How a woman in Switzerland got a Civil War veteran from Illinois his long overdue honor

An 1863 drawing by Edwin Forbes shows a cavalry orderly waiting for orders in Culpeper, Virginia – much like John Sieburg of Illinois would have been.

Years ago, Nadine Lussman now admits, she looked upon her family tree as little more than a collection of names and dates and places.

But she eventually became fascinated by the stories behind those names – who they were, what their lives were like, what challenges they faced – and one name in particular always stood out: “unknown Sieburg.”

All she knew of unknown Sieburg from written family histories and whispers of family lore was that her ancestor was a Union Army dispatch rider who was killed in the Civil War.

“I needed to know more,” she said.

The retired telecommunications professional began to dig into public genealogy websites and forums; Civil War records, books, websites and maps; and newspaper archives including the Daily Herald – much of it online from her home computer in Switzerland.

The key discoveries were 1860 census records and an 1861 map of Wheeling Township showing the Sieburg family farm just east of the town of Dunton – what would later become Arlington Heights.

That’s where a young man named John Sieburg grew up.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, she learned, Sieburg enlisted in the 8th Illinois Cavalry Regiment. He was likely 18 or 19 years old, though he claimed to be 20. Two years into the war – and just months after the 8th famously fired the first shot at the Battle of Gettysburg – Sieburg was carrying a dispatch between commanding officers when he was shot through the hip and knocked from his horse.

The private died of his wounds the next day at Rappahannock Station, Virginia.

It wouldn’t be until nearly 160 years later that Sieburg’s hometown formally honors his sacrifice.

His name wasn’t on the Veterans Memorial Committee of Arlington Heights’ list of fallen heroes that dates to the Civil War, until Lussman made contact with committee Chair Greg Padovani in recent months.

Many records show the Sieburgs hailed from Elk Grove – indeed, that’s where the family settled when they arrived from the Kingdom of Hannover (present-day Germany) in 1854. But the Sieburgs worked hard enough to be able to purchase their own farm in 1860 – an 80-acre property on what is now Kensington Road, south of Memory Gardens Cemetery in Arlington Heights.

Sieburg – only the third Civil War veteran on the list of 59 servicemen memorialized in Arlington Heights – will finally get his due during the village’s annual Memorial Day ceremony and parade on Monday. Lussman, who grew up an Iowa farm girl but moved overseas for her job more than three decades ago, will be there to honor her great-granduncle.

“It’s hard sometimes to put it into words,” Lussman said during a recent phone interview from her home in Switzerland.

“It was 170 years ago that our Sieburg family chose to come to the Arlington Heights area. ... For me, it was one thing being able to put a name to ‘unknown Sieburg’ as ‘John Sieburg.’ That was really important for me because, as with many of my ancestors and relatives, I want to celebrate their memories and celebrate the lives they have led,” she said. “I want to honor the travels that they went through.”

Lussman hasn’t been able to track down a photo of Sieburg, who died at age 20 and didn’t have a wife or children. But to get an idea of what Sieburg looked like in the war, the veterans committee has secured the 8th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Cavalry – a nonprofit re-enactor group – to march in Monday’s parade.

Much of what’s known about Sieburg’s military service is in an 1868 book, “History of the Eighth cavalry regiment, Illinois Volunteers,” by Abner Hard. It was discovered in the Library of Congress’ free online archive by Jeff Lussman, Nadine’s second cousin in Muscatine, Iowa.

The two history detectives met on an online genealogy forum when they discovered they were working on the same family tree. Their fathers regularly attended past family reunions in Iowa, but Nadine and Jeff will meet for the first time in person on Memorial Day in Arlington Heights.

“Finding that mention [of John Sieburg] was like, ‘Oh my God, there it is.’ This is the guy that my dad and other family had talked about being the ‘unknown Sieburg,’ and he’s not so unknown. He was remembered and written about,” Jeff Lussman said. “Sometimes with ancestry, it’s a little bit of luck and a little bit of persistence.”

The Sieburg name was well-known in Arlington Heights at the turn of the century. John had six siblings, and they and their descendants went on to own and operate a number of businesses in the downtown, including Sieburg’s Hardware Store, Sieburg Drugs and Sieburg’s Meat Market.

John’s father, George, was one of the seven founding elders of St. Peter Lutheran Church. And John’s sister, Louisa, married Henry Meyer, a well-known village trustee, brick contractor, beer distributor, hotel proprietor and founder of Meyer’s Pond, a popular community gathering spot where village hall now stands.

It’s unknown where the young dispatch rider is buried. Most Civil War soldiers who died in that area were reinterred to Culpeper National Cemetery in Culpepper, Virginia, and it’s believed Sieburg is one of the 912 unknown soldiers buried there.

But at Arlington Heights’ Memorial Park, a brick engraved with Sieburg’s name, branch, rank and date of death will be placed alongside those honoring 58 other fallen servicemen. His name is now first on the list that is read out loud at every Memorial Day ceremony.

“It is very moving for us that John Sieburg now has a place in Memorial Park in Arlington Heights – his ancestral home,” Nadine Lussman said. “He’s come home, in a way.”