When Dr. Edmund Louis Burnett started researching his family history he had no idea it would someday turn into a published book.
Burnett, who has lived in West U with his wife Diane for the past 33 years, recently published a book about his great-grandfather called “Civil War Letters of Louis Lehmann.”
Burnett, who was born Edmund Louis Lehmann, Jr., changed his name after he was adopted by his stepfather.
The book features 23 letters between Lehmann and his wife Friederieke while he was serving in the Confederate Army. Friedereike was at their home in Brenham taking care of their five children.
Of the 23 saved letters, which are 150 years old, Lehmann wrote 21 and Friederieke wrote two. Burnett said he thinks there were many more letters, but they were lost over time.
“It was a deep love,” Burnett said about the Lehmann’s letters.
The letters describe what it was like as a solider during the Civil War and the challenges of the families back home. Each letter was written in German, but was translated into English for the book.
Burnett, who is a retired ophthalmologist, has written commentary after each letter, filling in details of battles, medical treatment and what life was like for the soldiers in the Terrell’s and Likens’ Regiments in Texas and Louisiana.
Burnett said Lehmann rarely got sick, during a time when illness was prevalent, because he enjoyed drinking coffee and would boil the water, killing the bacteria. Lehmann did not know that was the reason he did not take ill, he said.
The men were not provided uniforms, but were distinguished as soldiers by the Texas Star, which they wore on their clothing.
Burnett said some of the men couldn’t afford to buy the star, which cost $1, and often used bullets, which they pounded out and crafted into a star.
“That star was so important,” he said. “They were so proud of it.”
Burnett said his favorite letter, the letter that he felt like he really knew Lehmann, described a situation where he was on guard and heard gunfire.
Lehmann wrote in his letter to Fredereike that he could hear soldiers shouting, “The Yanks are coming!”
It turned out to just be a training session; it wasn’t real, Burnett said.
When Lehmann was told he could leave his guard duty because it was just training, he said “no.”
Soldiers are taught that they can’t leave their position until someone comes to take over for them, Burnett said.
“He knew his duties and he was reliable,” he said.
Burnett’s wife, Diane, said Lehmann didn’t believe in slavery.
“He was a great family man, a great leader in the church and he did his role as a soldier even though he didn’t believe in the cause,” Diane Burnett said.
Lehmann and Frederieke were the communicators for the families in Brenham whose husbands were away at war.
Frederieke would ask about the men in her letters to Lehmann and then would report back to their wives and families, Diane Burnett said.
Burnett started learning about his family history when he decided to clean up a cemetery in Brenham, where Lehmann and Frederieke are buried.
The cemetery, as well as the Lehmann family home, has been turned into historical sites.
“I wanted to honor my ancestors,” Burnett said. “I wanted to tell about Louis Lehmann.”
The book was published by Hill College Press, which publishes one book per year about Texas history.
The 150-year-old letters have been donated to the Texas Heritage Museum where they will be archived.
Copies of “Civil War Letters of Louis Lehmann” are available for $25.
To purchase a copy of the book, visit www.edmundlburnett.com.