“With two comrades voluntarily took position on board the steamer Cheeseman, in charge of all the guns and ammunition of the battery, and remained in charge of the same for a considerable time while the steamer was unmanageable and subjected to a heavy fire from the enemy.”
This identical citation was presented with the Medal of Honor to a trio of soldiers from Battery A of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery. It was March 10, 1896, and almost 33 years earlier, 1st Sergeant Henry A. Hammel, Private Fitz W. Guerin, and Private Joseph A. Pesch would remain onboard the steamer J. W. Cheeseman to protect the vital equipment of their unit.
All three soldiers survived the event, and apparently so did the steamer, as the Cheeseman appears again in the general orders of Major General Joseph A. Mower on September 2, 1864. Unfortunately, the steamer Cheeseman was again disabled in battle and surrendered to the Confederates by Acting Master John L. Bryant of the U.S. Navy on October 30, 1864. As for the three heroes of 28-29 April 1863, they lived relatively full lives after the war and are buried in the same cemetery, Bellefontaine Cemetery, in St. Louis. The following are brief profiles of these men.
Henry A. Hammel
Henry A. Hammel was born in Germany on September 20, 1840. He was a 22-year-old 1st Sergeant in the Union Army when he performed the deed which would earn him the Medal of Honor. Hammel later married Alvina Mehlhof in St. Louis on November 17, 1866. In 1880, Hammel was living in St. Louis with his wife and children while working in a harness shop. According to his will, he at least partially owned his own harness shop, Hammel Harness Co.
Speaking of his 1893 will, Hammel was also so disgusted with his deceased daughter’s husband, that he instructed in his will for a family plot to be purchased in Bellefontaine Cemetery for all family members living and deceased (he insisted on the removal of his parents and daughter to the new family plot), but explicitly states that his son-in-law not be buried in the plot, as “he is unworthy of the honor.” Hammel was a freemason and also served as president of the Gentlemen’s Driving Club in 1889. He died of liver cancer in St. Louis at the age of 62 on November 29, 1902.
Fitz W. Guerin
Fitz W. Guerin (pictured next page) was born in Ireland, according to his obituary, and came to the United States when he was two years old. Guerin enlisted in St. Louis, Missouri, and was 17-years-old on April 28, 1863, when he performed the deed which would earn him the Medal of Honor. He later married D. Ella Bell on July 3, 1879, in St. Louis.
Guerin became a respected social photographer here, and even his critics begrudgingly admitted he had a talent for it. His accolades include a medal from the Paris Exhibition in 1878, fifteen gold and four silver medals in nineteen photo exhibitions across the country, and service as president of the National Photographic Society. Guerin retired in 1903 and moved to San Francisco, California, where he died of a heart attack at 57 on June 11, 1903. His obituary ran in newspapers in several states.
Joseph A. Pesch
Joseph A. Pesch was born in Germany (Prussia) on July 18, 1835. Of the source documents which list a middle initial, some claim it was “M” while others list it as “A.” He was a 27-year-old private in the Union Army when he performed the deed which would earn him the Medal of Honor. Pesch later married Maria Mueller on October 4, 1866, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Pesch is listed in the 1867 St. Louis city directory as being employed as a letterer. City directories for subsequent years list him as a beer bottler, saloon keeper, and merchant. But by far the most interesting occupation listed for Pesch is found in the 1889 city directory, where he is listed as the president of Hammel Harness Co., the same harness company his fellow Medal of Honor winner Henry A. Hammel mentions in his will.
By 1900, Maria had died and Joseph was giving his occupation as “Capitalist.” Department of Missouri records list him as having been a member of the GAR, Francis Blair Post #1. He died at 68 of complications from chronic Bright’s Disease on October 11, 1903.
Extraordinary Heroism, Ordinary Men
These three men immigrated to a country far from their birthplace and were instrumental in preserving it. They have provided examples of extraordinary heroism, but are also examples of the everyday Union soldier in that, for those who survived, life went on after the war. Some men, like Fitz W. Guerin, made a name for themselves apart from their military service. Others were not nearly as lucky as any of these three. All deserve the gratitude of a grateful nation and a moment of reflection for the lessons provided here.