It was a chilly evening in early
November and Wilhelm Mueller was cold, but he didn't want to go
into the house yet. He felt terrible as he thought about
everything that had happened to him in the last few months. There
was so much the little seven-year-old boy didn't understand, but
his mother and his Aunt Frieda weré always too busy to answer his
questions. "Why did Papa and Uncle Karl go away?" he thought. "Where
did they go? When will they return?"
Wilhelm had spent his early childhood in Germany. Then when he was
six, his family had come to the United States and purchased a
small farm in northern Missouri. Hans Mueller and his brother Karl
worked from early in the morning until late in the evening trying
to make a success of their little farm. The women, Ilsa and Frieda
Mueller, were also busy all day workíng in the house and preparing
meals for the family. But no one minded the hard work. In the
evenings, the family would talk about the future and about how
glad they were to be able to be together and to have a place of
Life in their new home was hard but happy for the immigrant family.
Then in the spring of 1861, everything changed.
Opinion in the United States was divided: the agricultural
southern states had slavery and wanted to keep it, but the people
in the commercial northern states did not agree. Because they felt
that the northern states wanted to change their way of life, the
people in the southern part of the country decided to leave the
United States and form a nation of their own, the Southern
The northern states wanted to keep the nation together, and a
long, terrible civil war began.
In Missouri, most of the people agreed with the opinions of the
northern states, but a large number believed that the ideas of the
southern people were right.
The Mueller family was divided, too, and now evenings in the
little farm house were spent arguing about whether the two
brothers should join the northern army.
Ilsa Mueller was angry at her husband. "Why should you have to
join any army, northern or southern?" she asked. "This is not our
"But Ilsa," Hans argued, "we are Americans now, and the troubles
of our new country are our troubles, too."
"We have enough trouble right here on our own farm" Frieda Mueller
said. "Why do you have to look for ¡t some place else?"
"Because we believe in the future of this country," Frieda's
husband answered. "What kind of future will there be for us or for
any other Americans in a country that is divided? Won't you try to
"I understand that your family needs you here on the farm," Frieda
said. "What will we do without you? How can two women and a little
boy do all the work on a farm?".
Karl Mueller interrupted his wife. "I know it will be hard for you,
but we must all be ready for sacrifice for somethig we believe in,
and Hans and I honestly believe that we have no choice in this
matter. We've got to go."
The family continued to argue for weeks. Finally, the women agreed
to stay on the farm and do the best they could until their
husbands returned. Little Wilhelm heard his family arguing. He
listened to the words, but a seven-year-old boy could not possibly
understand ideas like civil war and sacrifice. Ilsa and Hans
Mueller didn't know what to say to their young son, and so they
told him very little.
In August, Hans Mueller and his brother Karl went away, leaving
young Wilhelm, his mother, and his aunt by themselves on the farm.
Wilhelm was miserable during the three months that his father and
uncle were gone. His mother and aunt had very little time for him
and he was usually by himself.
On this November evening, he was very sad. He wished his father
and uncle would come home so that the family could be happy again.
Just as he was about to go into the house, Wilhelm heard some
horses coming. He turned to look and saw two familiar people
coming down the road. It was his father and uncle. The excited
young boy met them at the road and the three of them went in the
It was wonderful to have his father and uncle home again, but
things were not as they had been before. Something was wrong.
Wilhelm felt very happy, but the rest of the family looked so sad.
The two men were dressed in strange blue uniforms and were tired
and sick. His uncle's arm was swollen and bleeding, and his father
had hurt his leg.
The family talked quietly for a few minutes, and then the two
brothers took some food and went out to the barn. Frieda took the
horses and hid them behind the house.
What was the matter? Why were the horses hidden behind the house
when they were supposed to be in the barn? Why did his father and
uncle stay in the barn with all that food? It was cold and dark in
there. Why couldn't they eat in the house with the rest of the
family? Wilhelm tried to talk to his aunt, but she wouldn't listen
to him. He asked his mother, but she told him to be quiet. "Don't
bother me now — and don't go near the barn," she said in an angry
Wilhelm went out of the house. He was tired and hungry and
frightened. He hadn't done anything wrong. Why was his mother
angry? Why couldn't he go to the barn to see his father? The young
boy wished someone would tell him what was happening.
Wilhelm didn't hear the horses until they were almost at his house.
When he finally looked, he saw three strangers in uniforms. "These
soldiers must be my father's friends," he thought, "but their
uniforms are gray, not blue."
Two of the men came to the house to talk to the young boy. The
third man stayed on the road, looking in both directions.
"Are your parents home?" one of the men asked, as he got off his
"Yes," said Wilhelm, and he took the two soldiers into the house
to see his mother.
Ilsa was usually very friendly when anyone came to her home, but
not this time. She didn't tell the two men to sit down and she
didn't ask them if they would like some food. Frieda looked
frightened and didn't say a word.
"I'm very sorry to bother you, ladies," one of the men said, "but
we're looking for a couple of northern soldiers who were seen in
this neighborhood. We think they're hiding around here."
"What did you say?" Ilsa asked. "I don't speak English very well."
"Have you seen any soldiers around here?" the man repeated.
"Soldiers?" asked Ilsa. "No, there hasn't been anyone here all day."
Wilhelm looked quickly at his mother. Why did she say that? Didn't
she remember that Papa and Uncle Karl had come home? They must be
the soldiers these men were looking for. Did Mama forget that they
were out in the barn? What was wrong with everyone?
"I did hear horses on the road about an hour ago," the boy's
mother said, "but by the time I got to the door, they were gone."
Wilhelm was very excited and couldn't keep quiet any longer. He
didn't know what was the matter with everyone in his house, but he
had to tell the men the correct story. His mother had made a
"Mama," he argued, "don't you remember? They're right over there.
Papa and Uncle Karl are out in the barn." He started to go to the
window, but his aunt held his hands and wouldn't let him move.
"How many times have I told you not to interrupt?" Frieda said to
her nephew. Then she spoke to the men in the gray uniforms. "He's
hungry," she told them. "It's late and he hasn't had his dinner
"I'm not hungry," Wilhelm argued. "I only want to tell them where
Papa and Uncle Karl are — that's all."
"There's no one here, but us," Ilsa said to the soldiers. "I'm a
widow and new in this country. The three of us came from Germany
just one year ago. We know nothing about this war."
"We'd better leave," the other soldier said to his companion. "These
women don't know anything about those men. They don't know what
we're talking about. Let's go before those northern soldiers get
too far — they could be miles away by now."
"All right. I just wanted to be sure."
As soon as they were positive the soldiers were gone, the women
told Wilhelm to go to the barn and call his uncle and father.
When the two brothers returned to the house, the family sat down
together. "We should have told you everything before," Ilsa said,
putting her arms around her son, "but we were too busy to see how
frightened you were. We're very sorry."
"Uncle Karl and I are northern soldiers," his father said. "Those
men in gray are in the southern army. Because the southern people
have different ideas from the people in the northern states, the
United States is at war."
Wilhelm still didn't understand, but he felt much better as he
listened to his parents talking. "But why didn't the soldiers look
for Papa and Uncle Karl in the barn when I said they were hidden
in there? I told them twice, but they didn't do anything."
"You keep forgetting that we are in the United States now, Wilhelm,"
his mother reminded the boy. "Those men didn't understand a word
you said. You were speaking German — not English!"