Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sutton Post #19 of The Grand Army of the Republic

General George C. Meade Post No. 19


The early settlement of Sutton happened just six years after the end of the Civil War. As soldiers went back home in 1865 they often found stiff competition for farm land or businesses. The lure of the open west was attractive and west they came, many to south central Nebraska.

One of our first settlers in 1871 was the family of Hosea Gray, Captain of Company A of the Iowa 6th Infantry. The Clark brothers were in Sutton shortly, Dr. Martin Clark of the Ohio 7th Infantry and Isaac Clark, quartermaster of the Ohio 25th.

A high percentage of early Sutton settlers were these Civil War vets. The Sutton Museum is fortunate to have a large display poster from Sutton’s chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), the General George C. Meade Post No. 19. Forty members of the post are pictured and best of all, a key identifies each.
This display of the Sutton GAR chapter pictures 40 of its members and ribbons from several events.

The G.A.R. was founded right after the end of the Civil War in 1866. The founders envisioned the organization to be an arm of the young Republican Party. G.A.R. members were credited, perhaps justifiably for the successes of the party in the elections of 1868. But as beneficial as their work was for the Republican Party, it was disastrous for the G.A.R. as loyal Democrats and many members with other notions of the purpose of a veterans organization left, perhaps 40% of the membership.

The turmoil destroyed the early G.A.R. In many parts of the country, no post survived longer than two years until a reorganization and re-direction happened.

Sutton’s G.A.R. Post #19 was organized on May 27, 1879 with Philip Schwab as commander, Martin (or Markus) Wittenberg, vice commander and Isaac Clark as quartermaster. Meetings were held the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month.

Post numbers were assigned sequentially by state. That is, the Sutton post was the 19th in Nebraska. Each post selected a name. Back east, posts were generally named after some local veteran, often a casualty of the war. Other chapters took on the name of a famous person. There were Abe Lincoln posts in most states. The Sutton chapter chose General George C. Meade, the commander of the Union Army of the Potomac. General Meade had an illustrious career even before his appointment to head the Army of the Potomac only three days before it met Lee’s army at Gettysburg.

G.A.R. members met in “encampments” for departments (state), districts or county. The host for a department encampment in Nebraska was expected to provide 240 acres of ground and food and water for 3,000 horses and 30,000 people. Encampments lasted from three to six days. Our display has ribbons from several encampments. 

The encampment was a big deal. When my great grandfather moved his family from a rented farm near Edgar to a Hoxie, Kansas wheat farm, he timed the trip to stop in Grand Island on the way for a department encampment, likely August 31 – September 5, 1886. He would have had his wife and eight kids with him including a 2-month old baby – camping 19th century style.

We have not dated the photos in our display but that should be doable. There was likely only a few months when all 40 of these fellows were residing in Sutton.

Someone in the distant past performed that noble task of identifying the individuals in the photo. That didn’t always happen. We’ve received several boxes of photos, real nice photos from people in the community but with no names associated with the folks in the pictures and no one left around to tell us who those people were.

Rarely are we able to make an identification of these anonymous people – it is very satisfying when that happens but we’ve generally spent a huge amount of time getting there. Take a lesson. Collect your old photos and write on the back – who is it, when was the picture taken, where, etc. That will be a great gift to someone, someday.

Our helpmate on these photos did a great job, with one exception. There are numbers written lightly on the men’s chests in the photos and an accompanying key with names of the fellows. Unfortunately, not all of the numbers are clear and the sequence is almost always sequential, almost. One fellow, B. Isley seems to be associated with two guys in different pictures who don’t look alike. We’ll take “close” in this case.

So who are these 40 guys?

Several of them are well known to us today. H. W. Gray was Sutton’s first attorney and with his son John started a lumber yard on the site of our museum.

J. C. Merriill was an early merchant with his brother. I. N. Clark had a hardware store, the first business on Saunders Avenue and with his brother Dr. Martin Clark (Sutton’s first physician) developed the Clark Addition in the northwest part of town.

John Dinsmore was the first banker. A.A. Corey was an early homesteader northwest of town and later a merchant. P. T. Walton ran hotels. Markus Wittenberg was from Hungary and became an early merchant in Sutton with a confectionary business – candies, cigars, etc. For a time, he had two stores, dry goods and a grocery.

William Keller was a blacksmith by trade but in Sutton was in the grain business, ran stores with general merchandise, then a drug store, then a jewelry store and real estate. He organized a local military unit called the Governor’s Guards and was the commander of the First Regiment of the Nebraska National Guard with a Lieutenant Colonel’s commission.

Jacob Steinmetz and C. W. Walther, both in this crowd, ran a McCormick & Co. implement dealership in Sutton. Jacob’s wife Elizabeth and infant daughter were the first burials in Sutton Cemetery. Mr. Steinmetz later moved to McCook.

We have an ongoing project at the Sutton Museum to research and write biographies for these folks whose names pop up in various places. Several of the fellows in these photos did not leave deep tracks and have slipped by our attention before.

John W. Shirley was from Iowa and went to California in 1849 at the age of sixteen. We’d guess his goal was gold. He stayed there 22 years mining and later growing hops. His Civil War service was with a California unit in Apache Country mainly at a post northeast of Phoenix. It counted for G.A.R. qualifications.

Which brings us to the criteria for admission to the G.A.R. and similar organizations. The modern organization is the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War which was created by the G.A.R. They set their own rules.

The Daughters of the American Revolution and the men’s equivalent organization for instance, admit not only the descendants of active duty, uniform-wearing soldiers in the Revolutionary War but descendants of anyone who contributed to the cause. If one of your ancestors sold a couple of hogs or sacks of grain to revolutionary war soldiers, and you can prove it, you just may be in.

Other fellows were learned a bit about with this project include Joel Longstreth who ran a restaurant in town and was the constable. He moved to Ogden, Utah and died there in 1923. He’s buried in the Sutton Cemetery.

I. D. Evans founded The Sutton Register newspaper in February, 1880 later buying and merging the Clay County Globe into his paper. He sold the paper in 1886 to F. M. Brown who operated it into the 1940’s.

A. B. Lucore is not well known in Sutton today, but he was in town for the G.A.R. photos as a rep of the 20th Iowa Infantry. A bit of research finds his name was Alonzo Billings Lucore and the topic of a few message boards threads on genealogy websites. He died in 1905 and is buried in a GAR cemetery in Multnomah County, Oregon.

Longstreth, Evans, Lucore and thousands of others have lived in Sutton, contributed to the community and many moved on leaving only a few shallow tracks, if that. Every now and then we turn out attention to some resource that has been sitting nearby in plain sight. Such was this G.A.R. display. Close to half of them were familiar to those of us who have spent some time on the topic of Sutton history but 15 or 20 of them, not so much. Think of it as a puzzle.

We’d like to…

How does one finish that sentence? We’d like to recognize these 40 Civil War vets who posed for these three pictures one day. We’d like to recognize the other Civil War vets with Sutton connections who weren’t here that day. We’d like to recognize the Sutton-connected vets from World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf Wars and vets who served at times and in places that didn’t involve conflicts that generated big books – even the Cold War – my era.

And why just vets? Sutton Historical Society members have worked on several projects, even completing one or two, to tell the story of the people who founded, developed and contributed to the Sutton community. It’s a bit of work, but it’s good work. Entertaining work. Work that soon can become play. A few years ago, this was hard. With the overwhelming wealth of online resources, it’s doable with just a bit of cleverness you pick up quickly.

Care to try it? Give us a call. This posting is not complete, there is always more to learn.
This article first appeared in the November, 2015 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at mustangmediasales@gmail.com for more information about this publication.