News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

June 7, 2014

HISTORICAL TREASURE: Nicholas Filbeck: Soldier, politician, hotel proprietor

TERRE HAUTE — The young man in the photograph taken from a tintype looks too young to be a Union soldier. But 17-year-old Nicholas Filbeck — against his father’s wishes — joined in 1861. He served in the 32nd Indiana Infantry, known as the 1st German Regiment and led by Colonel August Willich.

It was fitting that Filbeck joined this unit, as he was born in Viernheim, Germany, in 1843. He is remembered as speaking with a German accent throughout his lifetime. He came to Indiana with his family when he was 3 or 4 years old.

The young soldier saw action at Mumsfordville, Shiloh, Corinth and other battlefields. During the Stone River campaign, Filbeck was severely wounded in the right leg. He received treatment at the Union Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., and his father later had him transported to the Soldier’s Home in Indianapolis. Although his injuries left him permanently disabled, Filbeck remained with his regiment as quartermaster until he was mustered out in 1864.

After the war ended, Filbeck didn’t let his disability slow him down. He returned to Terre Haute, where he established a reputation as an astute politician and successful businessman. As owner and proprietor of the Filbeck Hotel, he made it one of the finest establishments in the state, and it became headquarters for theatrical troupes when they performed in the city.

His political career included 20 years as chairman of the county’s Republican Central Committee. He also ran a losing campaign for county sheriff when he was just 25 years old. Appointed in 1873, Filbeck served as Vigo County postmaster under Presidents Grant and Hayes.

Filbeck was a volunteer firefighter with the German Hook and Ladder Company. A member of the Grand Army of the Republic, Filbeck always remembered his Civil War comrades. He also received recognition for his work for the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument.

Filbeck married Rosina Kiefner in 1867. The couple had five children: Anne Maria, Louise Catherine, Charles Henry, Rutherford Nicholas and Nelle Cecilia. The soldier-hotel proprietor-politician died in the family’s apartment at the Filbeck Hotel on May 3, 1915.

Visitors to the Vigo County Historical Museum will find Filbeck’s photograph and other pieces of the county’s military history in the Military Room on the first floor. It was donated to the Museum by Malcolm Steele in memory of his wife, Nelle Filbeck Steele.

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