There are always two ways to perceive a person’s character: through public and through private behavior. From personal experience, I have found these two persona can be very different from one another. For example, once I met a famous publisher who, from the podium, seemed like the nicest person—like he would be an engaging dinner companion. But when I got to know him while serving on a conference project, he was arrogant and self-absorbed. His partner, wooden and nervous when speaking publicly, was warm and perceptive. You never know. My ancestor, featured here, got mixed reviews—a contrast between the public and the private.
For this Memorial Day, I reflect on all my patriotic ancestors that have served in the military. Several risked or lost their lives in our country’s major conflicts. These events forever changed their lives, and the lives of their descendants. I wrote Pioneering Patriot to tell the story of my first ancestor to fight for American freedoms.
My great-great-grandfather, John Schmitt, was a Civil War veteran. We revere him, at the same time, question some of his activities. The family tells many stories of his rascal nature. On the one hand, he was a true patriot, successful businessman, and contributed to the community. On the other, he had three wives, engaged in some dubious circumstances, and formed contentious personal relationships.
As part of family history, I wish to pay tribute to his uniqueness. We have a photograph of him in his uniform in 1853. When researching his background, his militant tendencies, and his courageous nature, his activities started with his independent convictions in Germany. Then, bringing the same values to his new country, he was willing to again stand up for them.
The 4th Wisconsin Volunteer website has well documented his regiment, their marches, battles, and profiles. His was Company L and then Company H. For Civil War enthusiasts, this is a must-read! (I have contributed John Schmitt’s biographical sketch to their archives): http://www.4thwisconsin.com/
Please see the overview of the series “Ore and Origins: A Biography.”
Liane Sebastian wears an artist’s hat, designer’s coat, and editor’s shoes.