Joseph Geissler: Gone to Soon

Would German Immigrant Joseph Geißler have to fight with the Union forces in the North? That’s where we left off in last week’s post.

The first three days of July 1863 would become some of the most infamous dates in Civil War history. In Pennsylvania, the largest number of casualties of the entire war occurred at the Battle of Gettysburg.i In the mean time, the beginning of Morgan’s Raid was on going in Tennessee and moving into Kentucky. The intended goal was to draw the attention of the Union Army of Ohio away from other activities. Morgan rode into Kentucky on July 2.ii These events were occurring during the first Wednesday through Friday of the dry month.

On July 4, bulletins from Washington arrived in Columbus stating that the Union army should receive high praise and honor. For the next few days, the reports of significant success for the Union Army arrived, but the scope of the loss created great anxiety as published in the Ohio State Journal on July 6.iii

Whether Joseph Geißler, would be called upon to serve in the Union Army of Ohio following his June draft registration will never be known. At 27 years of age, Joseph died 5 Jul 1863 in Columbus, Ohio, two days after the end of Gettysburg but before the full scope of the battle was widely reported in the news.

Joseph Geiszler's death story
Written by Margie Wasson and recorded in her family scrapbook about her grandfather Henry Geiszler’s
father Joseph’s death as handed down through the family.

The story behind Joseph Geißler’s untimely death has become a family legend. His great-granddaughter Marguerite Virginia Geiszler Wasson created a family scrapbook and recorded the story handed down about Joseph’s death as told to her by her father, George Joseph Geiszler, son of Henry Joseph. The story says:

“Henry’s father [Joseph Geißler] was on horse back and rode into Ft. Hayes. Guard yelled Halt. He only spoke German and as the story went didn’t understand. So the guard shot him and he died.  His widow [Caroline] married a [Michael] Billman and lived on a farm in Georgesville. As a boy this is where my dad [George Joseph] visited and remembered his grandmother [Caroline Billman] driving her horse.”

Given the great battles taking place and the information working it’s way around the country, if a nervous sentry stood guard at the gate of the military institution things could get out of hand quickly. If those on duty saw a man on horseback approaching along Buckingham St. in the darkness,iv they may have been anxious and quick to the trigger, shooting an innocent civilian.  Was it all a dreadful accident?

Given the scope of the major Civil War battle news, it’s understandable why this story apparently did not make the newspapers. However, there are also some inaccuracies in this account that will be discussed in future posts. Other theories related to his death have been considered and investigated to a degree and will be published at a future date as well.

Burial Register from Holy Cross Catholic Church, 1863
Burial Register from Holy Cross Catholic Church, 1863, Joseph’s name is second on this list
Translation of Burial Register from Holy Cross Catholic Church as found in
Catholic Cemetery of Columbus
by Donald M Schlegel.

Joseph’s burial fees and grave purchase were recorded in the Holy Cross Church records.v His body was placed in the Catholic Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. His single grave space was paid for on July 22, 1863.

Register of Catholic Cemetery of Columbus plot and single grave purchases. Highlighted is Joseph Geissler
Translation of Graveyard purchases for the former downtown Catholic Cemetery
Catholic Cemetery of Columbus
 by Donald M Schlegel.
Starred name is Joseph Riessler (another name spelling for Joseph Geißler)

Unfortunately, that cemetery no longer exists as the Catholic Church cared for it so As such, the property was sold and turned into a school house. Some families did remove their loved ones to Holy Cross Cemetery, but many burials were not removed. Joseph’s was one of those luckless enough to be left behind.

Joseph’s untimely death left the 25-year-old Caroline with three young children, Henry aged 4, Elizabeth, 2, and Caroline, one-month-old and no means to support them.  She would remarry 30-year-old Michael Billmann two months later on 19 September 1863. It’s believed they were married at the Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church in Columbus, Ohio. They would settle down into a new home in Pleasant, Franklin County, Ohio. vii

Marriage record for Michael Billman and Caroline Geisler
“Ohio Marriages, 1800-1958” database Family Search, Entry for Michael Billmann, 19 September 1863; Citing 285145

Michael Billmann, born about 1832, was from Bayern or Saxony. He was about 4 years older than Joseph was, making him six years older than Caroline. His citizenship process began 14 Oct 1867 when he submitted his Declaration of Intention. He had to be in America for at least two years before filing this paperwork, which would be 1865, but with his marriage in Franklin County, Ohio recorded in 1863, it’s likely he was there earlier. With the Civil War taking place, perhaps his naturalization proceedings were delayed. Once complete, Caroline would have citizenship through this marriage as well.


Following her marriage and move to Pleasant Township, the Geißler children would no longer be associated with the Holy Cross church of their father. It’s also possible that the Geißler children were raised with the Billman last name until their marriages in the early 1880s, especially since they were recorded as Billmann in the 1870 US Census.

Caroline Mack Geiszler Billmann with her sons George and John Billmann.
Caroline Mack Geiszler Billmann with her sons George and John Billmann.

With Michael, Caroline would have two more sons named John Lewis and Thomas George Billman. There was a six year age gap between John, Michael’s oldest child, and Catherine Geißler, Joseph’s youngest. Ten years would separate the oldest Geißler named Henry and his oldest half-brother John. Did Michael treat his step-children as well as his biological children? Did Caroline share stories of Joseph with her older children?

Thus ends the life of a young man who left a tumultuous homeland to settle in a new world, bought land, started a family and then died during a tumultuous time in his new country. His widow did her best to continue on without him. His children would honor him by marrying using variations of their Geißler surnames rather than the Billmann last name, despite it being used in the 1870 Census.
His story is brief but the challenge to find more about him has continued through his great-great-grandchildren. Someday, more may be discovered about Joseph as it pertains to his parents and possible siblings. Until that time, he is gone but not forgotten.

Now that the major story of Joseph Geißler has been crafted, it’s time to start analyzing the parts that don’t make sense, find the sources that were missing, and discuss other ideas that have been floated in the family in connection with our ancestor. Stay tuned.

i. Wikipedia contributors, “Battle of Gettysburg,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 10, 2015).
ii. Wikipedia contributors, “Morgan’s Raid,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  (accessed October 10, 2015).
iii Lee, Alfred Emory. “Chapter X. III. In Wartime – 1863.” In History of the City of Columbus, Capital of Ohio, Vol. 2, pg 127-28. Columbus, OH: W.W. Munsell & Company, 1892.
iv  Email to Devon Lee from David G Geiszler, dated 8/17/2011
v. Holy Cross Catholic Church (Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio), “Funerals 1863”: Kifster, Joseph funeral (8 July 1863): Scan of Original Church Books in possession of Devon Lee
vi Schlegel, Donald M. The Columbus Catholic Cemetery : History and Records, 1846-1874. Columbus, Ohio: Columbus History Service, 1983.
vii.. “United States Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 January 2016), Caroline Bellman in household of Michael Bellman, Ohio, United States; citing p. 26, family 188, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 552,699
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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