Column: Mons Grinager’s name well worth remembering
Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Aug. 19, 2006.
WORTHINGTON —The Moulton Smallwood family lived in the house on Fourth Avenue where Jane and Gordon Moore live today.
We need to review:
After the Civil War, Union Army veterans organized themselves as the Grand Army of the Republic, the GAR. Their wives and daughters organized an auxiliary, the Women’s Relief Corps (WRC). One of the WRC missions was to decorate graves of Union war veterans year by year.
Mrs. Moulton Smallwood — Blanche, a widow through many years — was the last WRC president at Worthington. Blanche Smallwood was a charmer, known widely and liked by all. One of her adventures, from half a century ago when it was more remarkable, was to join a tourist flight around the world. All of Blanche’s luggage was lost or stolen. She arrived at Beirut, Lebanon, with nothing except what she was wearing.
It was after this that Mrs. Smallwood was closing down the WRC. There had not been a GAR since 1927; the WRC had lost its reason for being.
I was a list of Worthington Civil War veterans. I asked Blanche if she believed it was complete. She studied the list. “Well, no,” she said. “They don’t have Mons Grinager’s name.” That was the first time I heard, “Mons Grinager.” I guess we all should know of him. Blanche believed so. She said everybody knew Mons.
When Mons arrived at 2-year-old Worthington in 1874, he was famous. The year before, he was the Republican candidate for Minnesota treasurer. Worthington residents — most of them — marked an ‘X’ beside Mons’ name on their ballots. After his defeat in November, Mons was judged to be worthy of a favor — President U.S. Grant appointed Mons Grinager head of the U.S. land office on the Worthington frontier.
Mons did a land office business, day by day. He indeed was known by everyone. He authorized homesteads and awarded homesteads.
People soon learned more of their land agent. He was born in Norway (1832), but he was not a run-of-mill Norwegian immigrant. His birth place was an uncommon, very large farm named South Grinager Farm.
Mons came came to America when he was 20, migrated to Wisconsin, married and started a family. The American Civil War came when Mons Grinager, Norwegian immigrant, was 40 years old, a father and the sole support of his family.
Mons Grinager set out among his neighbors — February 1862 — and persuaded a full company of men (Company K) to go off to war with him as members of the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment, which was known as The Scandinavian Regiment. The recruits elected Mons their captain.
Mons Grinager’s most dramatic and harrowing hour came at the battle at Stone’s River in Tennessee. Capt. Grinager’s regimental commander wrote later:
“Captain Grinager . . . because of his untiring efforts and his constant attention to duties ... became one of the ablest officers in the regiment. He is a man of unquenchable heroism who will go through fire and water in order to carry out orders …”
Mons’ company was badly scattered by a Confederate frontal attack. The captain, with blood streaming from a leg wound, rallied his soldiers and organized his company as a fighting unit once again.
He was persuaded to move to the rear for treatment of his wound when he collapsed. Soldiers carried him to a Union hospital at Murfreesboro.
This was just the beginning.
Murfreesboro was overrun by Rebel soldiers, the hospital was captured, and Capt. Grinager became a prisoner of war. For five days —
A Union counterattack was directed on the Tennessee town. Confederate troops moved their prisoners, wounded and unwounded, behind their new lines. Mons Grinager saw a chance for escape. He slipped into an out-of-the-way room and hid. By sunset, he was back with his regiment.
Pioneer Worthington was proud of their Norwegian war veteran and land agent. They talked of him so much that — well, Blanche Smallwood still knew of his name and fame beyond the midpoint of the 20th century.
The Grinager family left Worthington in 1889 when the U.S. Land Office closed. The Grinagers moved to Minneapolis, where Mons was made vice president of the Scandia Bank.
I think it probably is still a duty for Worthington residents to tell newcomers, “Mons and Anne Grinager used to live here, you know.”