Albert Ernst (1818 - 1903)

On this page: a biography from 1890 with photo; a biography from 1880; and an 1878 photo with his Mexican War Veterans Association medallion. Scroll down.

(From the Portrait & Biographical Album of Peoria, Illinois (1890), pages 790 & 793)

   ALBERT ERNST. A visitor to the farm of this gentleman, on section 5, Medina Township, would find there a tract of land under thorough cultivation and supplied with a complete line of fine buildings which provide adequate shelter for crops and stock and a home of great comfort for the family. Although not a native of the United States, Mr. Ernst has manifested his loyalty to his adopted country on fields of battle, winning the confidence of his commanding officers and fellow soldiers by his gallantry and ready obedience to the word of command. As a private citizen he is respected by reason of his interest in the good of the people and the up-building of the country, and his own industrious, thrifty,law-abiding conduct.

   Mr. Ernst is of pure German ancestry, descended from respected families of Hess-Cassel. His father, Peter Ernst, a sturdy miner, worked in the silver mines of his own State all his life; he died in 1832, when about fifty years of age. His wife, formerly Catherine Bowman, died in middle life, when her son, our subject, was quite small. The family of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Ernst consisted of two sons and one daughter. The latter died young, and a son - John - having come to America, married in New York, and died there when quite old.

   Our subject was born in Hesse-Cassel November 20, 1818, and was not yet fifteen years old when he began to earn his own living. He learned the trade of broadcloth-making, and after completing his apprenticeship, worked as a journeyman until twenty-two years of age, when he took passage at Bremerhaven for the United States. After a tedious voyage of forty-seven days he landed in New York City, remaining there eighteen months. He then went to St. Louis, Mo., but a few months later changed his place of abode to Springfield, Ill.

   Mr. Ernst had been living in the capital about a year when, in August, 1846, he enlisted in a regiment of mounted riflemen for service in the Mexican War. He participated in the battles of Chepaultepec and the capture of the city of Mexico, together with the other prominent engagements of the two year's campaign. During that time he was in some very dangerous places, but he escaped with only a flesh wound above the right cheek bone, near the eye. He likewise avoided capture, and reported for duty every day. The events of the two years are fresh in his memory, as are the names and characteristics of many members of the regiment and his superior officers. For Gen. Winfield Scott he had an admiring love, believing him the kindest commander that ever lived.

   At the close of the hostilities Mr. Ernst was honorably discharged,and coming to Peoria in the latter part of 1848, remained there until his marriage the following year, when he took up agricultural life in Medina Township. He and his good wife are among those who have helped to build up Peoria County, interesting themselves as far as they were able inmovements which would tend to that end, Mr. Ernst being particularly interested in the educational affairs of his district. He votes with the Democrat party, and is a devout member of the Catholic Church, of which his wife is also a communicant.

   The lady who for many years has been exhibiting her good qualities at the head of the household of our subject, was formerly Miss Theresa Muller. She was born in Alsace, then a part of France, February 8, 1828, and came to the United States in 1847, when about grown to womanhood. Her parents lived for a time in Peoria, and later on a farm in Medina Township, where her aged father, Andrew Muller, still resides. Her mother passed away in 1886, at the age of eighty-three years. Mr. and Mrs. Ernst are the parents of thirteen children, two of whom are deceased. These are Joseph and Molly, who died unmarried at the age of twenty-four years.

   The living children are Mary, wife of Peter Wilhelm, a farmer near Tolono,Champaign County; Theresa, wife of John Backest, a farmer in Akron Township; Albert, a cigarmaker in Peoria, who married Lizzie Rett; Katie, wife of John Knoblock, whose home is in Burlington, Iowa; Matilda, wife of Frank Williams, who owns and operates a farm in Medina Township; Josephine, wife of Jacob Wagner, a farmer in Pasoteem Township, Champaign County; John, who carries on the home farm; Robert, who resides with his parents and runs a threshing machine; Bertha, Anna and Julia A., who are still with their parents.

(n.b. - these "Portrait Albums" were very common from the 1870s to the 1890s; they are written to be flattering and to not offend anyone's sense of their own mythologies, since they made money by selling the finished book. However, they do usually get all the names and locations spelled right.)

Another similar biography, ten years earlier:

History of Peoria County 1880

Ernst, Albert, farmer, Sec. 5, P.O. Southhampton, was born in Hesse, Germany, November 20, 1819, and is the son of Peter Ernst and Catherine Bauman, both of whom were natives of Hesse. After receiving his education, he worked in a woolen factory til about twenty-four years of age, when, in company of his brother John, he came to America , landing at New York , June 11, 1843 . For the next eighteen months he remained in New York City , then went to St. Louis , and from thence to Springfield , Illinois , where in May 1845, he enlisted in Company G., Richmond Mounted Rifles, and served for two years in the Mexican War, taking part in the battles of Contreras, City of Mexico, and many others of the campaign. Was mustered out at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, in July 1848, and directly afterwards came to Peoria city, where he married March 19, 1849, Teresa Miller, a native of Alsace, France, who came to America with her parents, February 18, 1847. She was born February 8, 1828 and has presented him with thirteen children; Mary, now Mrs. Wilhelm, born January 9, 1850 ; Theresa, now Mrs. Backus, born March 20, 1851 ; Albert, born November 9, 1853 ; Catherine, now Mrs. Knoblock, born February 13, 1856 ; Joseph, born February 7, 1858 ; Matilda, now Mrs. Williams, born January 20, 1859 ; Josephine, now Mrs. Wagener, born January 22, 1861; Amaly, born November 30, 1863; John, born October 18, 1865; Robert, born September 2, 1867; Bertha, born August 6, 1869; Annie, born November 9, 1871 and Julian, born February 16, 1876.

In July after his marriage he came to Medina township, and settled on his present location; owns 373 acres of land in Peoria county (170 acres of which is praririe) and 160 acres in Champaign county, Illinois . His present fine farm was raw land when he came to it and all the existing improvements have been executed by his own hand. He has filled the office of school director and is and always was a Democrat. Himself, wife and family are members of the Catholic Church.

Albert's War, the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848): Albert doesn't seem to be listed in the Illinois state database for some reason (note: because he was mustered out in Missouri, he is listed there), but Joni Ernst Eaton has his a record of his mustering out. "Mounted Rifle" was an infantryman who rode a horse to get to the battle and then got off to fight. Company G was the one that captured Santa Ana's leg (prosthetic); wonder if Albert was in on that! He was wounded on the face, near his right eye, during the war. Albert's record shows that he enlisted in Springfield and mustered out "at Jefferson Barracks" (Missouri). There is something unreadable on the paperwork about "Duncan" (his officer?)

After the Civil War, veterans organizations became popular and politicially and socially powerful. The most important and influential was the "Grand Army of the Republic" (GAR) organization of Civil War Veterans, and the Mexican War veterans felt left out. In 1874 an association was formed for Mexican War veterans in Peoria County, and Albert was a part of it: Mexican War Veterans of Peoria County (opens in a new window, close window to return here.)

The photo shows him proudly wearing a huge medal; I thought it was a GAR medallion but now I think maybe it's from the above group, the "Central Illinois Association of Veterans of the Mexican War." This is a similar medallion, I think. It looks like the one he is wearing! This might date the picture to the time of the veterans get-together in which he is listed, in 1878. NOTE: WOW!!! I have heard from relatives who still actually have the medallion in the photo! A photo of the back shows that it is engraved "Albert Ernst/Mounted Rifles". The front is the same as the photo to the right. The top part says "Presented March...(can't read the photo) /National Association of Veterans". The ribbon clearly says "Peoria County". They also have a big photo and a very fancy decorated axe that he owned. With permission, I will post them here.

Back to the story: The land he received after the Mexican War was called "bounty land." This was the last war in which it was offered, although it is interesting that still today young men from other nationalities can join the US military to set them on the road to citizenship. There might be information about his grant in the National Archives. (opens in a new window, close window to return here.)

The Mexican War was what it was. In the war, the US annexed a huge swathe of northern Mexico, possible because of a huge population shift going on at the time. Emigration from the United States was filling up Mexican territories in California and Texas. Thinking about whether it was right or wrong was not relevant; the US was going to expand, no matter what. (I think of that when I hear about Southern California areas that are now more than half "Hispanic"; my dad always said Mexico would eventually get the land back the same way we took it - with a population shift.)

Some people, including many at the time, consider/ed it a terrible blot on the nation. Abraham Lincoln opposed the war, and it cost him his seat in Congress. In his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant implied that the horrors of the Civil War were God's punishment on the US for the Mexican War.

President James K. Polk, however, was all for it. And in Illinois there were plenty of young under employed immigrant single men ready to enlist. Interestingly, Illinois and Texas provided the majority of volunteers for this war. "On May 25, 1846, at the request of Governor Ford, 3,720 men volunteered for a twelve-month enlistment."

None of the politics would have ment much to our adventurous young ancestor Albert. He had already made huge life changes, leaving everyone he knew and the land that his ancestors had farmed for generations, coming to a strange place and learning a new language, new customs. He would have let himself be swept up by patriotic fervor, taking the opportunity to really become a part of his new land, to make a contribution, and possibly come out with both some glory and some land.