Dan Fleming: Newark Advocate
Remembering our veterans became a high priority nationwide at the end of the Civil War. Veterans wanting to share their experiences formed many types of groups.
Largest was the Grand Army of the Republic, which began in Decatur, Ill., in 1866. It reached a peak membership of 400,000 by 1890. The nine Licking County chapters were formed between 1881 and 1884. It was a fraternal organization that had considerable political clout for elections and lobbying causes, founded on the principles of "Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty." The GAR dissolved nationally in 1956.
It was the GAR that first officially proclaimed the Memorial Day holiday -- originally called Decoration Day -- on May 5, 1868, although many from North and South already had been decorating graves of soldiers. Newark's first Memorial Day coincided with the first reunion of the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on May 30, 1878. That was a grand event, attended by President Rutherford B. Hayes and generals, including James A. Garfield and William T. Sherman.
The 76th OVI continued its annual reunions at least through 1932, when Gen. John L. Clem traveled from Texas to attend. He was listed as the youngest member at 81, while W.A. Parr was the oldest at 96. Also in attendance were Frank French, the last living survivor of the Civil War in Licking County, and Albert Norris, the last living survivor of the Sultana steamship disaster.
Another notable reunion of the 76th was in 1916, when the survivors of the 1st Arkansas Regiment ceremoniously returned the regimental flag of the 76th, which they had captured at the Battle of Ringgold.
The 31st OVI hosted annual reunions at Hebron at least through 1906, when 86 veterans attended. Documentation of further meetings is difficult to find, as it is for many other groups.
The 113th OVI regiment had a reunion at the Memorial Building in Newark on Sept. 17, 1897. It contained many males from Granville.
The 3rd OVI (Capt. Leonidas McDougal commanded Company H), had annual reunions through at least 1911, although the one that year was hosted in Columbus.
The Union Veteran Legion was another organization of Union veterans, but a bit more exclusive than the GAR. It was founded in Pittsburgh in 1884 for those who had served at least three years, or two years and having been wounded. Gen. John H. Short of the UVL visited the Lemert Post of the GAR in 1889 to make arrangements for a national reunion in Newark.
Another local veterans organization was called the Soldiers and Sailors of Licking County, which had annual reunions from 1885 through at least 1916. Most of the reunions were at Wickham's Grove in Toboso. The crowd numbered from 6,000 in 1900, steadily increasing to about 10,000 by 1910. Toboso was an interurban rail stop, which made it convenient for people everywhere to ride out and back for the day. By 1916, the event was hosted at Baughman Park, just over the county line in Muskingum County on Ohio 586. There were 3,000 visitors for the 1916 reunion.
As time wore on and veterans died, more counties merged for their events. The 1916 reunion at Baughman Park included Licking, Muskingum, Coshocton and Fairfield counties. All of these veterans groups and reunions faded away as the old soldiers died. The GAR was taken over by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
We thank all our readers for remembering our veterans and for reading these columns each week throughout 2011. The series has been sponsored by the Licking County Library as part of the Civil War 150 Committee activities.
Dan Fleming is a reference librarian at Licking County Library.