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Reunions After the War

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Members of the Grand Army of the Republic Neal Post in Sidney, Ohio pose for a photograph during their 20th reunion in Sidney
in July about 1897. The Union veterans from the Civil War are (l-r) William Clawson, unidentified, Calvin Shaw,
William H. Mumford, Byron Joslin, A.H. Hite, David Coffman and A. Throckmorton.

For a decade or more from when the war ended, the memories of it were too painful for most of the men to relive. Many of the regiments never regularly had their own reunions. 

The survivors of the 20th Ohio decided in 1876 to hold a reunion in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. Enough time had passed so that the soldiers could relive some of the events and remember their comrades. Amid laughter and tears, the warriors recalled their days together. The men decided to elect officers to organize the next year's event, and thus began a series of annual reunions that would continue at least through 1916. Many of these were held in Sidney, with a meeting of the veterans in the soldiers' room of the Monumental Building followed by a picnic at the Fairgrounds.

The 99th Ohio also had annual reunions, beginning in 1876. To start each reunion, the roll call was taken, as was the practice during the war, and the names of the comrades who had departed during the year were intoned. Various veterans were then called upon to give their recollections of the war. Many family members attended these events.

A typical reunion was the 15th annual event held by the 20th Ohio in Sidney. A summary of the event appeared in the August 22, 1890, edition of the "Shelby County Democrat." Those who could not attend sent their regards. Former Lt. H. O. Dwight of the 20th, who became a missionary after the war, wrote a letter to his fellow soldiers at the 15th reunion from his post in Constantinople, Turkey. He concluded it by saying: "Tell the members of the regiment for me that my warmest regards go out to my comrades...We did not know what we were doing in those days; but we were given a work to do which, in its whole, was of essential and permanent value to the world. To that work every one who had a part in it may look back with justifiable pride. Our number is rapidly diminishing now, and taps will sound for all of us before many years have gone by."

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Photo of GAR pin by Tom Homan.

W. L. Waddell recalled how the men got 'mashed' (drunk) while on furlough in Sidney during the war, and how pretty the women were then. When asked, "What is the matter with them now?" he said, "I can't see so well as I could then." Former Sergeant Osborne Oldroyd of the 20th attended, relating how he lived in a house once occupied by Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. 'Little' James Johnson told of his foraging experiences with Sherman on their way to the sea. He told how they took awful risks for food, even to get an 'emaciated rooster who was imprudent enough to crow.' Harrison Wilson of Sidney told of his days in the army, and observed, "Our volunteer army was conducted on the compromise plan — the man half obeyed and the officers half ordered."

Some of the men had certainly changed. Enoch Fuller remembered he weighed 120 pounds when he enlisted at age 16. At the reunion he reported his weight to be 220. Much of the talk surrounded the battlefield exploits of the men. Charles Stephenson, who received the Medal of Honor at Atlanta, related how he tore up a rebel flag while captured, and then escaped during the confusion of the battle.

Some reunion experiences involved Sidney, Ohio men meeting their former opponents. A portion of the 99th held a reunion at Jackson Center in 1895. A Confederate veteran from the 7th Virginia Cavalry attended. C. F. Curran reported at the 1906 reunion of his recent trip to Vicksburg, where he met a Confederate veteran who had captured him during the war. All of the veterans from Shelby County developed an increasing sense of pride in their accomplishments as the years wore on.

Manning F. Force, once the commanding officer of the 20th, seemed to typify this sentiment in his remarks to the veterans of the 20th at one of the reunions: "All of the time of which I can speak with personal knowledge, the Twentieth never gave back under fire, never failed to carry a position it was ordered to take, never failed to hold a position it was ordered to hold, and never lost a wagon by capture. Bless the survivors of that gallant band. It is worth more than pensions or money to be able to say and I, too, belonged to the Twentieth Ohio."

The Grand Army of the Republic (known as the GAR) was formed by veterans after the war. It served as a present day American Legion. Capt E. E. Nutt of Sidney served as its commander in 1894 when the Ohio GAR had 44,000 members.

Some of the veterans attended national reunions, such as those held at Gettysburg on the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the battle. Byron Joslin, who was the last surviving Shelby County veteran of the war at his death in 1943, attended many of those events.

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'Civil War' segment written in July, 1998 by Rich Wallace

 

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