Ottumwa today showed her honor to the nation’s defenders by closing shop and factory, school and place of merchandising, that all might lend their token of honor and veneration to the memory of those who fought, bled and died that the country might live. The Grand Army of the Republic, the Women’s Relief corps, those who were orphaned through the great strife of nearly half a century ago, and others that represent a grateful nation, have devoted this day to the memory of the Union soldiery of the civil war, both living and dead. The dead are being remembered by eulogy and flower tribute, the living by the willingness manifest by the people generally to honor the dead and the cause that all feel a like interest in. Music and eloquence, silent tears and prayers, the floral tribute that adds a fragrance incense-like to the solemn occasion – all are blended with the full heart of gratitude and esteem paid the memory of the dead and living veterans who made possible the happiness and prosperity, peace and security that today is the blessed heritage of the citizens of the United States. – Ottumwa Courier (1 June 1911)
Ottumwa, Iowa. Most Americans recognize the name of this community in the nation’s heartland as the hometown of fictional television character Walter O’Reilly – better known as “Radar,” the young corporal at the 4077th M.A.S.H. who slept with a teddy bear while coming of age at an army hospital during the Korean War. His eyes witnessed the worst of humanity; his responses to the most painful of those moments tweaked the collective conscience of the millions of television viewers tuning in each week, reminding us that displays of kindness, compassion and hope are still possible even in the midst of hate and horror.
But Ottumwa also has ties to very real wars, including to America’s terrible Civil War – and to one of that war’s lesser known, but valiant regiments – the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. For it was in Ottumwa where Lewis W. Saylor (1845-1877) chose to resettle after serving two terms as a Private with Company H of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, and where he closed his eyes for the final time and was buried with military honors.
Memorial Day Planning Headline, Ottumwa Courier, 9 May 1901 (public domain).
On Memorial Day in 1911, Ottumwans honored Lewis Saylor and more than 200 other Civil War veterans with pomp and poignant oratory. The day began with a gathering by members of the Grand Army of the Republic’s Cloutman post who rode or marched from the court house to the Ottumwa Cemetery, the place where the largest number of Civil War soldiers had been laid to rest. The 1 June 1911 edition of the Ottumwa Courier described the procession as follows:
Led by six police officers each of whom carried a large bouquet of flowers to place upon the graves of the veteran dead, the parade formed and wended its way up Court hill. The Fifty-fourth regiment band attired in its military uniforms added a martial aspect to the pageant which was inspired by the national melodies that were rendered by this excellent musical organization. The local guardsmen of Co. G.I.N.G. were also in the line as were a number of Sons of Veterans aiding by their presence to the occasion that honored their fathers’ memory. The speakers in carriages and the old soldiers in vehicles were also in evidence and excited the love and esteem of the onlookers as the parade moved forward to the cemetery. Both Cloutman and Tuttle posts of the G.A.R. and the Relief corps of the two posts were a part of the parade. Citizens voluntarily fell in to swell the ranks and lend their aid to the expression of honor and esteem of the veterans.
A large crowd was gathered in the city park preliminary to the starting of the parade and in the band stand of the park, the Fifty-fourth rendered several selections while the crowds assembled. Carriages and autos gathered about the park ready to join in the parade to the cemetery, and the street cars carried hundreds to the graves of the departed veterans and relatives as the pageant moved slowly toward the cemetery.
The Courier went on to report that members of the G.A.R and Women’s Relief Corps also decorated the graves of Union veterans at the Calvary Cemetery, and added:
Honorable Ellsworth Rominger of Bloomfield this morning made the Memorial day address in South Ottumwa. He told a remnant of the Grand Army of the Republic, their wives who largely comprised the Women’s Relief Corps and the children of the veterans, of the great debt the nation owes the noble sons who in the stormy days of the nation’s strife and her hour of greatest need, responded to the call. He graphically sketched and in a realistic panorama brought before the minds of the assemblage the days of the civil war, and equally effective was his treatment of the fruits of this terrible conflict so great in cost to the nation.
Noting that the ranks of the aging Civil War veterans were now “somewhat thinner,” the Courier also observed that:
The ravages of passing years was made more evident in the expressions and step of the veterans who each year have assembled at this memorial gatherings. There were present those who had to be wheeled to the hall in a chair, some who are bent with age an infirmity, but all seemed young once more as the days of the civil war were recalled by the speakers.”
Memorial Day Headline, Ottumwa Courier, 31 May 1900 (public domain).
Commander J. Trisler began the day’s events at the 1911 Memorial Day ceremony in Ottumwa with a brief speech, followed by prayers delivered by the pastor of the Davis Street Christian Church, Rev. S. I. Elder, and the formal Memorial Day address by Major Hamilton. The regimental band of the Fifty-Fourth Iowa then led the G.A.R marchers into the ceremonial gathering, and Ellsworth Rominger began his aforementioned address. Declaring that the Grand Army of the Republic would continue to live on in the hearts and minds of Americans even after the passing of the G.A.R.’s final member, Rominger added:
If you would ask me what this great war cost, I would ask you to accompany me through the soldiers’ home of this state and look into the faces of 600 veterans. There your answer would be plain and you would readily appreciate the great cost the war had been. It is said that this strife cost the nation $400,000,000 and 100,000 lives, more than enough to purchase all of the slaves. But that was not the cost, for it cannot be computed in money.
Rominger then said something which still holds a powerful truth, and is worthy of taking to heart in the midst of America’s recent heated election season. Despite the extreme divisiveness which erupted before and during America’s Civil War, Americans who had opposed each other in battle later went on to come together to work for the betterment of their nation and respective communities. They found the strength to forgive, to put aside their differences, and to compromise. To illustrate his point, he recalled the dignity accorded to a Confederate soldier’s recent burial. Accompanied by a Grand Army of the Republic honor guard, the soldier’s casket was draped with both the Confederate flag (“stars and bars”) and the American flag.
To solidify that sentiment and close that 1911 Memorial Day program, Ottumwans joined in singing Blest Be the Tie That Binds:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our alms, are one,
Our comforts and our cares.
We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear,
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
When here our pathways part,
We suffer bitter pain;
Yet, one in Christ and one in heart,
We hope to meet again.
This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way,
While each in expectation lives
And longs to see the day.
From sorrow, toil, and pain,
And sin we shall be free
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.
– John Fawcett (1772)
Others who had served with East Coast or federal units during the Civil War and were also lionized that day included:
- Applegate, N. S.: Co. E, 9th New Jersey Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Barnhart, Ira: Co. H, 124th New York Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Buckley, Thomas R.: Co. M, 3rd New York Cavalry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Best, Nelson: Co. I, 47th New York Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Bannister, D.: Colonel and paymaster, U.S. Volunteers, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Caton, James C.: 50th U.S. Infantry, interred at the Catholic Cemetery;
- Conlin, Michael: Co. K, 160th New York Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Carter, Josiah: Co. C, 3rd U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Davenport, W.D.: Co. H, 3rd New York Cavalry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Davis, Edmund: 24th Pennsylvania Reserves, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Dodd, Zachariah: Co. C, 18th U.S. Colored Troops, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Dougherty, Constantine: 1st Mechanical Engineering Corps, interred at the Catholic Cemetery;
- Fetzer, W. H.: 10th Pennsylvania Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Fleming, John: 16th U.S. Infantry, interred at the Catholic Cemetery;
- Grebby, George: Co. F, 8th Pennsylvania Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Hutchison, J. G.; 131st Pennsylvania Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Hoffman, William: Pennsylvania Reserves, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Jolliff, Jas.: Co. K, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Keister, J. D.: Co. I, 44th Pennsylvania Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Kilby, L. W.: Co. F, 147th New York Volunteers, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Manchester, J. C.: Co. E, 1st Connecticut Artillery, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Mahon, S. K.: Captain, 16th U.S. Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Miller, William: 55th Pennsylvania Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Mills, Robert: 11th U.S. Cavalry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Morley, George: Co. C, 19th U.S. Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Peck, Jesse: Co. H, 85th Pennsylvania Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Powell, C. C.: Co. I, 9th Delaware, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Shaw, F. B.: 33rd Massachusetts Infantry, interred at Shaul Cemetery;
- Smith, Zachias: Corporal, Co. G, 1st U.S. Battery, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery;
- Stewart, Calloway: Co. G, 2nd U.S. Infantry, interred at Shaul Cemetery;
- Stoddard, John C.: Surgeon, 56th U.S. Infantry, interred at Ottumwa Cemetery; and
- Wilson, J. H.: Co. C, 15th New York Artillery.
As you celebrate Memorial Day this year, take a moment to give thanks to the men, women and children who gave so much so that we might remain “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”