Jun 182009

Yesterday in my partial stupor of fever and other side effects induced by an insect bite, that looks likely it was a deer tick bite with the ensuing Lyme Disease I watched “Gods and Generals” – the first of the 3 epic parts of the book series by Jeffrey Shaara and his father Michael Shaara that covers the Civil War. Some years ago I had seen Gettysburg which was from the book by his father. Gods and Generals was written as a prequel to this.

The last major battle portrayed in Gods and Generals is The Battle of Chancellorsville which Lisa’s great great grandfather Frederick Heinrich Tönsing took part in as a Private in Company B of the 107th Ohio Volunteer Infantry – an all German outfit, with initially at least all German Officers that was raised in Cleveland during the Summer of 1862. Later in the War the German (speaking) Officers were replaced with English (speaking) Officers.

The Flying Dutchmen

The Flying Dutchmen

Frederick Heinrich Tönsing was born in Germany in 1841 and emigrated to the United States in 1857 arriving at Baltimore, and then moving to Cleveland. He enlisted for the Civil War in August of 1862. He was injured by a sabre cut to his hand at the Battle of Chancellorsville in early May 1863. He moved with his unit to Gettysburg and took part in the Battle of Gettysburg on the first day – July 1st 1863 – and was shot in the upper thigh by a minnie ball which required amputation of his right leg very near the top of the leg.

The overall impression from his Civil War Pension file was that he spent the rest of his life until 1918 arguing with the Veterans Adminstration that his pension was insufficient, and that the artificial legs they provided were of no use because the stump was too short for him to be able to wear the legs.

Frederick Heinrich Tönsing’s page on Lisa’s genealogy can be found here.

In 2006, while on a trip to Richmond, Virginia for the Clan Moffat Society AGM we visited the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville for a morning on our way back home, touring the area, and visiting the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Visitor Center at Chancellorsville.

Lisa reading a Descriptive Sign

Lisa reading a Descriptive Sign

Apart from an eery sense (but likely VERY far from the reality) of what must have happened there 143 years earlier, we came home with 2 acorns picked up under a giant oak tree which we’ve “hatched” and now have 2 small oak trees here on our place in Caledonia.

The Mighty Oak at Chancellorsville

The Mighty Oak at Chancellorsville

Perhaps Frederick had seen this same oak tree when he was there.

 Posted by at 9:43 am

  3 Responses to “An Ancestor Honoured…”


    Thanks for the contribution to the Challenge,
    Roger! I enjoyed reading this.


    I read “Gods and Generals” over 20 years ago and it was one of the things that inspired me to learn more about the Civil War. I had never been interested in American History in high school, but after my youngest sister moved to the DC area and we visited Arlington, I was hooked. I hadn’t even begun my genealogy then.

    This past year I’ve been working the genealogy of a new friend and three of his main lines go back to pre-Revolution. I’m finding myself envious of the richness of his American heritage, and some of the stories I’ve uncovered in old biographical books are all consuming.

    I need to revisit this series of books and read them all in sequence.


      None of my ancestors have such “interesting” lives as this, nor as well documented as the more than 100 pages we got from the National Archives about Frederick Tönsing, but yes immediacy of being there can seem quite powerful. Some years ago we visited Gettysburg and spent a day on a self guided battlefield tour with a cassette tape in the car, and walking around various places, and suddenly it’s not so hard to imagine you’re in the scenes you’ve seen in the movies.

      We’ve been to places in Scotland where some of my ancestors lived and worked in the 1800s as farm workers, and it’s a great feeling, but still not quite the same thing somehow.

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