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Christian Saalmann in Union Army uniform - painting from photo

Reinhard Gottfried Christian Saalmann

25 Jan 1829 - Jul or Aug, 1864

Death and Devillez

This respite came too late for Christian. He died at Andersonville some time between late July and mid-August, 1864. During the brief time Andersonville was in operation, from 13,000 to 16,000 prisoners died there. More Union soldiers lost their lives from the inhumane treatment of Andersonville than were killed during the three most costly battles fought during the war.

Henry J. Devillez, an immigrant from Belgium, lived in Leopold, Indiana, about two miles down the road from Christian's farm near Branchville. Both men had known each other well before the war. On June 10, 1864 Devillez, by then a Private in the 93rd Indiana Infantry, was captured by the Confederates in Mississippi. He arrived at Andersonville on June 21, and found Christian there, "lying sick with the Scurvy", dying of thirst, appearing more like a skeleton than a man.

Christian smoked a pipe, and during the war he had carved a pipe for himself from a block of apple wood. The pipe was not stolen by his Confederate captors, probably because he had carved into it an American eagle and the word "Union". After his capture he kept a $5 gold piece, the size of a modern dime, hidden in the bowl of his pipe, concealed beneath some burnt tobacco. He intended to use the money, if he survived his captivity, to get home after his release.

But by the time Devillez found him, he knew that his chances for survival were slim to none. He gave his pipe to Devillez, telling him about the hidden gold piece. He told Devillez that he could use the gold piece to get home with, but if he didn't need the money for that purpose, to give it to Dorothea.

Providence Spring

Devillez was with Christian later for an event which many of the dying prisoners took to be a miracle. In the intolerable summer heat, with nothing to drink but the foul water from the creek, a spring of clear, fresh water suddenly broke the surface of the ground inside the stockade, near where Christian lay.

Devillez helped Christian to the spring so he could drink, shortly thereafter Christian died. He was 37 years of age, and Devillez' affidavit to the War Department is the only record of his death. He had been in America just ten years.

There is now a monument to that "Providence Spring" at the site. Subsequent investigation determined that the subterranean spring had been blocked during construction of the stockade, and had eventually worked its way to the surface.

Christian was originally buried in a mass trench grave at the prison site. When the war ended Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, went to Andersonville and organized a National Cemetery there to provide decent burial for the dead.

Christian is now buried in section F, grave number 4229, at what is now the Andersonville National Historic Site. His apple wood pipe is on display in the museum there.

Estel Saalman, Christian's great-grandson provides an account of the pipe's recovery and return to the museum. Estel's brother Otis was instrumental in correcting a spelling error on Christian's grave stone at Andersonville.

Today, the Friends of Andersonville organization continues the work of preserving the memory of Andersonville.

Back to Branchville

Devillez survived his captivity, lived to reach his home in Leopold, Indiana, near Branchville, and gave Christian's $5 gold piece to Dorothea. App Miller, whose place in the Army Christian had agreed to take, also turned out to be as good as his word: he helped support Dorothea and the children.

Devillez, Lambert Rogier, and Isadore Naviaux, all young men from Leopold who had survived imprisonment at Andersonville, had made a vow that, if delivered from the horror of Andersonville, they would return to their native land of Belgium to have a replica of the statue of Our Lady of Consolation made and brought back to Leopold.

With the help of several others, they did so and gave the statue to the Saint Augustine Catholic Church in Leopold, Indiana as a memorial to the Andersonville dead, where it still stands today. Until his death Devillez rarely discussed his experiences.

Captain Henry Wirz, the Commandant at Andersonville, was the only Confederate soldier put on trial after the war by US federal authorities. He was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was convicted and hanged; his defenders claimed he was insane.

Historians now acknowledge that two factors were responsible for the hatred and crushing hardships inflicted on the South by northerners during the Reconstruction period: the first was the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln; the second factor was the terrible stories of Andersonville brought home by surviving prisoners.

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