A Mystery Even After Death: The story of Jacob Dieter

Jacob Dieter was born around 1826 in Pennsylvania but by the time he was 36 years old he was living in Zumbro, Olmsted County, Minnesota. He had already married Martha Muir and together they had four children: John, Ella, Mary and Martha.[1] Jacob enlisted in Company F of the 9th Minnesota on August 20, 1862, in response to Lincoln’s call for an additional 300,000 soldiers. Money was tight for the Dieter family and Jacob worried about how his wife would survive while he was away. His letters to her are filled with references to him anxiously awaiting the arrival of the paymaster so he could get paid and send some of the money home to help out. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse for the Dieter family in June of 1864. During the summer of 1864 Sherman was on his famous March to the Sea; a long attack stretching from Tennessee to Georgia in which Sherman fought a war of attrition, trying to bring the Confederacy to its knees. Because Sherman was making such a long foray into the Confederacy, he needed to ensure that his supply lines were well protected. Major General Nathan B. Forrest, one of the Confederacy’s top generals, was making his way towards Tennessee and threatening the very supply lines that Sherman depended on to ensure the success of his campaign.

To help defend his supply line, Sherman sent Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis and about 8,100 troops to threaten Northern Mississippi and draw Forrest into attacking him and leaving Sherman’s supply lines alone. Among those 8,100 soldiers was Jacob Dieter and dozens of men from Olmsted County. The two armies clashed near Brices Crossroads in northern Mississippi on June 10, 1864. Lieutenant Colonel Josiah F. Marsh led the 9th Minnesota and submitted a brief report of his unit’s fighting. He reported that they joined the fighting at 2:00 pm with 30 commissioned officers and 635 enlisted men. By 7:00 pm, the 9th Minnesota left the field with only 22 commissioned officers and 356 enlisted men; less than 57% of their original numbers.[2] Among the 272 missing enlisted men was Jacob Dieter and several men from Olmsted County.

On June 15, Varnum Hadley, another enlisted man in Company F of the 9th Minnesota, wrote to Jacob Dieter’s wife telling her that a number of men, including Jacob Dieter, were still missing but he was sure that Jacob would turn up shortly.

[T]he last that I can hear from Mr. Dieter he had got back within 20 miles of the railroad and I do not know the reason why he has not came in[.] I am in hopes that he will be in yet for he did not get a scratch in the battle [.] he might of straggled into the brush and is waiting for the excitement to be over a little [.] then he will not be as likely to be picked up by the bushwhackers [.][3]

Hadley seemed confident that Jacob would appear shortly and that he was merely hiding in the underbrush until the fighting cooled down and it was safe to emerge again. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

One week later Jacob himself reached out to his wife to update her on his status. He and 15 other men from his company had been captured during the fighting at Brices Cross Roads and had been sent to Andersonville. He warned his wife that he would be unable to draw pay while he was imprisoned and hoped that her parents would be able to take care of her. He also made sure to list every single man that he had been captured with in his letter so Mrs. Dieter could tell the other wives and families what had become of their loved ones.

This is the last letter that the History Center of Olmsted County has from Jacob Dieter and here the information gets a little murky. We do know that Jacob Dieter never made it home to his wife. In the Annual Report of the Adjutant General, of the State of Minnesota, for the Year Ending December 1, 1866 and of the Military Forces of the State from 1861 to 1866, all of the soldiers are listed with a note stating what happened to the soldiers after the war. Jacob Dieter’s note reads, “Died Nov 18, 1862, in Salisbury prison, SC”.[4] Now, we know that this is partially untrue because Jacob Dieter was alive and writing letters in 1864, two years after he allegedly died. This is most likely a typo but it does make it difficult to also trust the location of his death. Additionally, Salisbury Prison was in North Carolina, not South Carolina. At this point, we have effectively disproved everything in the note attached to his name and are no closer to learning how he died.

However, Dieter’s daughter remembered hearing several different stories about how he died.

First, the report was that Father was missing. Then, in a week or two the message came that blood hounds had killed him. Three months later we heard that he had died as he was being moved from Andersonville to Libby Prison. He was so nearly dead from starvation that he could not stand the trip.[5]

And yet there are still other possibilities for how Dieter died. An article from the Rochester Post on June 4, 1870, listed Jacob Dieter as being a hospital casualty.[6] He is listed with other men from his unit as having died while in hospital. And, while this would not have been terribly unusual for the time, no location is given and it does not agree with any of the previous stories.

Unfortunately, we may never know what exactly happened to Jacob Dieter. There are a few things that we definitely know to be true. 1) Jacob Dieter served with Company F of the 9th Minnesota and was captured during the fighting at Brices Cross Roads around June 11, 1864. 2) He and 15 other men were transferred to Andersonville, Georgia. 3) Jacob Dieter never made it home to his wife and children. What happened after he was sent to Andersonville remains a mystery. While the record is not silent on what happened, it certainly can’t agree on a single story either.


  • "United States Census, 1860," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9BSS-R71?cc=1473181&wc=7QJZ-5SV%3A1589429125%2C1589429130%2C1589430609 : 24 March 2017), Minnesota > Olmsted > Zombro > image 4 of 8; from "1860 U.S. Federal Census - Population," database, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : n.d.); citing NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); Know Rochester Better: A Series of Rochester Stories, edited by Flora McGhee, The Bruce Publishing Company, St. Paul, MN, 1940, pg 14.
  • United States. War Records Office, et al.. The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union And Confederate Armies. Washington: Govt. Print. Off., 18801901. Volume XXXIX, PT I, pg 113.
  • Letter from Varnum Hadley to Martha Dieter, June 15, 1864. Jacob Dieter and Family Civil War Letters, History Center of Olmsted County.
  • Minnesota. (1866). Annual report of the Adjutant general of the state of Minnesota for the year ending December 1, 1866, and of the military forces of the state from 1861 to 1866. St. Paul: Pioneer Print Co. pg. 433.
  • Know Rochester Better, 18.
  • (1870, June 4) Memorial Day: A Grand Celebration. The Rochester Post, pg 3.