jersey where he worked for some years as a teacher. He and his wife were living in New Jersey by 1866 and by 1870 he was working as a bookkeeper and living with his wife and daughters in Union, Hudson County, New Jersey.

He received a pension claiming that he had never recovered from his bout with malaria and that he was “greatly disabled for manual labor”.

Adolph died on May 26, 1880, of typhoid malaria, which he probably contracted while in the army, and was buried in Grove church cemetery, presumably in Guttenberg.
His wife received a pension (no. 335,098, she was drawing $8.00 per month increased to $20.00 in 1916 and $25.00 by 1919).

Laura remained in Guttenberg and for about seven years after Adolph’s death serving as postmistress and ran a “small family store”; in 1880 she was reported as running both a “dry & fancy store” as well as the post office in Guttenberg, and Gertrude, Laura and Martha were all residing with her. Martha was in school but also suffering from malaria. In 1889-90 Laura was living at 343 Park Avenue. After her term was up in the post office she sold the store and kept house for her daughters who worked in New York City. She was residing in Hudson County, New Jersey in 1890 and at 1219 Washington Street in Hoboken, New Jersey where she died in October of 1919.

Charles Birkenstock was born 1828, probably in Prussia.

Charles was probably living in New York state in 1856 when he was a witness at the wedding of his brother Adolph in Lewiston, Niagara County, New York.

Charles 33 years old and living in New York when he arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he enlisted in Company C on June 14, 1861, joining his older brother Captain A. E. Birkenstock also of Company C. In fact it was his brother Adolph who enlisted Charles when the Regiment passed through Pittsburgh on June 14 heading for Washington, DC.

Charles was wounded on May 31, 1862, at Fair Oaks, Virginia, and in September was detailed to the Brigade commissary where he worked as a clerk through December. In January of 1863 he was a cattle guard, and by April was absent sick in the hospital. He reportedly deserted on September 16 or 17, 1863, in New York City, just as the Regiment was returning from detached duty in Troy, New York.

Charles was arrested at Washington, DC on December 17, 1864, and subsequently court martialled. He claimed in a statement given on January 17, 1865, while in the Washington Street military prison in Alexandria, Virginia, that since he joined the Regiment four days after they had been mustered into United States service (the regiment had been mustered into federal service on June 10 by Colonel E. Backus) he had therefore never been “officially” mustered into United States service and was not in fact in the army at all. The court thought differently, however, and he was found guilty and sentenced to forfeit all pay and allowances to the time he was arrested and make the good what time was lost by desertion. He was sent to Company I, Fifth Michigan infantry (reported to have returned from desertion on March 9, 1865) and was mustered out on May 31, 1865, having apparently “made good the time lost” by his desertion.

No pension (for service in the Old Third or in a New York regiment) seems to be available.