Wednesday, October 31, 2007

McMeens Post of the G.A.R.

The McMeens Post, No. 19, of the Department of Ohio’s Grand Army of the Republic was named for Dr. Robert R. McMeens, who served in both the Mexican War and the Civil War. The G.A.R. was founded by Benjamin F. Stephenson on April 6, 1866 in Decatur, Illinois. The main object of this organization of Civil War veterans was to continue the friendships of the soldiers, to assist needy comrades, to care for war orphans and widows, and to promote patriotism. The three principles of the G.A.R. were fraternity, charity, and loyalty. The G.A.R. was divided into “Departments” at the state level, and by “Posts” at the community level. Membership peaked in 1890 when over 400,000 members were reported.

In 1892 I.F. Mack, a Sandusky newspaper editor and founder of the Ohio Veterans Home, was elected Commander of the Ohio Department of the Grand Army of the Republic. (You can read more about the colorful I.F. Mack in SANDUSKY’S EDITOR, by Charles E. Frohman, located in the Reference Services section of Sandusky Library.) Henry Dehnel was the Commander of the McMeens Post of the G.A.R. in 1892. You can view the 1892 roster of the local G.A.R. Post in the Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library. Names are listed alphabetically, and the soldier’s Company and Civil War regiment are also noted.

The annual meetings of the G.A.R. were called “encampments.” Here veterans would have campfires, tell stories, and sing war songs that they recalled from their days as a soldier. In June, 1895, the 29th annual encampment of the Department of Ohio, G.A.R. was held at Cedar Point. You can read about the many parades, dinners, tributes and other activities of the encampment in the June 11, June 12, and June 13 issues of the 1895 “Sandusky Register,” available on microfilm in the Archives Research Center.

You can still find evidence of the G.A.R. all across the United States. Thousands of Civil War Veterans’ graves are marked with a G.A.R. star. U.S. Highway 6, which runs through Erie County, is known as the “Grand Army of the Republic Highway” its entire length.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The "Trackless Train" Makes a Stop in Sandusky

On June 23, 1925 the “World’s First Trackless Transcontinental Highway Train” made a stop in front of the Schade Theater in Sandusky. Funded by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the U.S. Tire Company, the Trackless Train operated like a truck, but outwardly looked like a locomotive train. It featured an engine, cab, and a combination dining and sleeping car.

The trackless train made a cross-country trip from New York City to Los Angeles from March 1925 through March 1926, in order to promote the development of a national highway system as advocated by Herbert Hoover. In Dayton the National Cash Register Company allowed its 6500 employees time off to view the train. The Sandusky Register, June 24, 1925, reported that the rubber tires on the novel vehicle had been driven for 5850 miles without going flat.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Letters from the Front

In the age of instant communication, it is easy to forget about the fading art of letter writing. Letters sent home from the Civil War reveal the musings of a young man. The Sandusky Library Archive holds copies of letters written by young Horace Harper Bill. Bill was born April 4, 1842, in Sandusky, the son of Earl Bill Jr. and his wife Roxy. He died in the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. He was a Sergeant-Major in 1861, but he voluntarily surrendered his position and went back into the ranks as a Private so as to be in the line of promotion and was promoted to 2nd lieutenant company K.

In a letter written to his father from Camp Chase at Pawpaw VA, Feb. 15, 1862, he detailed his sheer exhaustion: “We returned here about ten to twelve o’clock last night, tired, worn out and half frozen; and a bed never felt so good to me as my blankets did after I swallowed a couple of eggs and a cup of coffee and jerked my boots off.”

In another letter to his father written in April, he wrote home simply so his family would know he was still alive, although his many near misses likely did little to quell his family’s concerns:

I have no other excuse for violating a military order from Genl. McClellan, prohibiting the writing of letters by the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac than this—that I know you and the family are all anxious to hear that I am alive and unwounded after the Strasburg Reconnaissance and the battle of Winchester. The particulars of these two important engagements will be known to you before you receive this and I will not render myself liable to a military punishment by dwelling upon them or stating details of our army. Suffice it to say that our officers and men behaved like heroes and fought like demons. Our regiment was in advance Saturday evening, all day Sunday and until noon Monday and elicited the praise of our generals by their coolness and bravery. The eight won golden opinions and showed themselves inferior to no other regiment in the field in the elements of good soldiers. We won the name of the “bloody eight” at the expense of the dead, forty wounded and three prisoners—one of which escaped from Mt. Jackson and has just arrived in camp. Col. Carroll was brave as a lion and cool and collected as a veteran on the right wing he jumped off his horse, snatched a “Mississippi Yager” from the hands of a wounded Secesh, and led his wing afoot to the bloodiest charge of the day. He had one bullet hole through his overcoat and Col. Carroll had ten through his coat and one ball glanced on his sword belt. I had many narrow escapes during the Winchester fight and the Strasburg skirmish last week. My hair was clipped twice by musket balls and one spent ball struck the leg of my boot, in the skirmish on the left flank, Sunday morning, and several times during the day shells struck and exploded within a few yards of where I stood. But, it seems almost miraculously, I escaped unhurt. The left wing skirmish Sunday morning was the only one I was in during the day. The right wing did all the fighting in the afternoon.
I am a little under the weather today and am excused from duty. My feet are very sore from marching and I feel worn out “intirely” but I think it is only fatigue. Within eight days we (the eighth) have marched nearly one hundred miles and fought more than our share of two battles one of which takes rank as one of the hardest fights on record during this century—and I think I have a perfect right to be tired.

On June 12, 1862, he wrote to his sister Rose:
The roads, during the time of our marching, have been pretty good, and we had no trouble about getting our knapsacks hauled by the wagons, so that our burden was not so heavy as it might have been—and now that we have rested a day, I feel as well as ever. You would hardly imagine what we become accustomed to in these marches. One day on the march between Front Royal and here, the sun shone most beautifully in the morning and it was very warm—in fact uncomfortably so—but we marched on cheerily and after making eight miles stopped for dinner by a beautiful stream. We had our coffee and hard bread and started on—but the sky became overcast with clouds and the remainder of the day we marched under the most sever rain and hail I ever experienced. Our wagon stuck in the mud, and after fording three creeks, one nearly waist deep, we had to sleep without tents—but I found my way into a little outbuilding that had been a spring house and took a position on a barrel in a corner, drew up my feet and wrapped my rubber poncho about me, put my musket in the corner and went to sleep with my head leaning against the stone wall and slept as sweetly as ever I did at home. In the morning I made a cup of coffee and breakfasted on that and a piece of bacon toasted before the fire on a bayonet, marched back two miles to the teams and helped them out of the mud, and made my ten miles to Luray at the head of the Company, and thought nothing at all of it for it is a very common occurrence.

The following is excerpted from a letter to his sister written September 7, 1862, ten days before he died at the battle of Antietam:

I will give you what idea I can of your brother’s quarters. Imprimis. A piece of canvas 5 feet by 4, supported at one side by a couple of pieces rail driven into the ground, and held down at the other side by a couple of pegs, forms my house, castle, tent or whatever you choose to call it, containing bedroom, kitchen, dining room, pantry, grret, cellar and parlor. Secundis: a rubber blanket spread upon the ground composeth the furniture of said elegant and extensive mansion, answering the purpose of chairs, table, bed, bureau and provision chest. Tertus. My baggage is at Alexandria and nary clean shirt or socks has [been] seen since he left there, ten days ago and he has been marching over dusty or through muddy roads all the time. But I will begin to complain if I don’t stop thinking of such things, or will dry up.

Earl Bill Jr., Horace Harper Bill’s father, received a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Sawyer giving the particulars of his son’s death:

I sent a dispatch to be telegraphed you conveying the sad intelligence of your son’s death on the 17th, and now avail myself of the earliest opportunity to write you more particularly of the facts.
French’s Division, in which is our Brigade, forded Antietam Creek early on the morning of the 17th and engaged the enemy about quarter before nine, when one of the most sanguinary battles of the world was fought, lasting, in our front, for over four hours.
Lieutenant Horace H. Bill was in command of company K, of the 8th regiment, it’s captain being absent, sick, and most gallantly led his company upon the enemy, and fell early in the engagement, pierced with three balls—one in the head, one in the body, passing through his sword belt, and one in the leg. He was not conscious after this, but life was not entirely extinct until near night. I made every effort to have the body sent to the rear, and to procure a coffin for it, but this was impossible. Capt. James. E. Gregg superintended his burial, on the field, and marked his grave, and has his memorandum book, and perhaps other things. He had no sword of his own yet, but wore Capt. Pierce’s (his Captain).
I can not refrain from mentioning to you the general esteem for Harper by all. With me he had always been a favorite. As Sergeant-Major, he was one of our field’s staff family for over a year, and his uniform good conduct, kind heart, cheerful spirits, and constant attention to his duties, won the affections of all. Since his promotion to the Lieutenancy he has been the only officer with his Company, the Captain being absent, sick, and there being no other lieutenant. During this period we have been in active service constantly; and, although he was assigned to a command in which he was comparatively a stranger yet he had won the good will of all his men. During this march it was the turn for his company to go on picket in face of the enemy’s pickets. He took his company forward, and when I visited them, found he had selected excellent positions and made the best possible use of his men.
It would seem from a memorandum, written the morning of the battle, that he had a presentment that he would not survive the day, and requested that the event be telegraphed to you. I saw him but once that morning to speak to him, and that, just as we were priming our pieces, and amid a storm of balls he said, “Colonel, our men are in fine spirits this morning, and will show a big fight.” Just then we were ordered forward and I did not see him again except as he marched up at the head of his company.
Thus early in life has passed away one of our brave and promising youth. I can not, I presume, fully appreciate the sorrow and grief of his father and family in their sad affliction, but sincerely extend my sympathies to all his bereaved friends.

Horace Harper Bill is buried in Oakland Cemetery.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Archives Month: 50th Anniversary Reunion of Quien Sabe Club

On an August day in 1953, forty-three men with roots in Sandusky met at the Log Cabin Inn (now the Angry Trout), in Bay View -- the 50th anniversary reunion of the members of the Quien Sabe club.

Quien Sabe was formed in Sandusky in 1903 as a social group for young business and professional men. (Quien Sabe means "who knows?" in Spanish.) At first, they met in office space in the Kingsbury Block, but eventually they established their own club space in the James building on Market Street. The group disbanded in 1916. In its 13 years of operation, about 150 men of Sandusky were members.

The Golden Jubilee Reunion in 1953 brought back a number of former Sanduskians to their old home town. Among the more notable visitors was Fred Kelsey, who achieved success as an actor and director in Hollywood, and Dr. Walter Rittman, a well-known chemical engineer.

Archives Month: Reunions -- Homecoming Week, 1914

In commemoration of Archives Month in Ohio and its theme of "Reunions," let's remember Sandusky Homecoming Week, first held in 1914. Former Sanduskians were encouraged to visit the city during the week of July 13-19, to take part in festivities and to feel nostalgic for their old home. Among the highlights of the week were parades (including a parade of motorboats), exhibits of local industry, concerts, fireworks, and "free automobile rides." Pioneer aviator Tony Jannus was scheduled to perform exhibition flights, although it appears that wind and rain may have kept him grounded.

The Sandusky Register reported that nearly 1500 former residents (from at least 27 states) registered their attendance during the week, with most registrants given a souvenir "key" by the Ad Club. Attendance was so good that the celebration, originally planned to end on Saturday, was extended to Sunday, July 19, with boat races and a concert performance by Ackley's Band concluding the events.

Apparently, Homecoming Week was so popular it was held again the following year, as well as during the city's centennial year, 1924. You can see the button for that event in the poster in the post below.

Monday, October 01, 2007

October is Archives Month

October is Archives Month, a time when we recognize the importance of the role of archives and historical collections in society. Archives serve to preserve the past, to teach us in the present, and inspire us for the future. (The poster above was produced by the Society of Ohio Archivists, and includes artifacts from the collections of the Sandusky Library Archives Research Center.)

This year's theme for Archives Month in Ohio is "Reunions" -- occasions where people get together to remember their past, and to experience the present together. The photo below shows a group of men in Nauheim, Germany, reunited from their days as schoolmates. One of the men (perhaps the one standing in the back) is probably Christian Stubig, a resident of Sandusky at the time of this photo, and a veteran of the U.S. Civil War (Co. B, 128th O.V.I.). He was the father of Carl Stubig, a journalist active in Sandusky city politics in the early 1900s.

To learn more about archives and our collections, visit the Sandusky Library.