Jersey Reflections: Gustav and Geoffrey Scheer


Jersey Reflections

By Vince Farinaccio

A Columnist for the Grapevine

Gustav and Geoffrey Scheer
It was required that men from Vineland serve in the Union Army, but the town opted out in order to avoid the ruin of untended farms. Only these two served.
New Jersey sent more than 88,000 soldiers into battle for the Union during the course of the Civil War, but Vineland’s birth in August 1861 and the gradual settlement of the area saw the town favoring draft options. When it was required that 72 men from Vineland and Landis Township serve in the Union Army, the residents called a special meeting and unanimously decided “to buy the quota, at any price” in order to avoid the ruin and loss of untended farms. The reported price totaled $50,400 in addition to $10,500 in costs apparently connected with the bounties promised to those serving in the first draft.
The decision of the community in this matter guaranteed the survival of the town during a time when failure in businesses meant failure of the municipality. But an examination of local historical records reveals that there were at least two Vinelanders, Gustav and Geoffrey Scheer, who chose to enlist and serve in the 38th New Jersey Volunteers. Yet the initial unlikelihood of their residency in Vineland and their involvement in the Civil War is what makes their tale, preserved in the archives of the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society (VHAS), so fascinating.
Before his death, Gustav recounted his early days for the Vineland Historical Magazine, saying that he had been "born in Colmar, Alsace, in 1835,” although his obituary accurately dates his birth two years later. Scheer explains that “my father was a miller, my mother the daughter of a grape grower. I spent my youth in agricultural pursuits until I found more profitable employment in an express office. At the age of 27 [sic] I came to the United States.”
Missing from this account is the time Gustav and Geoffrey spent serving as soldiers of fortune. Their involvement in European wars, including the Crimean War, meant that they encountered hardships throughout these years, such as having to cross the Sahara Desert on camels. Their military endeavors, however, resulted in medals, including one from Napoleon III and another from Queen Victoria. Gustav’s account also omits details about his decision to then become a sailor, joining the crew of the Mortimer Livingston. Once Geoffrey joined him on the vessel two years later, their destiny had been determined.
Edmund Scheer’s booklet about his family’s legacy, a copy of which is retained in the VHAS archives, is the only source to identify the Scheers as cousins, not brothers as other accounts, including Gustav’s, claim. It is conceivable that Gustav knew he would never see his four siblings again and came to accept Geoffrey as a younger brother.
According to the booklet, the Scheers decided to travel to the United States from Le Havre in the winter of 1861 aboard the Mortimer Livingston. The ship was bound for New York but encountered a storm just as it was nearing Long Island. Rather than seek a port, the captain chose to head back out to sea and travel south to escape the storm. But conditions worsened and the vessel was grounded off the coast of Ludlam Island, today’s Sea Isle City, and sent distress signals that drew rescue boats.
The passengers were guaranteed transportation to New York by land, but it was while traveling through Millville that the Scheers left the group. According to Gustav’s obituary, they remained in Millville for a short while until discovering the existence of Charles K. Landis and Vineland. They eked out a living cutting wood through the winter for a man named Darcy and, with $200 they had brought with them from home, each purchased property on the southern side of Chestnut Avenue between Orchard Road and Delsea Drive in Spring 1862. Gustav said that his holdings totaled seven acres and that, “my brother [sic] came over with me and settled on the west land adjoining mine. I built a small house which [later served] as a hen house.”
The Scheers also plied their trade in Vineland, helping to clear out brush and trees to make way for streets. They settled in as citizens for the next several years until the need for additional Union soldiers arose. According to the VHAS booklet, the Scheers enlisted in the 38th New Jersey Voluntary Regiment on September 3, 1864.
Next Week: The War

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