Monday, May 25, 2015

Charles Rahr in the Civil War

Charles Rahr
When Charles Rahr left his native Wesel, Prussia in 1856 he probably thought he was leaving the atmosphere of militarism behind him. After the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, Wesel became a garrison town occupied by infantry and stockpiled with artillery. The fortification of the city, kept it isolated. While the industrial revolution swept across Central Europe, Wesel stagnated. Home wasn’t the sort of place where Charles Rahr wanted to live. At 20 years old, He left Wesel to seek opportunity in America.

Rahr spent his first years in America in Wisconsin working at breweries in Manitowoc and Green Bay. But five years after his arrival, Rahr found himself surrounded again by the drums of war.  On October 21, 1861, six months after the start of the Civil War, Rahr joined the 9th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, a regiment primarily composed of German immigrants to Wisconsin.

The 9th was sent into battle in Kansas and Oklahoma as part of what was called the Indian Expedition. The campaign saw Union forces fighting to reclaim the territory of pro-Union Indian refugees who had been driven from their lands by the Confederate Army.

Rahr served under an especially ruthless leader. Colonel William Weer kept his soldiers on half-rations and showed little regard for their safety. Nearly a quarter of those serving under Weer were casualties of war. The situation grew intolerable. Weer’s troops and officers mutinied. The habitually drunken colonel was arrested by his own men.

Flag of the 9th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Rahr was injured during the war. Details on this are scant, but it’s known that he was lacerated on the right side of his back. For the remainder of his life, Rahr received a $4 monthly pension for being wounded while in service.

Sergeant Rahr mustered out of the Union Army in Milwaukee on December 3, 1864. From Milwaukee he travelled to Green Bay. There, Rahr married Caroline Hochgreve, the sister of a Green Bay brewer he had once worked for.

In the summer of 1865, Rahr came to Oshkosh. He purchased five acres of land on the shore of Lake Winnebago and went to work with his brother August building a brewery. A brewery that survived here for 91 years.

Charles Rahr died on November 30, 1913. He was buried in Oshkosh’s Riverside Cemetery. Next to his headstone is a small, tarnished marker commemorating his service in the Grand Army of the Republic.

Here’s a brief overview of the history of Oshkosh’s Rahr Brewing Company.

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