Archival Research
20th Indiana Regiment POW John F. Berringer – Watervliet, Michigan Medical Doctor and Known Opium Addict

John F. Berringer, private of the 20th Indiana Regiment, spent his nineteenth birthday in October 1861 in the Norfolk City Jail.  Captured on Hatteras in a 3rd Georgia assault without even firing his musket.  His dreams of glory fighting for the union of States of his family’s newly-adopted fatherland were cut short, not more than two months from signing the enlistment papers back in Indiana.  Born in Germany, Berringer and his family immigrated to America in 1854 and headed west to work the fields of Southern Michigan.

Berringer endured Confederate prisons through May 1862.  His imprisonment must have somehow inspired an interest in medicine.  1870 was a busy year, and John became a physician after studying at Ann Arbor.  He also married Harriett “Hattie” Blake.  John and Hattie had three children, and set up a medical practice in Berrien County, Michigan.

Dr. John F. Berringer began treating his own hunger for opium and addiction to chloral hydrate.  The Berringer family story is tragic, plain and simple. Hattie and children went through hell because of the doctor’s addiction and resulting delusions.  John moved out of his Watervliet home, claiming Hattie was having adulterous affairs.  He refused to provide in any way for his family’s basic needs.

John F. Berringer’s Civil War Pension file is a record of the mess caused by his post-War opium and chloral addiction.  Below is the transcription of just one of the colorful documents from the NARA file.

Watervliet Mich June 30th


Mr Evans,

Honorable Commissioner

of Pensions, I have Just received

your communication stating

that rebuttal evidence of

the charges made by Dr. J. F.

Berringer against my

character will be necessary.

Most Hon Sir, while I have

employed an attorney to do

this work for me, and it

is probably some-what out

of the order of business to

write – a personal letter

to you I have concluded

to do so.  I am not

at all abashed, nor

intimidated by the

cruel charges of this

man.  I shall push

[Page Two]

the matter fearlessly to the full

extent of the law.  I can

prove that his charges are

false.  Also without any

malice in my heart

towards this man I can

say that he is a thoroughly

dishonorable and disreputable

man, his name has been

on the dead-beat list for

years.  he has been a

confirmed opium and

chloral eater for years

allowed his family to

suffer for the necessaries of

life.  At the time he told

this most cruel story I

had to call on the

Prosecuting attorney to

protect my self and

children against him

[Page Three]

as in a fit of opium tremens

he put us into the street,

and was lodged in

jail for six weeks.  I am

perfectly willing my whole

life should be open to

investigation.  I only

wish a government

officer would be sent here

to inquire into this matter,

I am growing old. I

need this money.  I

can no longer work

as I used to.  I have

suffered starvation and

neglect at his hands.

He lives on the best of

every thing.  Uncle Sam

is paying his whiskey

and opium bills

while I need bread and

coal.  Of course I

[Page Four]

fully understand how difficult

it may be for me to obtain

my rights in the matter.  But

I wish You Most Hon Commissioner

of Pensions could see, and know,

the doings of this man you are

caring for, and could know

his character.  My life, my

good name, all that can

make life worth living to

a woman has been in

jeopardy for years.  I can

suffer nothing more at

his hands but poverty.

I can prove by a hundred

witnesses if necessary that

my cause is just, that

I deserve his pension.  I

will send on rebuttal evidence.

Mrs Hattie Berringer

Box 218.  Watervliet, Mich.

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