Valentin Keller enlisted in an all-German unit of the Union Army in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1862. He was 26, a small, slender man, 5 feet 4 inches tall, who had just become a naturalized citizen. He listed his occupation as tailor.
A year later, Keller was honorably discharged, sick and broken. He had a lung ailment and was so crippled from arthritis in his hips that he could barely walk.
His pension record tells of his suffering. His rheumatism is so that he is unable to walk without the aid of crutches and then only with great pain, it says. His lungs and his joints never got better, and Keller never worked again.
He died at age 41 of dropsy, which probably meant that he had congestive heart failure, a condition not associated with his time in the Army. His 39-year-old wife, Otilia, died a month before him of what her death certificate said was exhaustion.
People of Valentin Kellers era, like those before and after them, expected to develop chronic diseases by their 40s or 50s. Kellers descendants had lung problems, they had heart problems, they had liver problems. They died in their 50s or 60s.