Historical Sketch of Geary Post


(Transcribed from Morning Register, Eugene, Lane County, Oregon, Sunday, 14 January 1912) 

Fifty years ago this nation was in the fiery furnace of the Civil War.  It was the climax, the explosion, of the long struggle between human liberty and human slavery.  It was the fiercest in the Border States, where often brother fought against brother, father against son.  When after four long years of fire and sword, of death and destruction, the war was over, victory perched on Freedom’s Banner and Slavery was gone forever.  But this cost a great price, the sacrifice of half a million lives of our comrades in blue.  When the great army of more than a million soldiers was discharged, the world saw a spectacle never seen before.  In any other country, if a million soldiers had been turned loose, there would have been anarchy, bloodshed, robbery and rapine.  But not so in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Those discharged soldiers went home in 1865, back to their farms their shops, their schools, to all the arts and crafts of peace.  The violence and excess predicted by the Old World did not appear.

For years of fighting side by side for the old flag had cemented the bonds of comradeship very closely.

The inevitable result was that in 1866 the Grand Army of the Republic was organized by Dr. Stephenson, who had been a regimental surgeon in the war.  Only those men could join that society who had an honorable discharge from the army.  Gen. John A. Logan, “Old Black Jack,” as we used to call him, was the first National Commander.  The object of this society was to perpetuate the sentiments of loyalty and patriotism, to care for the widows and orphans of fallen comrades, and to help one another in sickness and distress.  The society grew rapidly.  The Posts were found in every Northern State, also in several Southern States where comrades had settled after the war.  There was great emigration to the West, where many ex-soldiers went and formed new homes in peaceful pursuits.  So it came about that in 1881, a few veterans who had settled in and about this city of Eugene, circulated a petition to form a    G. A. R. Post here.  The petition was granted, and the charter bears date December 29th, 1881, thirty years ago yesterday.  At the time the G. A. R. of Oregon was under jurisdiction of the Department of California.  The charter is signed at San Francisco by C. Mason Kinney, Department Commander, and W. A. Robinson, Assistant Adjutant General.  The Post was at first named Post No. 40, Department of California.  But very soon the Department of Oregon was organized and by General Orders No. 1, “J. W. Geary Post No. 7, Department of Oregon.”  This was in honor of chivalrous Gen. J. W. Geary of Pennsylvania, under whom some of the charter members had served in the war.  At that time Eugene had a population of 1,117, according to the census of 1880, with two weekly newspapers, the Oregon State Journal and the Eugene Weekly Guard.  The population of the State of Oregon, by the same census of 1880, was 174,708.

The first Post officers were installed January 20th, 1882 by Comrade B. B. Tuttle, mustering officer.

There were twelve charter members, viz.:  Joseph P. Gill, Thomas J. Gill, E. J. McClanahan, Thaddeus M. Hamilton, Horace H. Page, William H. Abrams, James E. Atterbury, James M. Shelley, James Offutt, M. D. Sweet, David M. Drake and Orville Green.  At the close of 1882 the Post reported twenty-seven members.  Post Commander Joseph P. Gill represented the Post at the first annual Department Encampment, held in Portland, September 28, 1882, and was elected as the first Department Chaplain.  The membership of this Post steadily increased in members.

The following is the list of Post Commanders during the thirty years since that time:  1882, Joseph P. Gill; 1883, James M. Shelley; 1884, James M. Shelley; 1885, James Offutt; 1886, Francis F. E. Reisner; 1887, George F. Craw; 1888, Robert E. Eastland; 1889, John T. Martin; 1890, Thomas M. Martin; 1891, Samuel W. Taylor; 1892, Samuel R. Williams; 1893, Clark E. Loomis; 1894, Samuel W. Taylor; 1895, Francis F. E. Reisner; 1896, Francis F. E. Reisner, 1897, Thomas B. Anderson; 1898, Elias F. Chapman; 1899, Elias F. Chapman; 1900, John W. Whittaker; 1901, Elias F. Chapman; 1902, William M. Sherman; 1903, John Ingham; 1904, Clark E. Loomis; 1905, Delos M. McCrady; 1906, Henry C. Baker; 1907, Henry C. Baker; 1908, Henry C. Baker; who died during this term of office; 1909, Samuel W. Taylor; 1910, Levi P. Tallman; 1911, Samuel W. Taylor, who is also re-elected for the year 1912.

During these years the Post has had various meeting places; in the old Masonic Hall, Hendrick’s Hall, Eastland and Wilson’s Hall, Frank’s Hall and for several years past the old Odd Fellows’ Hall.

The total number of old soldiers who have at one time or another been members of this Post is 419.  Of these, 109 are reported as dead and 190 transferred elsewhere — probably half of these are also now dead.  The number now in good standing is 120.  We cannot be infallibly accurate in the totals as some of the early records are lost, causing us much work in outside research of the old newspaper files and other sources of information, including the A. A. G. of Portland.  Of these 419 veterans of the Civil War, five held in the army the rank of Captain; eighteen lieutenants, four first sergeants, 38 company sergeants, 35 corporals, one regimental bugler, eleven fifers and drummers, three regimental sergeants, one sergeant-major, three ordinary seaman in the navy, and three hundred and eleven privates.  It should be said that a great many non-commissioned officers, especially toward the end of the war, performed the duties of commissioned officers.  Very many were recommended for promotion and commissions, who were not mustered as such because of the close of the war.  Among the volunteer privates were many who could command a company or regiment and sometimes did so in emergencies.

States Represented.

The membership of this Post represents no less than three hundred and five regimental organizations of the great Union Army.  Every Northern State except Rhode Island has or has had its soldiers here.  We have had members of the 2nd, 6th, 11th, 13th, 23rd and 31st Maine Infantry and of the 1st and 5th Maine Heavy Artillery; of the 2nd and 13th New Hampshire Infantry; the 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th and 16th Infantry and 1st Calvary of Vermont; the 8th Infantry and  2nd Cavalry of Massachusetts; the 16th and 20th Infantry of Connecticut; the 9th, 33rd, 44th, 49th, 62nd, 93rd, 99th, 109th, 136th, 142nd, 147th and 148th Infantry, 1st and 8th Cavalry, 1st and 3rd Light Artillery and 1st and 5th Heavy Artillery of New York; the 10th New Jersey Infantry; the 14th, 57th, 61st, 78th, 87th, 100th, 111th and 142nd Infantry, 8th, 10th, 13th and 16th Cavalry and 10th Light Artillery of Pennsylvania; the 7th, 16th, 20th, 22nd, 25th, 29th, 37th, 45th, 57th, 61st, 62nd, 65th, 77th, 80th, 88th, 99th, 101st, 103rd, 105th, 116th, 124th, 126th, 142nd, 148th, 182nd and 192nd Infantry, 1st, 3rd and 9th Cavalry and 1st, 11th and 16th Light Artillery of Ohio; the 7th, 12th, 13th, 20th, 33rd, 39th, 43rd, 48th, 58th, 73rd, 87th, 90th, 101st, 152nd and 155th Infantry, 10th and 11th Cavalry of Indiana; the 2nd, 3rd, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 20th, 21st, 26th, 36th, 37th, 38th, 45th, 49th, 50th, 52nd, 58th, 59th, 61st, 64th, 66th, 67th, 76th, 77th, 83rd, 84th, 85th, 86th, 92nd, 99th, 100th, 106th, 112th, 115th, 119th, 123rd, 125th, 133rd, 147th and 152nd Infantry, 1st, 2nd, 13th and 17th Cavalry and 2nd Light Artillery of Illinois; the 3rd, 8th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 22nd and 23rd Infantry, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th Cavalry, 1st Light Artillery and 1st Engineers of Michigan; the 2nd, 5th, 6th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 17th, 18th, 24th, 27th, 28th, 30th, 32nd, 36th, 37th, 47th, 48th, 49th and 51st Infantry, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Cavalry, 6th Light Artillery and 1st Heavy Artillery of Wisconsin; the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Infantry, 2nd Cavalry, 3rd Light Artillery and Hatch’s Battalion of Minnesota; Iowa furnished more men to our membership than any other state — 68 Hawkeyes in all from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 27th, 30th, 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 35th, 36th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 44th, 46th and 47th Infantry, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 9th and 15th Cavalry of Iowa, 7 men of the last mentioned regiment; 1st Infantry, 1st and 2nd Cavalry of Nebraska; 3rd, 6th, 12th and 17th Infantry, 2nd, 5th, 14th and 16th Cavalry and 1st Light Artillery of Kansas; 2nd, 8th, 10th, 15th, 18th, 21st, 24th, 25th, 27th, 39th, 43rd, 45th and 48th Infantry, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 12th and 15th Cavalry, 1st Engineers and 1st State Militia of Missouri; 2nd and 4th Arkansas Cavalry; 5th Cavalry and 7th Mounted Infantry of Tennessee; 17th and 19th Infantry and 7th Cavalry of Kentucky; 3rd Infantry and 1st Cavalry of Colorado; 2nd, 4th, 5th and 8th Infantry of California; thirteen men of the 1st Oregon Infantry and three of 1st Oregon Calvary; 1st, 6th and 7th West Virginia Infantry; 18th and 102nd Infantry, 1st Sharpshooters 2nd Heavy Artillery, one ordinance Sergeant and one assistant surgeon of the U.S. regular army; one of Berdan’s sharpshooters and four U.S. Marines and gunboat service.

Where They Fought.

Many of these old soldiers were wounded in battles and several lost a leg, arm or eye.  Many suffered as prisoners of war, in Libby Prison, in Belle Isle, Miller, Florence, Charleston, Camp Ford, Andersonville and other famous war prisons down in Dixie.  They belonged to the fighting regiment of the great Union Army.  Some were at Bull Run, that first great defeat of our arms which roused the whole Northland and brought multitudes of new volunteers to save the old flag.  Some served in ships of war along the Atlantic Coast, or gunboats on the Mississippi River or Gulf of Mexico.  Some helped Grant to take Fort Donelson and Fort Henry or later capture the stronghold of Vicksburg with its 30,000 Confederate prisoners.  It was at Vicksburg that one of our members, Corporal Louis Renninger of the 37th Ohio, planted his flag amidst a storm of bullets and summoned his comrades to follow.  For this act of bravery on the battlefield, he received a medal of honor by special Act of Congress.  Some of our members fought under Rosecrans at Stone River and Chickamauga.  Some charged with their regiments up the steep heights of Mission Ridge, that magnificent, victorious rush from their own impulses, without any word of command from their general.  Some were with “Fighting Joe Hooker” in that enthusiastic “Battle Above the Clouds” on the heights of Lookout Mountain.  Some were with Lyon at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Missouri, when that gallant commander fell on the battlefield.  Some fought their way under Curtis down through Missouri and Arkansas to Helena on the Mississippi.  Some were with Banks on his ill-fated “Red River Expedition” and one of our boys left an arm down there.  Some of our cavalrymen served under Pleasanton and “Little Phil” Sheridan and Custer in Virginia, with constant skirmish and frequent battle against Stuart and Early and Stonewall Jackson.  Others of our cavalry men fought Forrest and Joe Wheeler’s men all over Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, day after day, month after month, year after year.  Some of our men helped Burnside at Knoxville to withstand the daring assaults of Longstreet’s brave boys up on Fort Sanders.  Some helped to chase John Morgan and his gallant raiders through Ohio and aided in the final capture of that reckless rider and his men.  Some stood behind the Union breastworks at Franklin and beat back the tremendous assaults of Hood’s desperate soldiers, where six Confederate generals were killed and six more wounded.  Some under “Old Pap Thomas” at Nashville (himself a Virginian by birth) victoriously charged Hood’s breastworks at the siege of Nashville, in December, 1864 and drove his defeated and dispirited hosts back across the Tennessee River into Alabama.  Many members of this Post had part in that wonderful “Atlanta Campaign” in the summer of 1864, pushing Johnston’s army back inch by inch, 140 miles down the Chattanooga and Atlanta railroad.  You remember comrades, the battles we had at Rocky Face Ridge, Tunnel Hill, Buzzard’s Roost, Varnell Station, Resaca, Calhoun, Rome, Kingston, New Hope Church, Ezra Church, Big Shanty, Peach Tree Creek, Atlanta and Jonesboro, until at last, after many bloody contests, Atlanta was taken — when for a hundred days we were never out of the reach of shot and shell.  Many of you went with “Uncle Billy Sherman” on that celebrated “March to the Sea” where his 60,000 men covered a belt through Georgia “sixty miles in latitude, three hundred to the main” at the end of which you gave Savannah as a Christmas present to President Lincoln.  Some of you were at Gettysburg, the turning point of that great war, helping to withstand that magnificent charge of Pickett’s 16,000 veterans, amid the indescribable thunder of two hundred cannon.  And some of you helped to care for the thirty-five thousand men, blue and gray, who lay dead and wounded on the field of that three days’ battle.  Some of you fought at Fredericksburg, Seven Pines, Five Forks, Manassas, Winchester, Malvern Hill, Cold Harbor, and in those terrible battles of the Wilderness under Grant.  Others fought guerillas through Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado and the Indian Territory, and some fought Indians in Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, California and Oregon.  Some us were on that famous “Wilson’s Raid” just at the end of the war, sweeping through Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, 800 miles in 30 days capturing Selma, Montgomery, West Point, Columbus and Macon, and other strongly fortified towns, hearing the first news of peace from Lee’s paroled veterans returning home.  Some were at Iuka, Port Hudson, Port Gibson, New Orleans or Mobile.  Some were with Sherman at Johnston’s surrender in North Carolina, others with Grant at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and participated afterward in the Grand Review of the armies in Washington after the close of the great war, marching proudly erect under the eyes of their immortal leaders Grant and Sherman.  The fact is that the veteran members of this Post could tell something of nearly all the 2500 battles and innumerable skirmishes of that gigantic war.

Occupations in Civil Life.

                Well, after all these years of battle and privation, of hunger and thirst, of wounds and bloodshed, of capture and escape, of cold and heat, of storm and sunshine, of exposure and hardship, these 419 old soldiers, one by one found their way to Oregon and to Eugene.  What have they done here?  I can confidently claim that they have been good citizens here — having been faithful soldiers of their country in war, they have been faithful citizens of their country in peace.  Upon the “descriptive book” of this Post are entered various records of each member, besides his rank, company and regiment — among other things, the occupation of each man is registered.  Of these 419 veterans the occupations are there recorded as follows:

                Seven physicians, 26 carpenters, 4 express or railroad agents, 17 merchants, 5 manufacturers, 4 wagonmakers, 3 bankers, 3 butchers, 7 painters, 3 editors and publishers, 2 stonecutters, 2 lawyers, 3 shoemakers, 6 preachers, 5 blacksmiths, 4 machinists, 2 hotelkeepers, 2 veterinary surgeons, 3 millers, 5 miners, 3 real estate agents, 2 harnessmakers, 5 gardeners, 21 laborers, 4 teachers, and one each of the following occupations, druggist, plasterer, engineer, jeweler, book-keeper, tinner, dentist, poultryman, draftsman, nurseryman, millwright, stockman, lumberman, logger, sailmaker, potter, liveryman, cooper, canvasser, musician, expressman, cigarmaker, and two hundred and twenty-six farmers.  One lone man recorded his occupation as that of a “soldier.”  He surely had a right to that title, having been in the regular army for thirty-five years and six months, from 1860 to 1885, being finally discharged and pensioned as an “ordnance sergeant.”

                The 226 farmers settled all over this county and in adjoining counties, from one to fifty miles away.  Their addresses are given in our records as from Eugene, Springfield, Jasper, Coburg, Watterville, Deadwood, Cottage Grove, Siuslaw, Cartwright, Long Tom, Lorane, Fall Creek, Leaburg, Walton, Goshen, Harrisburg, Junction City, Thurston, Mohawk, Lowell, Mabel, Spencer Creek, Smithfield, Durham, Irving, Pleasant Hill, Blue River, Camp Creek Meadow, Hazeldell, Dexter, Mabel, Franklin, Elmira, Crow, Gate Creek, Alpha, Marcola, and other places covering a very wide area of which this city is the natural center.

Civil Offices Held.

                One indication that these old soldiers have been good citizens is the fact that many of them have been chosen to fill public offices.  Comrade James M. Shelley was State Senator four years, Com.  Henry C. Baker, two years and Comrade Dennis G. Palm two years.  In the lower house of the Oregon Legislature, Comrade Samuel G. Lockwood was State Representative two years, Comrade Michael J. Hillegas two years and Comrade J. C. Goodale two years.  In our Lane County offices, Comrade Francis F. E. Reisner was County Treasurer eight years, Comrade Robert E. Eastland four years and Comrade Samuel W. Taylor now has that responsible position; Comrade Hugh M. Price has been County Commissioner for eight years, Comrade Augustus Jennings County Clerk two years.  Comrade Reisner is now City Treasurer and Clerk of the School Board and Comrade Joseph DeLay is a member of the City Council.  One member of this Post, Prof. Ebenezer B. McElroy, in his youth served two years in the 1st West Virginia Infantry and two years in the 100th Pennsylvania (the Roundhead Regiment as they were called).  He was in the battles of Cheat Mountain, Rommey, Winchester, Spottsylvania, Wilderness, Bethesda Church, Mine Explosion, Weldon Railroad, Squirrel Hill Road, Hatch’s Run, Fort Steadman, the final assault on Petersburg and was with his regiment at Lee’s surrender.  Coming to Oregon in 1873, he was a school teacher, County Superintendent, and Professor in Oregon Agricultural College.  In 1882 he was elected State Superintendent of Schools and was three times re-elected, serving in that high position for twelve years, which is said to be a longer time that any other Superintendent in any state ever served.  Then he came to the University of Oregon in Eugene as Professor of English Literature, afterward as Professor of Logic.  He was department Commander of the Oregon G. A. R. in 1890 and Vice-president of the National Teachers’ Association, finally dying in this city in 1901.  A good record for a private soldier in the Army of the Potomac.

                In addition to the above, it may be said that many members of this Post have served as rural Postmasters, street commissioners, city marshal and policemen, justices of the peace and other places of public responsibility and public honor.

                As old soldiers and patriotic citizens we have our public campfires, make patriotic speeches, sing over and over the dear old patriotic songs which so mightily stirred our hearts in war time.  We have buried more than a hundred of our comrades with military honors.  We have erected a beautiful soldiers’ monument in our G. A. R. cemetery lot, with money bequeathed for that purpose by a deceased comrade.  We have raised “Old Glory” over every public school house in Eugene, including the University and the City Park and over many country district schoolhouses.  We have held memorial services Memorial Day over the rapidly increasing number of our comrades’ graves in the “silent city” of the dead, and garlanded their graves with flowers and the precious old flag for which we fought and they fought and the flag is the sweetest blossom that grows.  We have visited the schools and told war stories to the children, and have done our best in the way of patriotic instruction.  Our sixteen veteran preachers have preached the gospel, tied many matrimonial knots and comforted the sorrowing at the departure of their loved ones.  Our four veteran teachers have done much to instruct the youth, especially Comrade McElroy who for twelve years superintended all the public schools of Oregon.  Our three veteran editors have aided much to educate many communities, through the powerful agency of the public press.  Our seven veteran physicians have healed the sick and prolonged the lives of multitudes.  Our twenty-six carpenters have built hundreds of homes and business blocks in Eugene and other places.  Our veteran wagon makers have built substantial vehicles for the use of the people.  Our three veteran shoemakers have conscientiously made and mended the footwear of their community.  Our five veteran blacksmiths have shod the horses, and repaired the wagons and machines of many kinds.  Our two hundred and twenty-six veteran farmers have plowed and sowed and harvested, raising grains and vegetables and fruits and live stock to feed myriads.  Our comrades in many other useful and honorable vocations, lumbermen, merchants, plasterers, engineers, etc., have helped to make this a better community by the fruits of their honest labor.  We believe they will merit the welcome “Well done good and faithful servant.”

                Before closing this imperfect sketch, I must pay tribute to the noble work of our Auxiliary Order, the “Woman’s Relief Corps” of the United States and especially the Geary Corps No. 4, W. R. C., Department of Oregon in Eugene.  They have aided very much toward patriotic instruction of the youth in our public schools; in the presenting of public patriotic programs and in raising the glorious old flag over our school houses.  They have nobly helped to care for the widow and orphans of deceased comrades, and to help the sick and distressed; they have provided fragrant flower for the caskets of our dead, and for their graves on Memorial Day; they have arranged the social gatherings for the old comrades, providing generous food and drink that was immeasurably more pleasing to our palates than the “hard tack and sow belly” of the old war time days.  The Ladies of the G. A. R. also throughout the land and Rich Mountain Circle, Ladies of G. A. R. here in Eugene have done much in similar directions.  May God bless the hearts and homes of all these noble, patriotic and helpful women.

                But this paper’s already too long.  Comrades, we are intensely proud of this great country, which we helped to save in the time of peril, half a century ago.  Our highest ambition is to be of some further service to this beloved land, even now when age and infirmity is creeping upon us.  The little bronze button which we wear, made out of the hostile cannon to which we helped to capture when they were firing at our flag, is an emblem of higher honor than any royal medal or glittering decoration bestowed by King or Emperor.  We bear no grudge or hatred against the old Confederate soldiers, for we know they were sincere in their belief and we know that the whole world has no braver fighters, as we proved on many a bloody field.  In fact, judging from the color of our hair, we who once were “boys in blue” are now also “boys in gray.”

                As we look upon the dear old flag for which we fought and for which so many of our departed comrades gave their lives, we feel a thrill of pride and joy, because it is “your flag and my flag,” which we helped to preserve from being torn and rent.  We love with all of our hearts and souls this magnificent land of ours, with its liberty, its progress, its great expansion.  We thank the God of our Fathers that we were permitted to have some part in making its history.  It is not too much to say that were it not for what was done by our comrades and ourselves fifty years ago, that history would have been vastly different.

Unused is the musket, sheathed is the saber,

For old time foemen are brothers once more,

When the reveille bugle shall sound “Resurrection,”

Let us all camp together on the Heavenly Shore.