SHERIDAN — Seven score and 10 years ago our nation was met upon a battlefield. A battlefield which tested whether the words written in the Declaration of Independence would stand the test of time. And just as President Lincoln consecrated hallowed ground at Gettysburg for the memory of those who fought gallantly, within the streets of Sheridan also lays a hallowed ground dedicated to memory of the men and woman who ensured that “a nation so conceived and so dedicated could long endure.” This ground is dedicated to the memories of the veterans of the Civil War.
There were more than 10,000 battles and skirmishes during the Civil War and there are Sheridan connections to a countless number. This summer of course marks the 150th Anniversary of not only the Civil War but the Battle of Gettysburg and the city of Sheridan has several connections to that engagement. Local veterans Charles Bates, D. D. Darling and William Devine all served at Gettysburg. On the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg Devine recounted his time manning the cannon at the famous Bloody Angle as a member of the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry during Pickett’s Charge for the Sheridan Post. Devine commented, “It was the Seventy-first you know, that bore the brunt of that terrible fight and repulsed the charge of Pickett’s men at the angle of the stone wall. I and five others were right in the angle of the wall that day, with two guns and I helped load those guns with stones from the wall, all we had left to shoot. When we let those guns go Pickett’s men, who were right up on us, it tore a path fifty feet wide through them.” Devine attended the 50th anniversary celebration with his comrades at Gettysburg in 1913 and was chosen to present the remnants of Pickett’s men with a commemorative silk battle flag.
If you take the time to visit the Sheridan Municipal Cemetery you will no doubt stumble on to the John Schuler Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) section. An act of Congress, submitted by Rep. Frank Mondell, allowed the Post to acquire the two cannons visible at the cemetery from the Rock Island arsenal in Illinois. These cannons were foundried by the Revere Copper Company and produced for action in the Civil War in 1862 and 1863.
More than 2,000 citizens of Sheridan met for the dedication of the monument at the center of the Post in 1911. Prior to the construction of the GAR section several members were laid to rest in a “potter’s field” and the community responded to the need to for “consecrated soil” as a final resting place naming it after John Schuler who was the first Civil War veteran to pass in Sheridan.
At the dedication to the GAR monument, only one Confederate soldier answered the roll call and marched with the Union veterans, William T. Barrow of the 13th Alabama infantry.
Barrows is not the only Confederate veteran buried in the cemetery but remains the only Confederate veteran with a Confederate marker which is distinguished by the point his marker comes to instead of the rounded top of Union veterans.
The veterans to the Civil War from Sheridan came to the war through a variety of means. Many veterans, including Fred McDonough, found themselves enlisted in the Army shortly after arriving on the docks in New York City. Other veterans, like Peter Anderson, were too young to enlist in the infantry and instead spent their days as drummer boys. But being a musician did not mean that Anderson did not see military action. At the Battle of Shiloh, Anderson carried his wounded father off the field. Anderson is also notable for being the last member of the John Schuler Post members to pass away.
The experiences of these veterans varied as well. Some, like James Baker, James Buckley, Lowell Green and Theodore Kutcher spent time in Confederate prison camps such as Andersonville and Libby. Kutcher was placed in the harsh prison camp at Andersonville but due to his good penmanship was given a clerical position. He felt that this had no doubt saved his life.
Many of the veterans carried with them physical reminders of the war. William Jackson had a chest wound bullet lodged near his spine while others such as Jack Coates walked with a limp because he refused to allow a surgeon to amputate his leg that had been shattered by a rifle ball. Others carried the reminders of close calls. C. E. Spelman was shot in the chest at close range and was saved by an inch-thick book which stopped the bullet leaving only a slight scar.
Many of the veterans, such as Levi Wood, fought in the War with Mexico prior to the Civil War and for many the Civil War was not the end of their military experience. Samuel W. Service also served in 10th U.S. Cavalry during the Indian Wars and Spanish American War as a veterinarian. And after the Civil War both Kenard Burkitt and William McClinton served under General Crook camping in present-day Sheridan in summer of 1876 as members of the 3rd US Cavalry. Burkitt is locally known for having a street named after him and McClinton is famous for finding the Custer guidion flag at the Battle of Slim Buttes.
The only female recognized as serving in the Civil War in Sheridan County was Anna Rebecca Smith. Smith was educated in a Quaker school and served as a nurse in the Shenandoah Valley.
President Lincoln famously ended his Gettysburg Address with the words “that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Local veteran Havilla Baker witnessed the impact of this statement when he was present to see General Lee surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Interestingly enough a piece of the tree outside of Appomattox along with a piece of wood from the battleship U.S.S. Constitution made famous in the War of 1812 was placed in the cornerstone of the first Sheridan High School located at the present location of Sheridan’s Post Office. As we gather for the Fourth of July celebration this year let us not forget our local veterans that struggled through our Civil War to make our celebration possible.
By Tyson Emborg, a government and social studies teacher at Sheridan High School.