Prologue and Description
Now, as a small foreword, it might be best if this blog is not overly long, because I would not want to bog people down too much with a lot of details on this subject too many more times. Keeping that perspective in mind might add to the interest of this type of material, yet this does border on a unique episode of military history, folks so it is well padded with historical data regardless.
The truth is, this idea was planned as another addition to the Relatives and Ancestors series. On second thought, the decision was made for the material to go beyond basic family genealogy with a deeper meaning of a revealing historical context than just about my relatives.
While poking around the internet a while back, I came across some fascinating information on a Presiding Officer for Colonel Ellsworth Post of the Civil War. "The Proceedings of the Annual Encampment of The Grand Army of the Republic" in various numbered volumes was a major source of information. Now, you can probably imagine that I hardly expected to locate something personal of such a caliber in this manner. Only a sense of curiosity and a touch of presentiment caused me to search it out. Just an idea, really. I became thoroughly delighted to of made such a surprise discovery, however piecemeal it was at first glance.
These Reunions were held at, and behind the old Steiner roller rink which was a park which land was bought up for that specific purpose in the late 1880's. Indeed, it was used for other purposes: company picnics and various clubs, just to name a few,
Colonel Elmer Ellsworth
|Colonel Ellsworth, courtesy of the Scottdale Historical Society|
Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth was a popular figure. He was a colonel of the Chicago National Guard Cadets and worked with the New York City firemen. He studied law under Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, and helped organize his 1860 presidential bid. The colonel also became a competent officer, and close friend of Abraham Lincoln.
The story goes that while looking out the window at the White house near the beginning of the Civil War between the American states, the President sternly noted to Ellsworth the 'Stars and Bars' flag freely flying across the Potomac River. On the morning of May 24, 1861, under the direction of General Scott, after disembarking from one of the steamers, Ellsworth, the founder of the 11th New York Infantry Regiment, with little resistance from a retreating force, headed up into the Marshall House hotel in Alexandria, in the Commonwealth of old Virginia, which became an independent city. With a few of his men, he proceeded boldly upstairs, grabbing the offending Confederate flag from the roof top and began rolling it up. On returning downstairs he was suddenly confronted by the secessionist landlord, James Jackson, who claimed he was 'a boarder.' Jackson quickly let the colonel have it with the roar of a shotgun in the chest. Abruptly, on this encounter, Jackson was immediately shot dead.
As can be imagined, Abraham Lincoln was saddened and almost inconsolable. Colonel Ellsworth had the distinction of being the first casualty of the Civil War. Lincoln had the favorite officer laid out properly in the East Room for the funeral.
"Remember Ellsworth!" was soon a Union rallying cry! Various places, towns and military posts were named after him in his honor. This was indeed the case with a special one in Scottdale, East Huntington township of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
A Sept. 7, 1887 article in the Daily Courier maybe allows the best gist of what the early encampments were like to actually experience. The writer relates that The Grand Army posts of Dunbar, Uniontown, Dawson, Stonerville (or Alverton), Springfield, Connellsville and Greensburg were their in full regalia; in all, 1,000 of these men showed up at the Scottdale post starting on Thursday evening, culminating where "Old Veterans Play Soldier." This was , of course, aat Camp Ellsworth, Post 209, or, as specifically termed, 'Ellsworth Park' in Brown's Grove, (later called, Browntown by the locals), just north of the main thoroughfares of Scottdale. The Scottdale historical Society may be interedted in this story. I haven't gotten around to informing them or learning of thier opinion on these matter so far.
They would tend to kick things off with a parade from the 'handsomely decorated' town with 'a large and enthusiastic crowd' to the site that at one time was over 8 acres, where the Everson Drum Corp was in attendance playing 'old time martial music'. There was set up a little village of tents in the woodland and everything was arranged for field duty in as realistic a manner as possible. Next up, all were regaled by lots of song and speakers, They probably then built up the bonfires, though it doesn't come right out and say so. On Friday afternoon, a 'sham battle' was displayed for the 'entertainment' of everyone present. No one was hurt, but the powder burnt 'was fearful to contemplate'.
This was followed at the gathering by a rousing address from a United Presbyterian minister of Scottdale at precisely 8 p. m. By Saturday, there was estimated to be 10,000 visitors, many of them old vets arriving by train from Mount Pleasant, Latrobe and Irwin to witness the great spectacle and, one would suppose, take refreshments. At noon dinner was served, this must have been a lot of industrious work for the ladies involved in cooking and the clean up would surely of been something else - there were more speakers, colonels and generals and parades by various regimental companies. Then, another reenactment took place. Sunday saw more grand dress parades and religious services watched and admired by the many civilians crowding the camp grounds. Thus following, another sham battle between the infantry, cavalry and the artillery; not without a few wound that were only all too real. These events must certainly of been a wondrous sight, eh folks? Here, here. They finally broke camp late Tuesday night to end the festivities and their fellow citizens heartily enjoyed the whole endeavor and were thanked for their hospitality one would assume with civil decorum while the reception of the vets were highly appreciated as well.
|Overhead view of Ellsworth Park from the 1930's.|
Annual EncampmentsEnter: My great, great grandfather. I already knew part of his unique story and sever wounding in the Civil War and his service at Gettysburg. Now there was more to learn and more to tell.
The first of these Annual Encampments began in 1888. Of course, my main point remains with James Wilson's connection to the G A R, but no attempt is being made to necessarily ignore other aspects of the gatherings or those other worthy high officials involved except to not let the size of my post expand greatly beyond original intentions.
I had more material taken from older research I am looking around for indicating the old veteran's overriding presence on years between 1905 and 1910. Still, as an actual example, James Martin Wilson of Wooddale, Fayette County, was indeed Ellsworth Post Commander in 1913 for Scottdale No. 209 and for the Sons of Veterans, according to The Daily Courier, Wednesday, May 21, of that year and in other years too.
Below is a record of the Annual Encampment from the year 1914 with James Martin Wilson as the Post Commander for Col. Ellsworth Post 209 Grand Army of the Republic for that year located in the middle:
The exact manner in which my, g, great grandfather came to this high position, I know not. His personal story, of a serious wound through the throat that he wasn't at first aware of through the effects of shock, into which was run a handkerchief to keep out the maggots that would infect the wound, is true and one of the rare family traditions we have of him. This is certainly a grisly one which may of had a grip on others with the added gift of storytelling. Otherwise, not much else is sure at this late date. But, he must of had the presence, influence and some charm to be awarded such an honor in those times. This was a very serious event and an important experience to represent the 'Grand Army' the way he did. I am proud to note, he also headed up the Memorial Services for Decoration Day at the Mount Olive United Brethren Church of which he was an early member, as was his son, Shed and grandson, Meryl Wilson. He held the illustrious title of Post Commander for at least four years in the early years of the twentieth century as well: those years with documentation are 1912-1915. I believe I've ran across one or two other earlier years as well. It is unfortunate locating again a portion of the exact proof was one big reason this blog post was so long in seeing the light of day. I trust enough evidence is scattered around in here to reasonably allow for the case to be well made.
|Comrade James Wilson|
The duties of this particular leadership role were fairly impressive: keeping an eye on entertainment, helping with guests, coordinating events, while having superior charge of the whole encampment under their supervision and were engaged with most activities and personally involved the direction of the various concerns of the GAR eight-acre grove while making impressive, moving speeches. This was not something given out lightly to the military or to the public at large!
At one time, and I'm not positive how often, the surrounding posts, such as Dunbar, Dawson, Springfield, and even Connellsville also sometimes also encamped here, at least for a weekend in certain years. The important festivities would begin at 7:30 p. m. on Thursday evening. These often took place in late August and early September, but not always. I haven't followed the earlier years in too much depth.
James Wilson also traveled around occasionally for the National Encampments. One example could suffice. For the annual Convention of the Department of Kansas, Womens Relief Corps, he attended as Secretary representing Ellsworth Post:
In creating an article in honor of my great, great grandfather, James Martin Wilson, I personally know very little about him. It may be supposed the man has the appearance of a basically unassuming person of average proportions, yet there was more to him than that. Naturally, I am very proud to have access to what is available and of his particular commitment and serious dedication in the Civil War and beyond. The different reenactments in Westmoreland and Fayette counties here in southwestern PA must have been quite exciting events for the old timers and the observers as well. He saw action at the battlefields in numerous sites which include Gettysburg.
James had the distinction of being a one time Constable of Bullskin Township of Fayette County, Pa., in the year, 1873 which I will get back to in a moment or two. One more thing, clicking the 'relatives' or 'Wilson' links on the sidebar of the blog will provide further information for the subject if visitors will just scroll down.
We do know that this ancestor use to hold family reunions at various place, at least one being at the Mount Vernon Park. He was married to Louise Grimm, (my g, great grandmother, of course), and rather conveniently, her family lived right across from him on the Shenandoah Road near the corner of Breakneck. The James Wilson farm was on the side where Woods' greenhouse recently was in business. I wish I could add an old photo of the old homestead, but if such exists, my side of the family have no knowledge of it. I heard there was once a photo of James Wilson in his Union uniform. We haven't had the proof to substantiate this tradition as of yet.
From what info I could gather, and some of that is speculative to the extent it has not been completely confirmed, the situation of ancestry appears that James (2) was the son of James Wilson (1) and Elizabeth McBrady. Now, that James' parents were William and Catherine Wilson. He, himself, was born in 1819, in Hornellsville, Pa and got married and later died in Fayette County, in 1903. I recently discovered some likelihood these Wilson's were related to those of Dunbar. Continuing in this vein, it appears that the earlier James' immediate children, and therefore my g, great grandpap's siblings, would have been born in this order : Anna, Alexander, Martin, Joseph, Daniel, William, James, who lived in Connellsville, (which fits in with my g, g, grandfather), Charles, and Minnie, who died in infancy.
James was even known to host the occasional picnic st his residence for the Grand Army veterans as can be observed below from a newspaper article for July 30, 1907:
If that wasn't enough, there is more about James Wilson as Post Commander for the year 1913 at Ellsworth Post in another article, while here is this particular reference for a memorial churchservice for that year:
More Historical Information:
In 1873, about a decade after his services and traumatic experienced of the Civil War, James M. Wilson was elected a Constable of Bullskin Township. The exact job description...
As can be noted by this page from an old history book, John Miner appears to of been the Justice of the Peace during James Wilson's constabulary watch. Justice Miner became an ancestor of future generations of the Wilson family by the occurrence of his daughter marrying George Hatfield. George was the grandfather of a lady whom James Wilson's son, Shed Wilson, had married, one Mary Miner Wilson. John Miner Jr, was one of the more prominent men of his community, but maybe more information should be related in a proper post. Although, I find that certain details have remained a bit sketchy, there really are many extra details involved, and some of these are not posted on previous Relatives and Ancestor posts of past 'Fayette/Westmoreland Forgotten History' articles for the simple reason that they were not known then.
If the subject of the military posts interests you a lot, included in 'Snowy Stroll Through Scottdale', is some added material on Ellsworth Post.
There is a statue to Colonel Ellsworth in Mechanicville from the unveiling of May, 1874. There is none to James Martin Wilson. None, except those we make of in our hearts - a living monument. As written on the colonel's gilded granite, a note he wrote just previously to his dear mother:
"I am content, confident that he who noteth even the fall of a sparrow, will have some purpose even in the fate of one like me"