It was the deadliest war in this country’s history — one where brother fought brother and blood from an untold number of young men soaked battlefields across the nation like those at Shiloh, Gettysburg and Antietam.

All told, it is estimated that between 600,000 to 850,000 soldiers died during the conflict, and of those, an estimated 40+% were never identified.

To put on a uniform for either side came with a grave consequence, as the average death rate for a soldier was nearly 1-in-5.

Many believe that it was America’s exceptional innovation that allowed so many to meet their ultimate end — mass-produced bullets replaced musket balls, the barrels of rifles were given grooves to improve accuracy to nearly a quarter-mile and the terror of mechanized weapons like the Gatling gun made their first appearances.

But even with advancements in technology, these new weapons of war weren’t the only threat to a young man’s life — historians estimate that approximately as many men died in captivity during the Civil War than were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War.

This sobering statistic makes the journey of Michael Gassmann, the great-great-grandfather of Ron Seymour, of Dubuque, and Loras Gassmann, of Dyersville, all the more worthy of remembrance.

Michael Gassmann was born on Sept. 28, 1825, in Birlenbach, Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France, to Michel and Madeleine (Becker).

According to his Naturalization Application, Gassmann arrived in the United States Oct. 1, 1847, and just a year later, married Mary Threne and settled on a farm near Collins, New York.

After years of living in peace, the Gassmann’s, like all those living in this young nation, had their lives irreparably changed early one April morning.

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, Confederate troops fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina, a moment many believe marked the beginning of the conflict.

On Aug. 6, 1863, Gassmann had made his way to Dubuque, where he enlisted in Company G, 1st Battalion, of the 8th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry.

At 38-years-old, standing at 5-foot-8 with grey eyes and dark hair, Gassmann left his wife and children behind — Elizabeth, 15, Helena, 13, Michael, 12, Rachel, 10, and Peter, 6, — on a farm just south of Balltown to fight for the Union.

He was given a $25 bounty, a $2 signing bonus and a $13 advance on his first month’s pay.

By July 1864, Gassmann and 300 men led by 16 officers embarked on what would be known as the “McCook Raid” south of Atlanta, Ga.

By the end of the campaign, the Eighth Iowa Cavalry lost 20-30 men and all but 20 were captured.

Gassmann, now a prisoner of the Confederacy, was sent to the infamous Andersonville Prison, where many historians have noted the especially squalid conditions and lasting psychological impact it had on the men there.

A letter written by Sgt. Washington Tharp stated: “…that I was a sergeant in Company G, 8th Iowa Cavalry; that I was well acquainted with Michael Gassmann of the same company and Regiment; that we were both captured on the 30th day of July 1864 about 30 miles southeast of Atlanta and taken from there to Andersonville, Ga.; that whilst at Andersonville said Gassmann contracted the chronic diarrhea and was very low all the time whilst in that prison… from Andersonville we were both removed to Florence, South Carolina. Gassmann was hardly able whilst at this… place to get around”.

By February 1865, Gassmann’s condition had further deteriorated.

“…about this 20th of February, 1865 we were taken to Wilmington (N.C.) to be exchanged, as our forces were attacking the city we were sent to Goldsborough (N.C.),” Tharp wrote. “Gassmann was still with us but not able to help himself and could scarcely eat anything. The 3rd of March, 1865 we were paroled and sent back to Wilmington for a final exchange; Gassmann was lain by my side where he remained for about two days. I was sick at the time. I crawled to him and spread his bread, and tried to get him to eat or drink but he was too weak. Whilst I was asleep he was moved and upon my making inquiry the next morning the nurses told me he was removed to another hospital. I have no doubt but what Gassmann died that night. I never saw him afterward and never heard from him since he was carried from the hall.”

Like many who met their ultimate fate during these dark days, the whereabouts of Gassmann’s remains are not precisely known, although it is believed he is buried in the National Cemetery in Wilmington, N.C. along with over 2,000 other unknown Union Soldiers.

To honor Gassmann’s memory and sacrifice, a memorial stone was installed next to Gassmann’s wife in the German Pilgrim Congregational Cemetery in Sherrill in November 2003.

— Editor’s note: A special thanks to Ron Seymour and Loras Gassmann for researching and providing information for this article.