Missouri man is son of Civil War vet

Sunday, February 5, 2012
Hilbert J. Gramelspacher

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Only a few people alive in the United States today can say their father was a Civil War soldier.

David Demmy Sr., executive director of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, said he is aware of only 13 men still living whose fathers fought for the Union during the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. They range in age from 84 to 101.

One of them is 92-year-old Hilbert J. Gramelspacher, who moved to Poplar Bluff four years ago.

His father, Joseph Gramelspacher, was born June 12, 1848, at Jasper, Ind.

"He was 16 when he enlisted in the Union Army. He served with the 143rd Indiana Infantry Regiment," Hilbert said.

The family did not know much about Joseph's military service until Hilbert's 68-year-old son, Wayne, who lives near Vaughn, Miss., began "looking up family history" and contacted Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

"My father never talked about the Civil War," Hilbert said. He was 11 when his dad died in 1931 at the age of 83.

"He did show me his rifle," Hilbert said. "He gave it to my sister, and her children have it now."

Hilbert, his sister and a brother received Civil War pensions until they were 16.

"The pensions got us through the Depression in the 1930s," Hilbert said.

According to Indiana Civil War records, the 143rd regiment was organized at Indianapolis and mustered into service on Feb. 21, 1865. They left Indiana on Feb. 24 and went to Nashville, Tenn. Then they moved to Murfreesboro, Tenn., until May 13 when they went to Tullahoma, Tenn. The soldiers remained in Tullahoma until June 26 when they were split up for garrison duty at Nashville, Clarksville and Fort Donelson in Tennessee.

They were mustered out of service at Nashville on Oct. 17, which was six months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The surrender took place on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox, Va.

Hilbert has a copy of his father's discharge certificate, which indicates he enrolled in the Union Army on Feb. 6, 1865, to serve one year. He was discharged on Oct. 17 when the 84-member Company E was mustered out of service.

There were nine other companies in the regiment. One member of the regiment was killed and 92 died from disease. This regiment was attached to the 1st Brigade, 1st Sub-District of the District of Middle Tennessee of the Department of the Cumberland Army.

Through Wayne's efforts, Hilbert was presented with a medal and a certificate from the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War on Oct. 3, 2011, at his residence.

"They found out about me through my son," Hilbert said.

The certificate reads:

"Hilbert J. Gramelspacher, a true son having derived his right to membership from his father, Joseph Gramelspacher of Company E 143rd Indiana Infantry, has fulfilled the requirements for and is a life member of the national organization."

Demmy sent a letter to Hilbert which reads, "I welcome you to the status of life member and offer my personal congratulations and best wishes."

The SUVCW, in the National Civil War Museum at Harrisburg, Pa., was chartered in 1954.

Hilbert's grandparents, Joseph and Sophia Friedman Gramelspacher, were natives of Germany and immigrated to Indiana in 1837. They were married in Jasper, Ind., and he was a leading citizen of the community when he died in 1953.

According to Hilbert, his parents, Joseph and Mary Otillia Bettag Gramelspacher, were married on Feb. 6, 1917. He was 68 and she was almost 24. She was born on Feb. 17, 1893, at Mariah Hill, Ind. It was the second marriage for both of them.

"She had lost her family to typhoid fever," Hilbert said.

They had three children -- Arthur on Dec. 23, 1917, Hilbert on Dec. 31, 1919, and Josepha on Feb. 22, 1922.

"Dad was 71 when I was born," Hilbert said. "He was a bricklayer. His brick house is still standing in Jasper."

After his father died, his mother married again. On Oct. 20, 1972, the Massachusetts House of Representatives presented Mary O. Wiles of Chicopee Falls, Mass., with a citation in recognition of being the widow of a Civil War veteran. Hilbert was 63 when his mother died on Sept. 20, 1983.

When asked about the age span between his parents, Hilbert said his father "really didn't show his age that much. He was much taller than me and walked every day."

He said he had more of a relationship with mother than with his dad.

"We did not have a typical father/son relationship," Hilbert said.

After graduating from high school at Mountain Grove, Mo., Hilbert worked in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp for two years and served seven years and four months in the U.S. Coast Guard during and after World War II.

He was a radio man on the ice cutter USS Comanche on the Greenland Patrol and on the destroyer escort USS Falgout on trips to North Africa.

"In March 1944, we were attacked by German torpedo bombers," Hilbert said.

His occupation was as an appliance repairman in California where he worked in the homes of several movie stars -- Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Jerry Lewis and Cybill Shepherd.

He retired to Bremerton, Wash., where a grandson and two great-grandsons live. His first wife, Melba Anita, died in 2007 following nearly 65 years of marriage.

"I couldn't handle being alone, so I went looking," said Hilbert, who traveled to a high school reunion in Mountain Grove, where he met Freda Meade. Her husband had died in 2004, and she was living in Mountain Grove.

After several visits, Meade, who retained her last name, recalled asking, "Bert, will you marry me? He thought I was kidding."

Meade has two daughters in Poplar Bluff -- Gloria Jean who is married to James Glenn and Roberta Ann who is married to Tom Crutchfield.

"I came here when we got married on Feb. 5, 2008," Hilbert said.

He was 88 and she was 86 when they were married by Judge Mark Richardson in the Butler County Courthouse.

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