By Nancy Leasman
When Christoph Lasamann came to America in about 1840, he had had enough of war. He planned for his son to never experience what he had experienced following Napolean’s campaign to engage and defeat the Russians. However, Christoph’s son, Charles, would fight on both sides of the Civil War and would change his surname, Lasamann, twice. Many of his later descendents would find themselves in other wars on other lands and bear the final iteration of his name.
Christoph Lasamann was born in Hamburg, Germany in about 1785. He grew to manhood during the mass reorganization and loss of local authority of German states that took place between 1802 and 1814. Under the persistent military and diplomatic pressure from revolutionary France and Napoleon, the number of German states was reduced from 300 to 39.
In January of 1812, Napoleon issued a list of grievances to his German allies, claiming that territory along the Rhine River was endangered. He assembled an army of around 650,000 made up of 40,000 Austrians, 20,000 Prussians as well as many more from northern Germany. It’s likely that Christoph was caught up among those from northern Germany. The soldiers marched east and by the middle of May, most of the troops had hiked over rough terrain through West Prussia and had reached the area between Danzig and Warsaw, Poland. Their march was made even more difficult because they were carrying 24 days worth of supplies and they had been told not to use them.
Napoleon’s army experienced small victories but massive losses of horses. Without horses they couldn’t maintain their retreat and suffered huge losses of men and artillery. Food ran out, then winter hit with snow and cold temperatures that killed many more. Estimated losses were of 370,000 men killed in battle, of illness or exposure and 200,000 captured by the Russians.
Christoph Lasamann somehow survived the horrors of war. Family history indicates he was a prisoner of war and endured additional hardships in Siberia. After the war he managed to return to Hamburg, marry and start a family. His son Charles was born on June 23, 1818.
Christoph vowed that his son would not be mired in a war as he had been. Sometime between 1838 and 1848 as rebellions popped up all over Germany and there were again hints of war, Christoph, along with his wife and son, joined the wave of emigration and sailed to America. Between 1820 and 1871 many German residents left their homeland because of economic hardships, unemployment and crop failures. Avoiding wars and military service was additional motivation though Christoph had already experienced enough war to last his lifetime.
Christoph and his family settled in western Missouri. Christoph was a carpenter and farmed with a team of oxen. They later moved to Green County, Wisconsin.
By this time Charles was an adult and assessing his own opportunities in the new world. It’s likely that it was about this time that he changed his last name for the first time.
Lasamann was the phonetic spelling of Lesemann, German for “reading man.” Unfortunately, the American pronunciation came out more like “lazy man” and this didn’t settle well with Charles. He changed the spelling and therefore the pronunciation to “Leesman.”
He met Wilhelmina Shroder, who was born in Berlin in 1829, and had emigrated a month after Charles. They married (he was 32, she was 21) and had eight children between 1851 and 1872.
In the early years of their marriage, they homesteaded in Wisconsin and then lost that farm after mortgaging it to buy railroad stock. Eliza was born in 1851 and George in 1852. The family went to California in a covered wagon during the gold rush, likely between 1853 and 1860. During those years they added three children (Henry, Lydia, and John) to their family though their birth dates are not recorded, likely because they were on a wagon train or who-knows-where in California. By the early 1860s, they were back on a farm in Missouri.
In 1862, at the age of 44, Charles was drafted into the Confederate army under Major-General Sterling Price. [From The Fighting 10th, the History of the 10th Missouri Cavalry US by Len Eagleburger, the list of enlistment and service records include: “Leesman, Charles, Pvt. Company D, 3/23/1862- Marshfield, MO.” Note the spelling of his name at that time.] His job was to tend mules in the Missouri 10th Infantry. His own animals may have been conscripted along with their owner.
It’s very likely that Charles had grown up with his father’s stories of the importance of horses in Napoleon’s war. Charles now had his own part to play in Commander Robert E. Lee’s Confederate campaign. Whether he was disillusioned with that crusade or saw an opportunity, his actions may have been instrumental in a turning point of the war.
According to Charles’ great-great granddaughter Sue Schlagel, who heard the oral history from her grandmother, Myrle Leasman Gilbertson and who has done additional historical research, “At a critical moment, in the midst of a skirmish, near the time when the fortunes of the Union Army in Missouri began to turn, Charles drove the horses and mules across a river into the hands of the 10th Missouri Cavalry (Union) who were then able to win the skirmish. …(Charles Leesman) was part hero whose quick thinking helped turn the tide of the Civil War toward the Union when the Confederate army had been winning the western war.”
The Confederates were obviously not happy with Charles’s defection but the Union welcomed him into the 10th Missouri Cavalry. It was time for another name change. References to his being Lee’s man irritated what may have already been thin skin. The subtle change of the spelling from Leesman to Leasman resulted in a change from the pronunciation of “Lee’s man” to that of “lease man.” That was significant, at least to him.
Union General William Sherman determined that the Confederate population’s supply chain to their army needed to be broken. On November 15, 1864, 62,000 men began the 285 mile march south and east from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia. Charles Leasman was among this group of men and their critical action that led to the end of the war.
After the war ended (in April of 1865) Charles moved his wife and five children to Milwaukee. How Wilhelmina and the children survived while Charles served three years in the war effort is not a part of the family’s oral or written history. The 1860s were unsettled times with Indians being moved from their traditional lands, the abolition of slavery, deforestation and prairie fires, and scourges of grasshoppers.
The Leasmans had two more children (Ida in 1866 and Frank in 1868) before Charles and Wilhelmina decided to move to Minnesota. She was pregnant with their last child in 1872 when Charles took the oldest five in a covered wagon to McLeod County. Wilhelmina stayed in Randolph, Wisconsin to await the birth of the baby and then came with a neighbor, as well as her two younger children, when baby Andrew was six weeks old.
Like many of the settlers of the time, they only stayed in one place for a short time and then moved on. In 1874 they moved to a Renville County tree claim near Buffalo Lake. They built a frame house and straw barn on their 160 acre tree claim and later erected modern buildings and added another 160 acres.
President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862. This granted Americans, including former slaves, women and immigrants, 160-acre plots of public land for the price of a small filing fee. Since the Leasmans acquired 320 acres, each of them must have been granted the plots.
From The History of Renville County, “Charles helped organize the school district of his locality, served as justice of the peace, and was a member of the G.A.R. post of Hector.” [Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army (United States Army), Union Navy (U.S. Navy), Marines and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War.] Charles died in 1897 at age 79. Wilhelmina lived until 1914. They are buried in the Village Cemetery in Hector.
Several of Charles and Wilhelmina’s children ended up in Texas. Of the youngest three, Ida stayed near Hector and her younger brothers moved north to Todd County. A 1906 Todd County plat book shows Andrew and Frank living on neighboring acreages in Bartlett Township. There are no family records indicating if Frank married or had children.
Christoph’s dream of not having his offspring involved in military action was true for his grandson Andrew.
Andrew was a carpenter and is credited with having built 70 structures in the Hewitt area. He married Merub Weston in 1904. They had six children: daughters Myrle, Fern, Bernice and Edith and sons Ralph and William (Bill). When Myrle and Fern were small, Andrew moved the family to San Diego for two years. He plied his carpenter trade, panned for gold on the side, and then came back to Minnesota.
Both Ralph and Bill served in the military. Ralph was in the field artillery in World War II and Bill was in the Navy in the Korean War.
Myrle’s son Jack served in the Navy. Bill’s son Ronald was in the Army in Vietnam.
Interestingly enough, of the family line up through Andrew to Christoph, no one lost their life during military service.