Column: A Memorial Day homage to Civil War veteransIt is fitting, now and again, to remember the men who first observed Memorial Day. These were the Union Army veterans of the Civil War.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — It is fitting, now and again, to remember the men who first observed Memorial Day. These were the Union Army veterans of the Civil War. The boys in blue organized themselves not as the American Legion, not as the VFW, but as the GAR, the Grand Army of Republic. After their war was ended, very many of them headed west to stake a claim for free land.
It always is a bit surprising: by 1873 there were more Civil War veterans at Worthington than at any other place in Minnesota. Only a year after Worthington’s founding, Stoddard Post 34, GAR, was the largest veterans’ post in the state. The numbers diminished during the grasshopper plagues. Still, there are more Civil War veterans at rest in Worthington’s cemetery than there are in the cemeteries of many communities which actually existed during the Civil War. The cemetery count is (at least) 120.
The most illustrious of the lot is perhaps Stephen Miller, one of Minnesota’s Civil War governors and a general in the Union Army. However, Worthington’s GAR post was named in honor of George N. Stoddard, the first person and the first veteran to die at Worthington. Pvt. Stoddard enlisted in the 1st Regiment of Michigan Engineers and Mechanics at age 50.
In April 1872, before the first train arrived, George Stoddard, now 62, came on the Worthington townsite with his son, George S., and his daughter-in-law. The Stoddards filed claims at the land office at Jackson. George N., now 62 years old, walked back to Worthington in sometimes deep snow.
Dr. George Moore, Worthington’s first doctor, remembered:
“As I stepped from the train, a man touched my arm and said, ‘You’re Doctor Moore, ain’t you?’ ‘Yes sir.’ ‘Well, you’re wanted at the hotel. Sick man there. Pretty bad, I guess.’
“I found G.N. Stoddard in an upper room … Mr. Stoddard was an elderly man, not robust, who had exposed himself to the inclemency of the weather while looking up a claim [and] contracted pneumonia …
“When I arrived, he was beyond human aid. He died that evening …”
By chance (everyone was coming to Worthington) the Rev. Benjamin Creever, Worthington’s first pastor, had arrived the day before. Rev. Creever conducted Worthington’s first funeral (April 24, 1872) at Langdon House, a small frame hotel facing the railroad track on Second Avenue.
There was no place to bury old soldier Stoddard. A grave was dug at what now is the intersection of Second Avenue and 12th Street. That is where Pvt. George Stoddard remained until the cemetery was created the next year, in May, 1873. George Stoddard’s grave (it is marked plainly) was the cemetery’s first.
Pvt. Reuben Hurd of Vermont was the last of those veterans. Hurd died 74 years later, Oct. 22, 1946, at the age of 101. Reuben Hurd, the first man to ship cattle from Worthington in carload lots, was a bold soldier who was wounded at Cold Harbor. Hurd never joined the GAR, however.
By 1926 the roll at Stoddard Post was reduced to five, Julius Town, George Bulick, Andy Dillman, Tom Crever, John Rippberger.
Very many Civil War veterans were valued Worthington citizens. None was more respected than Julius Town who “held about every office, led about every cause.” Julius Town, who marched through captured Little Rock, died March 7, 1927. His body lay in state in the Nobles County courthouse, the only county resident ever to be so honored.
Then there were four.
George Bulick, whose address was Reading, died that Aug. 27. Tom Crever, son of the first pastor, died Nov. 5. John Rippberger, a Civil War bugler (17th Illinois Cavalry), was the last. He died Sept. 17, 1928.
Next to the last — but also first — was William A. (Andy) Dillman. Andy Dillman, trapper, built a trapper’s shack on the east shore of East Okabena Lake in September 1868, four years before anyone else arrived on the Worthington scene. Pvt. Dillman died Christmas Day, 1927.
Andy marched with Gen. Sherman from Atlanta to the sea. He once observed, “Whenever I hear, ‘Marching Through Georgia,’ my mouth waters. We ate like kings on that campaign. Everything we saw belonged to us. Cows, poultry and sweet potatoes. It was the land of milk and honey.”
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.